A long day … Domaine Pontfract, Correns

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The younger-looking one has been making wine for 73 years … Domaine Pontfract

Monsieur Paul has been making his wine for 73 years. That must be a world record, no? He started aged 12 during the war when all the men were either fighting, in prison or labour camps. He says it was hard.

But the 350 year old family estate had to survive. Today, trim and distinctly more active than me, he was still at the cellar, alone, supervising the arrival, crushing and pumping of the grapes from his 35 hectares of prime land in Correns, the recently famous Provencal village where everything; wine/ food is ‘Bio’… shops, farmers, everything. Brad Pitt and Angelina now have their Château de Miraval here. (Years ago we sold volumes of that when owned the by jazz pianist Jacques Loussier).

We liked the village’s attitude so much we then put our Flying Winemakers into their co-op winery for several years. Made a difference. But now we are happy with M. Paul who was surprised to learn that there is a town called Pontefract in Yorkshire. He wished he’d known … would have liked to join in the Tour de France festivities. Amazing man, great wine. Living proof you can never really retire from our world.

A long drive up and up to the hills around Pierrevert and dynamic winemaker Hubert Sylvestre … who looks like a modern day Porthos and works in the highest vineyards of France. He is an inspiring guy. Big energy, big personality. And … just big. Few take the trouble to drive the many miles of winding roads up to where he works but these sunny-but-cool heights produce some of the most exciting, undervalued wines of France. His ‘Art de Provence’ has been our best selling rosé for some years and now his Alpes de Haut Provence 2014 … looks set to win him yet more followers.

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Hubert, (pron. ‘U-Burr’) at Alpes de Haut Provence

As is our habit, we were there as the crop was arriving. Masses of fruit aroma. Great stuff to work with. Visit again next month to grab the best.

Air France is on strike yet again but it’s their subsidiary Air Corsica flying us to Figari. Why? Well, Corsica is, judging by their newspapers, still a fairly violent island. Possibly, upsetting your passengers here could be fatal.

Our first wine buyer here was robbed at gunpoint in the mountains. And we are off to see a brave widow who once had her and her late husband’s winery blown up from under them … what she dismisses as ‘un événement plastique‘. (‘Plastique‘ round here does not a refer to picnic cutlery.)

Doors firmly locked we set off for Domaine Azitella. Originally from Normandy, Sophie Gandolph moved here from Paris and – ever elegant – looks Parisienne. She met her late husband there and her friends were horrified she was happy to leave for bandit land. He was one of the many Pieds Noirs – North African winemakers, who fled here when things got unpleasant. They usually succeeded well but there was a lot of anti-immigrant resentment … and, round here, plastic explosive. Disaster.

The solution was to draw around them nine other wine producers – all native Corsicans – and build a new, communal cellar in the middle of her vineyards. That has offered protection. So far. The cellar is now presided over by the rather shy and retiring André Casanova. Maybe not a good name for such a quiet chap. It is actually run by a dynamic young winemaker from the Loire (Muscadet). But Christophe Paitier was asleep, they said.

Sophie works there as do others in the group. They are a particularly dynamic bunch and becoming very successful. We arrived after dark and very hungry so a bunch of them took us up into the dark hills to a rough-hewn little stone shack that was doing a roaring business with locals. I don’t think they’ll get tourists as there are no signs of any kind. It’s a while since I’ve eaten in a smoke-filled restaurant but laws, round here, are not enforced … or even known about! Menu was meat, meat and more meat. Plus fritters.

Night Harvest crop

With Sophie … night harvest

Afterwards we returned to the winery and watched grapes arriving – I love that – until at 2.am we just had to go sleep. The Directeur took us round the fizzing tanks, he now all awake, bright-eyed and bouncy … they harvest at night here because they want cold grapes … stay fresher … wine is fresher. So ??? Sleeps in the afternoons and works all night and morning.

I saw something very rare in the receival bays; a mix of red and white grapes. The increasingly popular Sciacarellu vine (looks scary, but easy to pronounce: chac-ar-Ello) grows grapes of both colours which ripen at the same time. We are here mostly for their rosé which is getting very

popular. Clearly this is a grape variety just perfect for rosé.

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We tried a lot of delicious juice in different hues. Chenin, Chardonnay, Grenache, Merlot, Sciacarellu, Nielluciu (pron: knee-El-Ootche). Corsica is Southern Provence. Wines are similar but a touch Italianised. No bad thing. Must remember tank 52 chardonnay. We’ll be back soon.

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About Tony Laithwaite

Tony Laithwaite, founder of Laithwaite's, whose passion for wine is still going strong!