The Mobile Distillery

The Mobile Distillery
We all have our favourite ‘small world’ stories, those unlikely tales of association that link together otherwise completely unconnected people. The best ones span continents, generations and nationalities and are often held together by little more than a spider’s web of association. For maximum effect when being recounted – in suitably dramatic style – the tale teller should employ a wide range of delivery techniques: conspiratorial lowering of the voice, theatrical pauses, sweeping hand gestures and as much eye rolling and eyebrow raising as facial muscles will permit. One of mine dates back over a decade and has been told and retold with no loss of shine in the years since…
It is a bitter January morning in Burgundy’s Pommard, the first village south after you leave Beaune, easily recognized by its foursquare church tower (which might be said to mimic its traditionally robust wines). Snow is falling half-heartedly, odd flakes drifting hither and thither, doing little to add to the plump carpet underfoot that fell during the night. The grey block of the church – the Eglise Saint-Pierre et Sainte-Agnès – sits in the middle of the eponymously named Place de l’Eglise, dominating its surroundings. I have just finished an early morning tasting at Comtes Armand with then winemaker Benjamin Leroux and am stomping my way back to my car, promising myself hot coffee and warm croissants to get the circulation going, sustenance that could be enjoyed – no disrespect to the wines – without recourse to a spittoon. The urgent pace slows, however, when my attention is caught by a warm, winey-spirity whiff on the breeze that calls for further investigation. A crowd has gathered in the lee of the imposing church tower, huddled close, with billowing clouds of steam rising above them: the mobile distillery has come to town.
After every vintage a large quantity of skins, pips and stems remains after fermentation – the marc (say with a silent ‘c’). During the following winter the trailer-mounted mobile distillery visits the Côte d’Or’s wine villages in rotation and the marc is put through an elaborate extraction process and distilled into Marc de Bourgogne. What looks like a small oil refinery sits atop the trailer, with three large copper cylinders front and centre. The dark purple marc arrives by forklift truck and is loaded into the cylinders, which are then closed to allow steam to be pumped through them, extracting the residual alcohol. The resulting liquid is then distilled into a clear, slightly viscous and not-so-slightly fiery spirit that is, to most palates, an acquired taste.
The best bit is yet to come, however. The spent waste, scalding hot, is dumped into a steaming pile, into which are buried various foil-wrapped meats – thick sausage, knuckles of pork and so forth – to cook them for breakfast. I was invited to join in. An armful of baguettes came from the boulangerie along with various wines from the surrounding cellars, to deliver the most wonderful, sauvage, breakfast I have ever experienced. It was so good that I returned for a second visit on a less perishing and snowless morning a few days later. This time I struck up a conversation with Eric, the distillateur. Irish people always have to know where somebody is from – their ‘terroir’ in wine-speak – so I opened with an enquiry along those lines and the conversation ran roughly as follows: ‘Oh, I’m from a small village, well south of here, you couldn’t possibly know it, or even have heard of it.’ ‘Try me.’ ‘Moroges.’ ‘Moroges, you’re from Moroges?’ ‘Yes, Moroges.’ To describe Moroges as a one-horse town is a wild exaggeration, the horse left years ago, yet I knew it well. We continued: ‘I know Moroges, I have stayed there.’ ‘No?’ ‘Yes, with a friend from Ireland who lives there, David –’ ‘He’s my neighbour, he buys wine from me.’ It was my turn to be incredulous: ‘David is your neighbour?’ ‘Yes.’ A silent shake of the head was all I could manage. Small world.
Raymond Blake has been writing about wine for 25 years and has been published across the globe. His latest book, Wine Talk was published by Skyhorse, New York.
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