Keep Calm and Drink Rosé

Exploring a little local flavor in the heart of Provence

Gordes, France — We’re on a visit to the heart of the Provence, which produces the world’s best rosé, a wine rapidly becoming an American favorite.

The ancient coat of arms of the tiny village of Gordes is not a hand holding a flaming sword or two lions facing off, but three plump butternut squashes on a divided shield. The message, it seems, is that this tiny ancient fortress village perched precariously on top of a mountainside values its vegetables, food, and local wine over a bloody fight.

For 10 or 12 euros, or less, in a local supermarket about the size of mall card shop back home, you can find an unending variety of rosés, made from combinations of the grapes cinsault, grenache, and syrah.

Local rosés are refreshing, even on the hottest days (it was in the 90s on our visit), and they are a common staple a in local restaurants.

For centuries, the region has made rosés that are dry, fresh, light, and several degrees lower in alcohol than standard reds and whites, thus more “charitable” to the human body in the local heat.

This time of year, the local folk are disarmingly good-natured, despite having to endure assorted forms of ill behavior by tourists, such as walking in the middle of the village streets and ignoring oncoming cars, which they seem to think don’t belong there because the place is so small and ancient that cars disrespect this place they have just discovered.

Then there’s the dilemma of the restaurant servers, dealing with Americans who somehow can’t recognize their own language in italics next to the French descriptions on the menus.

Or the guy who had apparently run out of euros and couldn’t understand why the shopkeeper wouldn’t take his U.S. currency.

“My money is good, you know,” he kept saying.

Through it all, life goes on at a leisurely pace and the Provençal natives smile and carry on.

A few years ago, when I was visiting this place (it was my home during childhood for several years and summers), I caught up with the British wine buyer and importer Melvyn Master, who lives a few hilltops away from here, and who had launched a line for the U.S. of inexpensive Provence wines called Les Jamelles.

Master was a little flustered on that visit; things had not gone well in his winery that day.

Master had a winemaker problem. The man liked his own wine, and sometimes just a tad too much and too early in the day.

That week, the rosé grapes had been harvested and crushed, and the fermentation was under way in those massive open top fermenters that hold thousands of gallons of grape juice.

After lunch, the winemaker had moved a ladder to climb to the top and check on how the fermentation was going. As he reached in to pull a sample from the tanks, he fell in.

A secretary heard him yelling and rushed into the tank room and up the ladder to try and help Master him get out.

His response was: “Merci, Yvonne, but did you see my pack of cigarettes floating in there?”

I asked Master what he did with the wine.

“Well, the authorities came by to assess the situation,” he said. “They made us dump the entire tank.

“Then we opened a bottle of rosé, and laughed about it through my tears,” he said.

Yes, even seeming tragedy can be made into comedy in Provence. Life goes on.