Caveau

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Vive la Paulée, Vive la France

Any thoughts I had about the possibility of the Paulée de Meursault being subdued this year were quite simply way off the mark. I realized within minutes after entering the cellars of the Chateau de Meursault that this year's edition was going to be a barn-burner. The Paulée always fosters an amazing spirit of joy, conviviality, sharing and celebration - but this year it seemed to have an extra edge or lift to it - a spirit of "you cannot take away our right to celebrate the things we love, the essence of who we are".

La Paulée de Meursault - before the madness...

La Paulée de Meursault - before the madness...

This is not to say that there was disregard or disrespect in any way. The event opened in an unprecedented manner with a minute of silence, and then a proudly sung "La Marseillaise" from all 750 attendees. Then the MC announced that the Paulée would continue, "as always". There were many people there who were directly affected by the Paris attacks. One of my table-mates, a wine distributor in Paris, reported that his sister had been wounded in the shooting at the Bataclan nightclub where massive fatalities occurred. Everyone I spoke with seemed to know someone who had been affected by the attacks in some way - these horrific events hit home and registered deeply with everyone here.

Another one of my table-mates turned to me at one point and said, (and I translate loosely) - "You see, this is what is so important to us, the French - the freedom to celebrate, have fun,  and to bring everyone together to share in it. This is also the folly of the French, because of course we have to take it a step or three too far and go way over the top until it gets a little crazy." Indeed, but what a way to go!

The madness begins...

The madness begins...

I "took it easy" and only tasted about 65 wines over the course of the 6-hour, 5-course lunch, and could have easily sampled three times as many if I'd wanted. There were 750 people in the room and everyone brought at least three bottles, with many bringing a dozen or more. You do the math. There were some great wines, some lousy bottles, and everything in between, but the point really seemed to be in the joy of sharing.

A little foie gras, for starters

A little foie gras, for starters

Maybe the most amazing thing about the day is the quality of the meal. To get a Michelin-star-quality 5-course lunch out to 750 people is a major miracle, but they really pull it off here. This was the first year for a new team in the kitchen, and they totally rocked it.

Among the best wines that passed by our table were several vintages of Ramonet Batard-Montrachet, the '01 being especially good, and a great bottle of 1976 Musigny from de Vogüé. At some point in the afternoon it all devolves into a an orgy of excess and inebriation. A wine shop owner from Paris kept turning to me and shouting "MUSIGNY" every few minutes - it was apparently his mantra for the afternoon.

Deep thanks to my hosts Michel and André Buisson and Catherine and Patrick Essa of Domaine Buisson-Charles, who are the nicest and most generous family. It was Michel's 45th Paulée, at least. He's in his 80s now, and has had two strokes in the past year, but was in top form for the Paulée. I think he enjoyed this one more than anyone in the room.

André Buisson, oenologist Jean Dufouleur, and Michel Buisson

André Buisson, oenologist Jean Dufouleur, and Michel Buisson

And now it is Tuesday morning and I'm getting ready for yet another Paulée, this one beneath the streets of Beaune, held annually by Véronique Drouhin for a small group of 50 top producers and collectors. This is where all of the amazing old bottles come out, once-in-a-lifetime treasures. It is always my favorite day of the year, and I'm getting thirsty just thinking about it. Details in 24 hours or so - stand by...