In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci moved to Milan, where he would work for the ruling Sforza family doing engineering, sculpting, and architectural projects, and most famously, painting his mural masterpiece, The Last Supper. What’s less known, though, is that the Renaissance genius also tended to personal grapevines in Milan. This vineyard was in existence for nearly four centuries and is located just across the street from the chapel in which Leonardo created The Last Supper.
It is no wonder why Bourgogne, or Burgundy, is known as the Côte d’Or. During our July sojourn in France’s ‘Golden Hillsides,’ the region’s fields were ablaze with vibrant tournesols (sunflowers), freshly-groomed wheat, and vineyards – where still-maturing grapes glistened with dew.
In the villages of Burgundy, sand-colored stone homes were accented with shutters painted in hues of Williamsburg blue, deep ivy green and terracotta. Delicate geraniums overflowed from window boxes, while the tantalizing aromas – from toasted baguettes, boeufbourguignon and a Dijon vinaigrette – swirled down the streets. In cafés and restaurants, blond Chardonnay flooded glasses. The scintillating wine seemed tailor-made for such balmy Burgundian summer evenings.
From the weathered buildings, friendly faces and individuals with lively personalities emerged. Periodically, vintage Citroëns rolled onto the scene, creating circa 1940 vignettes that were quintessentially French. One such classic voiture even ushered in a serendipitous moment that would be one of the highlights of our time in Burgundy.
One glorious afternoon, my husband, Shawn, and I turned onto a back road seemingly forgotten. As it was Sunday, most of the village’s homes and shops were shuttered and quiet. A few children kicked about a soccer ball under the protective shade of graceful, old Sycamore trees. Near a small town square, there was a statue erected to honor France’s sons who were lost during the past century’s world wars. I hopped out of our car to play shutterbug before a rustic home with windows that were wide open. A creamy Citroën stood guard.
Out of nowhere appeared Régis, a gregarious Frenchman who was happy to share travel tips with us. He mentioned that the subject of my photograph was his ancestral home – a somewhat-dilapidated structure formerly belonging to a vintner. The home was more than 700 years-old. The clumsy old Citroën was also his.
“Voulez-vous partager une bouteille du vin de 1982?” he asked.
“Mais oui!” we exclaimed. It was difficult to decline such a generous offer to share the wine. And so it was that we were welcomed into the home that Régis and his son dreamed of restoring.
Wishing to reciprocate the hospitality that he’d been extended in past times while traveling through Africa and the United States, the agricultural engineer dusted off the 1982 Cabernet, removed its steadfast cork and unveiled a ruby red stream. As we later inched up chatty wooden stairs and ceramic-tiled hallways with glasses in hand, Régis proceeded to share tales from his life in La Réunion, where he spends most of his days. He showed us a creaky, old, wooden beam resting precariously on a disintegrating stone in the attic.
“I have nightmares,” he explained, “that someday that rock might crumble.” If it were to do so, the home’s terracotta roof would crash.
As the wine flowed, Régis mischievously led us to a hiding place in the garage’s brick wall, not far from where a dismembered Citroën stood. It was there, he explained, that he found a cartridge of 10 mm bullets. He explained that the home had been taken over by the German military in World War II. Items were broken by the German soldiers, who had also consumed much of the family’s wine. The village’s mayor would later pass on reparations in the form of a check, but the bullets would remain hidden in the wall until Régis uncovered them decades later.
As we meandered through rooms seemingly forgotten for centuries, Régis explained that the wine had been destined for the United States two and a half decades earlier. For whatever reason, it did not make it across the Atlantic to the country France helped achieve its independence.
It only seemed fitting, then, that the 1982 Cabernet would later be shared with two Americans, a day before Independence Day, under the golden Burgundian sun.
Where in the World?
While in Burgundy, Shawn and I spent the bulk of our time in the pretty city of Beaune (with its celebrated medieval hospital with a gorgeous tiled roof) as well as the villages of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. For more information about the region, see the official tourism site of Burgundy.