The winds in San Francisco are fairly regular, which is perhaps the reason they do not have names, as far as I know. The climate breathes in and out each day according the sun and the pressure of the torrid Central Valley, and we accept that this is the way of things. A well-known wind in Provence is theMistral that blows down theRhône Valley between the Alps and the Massif Central. It is a cold, dry, hard wind that nevertheless conjures images of olive groves, pissaladière, and red-tiled roofs. It was this wind that was blowing as we entered Provence the other night. We came to attend a gathering of organic vignerons at the Domaine de Sulauze, a largish estate that makes biodynamic rosé that is both typical and delicious. We ate and listened to music and tasted lots of wine. Small plates of hand sandwiches were passed. The Tramontane is another such named wind which I encountered yesterday as we drove from Provence through the Languedoc and up into the Roussillon, the Catalan part of southern France. It is also worth knowing.
Tramontane: tra – meaning over or across, and montane – mountain. It is a wind that here in the Roussillon passes between the western edge of the Massif Central and the Pyrenees to the Southwest. It blows air from the Atlantic coast into the South, howling through the mountains and gathering speed as it descends. We had come to the Roussillon to meet a Belgian vigneronne named France Crispeels from the Domaine de Réveil. We met her down by the coast at her winery in a little warehouse where she makes wine naturally and without sulfur. Her 2013 harvest had gone well, and the reds had finished fermenting and were in vat waiting it be transferred into the large concrete tanks she uses for aging. The Carignan Grenache blend that we tasted first was reduced, funky still. The wine needs air in order to mature. But the Syrah was sublime, bright purple fruit, black pepper, a hint of lavender, just enough animal to keep things interesting.
Then we followed her up into the higher altitudes to see the vines. She farms biodynamically, working hard to bring life to the vineyard so that the vines and the wine will be lively too. Picturesque old stumps of Carignan and Grenache with mountains in the behind, blurry clouds moving swiftly in the background. Scraggly wild herbs perfumed the air. A neighboring conventionally farmed parcel with its moonscape blasted look stood on stark contrast to the vibrancy o f her plots. Back at her home she served us a meal of locally made seed bread and homemade tapenade (black olives with pits, garlic, olive oil, anchovies, capers, c’est tout!) veal steak from her favorite ranch which raises the calves until 18 months of age and lets them wander free, a chicory salad with garlic lemon vinaigrette and avocado, and simple brown rice. We tasted the current vintages, all delicious. Réveil means to wake up. A nice black coffee finished us off.