I have seen the future and it comes in a five-litre plastic flagon, filled by a man using a petrol pump.
This is serious. There we were (still) down in the Ventoux, and it was Saturday morning, and what do the locals do on a Saturday morning in that part of the world but drive to their friendly neighbourhood cave to stock up for the weekend? So we did that, only instead of the grim trudge that accompanies a trip to (say) Majestic Wine - the trolley squeaking across the chill concrete, the haggard bankers & lawyers bracing themselves for that next dinner-party - at Terraventoux we found a barely-supressed excitement, a mood both carefree and impossibly eager.
Why? Because of this man with the pump. Don't be put off - there was nothing dubious or furtive or down-at-heel about the cave or the pump, or, indeed, the man. In fact the place was exemplary in its cleanliness, it bourgeois dignity. High-ceilinged, thronged with bottles of red and white (their take on the local Ventoux variety), panelled with sober brown woodwork, somewhere in atmosphere between a gentleman's smoking room and a sauna, everything about it said diginity and composure. But then there were these huge wooden vats, lined up against a wall, each with its own petrol pump. And, turn and turn about, with a pair of Frenchmen on the end of the pump hose, one pouring the wine, the other standing contentedly over his plastic flagon like a dog-owner giving his pet a treat.
Because the majority of punters were arriving with their own flagons for a refill. Costing €2 and holding five litres, these cubis (as they are known) also come with a plastic tap and a convenient carry handle, and will last a lifetime, or a year at least. The booze that flows in? The same as the stuff being sold, bottled and labelled, for €5 a bottle and rising, on the other side of the cave. How much do you pay for the plastic flagon version? A truly magical €1.35 a litre, plus TVA (or VAT as we perversely name it). That is not a typographical error: €1.35 a litre, or €6.75 the flagon. Of wine which, I can proudly report, is light, refreshing, stylish, well-balanced, and which slips down so readily it's almost impossible not to drink at any time of the day or night. I can't tell you how excited I was, watching my own cubi bubble up with the good stuff, knowing that I was now part of a great and profoundly civilizing ritual; and that I could remain very slightly drunk for as long as I wanted.
The only snag is the keeping. Lots of French customers were buying this same delicious wine in BIBs (i.e. Bag-In-Boxes) which keep the grog in a collapsible plastic vacuum bag so that it doesn't spoil over time through contact with the air. Not possible of course in a rigid cubi. So the intelligent drinker takes his cubi home and straightaway decants most of its contents into old wine bottles which he then corks up again, thus minimising the air/spoilage interface.
I fully made a mental note to do this as I watched my cubi fill, but, once back at base, was so distracted by the incredible and unfamiliar bounty now sitting in my kitchen that I forgot to do any such thing until I was at least half-way through the flagon.
Opinions are mixed as to how long flagon grog can be expected to keep, given considerate treatment as opposed to damp-palmed bibulous neglect. A month to six weeks was a rough consensus. Suddenly and belatedly waking up to this problem, I realised that I had left it too late to decant and that the only thing to do was to drink with steady and increasing efficiency through the remaining wine before it had a chance to go off. This I am continuing to do, and although my Terra Ventoux is suffering a bit, it gamely refuses to die on me. Frankly, at €1.35 +TVA a litre, I would drink it even if it tasted like hair restorer. Every palatable sip between now and that state is a miraculous bonus.