… the most glamorous beach restaurant in the world. Marks the spot on Pampelone beach where the phenomenon that is today’s St Tropez began. St Tropez had been just a small fishing village nestled amongst vineyards until Brigitte Bardot made her first film there in 1955. She changed everything. The stars, the money and the super yachts flooded in. And the villas went up over rather too many old Grenache vineyards.
Bardot still lives amidst the vines of the remaining vignerons, and from a group of these guys we have, for many years, been able to offer a great Rosé de Provence – from the few remaining pockets of old vines – called ‘St Tropez’.
Today we met the grower’s leader at Club 55. Well, he offered, so … Under the trees, the place looks a picnic … but not a picnic as we know it, Captain. We’d never eaten at such a place before. What was more surprising was that neither had our vigneron chum, despite being lifelong friend and neighbour of its owner.
He told us the story: Roger Vadim made his ‘And God Created Woman’ film on the beach in front of the holiday cabin of a Professor and his wife. The film crew asked them to help out with food and the poor lady found herself cooking for everyone all that summer … and the next. So … end of their tranquil holiday life. Their son the ethnologist Jean de Colmont now presides over a party that has continued to this day.
They say that should the crowd here – their Bentleys and Ferraris one side, their great yachts the other – ever be held-up at gunpoint the haul could pay off France’s National Debt … a thought which must have occurred to President Hollande.
There are two entirely separate worlds at St Tropez. The post-1955 bling, and the old vigneron families clinging stubbornly to their old ways. In summer the winemakers now work at night; the only time the roads aren’t jammed to a standstill. In the past we put in flying winemakers here to improve the wine we got but that is quite unnecessary now. They’re good. We just have to come here early; like now – and again in a month – to make sure we have the best of the old vine stuff.
Simple … now. 2014 looking good, aromatic and abundant. Rare, that.
On to next place; the winery of Doctor Brun…who left the family farm to become, for 30 years, the local doctor. But when his father unexpectedly died he had to run the estate as well. Now retired as ‘le toubib’ (slang for doctor) at 66 he is still making wine in what might look to many like a garage in Gonfaron. He does it exceptionally well – has the good kit and the know-how – and has built the estate up to an impressive 50 hectares.
We’ve worked with him many years. There is a large family house in the vineyards called Paris – no-one knows why – but the family have never lived there. It’s just for reunions and parties he says … and he’ll smarten it up one day, maybe! The Doctor, his son, daughter and Glaswegian son in law all actually live in the town next to the garage winery.
In Provence, there are many who have spent millions adding grandeur to their wine estates. Nobody should be fooled; ornamental gates, lawns, flamingoes and big swimming pools do not make a wine any better than that of the quiet, retired, respected Doctor in his anonymous garage by the village fountain under the plane trees.
Relaxed glass or two, with him sitting by said fountain. Before driving on to Brignoles and a favourite hotel (much better than our usual standard) ‘Abbaye de la Celle’ where they put me (le Big Boss) in the bed they built specially for De Gaulle who hid away here to write his memoirs. It’s very long, black and grandly ornate … hope I can sleep.