the grape


by Anna Ward


Olivia Pattison

Not a bottle of Rosé is opened during the summer without my thoughts tumbling towards a tiny dot of a town, zooming in like Google maps, to Cucuron. Forty-five minutes north of Aix-en-Provence, on a winding road around ancient villages and vines, are the French town’s sunbaked red clay roofs. Surrounded are the dark greens of Cypress trees, caked earth and brittle green hills sloping north towards the Luberon Mountains.

The town is known for its center, a shaded sanctuary, leafy and cool, with massive trees lining the L’Etang, boughs sighing into the quiet pool. A crumbling medieval fortress sits above the town, like many in the Vaucluse region.

Cucuron’s wine co-op is visited daily to refill our bottles with the local blends of red, white and rosé; all simple and tasting of the dry, herbal air, accented with sun-ripened fruit, waxy and rich. Bottles are re-used, no labels claim the wine, and yet it’s still some of the most memorable wine I have ever drunk. I’m constantly on the lookout for Vaucluse wine here in the States, desperate for a taste of those languid afternoons.

It’s what I miss most, the way the hours stretch out and relax, marked only by meals ahead; breakfast of croissants and café au lait to ease out of last nights festivities. The next nod to Father Time is lunch of Gésier salad; great green lettuce, slick garlic dressing to cut the fattiness of the duck hearts tossed in. The greatest antidote known to man for the troughs of wine consumed morning, noon and night.

Afterwards pétanque in the driveway and a platter of apéritifs, arranged by the game’s loser; brilliant green olive tapenade, pungent anchovy paste, miles and miles of saucisson, a baguette, of course. “Fill up another bottle of rosé,” someone calls up to the house. “Make that three,” another yells. Condensation beads on the bottles in the heat.

The dusty roads lead to other small towns, lined with acres of grape vines and lolling sunflower heads, wild briars of the sweetest blackberries, spicy with the warmth of the sun spreading over your tongue. Each town has a market on a different day of the week. We pick up brilliant sardines one night, roasted chicken from a spit for lunch, black figs, rippled tomatoes. It is the motherland of farmers’ markets.

Evening comes, slowly. The clatter of plates being prepared around the table sounds throughout the house. Candles are lit, wine glasses filled and refilled. The crowd gathers, family and friends that are more like family and less like friends. Bottles set down, differences set aside, we sit down in hungry anticipation of hours of eating and drinking.

Whatever was picked up at the market is served that night: fresh salads, grilled Merguez sausages, tomatoes basking in local olive oil. Last comes the cheese course, a massive platter, set down with care in the center of the table. Everyone is satiated and content, but we sigh in reverence and find the room. We share stories and pass the bread, slicing off rich helpings of blue-veined, buttery and raw cheeses, running down our chins, running to the cellar for more wine. We sit unmoving, there is nowhere else to be, time is infinite in Cucuron. And then midnight breaks, and another day of meals begins again.