“The tradition of the mâchon comes directly from the canuts who shared traditional meals in Lyon at dawn after hours of work. The mâchon is simple and friendly.” – Le Wiki
SO, IF YOU’VE READ THIS FAR, you might wonder what gives with the title of my recent string of posts.
When he first clued me into the wine called Traboules, during a trip I took to France in early 2018, the conversation with Tim Johnston about this unique French red veered off in an unexpected direction. If my old friend had me at “Rhône Valley gamay,” he further captured my attention explaining where the name came from for the Coteaux du Lyonnais made by his friends at Domaine Clusel-Roch.
After a stopover in Paris, I was headed down to Lyon by TGV, then a bit further south to the very old wine hub of Ampuis. There, I would spend a long weekend at the annual Marché aux Vins, meeting winegrowers and attempting to drink my weight in their Condrieu, St. Joseph, and Côte-Rôtie. Before the trip, I’d never been to Ampuis, nor France’s gastronomic capital of Lyon. I was beyond excited.
Over a jetlag-curing lunch at Juveniles, Tim’s 1st arrondissement wine bar, he told me to be on the lookout during the Marché for a red wine called Traboules, which the Clusels might be pouring at their table. (I’ll note here that I would walk over hot coals to get my hands on their “Grandes Places” Côte-Rôtie; it never came to that during the event in Ampuis, but it’s a wine that certainly pulls in an enthusiastic crowd.) Then, playing remote tour guide for a moment, Tim connected the dots between the Clusels’ Traboules gamay and the name, which comes from Lyon’s ancient traboules: the semi-concealed public passageways that wind through some of the city’s oldest quarters. They sounded exotic and a bit weird. Right up my alley, so to speak.
FROM THE PANDEMIC THAT BROUGHT you virtual tastings comes another new addition to the wine lexicon: curbside pick-up.
And it’s quite new—for wine, anyway. As recently as February, “curbside” still implied a transaction likely involving a Chick-fil-A or a Big Mac. Just three or four weeks later, in-person shopping for wine—the quaint, familiar concept of browsing shelves and case stacks, picking up bottles to read their labels, maybe sampling at a tasting bar—had been pandemically turned on its head. A more appropriate metaphor might be kicked to the curb.
Or maybe not.
“It’s almost impossible to emphasize how different this landscape is right now,” my friend Dan Polsby wrote to me in an email in March about Vintage Berkeley, the College Avenue shop he manages and buys for, and now was tasked with converting to a 100% curbside pick-up business. “Some distributors and importers have already stopped shipping. Some are experiencing crazy delays. And for us? Basically every day right now is as busy as what’s usually our busiest day of the year—but at quarter staff, for 12-13 hours—despite letting no customers into the store. Can you imagine?”
Could anyone have imagined such a scenario? Besides that cohort of doctors, scientists, and other infectious disease experts (surely some wine enthusiasts among them) who’d been sounding the alarm to the White House about Covid-19 since January, I mean.
IT WAS MID-MARCH, EARLY DAYS for shelter-in-place. No tumbleweeds were blowing across College Avenue yet, but Elmwood was a ghost town.
Stuck at home in Napa and rather desperate for some French gamay that wasn’t the Duboeuf Beaujolais stocked on our (and every) local supermarket shelf, I drove down to this normally bustling pocket of Berkeley to pick up a wine called Traboules, a delicious and unusual bottle of gamay from the Rhône Valley’s Coteaux du Lyonnais that I tracked down last year.
The trip was shockingly quick: fifty-five minutes door-to-door from Napa. Only at 6:00 AM on a Sunday—or, I suppose, during a pandemic. The novel coronavirus had brought the novelty of zero Thursday morning traffic to the usual I-80 parking lot.
Granted, an excursion away from Napa Valley to find wine might sound like leaving Darjeeling to go tea shopping. But if you’re looking for good French wine, you head to Berkeley. And if something unique like Traboules is on your list, you make a beeline for Vintage Berkeley.
Drink is the feast of reason and the flow of soul. – Alexander Pope, Imitations of Horace
RECENTLY, I GOT MYSELF into a predicament that, courtesy of their government, U.S. wine geeks narrowly avoided a couple of months ago: I ran out of gamay.
The paucity verged on the political. Had the White House made good in February on its late 2019 threat to increase tariffs from an already egregious 25% on French and other European wines to an industry-wrecking 100%, it would have been bye-bye Beaujolais. And Beaujolais-Villages. And Côtes-du-Rhône Villages and the like. Chablis, Champagne, Château Take-Your-Pick? Adieu to all of them—or at least au revoir for a good, long time.
As if there wasn’t enough government-driven panic going around.
So, when the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, issued his decision on February 14th not to raise the tariffs, it was a reprieve for my beloved gamay noir à jus blanc, as the wine grape of Beaujolais is properly known.