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Muscadet Crus Communaux at Nouvel Ancrage, 2021

Muscadet Crus Communaux, 2021

I am walking across a courtyard in the dark of early Monday morning. The quiet of pre-dawn lays like a heavy blanket over the village of Monnières, broken only by the crunch of gravel underfoot. I suspect most of its residents remain tucked up in bed, although the distant sound of a car starting up is an indication that, for someone at least, the daily commute has begun. I still have at least half an hour before I am due to depart, time enough to break my fast; I enter the breakfast room and take my seat.

I have stayed in this little chambre d’hôtes before, only a couple of years ago, in pre-pandemic times. Little has changed since, and yet in a way everything has changed. Upon arrival last night I found the same uneven flight of steps, fashioned from slabs of schist, forming the ascent up to my bedroom. No two treads are the same, the height of each step differing by up to an inch; this adds an exciting frisson of danger to the climb or even the descent, especially (I suspect) if your journey is fuelled by an extra glass or two of Muscadet. Get it wrong and you could pay the price with a tumble onto that crunching gravel. In my room I found the same uneven and strangely sloping floor, and the same broad and comfortable bed. It felt familiar and, ergo, comforting.

Nouvel Ancrage at Château de la Frémoire, October 2021

And yet there are also stark differences. It did not take a Holmesian eye to spot, when I paid for my room, that the credit card terminal was wrapped in clingfilm, presumably a layer removed after each client has tapped in their pin number. The television remote in my room was similarly mummified. And here, in the breakfast room, my host waves at me from the other side of a glass door, and from behind her mask, two layers of protection. I enjoy my breakfast in solitude and in silence. The company may be lacking, but the quality of the fare is not; fresh grape juice from the host’s own vines, home-made jams and freshly baked croissants, and coffee, once poured from a pot, but now it awaited my isolated presence in a thermos flask. Thankfully, it was just as hot and as tasty as I remembered.

I was soon fully fuelled (and ready to try my luck on those steps once more). I waved my goodbyes through the door, and set out for the day. My destination was Nouvel Ancrage, at Château de la Frémoire.

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