INTO THE TOWN of Sancerre from Burgundy’s Beaune region can
be a bit of a headache. After four hours, two trafﬁc diversions
and a trafﬁc jam, we arrived in the quaint town of Sancerre.
By this time the last thing we wanted was to drive down miniscule
two-way trafﬁc streets, facing ongoing mammoth trucks in
our small rental Opel but the sweet smell of fermenting grapes permeating
the air kept us going.
We did eventually ﬁnd our hotel and once
checked in, we took to the streets. The small hill-perched town
of Sancerre comprises inns, cafés, bars, restaurants and
bakeries. Just off the compact main square there is a stunning viewpoint
where you can scan the region’s undulating slopes sprouting ﬁrst-class
sauvignon blanc vines. The town makes for a nice enough home base
and even holds a bunch of wineries where you may stop by for a dégustation
Depending on how you want to experience this popular
wine region of France, you may want to get away, as we did, from
obnoxious groups of visiting tourists in the square by taking a
short ﬁve-minute drive into Chavignol, home to some of the
greatest white Sancerre wines and the Crottin de Chavignol cheese.
We were lucky: it was a beautiful September day, the skies were
blue and the sun enveloped us in gentle warmth. The sun had not
been so kind a month prior to our arrival and needless to say the
brutally hot days of Europe’s past summer made the 2003 harvest
a particularly unusual one.
We had an appointment with winemaker Jean-Paul
Labaille, who had in fact just ﬁnished harvesting his grapes
a half an hour before we met him, but before that we headed next
door on an idyllic gravel country path paved with green grass and
wild ﬂowers to buy some honey from local beekeeper, M. Philippe
We were met by a cheerful and unpretentious man
wearing a rugged stubble. The wine buyer at Manhattan store, Astor
Wines and Spirits, had sent us there to collect some honey in return
for his help in setting up appointments with some of France’s best
winemakers. We were clearly expected: at ﬁrst sight he knew
that we were ‘les Americains’ and we were promptly led to
his garage, a curious place packed with trinkets and bizarre objects.
Focusing on the small table of honey wasn’t easy, though we did
manage to tunnel our attention at the ﬁrst taste of a deliciously
earthy, ﬂoral and sweet printemps honey. Philippe
Leprêtre is one of those quintessentially French-looking countrymen
that may well have had some amusing stories to tell for this article;
unfortunately the language barrier was a problem. After much gesticulating
and shrugging of shoulders we bid the honey man goodbye and made
our way right next door to meet Jean-Paul Labaille.
Just off the main square
of the hill-perched town of Sancerre is a stunning viewpoint where
you can scan the region’s undulating slopes sprouting ﬁrst-class
sauvignon blanc vines
Undulating curves of Sancerre's hills. ABOVE:
A Sancerre hilltop. BELOW LEFT:
Sauvignon blanc grapes from Jean-Paul's 2003 harvest.