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.
The two sides provide a great day of really interesting photography. So let me leave you with access maps and a promise.
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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Sigh – my father was an oenologist & winemaker, I spent many happy hours in vineyards all over the place as a child because of it, and I love the terraced vineyards of France and Italy. And of course that gave me a huge advantage – as a child, I had an expert to teach me appreciation of good wine – I could almost say I was “weaned” on brut champagne! – dad made a batch that the company he worked for thought was “too advanced” for the Australian palate, so he and I spent many happy hours, sharing one bottle after another, until it was all gone.
I take it that the bridge you’re standing on is the Passerelle Marc Seguin, across the Rhone at Tournon? What a beautiful bridge! It seems I will have to rely on your photos, Pascal – I am “grounded” for the moment and won’t be able to travel for some time, for family reasons.
Back to photos – I think I prefer the high-contrast shots – perhaps I am not accustomed to the softer lighting of Europe, harsh lighting is much more typical in Australia because it’s nearer the equator and the atmosphere is less humid.
The soft lighting you see in many photos in Europe can be a feature in itself, to someone whose life has been spent upside down, surrounded by kangaroos. (Just kidding! – we have to travel miles, to see ANY, although some years back there was a tame one across the street from where I lived, which used to hope around to my back door and wait for me to give her a lump of sugar every sunday afternoon, around 3:00pm – I could never work out how a kangaroo knew which day of the week it was, or what the time was!)
Pete, how fascinating! The bridge is indeed Passerelle Marc Seguin and, hanging in my arms, is a mix of white Saint Peray and red Saint-Joseph and Hermitage. All superb stuff we had tasted minutes before in a wine bar photographed above (along with a delicacy called Caillette which was new to me). But I have to say Champagne remains my favourite wine. You are indeed very lucky to have been in such close contact to the know-how.
Where about in Australia are you? We toured the wineries of the Swan Valley, near Perth, and around Margaret River. It was generally a forgetable experience (for the wines) but some gold nuggets were sprinkled here and there and the scenery along Caves Road and between the capes is second to none. I cannot wait to return. And there were kangaroos all over the place, so it must be a local specialty 😉
Interesting that you should like the more contrasty photographs. It’s nice that we should be spoilt for choice with such lenses. I’m not so happy that Zeiss are dropping the ‘technical’ names of their lenses as I feel that Distagon, Planar and Sonnar gave us a better understanding of the image aesthetics to expect from a lens than Loxia, Milvus or Otus. At least it seems an effort have been made in the Milvus and Otus ranges to maintain a similar look throughout.
Swan Valley? I thought the New World wines generally pretty good, but what stood out were the extraordinary green olives we ate right up to to the very edge of nausea.
Some are excellent, many are just too powerful for their own good (at least to my tastes). Along the Margaret River drive, we saw vineyards covered with a thin veil and sprayed with due, to keep the grapes cool and the alcohol low. Lovely craftmanship and refined tastes. Others, well … nt so much 😉 Must return to taste the olives. Can’t wait, to be honest …
LMAO – dad and I used to have dreadful arguments – he seemed to be fond of blended wines, and of course there are some fine ones, but he also favoured the wines from some of the vineyards in warmer places, like the Hunter Valley – while I preferred varietal wines, from cooler climates. As I tried to tell him, this helped me to educate my palate, giving me a better understanding of different varieties than a blend could possibly do.
I grew up in South Australia, spending heaps of time around McLaren Vale and in the Barossa Valley, as well as places like Waikerie, Renmark & Mildura along the Murray River. But I’ve been living in Perth for the past 40-odd years. I can’t say I’ve found very many local wines that “do it” for me, but as you discovered, there are some.
You would laugh at one comment I read about Zeiss’s lens names – a blog run by one of my camera stores here suggested one day that Zeiss should have stuck with its traditional names, like Planar and Sonnar (not altogether feasible to use those names still, with some of their newer lenses, but never mind). At one point they posted this comment about the Otus – apparently not realizing all these new names came from birds:
” back to the puzzle – why on earth would the Zeiss people name a large standard lens after HMS OTUS – an “O” class submarine? is it a leftover from the U-boat days? Is there a naval enthusiast in the marketing department? If we buy more of them will we have a wolf pack?”
