We happily squeeze in to the row of boats – Linssens and Euroclassics – on the quayside, but to our dismay we discover that the SFR signal at Vermenton isn’t sufficient for our needs. We wonder what to do and head off to the local sports bar for a pastis to cogitate.
We learn that the area is not served at all well by SFR so next morning we reluctantly head back to Accolay where the signal improves, and we stay for a week. Relatives arrive and we head off for a wine-safari, organised by our neighbour, Giles, owner of Bout de Zan, the Floating Gite.
We leave in his red mini-bus for Cravant, through its town wall archway and up to the hills of Irancy and Willy Charriat’s ‘cave’. We stop on the way to admire the stunning views across the Nivernais valley, looking down over the canal and the airstrip in the distance where the German’s landed Messerschmidt parts to be assembled in the huge caves beneath our feet. Now boarded up, the caves were previously quarries and subsequently used as mushroom farms and wine cellars. We watch some grape-pickers at work, each placing the Pinot Noir bunches in a small black bucket as they work the rows, tipping the contents into a larger white hod strapped to another’s back. When this is full, or perhaps too heavy, the hod is carted up hill to the road and neatly tipped, just by leaning over into a small tanker attached to a tractor.
Willy tells us that the harvest has been good this year: the grapes have been smaller than usual, but very sweet and a good quantity. So we settle round the table (a huge slice of tree trunk) to savour three vintages and debate which one is best. Of course, there isn’t a best – each of us likes a different one. But we buy a case of 2008 – a very pleasant fruity red, not too dry, with an earthy flavour – a typical choice by men, says Willy,
The Chablis region is huge – stretching for miles – but it is only a fraction of its previous size. The hills of green corduroy were once under the ocean and the special fossil-rich ‘terroir’ is called kimmerridge, responsible for the particular flavour of Chablis wines. (Incidentally, we are told the Chablis name is now protected after a court case with the USA, who started using the Chablis name for any old white wine).
We stop at St-Bris-le-Vineux and visit Domaine Bersan, and their marvellous cave that once stretched beneath much of the village. We taste five delicious white wines each quite different from the other. However, by the time we climb out of the cellar and into the sunshine we have kind of forgotten which we like the best, they are all delicious: we buy some vintage 2014, simply named Chablis.
The safari continues to the cave of Bailly for Crement de Bourgogne. We are late – we have asked far too many questions at the last two stops – and they are about to close. The huge cave is empty of customers and we quickly decide on a Rose and head boatward, well-satisfied with our afternoon adventure and purchases.
Accolay, once famed for its pottery, has a water-jousting team, a very nice wash-house, a good, safe mooring, a kingfisher or two and a very good restaurant, La Fontaine. Boaters return to La Fontaine year after year and we see more folk in it in one evening than anywhere in the village all week. However, finding a veggie dish each is hard, and apparently the menu has never changed. The mooring has one bourne with four or five sockets, and water, but when the hotel barges arrive mid-week, Luciole and Randle, it’s quite a scramble for services and the electricity supply does break from time to time. However, the mayor turns out to be boat friendly and is installing new bollards and, maybe, more bournes for next year.