"Merde, I almost forgot," the owner said as we sat in the notary's office. We were just about to sign the final papers to purchase an 18th Century apartment in the medieval heart of the winemaking town of Beaune, France. "What am I going to do with that extra cellar?"
In Burgundy and especially in Beaune where people live, breath, and drink (bien sûr) Burgundy's world famous wine, "cellars" do not fit the description conjured up by the non-French mind. They are not filled with potatoes and old ping-pong tables. Rather, they are more along the lines of this:
In Burgundy "cellars" are called "caves" and they are where wine is stored deep underground where the humidity and temperature remain as constant as possible for optimal aging conditions.
When we toured the apartment which became one of our most popular vacation rentals in Burgundy - Le Relais du Vieux Beaune - we briefly ventured down into the cellar.
It was part of the real estate tour although I cannot fathom why. There was no wine to be seen and it was dirty and dingy; hardly a winning feature at first glance. It was, we were informed by the real estate agent, sorely neglected and had been used to store coal back when coal was still used as a mainstream heat source (so around the time Dickens penned Great Expectations I figured).
Still, Franck and I noticed the beautiful stone vaulting of the ceiling and the stone pillars, all of which dated the cellar back to the middle ages, centuries before the building above had been constructed.
On that first and even the second visit, there had been no mention that this cellar was for sale - it was merely being shown to us as part of the overall building.
So when the owner mentioned the cellar at our signing we were intrigued, albeit bewildered.
"You mean the one that's all black from the coal?" Franck asked
"Yes. That one. I hadn't thought about it until now, but I don't want it. What would I do with a dirty, old cellar?" He turned a questioning gaze to his realtor, but she just shrugged.
"Do you want it?" He asked us.
"For how much?" I said. "We've maxed out our budget purchasing the apartment." This was not some negotiating tactic, it was the absolute truth.
"I don't know....," he said. "I've never bought or sold a cellar before. How about I throw it in for two hundred euros?"
I had to restrain myself from yelping. Franck and I exchanged a look.
"Sure," Franck said. I was impressed with his ability to maintain a veneer of nonchalance. "I don't know if we'll ever be able to do anything with it, but I guess we could take it off your hands."
That is how we woke up one morning not owning a wine cellar in Beaune, and how we went to sleep that night the proud possessors of one.
The story of how we cleaned, renovated, fixed up, and baptized what we now refer to as Le Cellier du Vieux Beaune is a tale in and of itself. It involves hunting for ancient stone sinks, sliding a several ton block of local marble down the stairs without crushing anyone, a newborn baby, and a riotous baptism (not of the baby, but of the wine cellar).
If it sounds like a book, excellent! I have plans to write the story of our Beaune wine cellar as a novella after finishing up My Grape Paris (the next book in my bestselling GRAPE series). I'll also be blogging more about the creation of the cellar soon...
In the meantime, In Vino Veritas!