What would you do if you had been climbing treacherous mountains all over the world for fifteen years, and we’re looking for a change of pace? Probably start a winery in the south of France, right?
Nikolaus Bantlin and his wife Carolin seem to do very few things with a conventional mind. She dropped her career at a successful architectural firm to join her daredevil husband to live their dream of raising vines and children in Fitou, a wild neck of the woods close to the Mediterranean coast. Their home is warm and full of life, an older building largely restored by hand, decorated with a charming cacophony of art and photography. We arrived just as they began to eat the archetypal farmer’s lunch of local fresh bread, butter, charcuterie, and cheese.
After lunch, Nikolaus, Carolin, and the three visitors piled into a beat up truck suitable for banging around the rocky roads that curl around the garrigue to the vineyards. We approached with a full view of Canigou, the iconic, snow-capped peak just to our south. We stepped out of the truck and into the tramontane, the nearly constant and sometimes extreme northern wind. Two vineyards, separated by a short walk through the garrigue, lay before us.
This is where it all becomes very difficult to describe. I could go on about natural viticultural practices, or the back-breaking work required to maintain the vines. But this is not enough. Walking in these vineyards is like stepping into the unconscious mind of Bach or Picasso. Vines, olive trees, planted and wild flowers and herbs, earth, stone, garrigue, wind, mountains, and sky all seem perfectly in concert.
We will talk more about the wines someday soon. They are really, really good.