Welcome to The Shire. Or, at least, the French version of The Shire.
No Proudfoots, Bagginses or Tooks to be found. Around here, the local family names are the likes of Chapoutier, Courbis and Jaboulet which many of you may have seen written at the bottom of a wine label or three. No hobbits, then, but a similar love for The Old Winyard and of manicured human landscapes!
I stumbled upon this hidden treasure purely by chance. Having driven from the South of La France to the South of Albion and back a good 40 times, or more, I was familiar with the abrupt stony hills and the multitude of terraced vines. But what appears to be a barren cliff really turns out to be a hilly network of narrow lanes and terraces, of hidden nooks and crannies, as soon as you start the steep ascent towards the hilltop chapel.
Once your lungs stop shouting their painful exhaustion, you start to appreciate the undulating landscape and superb terrace work that, strangely, is not completely unlike some areas of Tuscany. I’ll try to return to the area towards the end of the summer, as the vine leaves turn gold.
Besides the scenery, what I most enjoyed during this walk was seeing the labour of love that the constant renovation work really is. Stone walls of impressive proportions are being rebuild wherever they threaten to collapse and not a single vine is harmed during the process.
The vines themselves are taken care of following ancient traditions, not for the tourist’s sake or for fun but because this manual method allows much greater precision. The gent below kept starting and stopping his horse to hug the vine roots without cutting through them. Local wines are really quite pricey but, by buying them, you are really investing in the maintenance and transmission of these old ways.
But let’s talk photo 🙂
My visit provided an interesting opportunity to compare my Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4 ZM (a.k.a “Audrey”) to the Zeiss Loxia 35/2. More on the formal test in a future post. But here are some photographs made with both to let you evaluate the different looks of both beasties in the same lighting conditions.
Below are a few more shots made along my walk. All made with pretty Audrey.
On the other side of the Rhone lies Tournon, the two twin cities being linked by two bridges. If anything, the hills on the North-facing Tournon side are even steeper and, if the Tain vineyards felt like Hobbiton, this is far more like Sleepy Hollow. At least in leafless and mossy winter. On that side, vine terraces are tiny and even more complex in layout.
Access to the Southern hills (photos at the top of this page)
Access to the Northern hills
And the promise?
Well, you see, the parts in between the hills ain’t half good either.
Then, there’s the fabulous food and superb wine. Birding too, for those who enjoy that. So I’m thinking of hosting a Wine & Photo workshop next fall, when the vines turn golden. The chap from the wine bar above (who sold me the precious cargo below) agreed to organise wine tasting evenings with wines from the Rhone Valley, Burgundy and Alsace. Judging by the superb quality of what he served me today, that should be quite an experience. And during the day, well, we’ll tour the hills and local domains for some “France Profonde” photography like no other workshop can show you.
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