It was a correspondence with Richard Ross from Wine Lines that made me ponder whether there was a link between a love of cars and a love of wine. Mr Ross’s own particular money pit is an MGA 1600. On vineyard visits, it is surprising how often there will be a vintage car normally in a state of disrepair. This reached an apogee with the late and much-lamented Marco di Bartoli in Sicily who not only collected and restored cars but used to race them too:
‘We entered a series of connected garages and a scene unlike anything I’d imagined – what looked like a small auto factory. . . dozens of vintage cars – 1950s and 1960s Alfas, Fiats, Lancias, Porsches, an early 1980s Ferrari and collections of minuscule Fiat 500s. . ‘ Robert V. Camuto, Palmento
So what could the link be?
Making good wine is often unrewarding certainly from a financial point of view, it requires long hours, patience and a willingness to get your hands dirty. This is much like keeping an old Alfa Romeo on the road. You would only do it for love as neither are going to make you rich. Your old car will break down, hail will destroy your vines – either way your wife is going to be upset. Then there is that moment when you’re on a winding bit of road, you change down when not strictly necessary to go into a corner, power out and listen to that little twin cam engine sing as it hits 5,000 rpm. That’s the moment that makes it all worth it. It’s the same magic I imagine you get when you try your wine in barrel after a difficult vintage and its really rather good, or when you find a good bottle of Burgundy. As Jay McInerney puts it in a recent article:
‘Burgundy, a region whose wines sometimes reminded me of British sports cars of the sixties in their fickleness and undependability. . .’
So when shaking hands with wine makers, look not only for the callouses that show they spend time in their vineyards but also for oil stains from tinkering with old machines. Their wine will be worth trying. There is a flip side to this. You should be wary if they are driving in a brand new flash car such as one of those Bentleys popular with footballers. The wine equivalent would be an overripe oaked Cabernet in the international style; the kind of thing made and bought by people with too much money who never get their hands dirty. It may be impressive, but it won’t stir the soul.
My relationship with old wines is much better than with old cars. I once borrowed a 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulietta TI intending to drive from Nice to Calais with a Californian girl I hardly knew. The car belonged to a friend of hers. It was all going romantically on the A8 near Aix when to the strains of Bitch by the Rolling Stones the tread came off the right hand rear tyre. I’ve no idea how fast as the speedometer was broken. I lost control and banged the car against the wall of the hard shoulder trying to get it off the road and out of the path of a juggernaut. We spent the next couple of hours on the back of a transporter – not a bad way as it turned out to see the vineyards of Provence.
My Alfa jaunt did end happily for me, the Californian and I decided to get married when on the Eurostar home (the car went to an Alfa specialist in Lyons for some expensive repairs. I hear she’s back in good shape and living somewhere near Swindon). My wife and I have just had our first child, Helena. Perhaps we should have called her Giulietta.
Part of me longs for an old car, ideally a Lotus Elan plus 2, just as part of me longs to own a few acres of vines in a hilly part of the Languedoc. I don’t know if either dream will come true but I like that I can get some of that magic when I open a wine such as a Vecchio Samperi from di Bartoli. The next day I can wake up, get in a modern Volvo and drive to my office job.