Wine column no. 52: Not one life's dream, but two

June 29, 2014: The sun rises, and Francois D’Haene is hitting the trails, his running shoes smacking dirt, his legs navigating leafy grape vines. The sun sets, and this 28-year-old is sitting down to dinner with his family, his hands palming a glass of Domaine du Germain, his mouth swigging his own version of a fairy tale.
Somewhere in the middle of that day, at least two dreams are balanced against the other. The first has made D’Haene one of the top ultra-trail runners in the world, the kind that Salomon Running TV features in a YouTube video. The second has turned D’Haene and his wife into winemakers running a very small winery in the Beaujolais region of France. These kinds of winemakers, like many small business owners, aren’t afraid to wipe sweat from their brow.
“Ultimately we knew it would be very hard, but maybe that’s what motivated us,” D’Haene said of the process of growing grapes on the vineyards he and Carline purchased in 2012. “It was an unusual activity which almost seemed bound to failure. More importantly, we had no idea as to whether we would succeed, if it would work or not. That’s really what makes you want to go for it. It motivates you every day as you try to accomplish new things.”
New is good, I think, especially for certain types of Beaujolais. This thin-skinned, low-tannin, high-acid Gamay grape is most popularly celebrated on the third Thursday of November. In fact, according to Karen MacNeil’s “The Wine Bible,” Beaujolais Nouveau wines are typically shipped to locations around the world just a few days earlier than the third Thursday, where they must be held in a bonded warehouse until 12:01 a.m. At that point, these fruity red wines can then be opened and consumed. This year, Beaujolais Nouveau Day is Nov. 20.
Domaine du Germain makes appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) Beaujolais from Gamay grapes in the communes of Saint Julien and Chenas. MacNeil says Beaujolais from Chenas often has a nose of wild roses. Unfortunately, I haven’t had any Domaine du Germain wines. The company is so young that its wines are hard to find, even in France, which is where I’ve been visiting my grandmother and other family members this past week. But as a fellow runner, I certainly admire D’Haene’s disciplined efforts to extract the best of two very different dreams from the same stretches of land.
All that hard work certainly can’t hurt his cardiovascular health, either. “Red wine and Your Heart,” according to a 2005 issue of Circulation, a Journal of the American Heart Association, said a series of scientific studies suggests that the polyphenolic compounds in red wine, such as flavonoids and resveratrol, may play an active role in limiting the start and progression of atherosclerosis.
This starts when blood vessels begin to lose their natural ability to relax. And regular — but not excessive — alcohol consumption of one to two drinks per day can increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or the “good cholesterol,” by about 12 percent. “This extra HDL cholesterol can then serve to remove some of the ‘bad cholesterol,’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, from the circulation and lessen the amount of material available for fatty plaque formation,” the publication said. Additionally, both the alcohol and polyphenolic compounds in red wine appear to have anti-clotting action, thus reducing heart attacks or strokes.
Given all his hard work both on and off the trails, D’Haene doesn’t seem to have much of a risk of having either cardiovascular issue. He won The North Face Mont-Blanc Ultra Trail race, which covers 168 kilometers (roughly 104 miles) through parts of France, Italy and Switzerland in 2012; the 2013 Grand Raid, a 170- kilometer (about 106 miles) race held on a French territorial island in the Indian Ocean; and the 168-kilometer Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji race, which takes racers around the entire circumference of Mt. Fuji, held in April earlier this year.
“You need to reflect on your choices,” D’Haene said. “It’s the same at the end of each race. You have to evolve and continuously question yourself each year. The fact that we work mainly outdoors, that I spend a lot of time among the grapevines, it means I’ve changed the way I train and probably also the way I see things.”
Like I said: New is good.
Victoria Grabner is a freelancer who has blogged about wine for several years.
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