I recently stumbled upon a childhood memory online: The Domain de la Vallongue. This is the winery in Provence, France where I spent my summers as a boy and teenager, and then later in life I spent a few vacations there, too.
My grandmother Muriel was married to the patron, Phillipe Paul-Cavalier, for more than 40 years. Phillipe was a brilliant man, who like every other Frenchman of his generation claims to have fought in the Resistance. I believed him because he had some pretty harrowing stories about the Nazis and almost getting killed twice.
He dreamed about owning his own winery and bought the Vallongue in the late fifties/early sixties. His tenant in Paris, my grandmother, who was an art collector, became his true love. So he married her, and together they lived there for four decades. Since his death she has returned to the U.S. where she now resides in the greater Washington area.
I spent my first time at the Vallongue when I was two. That began a long series of summers that saw me there every two or three years for the entirety of each respective summer. It was a place of joy and escape, where I could roam the stony mountains in search for wild boar, play tennis, swim, and yes, wander amongst the many, many vineyards that seemed to adorn the mountains like a rose on a groom’s lapel.
Phillipe always treated me like I was his own grandson, and he showed me how the wine was made many times. I remember the crushed grapes would sometimes spill onto the floor of the Cave where the wine fermented. You could smell the wine as it matured, and to this day I can recall that scent at will.
I stopped visiting the Vallongue in my early twenties, but returned when I was 29 to spend Christmas with the family in late 2001. It was Phillipe’s last Christmas, as he passed away a month later. I am so glad I made it there to say good-bye to this incredible man. I returned two more times, once in 2003 to show this beautiful place to my then girlfriend Caitlin. We had an incredibly romantic trip, and I will always remember showing her my childhood joys.
I returned one final time in 2004, again with Caitlin, this time to pick up the estate ring that would become the physical manifestation of our engagement and love for each other. One day after departing, I proposed to Caitlin in Cannes at sunset.
The Vallongue is still producing wine today, though at 25% of the capacity during Phillipe’s time. It is still waiting for a new proprietor to come and take care of it.
So you see for me this is not just a winery, it’s a place of magic and beauty.