PS – I do love the softer lighting, but I’m not as good at handling it – lack of practice, I guess!
PPS – while the date’s deferred, the itinerary for our next trip is firming up – Beziers, Montpellier, Nîmes, Avignon and then up the Rhône to Lyon – it’s OK, I have tons of Lexar compact flash cards, thanks to B&H, who specialed them late last year. It’ll have to be the Sigma ART primes again, I’d love to bring the Otus but I’d be terrified of losing it.
Aaah, so interestting! Where to start ?
Perth. Possibly my fave city of all (though London is hard to beat). Visited family 3 times and almost decided to move in 2008 (single child, family, didn’t). Such a brilliant place to be and such a great base to explore SE Asia. One day, I keep telling myself. My daughter is spending a month there in August. So envious.
We were recommended a winery in the Swan valley called “Little River Winery”. Their production was indeed very interesting (particularly the unwooded whites). But my local fave had bin numbers (can’t remember the details, it’s been 5 years since my last visit). And, better still, the whites from NZ (sorry 😉 ). Particularly the Sauvignon blanc, which I could drink every day. I’ll let you know when we next visit. Maybe we can tour, taste and photograph together.
HMS Otus. Brilliant 😉 I’d never heard about it but naming the lens after a large ship would have been fitting. These days, I’m not so sure the technical names still give a clue to the aesthetics of the lens. The two recent Sonnars (RX1 & Batis 85) don’t strike me as particlarly poetic, the Distagon Otus 55 has really nice bokeh. The cards seem to have been shuffled. Maybe there was no longer a good reason to retain these names. Shame, though.
Let me know when you’re in France. In the area you’re mentioning, Uzes is really interesting. Montpellier is a larger, more modern city. It’s where I was borne and much of my family still lives there. Lovely place. Nimes, I think, is even better. If you have time (and no fear of potentially deadly mosquitoes) the Camargue is well worth an exploration. Avignon has a nice center, but the most interesting local feature are the lovely little villages in the Luberon. And the rest, along the Rhône and up to Lyon, well, you know that part 😉
I really like the feeling of being there, could almost smell red wine wet, freshly pulled corks and the promise of a fine mouthful of glorious shiraz, or merlot.
It got so bad that when Mrs P suggested making pasta and meatballs for lunch, I agreed without a second thought; it would mean I could open a bottle of something nice. I selected a recent well oaked petit verdot made by my buddy who farms up on Sir Lowry’s Pass about 20km way. I’ll take you there when you finally get around to a visit.
Oh yes, despite my disaffection with manual lenses, the 35 f1.4 Distagon still calls…
Deal ! Now, you’ve made *me* hungry. Oh that Distagon …
Ha ! I have spent 15 years not that far from where you took the pictures (even worked one summer in one of the vineyard of the area). We made wonderful bike ride all around the place 🙂
The workshop you talked about is interesting, but there is one thing that i’m wondering : do everybody speak english during the workshop ?
Nice pictures as always, i wish my passion for photography existed by the time i was passing every week… i might go back to see theses places with a “new eye” 🙂
Hi Mikael, small world, it seems 😉 Working in the area must have been hard (if you were in those hills) but so rewarding.
Yes, all the workshops are in English. For this one, we will probably be working with local people (during the wine tastings) who may not be fluent, but we’ll be there to translate whenever needed.
I hope to see you there 🙂 All the best, Pascal
I really would like to join your photo workshop. However I already have a big photo trip planned to the Czech Republic this Fall. Hope you can organize another one in the Fall of 2017.
Hi Matthew, we plan to organize one each spring and each fall. Hope you can make it to one of these. Amsterdam, London, Paris, Marseilles and Berlin are on the shortlist. Tell us what you’d like 🙂
My order of preference (from highest to lowest) would be:
Let me know when you have a plan.