“Can you hear me Major Tom?”23rd January, 2014 by Ben Kennedy
No fixed destination, just a continuing quest to see what wines might be out there.
It was a routine sortie, a reconnaissance mission for new sources of much-needed provisions, and the outlook was fine. He climbed aboard an ageing and aptly named Espace that his children had jokingly called “the mother ship”.
Heading north he left the urban spread and the human presence was gradually less visible. Bit by bit signs of habitation petered out too and the sky broadened, a clear pale mass ahead above an unforgiving terrain of patchy pine forest and intermittent scrubland. The journey was as monotonous as the surroundings, sitting in this tin can with just a bit of Bowie on the radio to pass the time.
He followed his intuition, his nose if you will, and also heeded some of the local beliefs. On the one hand he favoured terrain with some semblance of contour: in his book flat land translated into flat wine. A slope or mound of gravel allows root systems to absorb mineral riches before hitting the less interesting alluvial layers below, and the water table that they hold. On the other he gave some credence to the idea that vines planted on land overlooking the sinister, silent estuary held an innate advantage over those located towards the interior.
Up until Lesparre, seen by many as the end of the known world, there was still some traffic on the road, but leaving the small town behind him he was on his own. The radio echoed this by fading, crackling, and then descending into the dull fuzz that confirmed a total lack of any signal. Beyond this distant outpost he was sure that there was still much to be discovered but, understandably, few if any ever ventured this far. So that was where he was heading. Again.
At this point one becomes eerily aware of the enormity of nature and the proximity of ocean to the left and the estuary – over six miles wide – to the right. The stark flatness of the surroundings reminds one of how hard it is to survive out here. And it was at this point too that the mission started to run into difficulties.
With no warning, blown by a strong offshore wind, a menacing bank of grey cloud arrived from the west and within minutes the sky was black. A moment later, and just as suddenly, the rain arrived in sheets. He slowed the vehicle to not much more than walking speed, and to add to his concerns a pin-prick opened in the cloud cover just in front of the sun, giving the unnatural effect of being locked in a cupboard while somebody shines a torch through the keyhole. The shower didn’t last long, at that rate it couldn’t, but he continued towards his destination as best he could in the gaps between intense downpours.
Finally he located and reached the river road, and the search began in earnest. Few locations matched what he was looking for, but he was happy to discover two or three lesser known properties with pure, authentic Médoc wines available at a reasonable price. One of these didn’t show any interest in him, though, as Asian prospectors had passed through the week before and stripped them bare. Too bad. But then he spied a steep slope rising away from the road to the west with an elderly winery building at its foot, the name of the property written in the stone wall beneath the gables. It did look very promising indeed, gravel mounds overlooking the estuary lined with bare vines running in sad parallel lines, just the right conditions for some really interesting provisions.
He indicated and pulled into the yard. He didn’t get out of the car, waiting for another deluge to pass, but when the windscreen cleared he could make out a sign on the door of the building. It was normal for wineries to post a notice to call a mobile as there was often nobody in the office, but this was different, an encrypted message in some ancient script to track down the vigneron.
He followed the instructions and soon pulled up in front of a nearby pavillon, his pulse quickening slightly in anticipation. As he shut off the ignition his mobile rang, the wife: a delivery for him, had he ordered some shirts? Who from? Just time to tell her he loved her very much. (She knew.) Then the line cut out – no signal. So here he was, about as far as man could go, potentially on the verge of an important discovery. He took a deep breath, pulled the release lever and stepped through the door…