“It was no accident that I became a master cheese-maker. As a child, I fell into the cooking pot! It was my grandfather, a wine-grower at Villes-sur-Auzon, who gave me my first taste of sweetened wine!” Today Claudine Vigier-Barthélemy performs an exceptional task, that of pairing the wines of her native Rhone Valley with the most delightful, of foods: cheeses, foie gras, caviar… She has a gift, which she cultivates by sharing with others, in her shop in Carpentras, but also on her travels. This is her story.
For Claudine, it is not just a job, but something she lives and breathes.
"I am a cheese-maker. But I soon began taking an interest in wine. To gain a better understanding, and be able to talk about it, I attended the Wine University at Suze-la-Rousse. Terroirs, care of the vines, organoleptic properties… Claudine was eager to learn and apply her knowledge. Now she is a master of her art. “In our shop, we offer some nice wine-and-cheese combinations, and a whole range of good things.”
Claudine’s enthusiasm is infectious.
“My interest in wine is no coincidence. I come from a wine-growing family. My grandfather had a vineyard at Villes-sur-Auzon. Since childhood – I’ve got a photograph of me with my hand on my tummy – I’ve revelled in it!” She is involved in all aspects of the business, travelling and undertaking a whole host of projects: “I visit the various fairs and exhibitions, meet wine-growers, work with Chemin des Vignes, the wine merchants/restaurateurs based at Issy-les-Moulineaux, so I went to meet him.” Organic wine? In her shop, she has 150 organically grown wines on sale, in response to increasing consumer interest.
"The feminisation of wine"
Claudine is a mover and shaker: “In the past, wine was a man’s game. But in our business – we are a team of women –, we encourage our clients to choose the wines they like, serve it at table, introduce it to their husbands.” She sees herself as an intermediary: “We are switching roles, and we are going great guns. We talk with women and they open up, tell us what they like, how they like it. Listening to their wishes, we can tell what sort of wines they would like.” They may be upsetting tradition, but it is in a good cause! The cause of good eating and a well-coordinated meal: “When a wife cooks, she knows exactly what she is putting on her plate, how to cook it and what it will taste like. Therefore, she also knows what wine will set it off to perfection. Whereas husbands plump for a wine without always being aware of the importance of achieving a good match!”
" Foreigners love discovering our terroir "
In her shop, Claudine organises wine-and-cheese tastings for an audience consisting mainly of foreign tourists. They come to discover the region, its wine and cheese-making traditions. For two to three hours, they discuss, taste, make discoveries and thoroughly enjoy themselves. “I work in partnership with a number of estates, when I play host to groups of journalists… With the growers, we look for the best possible pairings of our products. We give our guests a short presentation while they taste the wine and cheese: how a food and a liquid can combine so beautifully, have such a lingering flavour."
The formula works, at home and abroad
As a true lover of her terroir, it is second nature for Claudine to act as an ambassador. In 2009, she attended a Cheese competition in Seattle and made friends with Cathy Strange, an enthusiastic wine and cheese blogger, and a buyer for Whole Foods Market, an American chain of delicatessens. “We were at table and I noticed that the wine list included a Rasteau. I ordered a bottle and shared it with the company. They just lapped it up! Immediately, Cathy added Rasteau wines to the Whole Food Market range! A nice story, don’t you think?” On 22 February 2012, she travelled to New York at the invitation of Relais et Châteaux. For three days, in this exceptional setting, she met with American journalists, to introduce them to her products and infect them with her enthusiasm! Activities which should benefit wine tourism and the international reputation of the Rhone Valley.
Her plans for 2012 ?
We shall be celebrating the 30th anniversary of our shop. It will be a big celebration. I am being appointed ambassador for comté cheese, so I shall be working on new comté/Rhone wine pairings, looking for the most subtle combinations. At present, I am working with the Mt. Ventoux goat farmers on a Chèvres du Ventoux label, to develop our cheese-making heritage. They tend very small flocks of thirty or so goats, which live in harmony with the seasons and feed off the countryside. The milk has a wonderful taste!"
And apart from that? Something new… just for fun!
"I have created a new Dentelles de Montmirail blue-veined cheese: I inject Muscat de Beaumes de Venise wine into the cheese and leave it to ripen for a month or so. The resulting cheese is extremely smooth and creamy. And in summer… perhaps I shouldn’t tell you this! You can eat it with thin slices of melon that have been in the freezer and small balls of the cheese, also slightly chilled. With a bottle of Beaumes de Venise, it is a sheer delight!”