A Visit to Alphonse Mellot, 2016
I can’t be certain how long I had been racing along the corridors and double-timing up ramps and down stairs in the sprawling cellars of Alphonse Mellot. It was one of those occasions where I knew not to look at my watch (even if I wore one). And nor did I actually want to check the time – I was having far too much fun chasing Alphonse Mellot Senior, without doubt one of the great doyens of Sancerre, as we sprinted from one tronconic wooden cuve to the next. Alphonse may be knocking on eighty years of age, but he is a very sprightly septuagenarian, I suspect his feet no less quick than his mind. If this is what drinking some of the very best wines in the Sancerre appellation every day does for you, sign me up.
So I had absolutely no idea how long we had been there when Alphonse decided he should tell me of the two careers which, as a young man more than a few decades ago, he was considering. Having started our whirlwind tour in French, Alphonse had switched to English by this time.
“I knew what I wanted to be; it was either a vigneron or a bahn-dee”.
I cocked my head to one side and frowned, international body language for “I haven’t a clue what you just said”. I was entirely unfamiliar with ‘bahn-dee’ as a career option. It certainly wasn’t one of the many métiers I had considered as a young man, which ranged from plumber, to being Bill Gates before anyone even knew who Bill Gates was and, of course, doctor. Looking back, why oh why did I not stick with the Bill Gates thing? Or plumber? I could have been rich!
Alphonse (pictured above), to his credit, clearly understood my cross-border body language. To add some illustration he immediately assumed the stance of a cowboy, ready to draw two six-shooters quicker than you could say Wyatt Earp.
“Yes, you know, a bahn-dee. A bahn-dee. Like a bank robber”.
All in all I spent perhaps three hours tasting with Alphonse Senior, and I learnt a lot from this great man. But none of the facts I learnt about him, his family or his wines gives me more pleasure than the new-found knowledge that, as a youngster, Alphonse was torn between joining the family in the vines, or taking up a career as a bank robber. Or, as he put it, a bandit.