It was a long walk to the police station, positioned well down the platform, with a dozen or so offi cers hanging about. I did not have much time to make a report, so was told to do so in Montpellier. I had a clear memory of the face and was ready to look at mug books. You would think the police would know these professional thieves who prey on travelers in a rush to catch a train. I asked about video surveillance, and to my surprise in this post-911 world, I was told there is none. My phone rangs. “Let’s go,” John said.
Friday Afternoon, October 5
Henri Bernabe, a wine industry friend and occasional Moscow visitor, greeted us at the Montpellier station. Henri’s company, Richter, is a leading producer of grape vine clones that are sold worldwide for vineyard planting. Henri travels regularly to Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Central Europe. He lives in Montpellier, and graciously served as our host during the visit there. Henri was raised in Algeria, but his family was forced out during the 1962 troubles, to resettle in southern France. In the 1980s, he spent a number of years in Austin, Texas, working with the growing local wine industry.
After wasting some time on the police report, Henri settled us into his mother’s “bed and breakfast” – a group of luxurious vacation apartments overlooking a splendid valley, tended by his incredibly active mother from her adjacent sprawling, open home. She built the home on the site of an old chateau, and this was where we had our breakfast of fresh cheese, breads, jams, and home prepared fruit for the next two days.
We were in the Languedoc wine region; though not a premium region, many wineries have made big improvements in quality in recent years. Henri took us to one of his favorite wineries, Chateau Puech-Haut, a typically beautiful, small producer. Our next stop was Henri’s home, a large country house that his father had restored, to meet his Texas-born wife and sons. Then we were off to our second Michelin.
Le Jardin des Sens (**) is the creation of now world famous twin brothers Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, sons of a wine producer. In Montpellier, they turned an end-of-the-19th century house into a Mediterranean garden in 1988. This is the top restaurant in this region. The dinner, emphasizing local fresh seafood, with a touch of lamb, was sensational. However, we lost our way after the main course as we picked through a seemingly endless series of post dinner and dessert courses beginning with a big selection of fresh cheeses.
Saturday Morning, October 6
Henri picked us up to drive out to the Montpellier exhibition center, a huge complex already teeming with people, present for other events and outings. The Chevaliers du Cep meeting took place in just one of many buildings in the complex. Small groups of Chevaliers wandered in from various areas of France, each wearing the bright colored dress and caps of their local chapter. There we met a St. Petersburg businessman, Fedor Kozlov, also a wine lover and interested in promoting the organization back home. He had arranged for a number of Russiarelated events, including a lively performance by a St. Petersburg dance ensemble called Barynya. Greetings and introductions completed, induction ceremonies were held, with John and I awarded certificates.
Saturday Evening, October 6
In the early evening, Alain Causse, Grand Maitre, took us, Henri, and his wife to a lovely seafood restaurant by the shore, Le Saint Clair. This was an open restaurant, with large glass windows overlooking a palm lined park on a long, narrow Mediterranean spit, lagoon on one side, sea on the other. We were served endless portions of lobster, prawns, mussels, oysters, snails. No Michelins this time, but the food was magnificent.
Sunday Morning, October 7
We planned to take the TGV to Lyon where Henri had made us dinner reservations at the legendary three-star Paul Bocuse. From there, I had booked a rental car for a one-way drive through Beaujolais and Burgundy to Paris. At the last minute I decided to pick the car up in Montpellier, a fortunate decision because we were upgraded to a Mercedes.
Sunday Evening, October 7
Paul Bocuse (***) is one of those restaurants where you practically have to provide your bank requisites to get a reservation. Now in his 80s, Paul Bocuse is one of France’s greatest chefs. His signature restaurant is located in a spectacular, if not gaudily decorated, building on the outskirts of Lyon, along the Saone river.
The appointment at Bocuse was at 8:30 and we couldn’t be late. We just managed to find a reasonable room at a nearby Ibis, and arrived just in time. Awed by the building exterior and entrance, we walked through the huge brass doors. And there he was, the man himself, in white starched uniform and tall hat. Paul Bocuse was shaking our hand, welcoming us to his establishment.
We were shown to our table and greeted by the attending staff, so many I lost track of who was who. The menu had three prix fixe menus, starting at prices ranging from 125 euros for the Bourgeois to the Classique at 175 euros, a bargain by Moscow standards. I spotted one of the Champagnes from Passport’s recent wine tasting, a Billecart-Salmon Brut NV Rose, priced at 125 euros. This wine cost more than 200 euros in a Moscow shop, which means at least triple that price on a Moscow restaurant wine list. The dinner and service at Bocuse were well beyond expectations.
Monday, October 8
The next day we went back to Paul Bocuse to take some photos, and who should show up just as we arrived but Paul, driving himself in a black Mercedes SUV. We were invited in. Though now closed, the entire crew was back already, now casually dressed, preparing for the evening. Paul invited us to sit, and anticipating coffee, we were served a morning glass of white wine.
We got a tour of the entire establishment and were then invited a few hundred meters down-river to L’Abbaye de Collonges, a large banquet establishment in an old abbey that features a huge, wide and tall pipe organ along one entire wall. The head waiter from the night before greeted us – a banquet was being prepared for 140. He fi red up the pipe organ, with its centerpiece statue of Paul leading the music.
Then it was a quick drive to Paris, too quick because we drove straight through the Burgundy region. We did stop in Beaune, the heart of Burgundy where the annual wine auctions take place. We sat for lunch at Le Benaton (*), a small, restaurant on a charming downtown street.
The final leg was dinner at a Paris fixture off the Champs-Elysees since 1842, Pavillon Ledoyen (***). Located in a small park, this grand mansion is filled with classic decoration. John’s business guests were already at the table on the second fl oor. I am sure the food was magnificent, and the building was spectacular, but after four days of eating and drinking our way through France, even John said he was tiring of it. Nevertheless, we added three more stars, for a total of eleven.
Tuesday, October 9
The next day I was off the United States while John figured out how he was going to get another visa invitation and replace his Mac. Still no word from the French gendarmes.
Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine