It is so quiet here. I lean out the window and the only sound I hear is crickets and water trickling to the earth from late afternoon rains. France has so many little villages like Puimisson. One thousand people but hardly anyone on the street, a stray black cat, a man walking his three dogs. At the one bar in town the elderly proprietress smokes cigarettes outside her empty establishment. Catholic icons loom over empty streets, the mostly-full parking spaces along the narrow lanes give the impression of a place hastily abandoned. There is an impossibly French looking Mairie, an ancient stone arch, and hundreds of yards of beautiful weathered doorways and window shutters. Buildings are for sale. Where are the rakish bored supermodels? Much of the town looks ready for a Vogue photoshoot. Or maybe, where are Edina and Patsy?
Impressive wind and rain battered Bruno and Thama’s house and winery for much of the afternoon. Shutters slammed shut like shotgun blasts, jarring to my outsider’s ears. They are outsiders, too, from San Paolo. And we sneaked up on them! Thama entered our visit on their calendar for a week after today. Our email communication was fractured and last-minute. She called us, frantic, while our car was speeding in the direction of Puimisson, twenty minutes away at most. There was really no turning back, we were at the start of the penultimate day of a two-week stint in France, busted schedules be damned. Thama was frazzled, halfway through a Heineken by the time we arrived. Bruno seemed fine! He went out for a couple baguettes, and arrived at their home a few minutes after we pulled into town. “Look, I’m French now!” he said, carrying his bread with the nonchalance of a native. Thama encouraged us to join her for a beer: it didn’t take much encouragement! With the finish line of our French excursion in view and (for once) not in the presence of total strangers, it felt like a decent time to relax. Their home is comfortable, thick walls turn the exuberant playtime of two young daughters into a pleasant dull murmur.
Post-beer we walked fifty yards down the street to the winery. It is a cavernous open facility with considerable old French country charm. Wood beams hang high above irregular stone walls. A long line of concrete fermentation tanks is navigated via a narrow metal gangplank. It’s a vast place, built for the 80-hectare previous life of Les Chemins de Bassac. Today the winery is a much more manageable 18 hectares. The previous owners continue to farm produce and cereals in Puimisson, and were helping Bruno in the cellar until the 2019 vintage. It’s his first year at the helm! And from what we tasted, the transition has been seamless. There is a greater focus on the fine detail of terroir now, fewer large batch cuvees, more of a spotlight on special parcels around the farm. It doesn’t make much economic sense to create a series of tiny wines, some as small as one barrel. But Bruno is energized by making special wine. For the time being he’s letting Thama fret about the financial aspects of their new path.
Bruno is taking a less-is-more approach, favoring wild yeast and minimal/no filtration. The wines have tartrates now, which is totally fine with me. Back at the kitchen table we greedily enjoyed glasses of new petillant naturel Pinot Noir and Viognier, both disgorged on the patio moments before drinking. The kids baked us a tomato tart: really lovely. A neighbor arrived and so we shared a glass or two more, as conversation drifted between French and English and Italian and Portuguese. Thama made a pork roast and Brussels Sprouts, perfect for the Isa Blanc. Soon the wine will be renamed Raiz, more signaling of the estate’s change in ownership and direction. It’s a nervy Roussanne/Viognier, more mineral than fat, perfect for the meal. After a brilliant blood red sunset and as people started to drift away from the table for quiet corners of the big old home, Thama expressed regret at missing her chance to make feijoada for fellow Americans. It’s lonely in the Languedoc at times, particularly for her primary school age daughter. Even Nina the elderly flat-coated retriever is a transplant from the USA, left at the farm by a sister who moved to Saudi Arabia. For a day we were a small colony of homesick travellers from the western hemisphere, bonding on stories of far-flung family and the newfound flavors of trapped-in-amber rural France.
Thama implored us to stay another day, or at the very least to return next year with our kids. We have to be in Avignon very early to catch the TGV to Paris and to rejoin the relative homogeneity and comfort of globally connected places. Japanese toilets, Prada outlets, Italian wine lists in the 2nd arrondissement. The appeal of Puimisson is wrapped in the quiet of midnight. I hope to wander its silent streets again soon.