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International Herald Tribune > Gruissan: A perfect blend: Jazz, wine and a château: printer friendly version

Gruissan: A perfect blend: Jazz, wine and a château: printer friendly versionThe International Herald Tribune

Gruissan: A perfect blend: Jazz, wine and a château
By Mike Zwerin Bloomberg News

It so happened that toward the end of July, the trumpet star Roy Hargrove was resting up at Château le Bouïs in southern France for a few days in the middle of a long road trip, between a concert in Cognac and a festival in Baalbek, Lebanon.

Located in Gruissan, south of Narbonne, Château le Bouïs consists of a vineyard, winery, guest house, restaurant and jazz club. It is owned and operated by Alexis Rey and Albane de Keroüartz, a talented and energetic French couple. They have named a line of red, white and rosé wines after their children Hélie, Némo and Zoé. Hargrove is a musician with a large sound in the tradition of Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis.

The word "Bouïs" comes from the ancient Occitan language and means swamp. The Romans produced wine in what was then a swamp on what is now the French Mediterranean coast, not far from the Spanish border. More than 100,000 bottles of the wine, a Corbières, are produced a year and sold mostly in the triangle reaching from Toulouse to Perpignan to Marseille.

At the château, there are two swimming pools, several sculpted courtyards, a two-hectare, or 4.9-acre, pine-studded park and good food and wine. What should look old is impeccably maintained, and what needs to be new is new. But the most unique thing about it is its jazz soul.

Rey and de Keroüartz bought the place in 2001, and the first thing they did was replenish the earth, which had been neglected. "There were no more earthworms in the soil," Rey said. "You need earthworms to make nice grapes. You need nice grapes to make good wine. There's a lot of wind, and it's very sunny and close to the sea. It produces a thick strong wine with a lot of texture. It's expensive to make good wine around here, but I cannot make a wine I don't want to drink."

Rey was born in Paris, he "sailed lots of boats for many years," he played polo and he studied hotel administration at Cornell University in New York State. Living in Madrid and Paris, he produced institutional films for corporations, and when that was over, he said, he did not want to live in a city any more.

Rey and de Keroüartz, who adore rebuilding ruins, met in the Dordogne region, where they made over an old farm and bred horses before constructing their compound in Gruissan. It includes their spacious home built in what had been a 17th-century barn. The three tastefully renovated suites in the guest house rent at 140, or $170, per night, and each can hold a family of three or four.

Seven people work full time at le Bouïs, and there are as many as 25 working on Fridays for the weekly jazz concerts. The concerts do not begin until 10:30 p.m., after dinner, because, Rey said: "The French take eating too seriously to listen to music at the same time. We serve up to a hundred dinners. But some Fridays it's not full at all. It's a risk. I can't pay huge fees; we do jazz for the pleasure, not the money." He added: "Musicians can stay on here for a few days, we are more than happy to do that. There are jam sessions, when people come by with their instruments and play together."

Although his two-day visit to le Bouïs was private (it was not a Friday night), Hargrove was approached by two teenage music students from Gruissan, who, introducing themselves with timidity and charm, asked him if he would jam with them. One was a pianist, the other a drummer.

There is a strong jazz tradition in southern France, where many musicians would rather remain local than move away from the nice part of the world they live in. Rey programs the concerts, and he sends hundreds of e-mails announcing them. While he says he's proud of providing a sort of home for the many good players in the region, he also acknowledges that the château's jazz connection helps its wine stand out from the competition.

After fetching his trumpet from his room, Hargrove was soon playing a succession of easy standards like "Summertime" with the youngsters. They had a lot to learn; there were wrong notes and dropped beats. Yet they were having so much fun playing with Hargrove that it didn't matter.

The trumpeter kept it simple - he remained in his soulful lower register, he did not run fancy chords or double-up the time. He made sure that everybody always knew where "one" was. It was generous of him. There were maybe 20 people in the audience.

After Rey made a midnight-hour call for rhythmic support, Hélène Danto, a fine bassist and a new mother who was staying with her parents in Gruissan, arrived, and the jam session went on until 3 a.m. By the end, the ambience could be described as warm and cool at the same time. There was a kind of relaxed empathy that was close to the heart of what jazz is supposed to be all about.

It made you want to celebrate by ordering another bottle of Hélie, Némo or Zoé. It might be called corporate synergy.

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