When I traveled down to Burgundy to research my New York Times article on Thomas Jefferson and wine, I had a big hurdle to face: Driving. See, I can’t drive a stick shift. And apparently there are only two automatic cars for rent in the town of Dijon. Both of which were reserved.
So, I decided to rent a car in Paris and drive the 300 kilometers myself. Pas de problème!
The day of my trip dawned and I picked up the car. At first, all seemed well. The car was an automatic. It was a normal-sized Dodge SUV and not an enormous 9-person van. But then, I realized there was a problem. A big one. The seat wouldn’t move forward. My short little legs could barely reach the pedals.
In the parking garage, I found a rental agency employee. He was reluctant to end his cigarette break, but after a few minutes of pleading, I convinced him to help me adjust the seat. Alas, it wouldn’t budge.
Was it broken? Could he fix it?
No, he told me. “The seat doesn’t move forward any further because this is an American car.”
Because, apparently, all Americans are giants. Hmph.
“I’m American,” I said, a little bit defensively, it must be admitted.
Nevertheless, the seat wouldn’t move an inch and, this being France, there were no other automatic cars available for rent. So, I wadded up my coat, shoved it behind my back, and drove with it wedged behind me the entire 300 kilometers. The entire five days, actually. Sometimes I would forget about needing the coat, only to get in the car, reach for the brakes and feel my feet hit air.
Still, even though my drive through the Côte d’Or quite possibly did permanent damage to my lower lumbar, it was impossible not to be enchanted by the region. What did I see?
The adorable Clos de la Commeraine, which the vigneron at Louis Jadot describe to me as “tout mi-mi!”
Vines, more coddled than a toddler, rising from the region’s famous red and rocky soil.
The impressive Château du Clos de Vougeot, looming over a vineyard ocean.
Immense 15th-century grape presses, used by the monks to crush the fruit.
Massive fermentation vats that produced 12,000 gallons of wine a year in their heyday.
A plaque honoring Jefferson in Pommard: Proof that TJ drank here.
The sweet hotel where I stayed, the Villa Louise — my room was on the top floor, the three windows on the left side.
A celebrated shop selling pain d’épices spice bread from a 15th-century recipe. You didn’t think I forgot to do any food exploring, did you?