The sweet little girl in the tourist office stared blankly at me. It wasn’t the first time that this had happened to me in Beaune, the uncrowned capital of Burgundy, usually the fault of my really poor French, but this time I was sure the question was clear. “The American camp in the World war” “la Guerre mondiale” It appeared she hadn’t heard of the First World War. I refrained from saying something like “You know, the one in which one and a half million French soldiers died” or “the one with all the statues”. She asked an older lady, who had heard of it but didn’t know any camp. “Pershing?” “General Pershing?” no. Oh, yes, there is a road named “American” that’s east of the town train station. Here it is on a map! There are some other American names too! Voila! Are you looking for someones house? Not exactly.
I am not sure what I was looking for, the remanent of another time. I had seen old photos of Engineer troops in front of a train,  at a station resembling Beaune. The old letters were specifically vague or censored from American troops, so the exact location of my great Uncles adventure would now be conjecture, but it could have been Beaune. Its possible.
Actually I had two great Uncles that were in the war, but Franklin Boyle, unlike Charles Cooley, never wrote anyone while serving as a doughboy, never spoke of the war on his return to Oregon, and spent the next 30 years of his life living in the woods to the West of Yreka California, a great disappointment to his family. He died and is buried in Napa, not at the mental institution but at the Vetrans home closeby to trendy restaurants that he never would have visited, housed in the French American Chandon sparkling wine house that he may have seen not here, but there, in 1918. Its possible.
Charles Cooley, on the other hand, returned to Grants Pass in Southern Oregon, a Major in the US Army, successfully ran many businesses and to my knowledge never spoke of the war after that correspondence in 1918, and did not drink Chandon or Beaune or any French wine whatsoever.
As fate would have it, the two families were joined by the marriage of my mother and father, who skipped World War II directly and had a child instead. Both Franklin and Charles would have had to wait until 1968 for their grand-nephew to find himself sent to the extension of yet another French War, Vietnam, exactly 50 years later. This was a decade too late, they were both dead by 1968, so any advice to him was lost. But he also returned to Southern Oregon and became a successful disappointment to his family. You think it’s far fetched to look to Beaune for insights into this Southern Oregon French connection, but it’s possible. Old soldiers, not just the French ones, can vouch for Beaune wine, superior to any found in Saigon or Yreka or Grants Pass. However there are no streets named after famous leaders from Indochina in Beaune.
You have to go elsewhere for that.
Beaune is much more generous to its First war Generals. There’s Rue de Marechale Foch and a part named after Marechale Joffre, a suitably empire-esque piece of the periphique, circling the grand centre near Beaune. The American University, as it was named, in contrast might feel forgotten, certainly neglected, with its location down a dead end below the train station. Banished to oblivion, but superior to the Indochina monument, which I have yet to locate. Perhaps I didn’t look clearly. If I had simply opened my eyes as to what was in front of me as I left the tourist office that day, I would have realized there was a more enduring salute to a WW1 General, a rebuttal to conflict staring down upon me. “1443” , a number nearly incomprehensible to Americans, well before gringos were kicking dirt in revolution, was etched above the portal: The Hospices de Beaune.
Founded as a salve for the scars of war, to provide health care for the poor. It has endured well past the ravages of so many conflicts.
The wine sold here to support these endeavors exceeds normal expectations. Careful choices for the cuvees triumph over the nature of single vineyard sites. There is a fascinating tale behind each cuvee. None named for ‘American University’, but one, General Paul-Jules Muteau, is named for a donation from the last Cavalry hero of the ‘Premiere Guerre mondiale’. He donated his worldly possessions to the Hospices, including memorable Volnay vineyards. One suspects the General knew his wines. It’s possible that we would be better as a civilization if all proceeds of all wars were bequeathed to Hospices around the world…. but for the moment ‘Volnay Muteau’ [not a Beaune] is possible.
The wine is the most cosmopolitan Volnay, coming from many little slices of the best around the hamlet, and including parcels in Taille-pieds and Cailleret.
My luck has run better interpreting ‘Muteau’ than comprehending the cause of ‘Indochine a deux’. My first barrel purchase was of the 1994, the year Bernard Porcheret returned to the Hospices cellar. Porcheret extracted 100% from the vintage, a textbook example of the charm and breed of Volnay. A barrel of Muteau in capable hands is exceptional indeed, breed with persistence, a pinnacle achievement of the cote d’Or.
The importance of the cuvee is disguised from notoriety two ways. First, lack of a single vineyard designation relegates it to the underestimated category; Second, the lack of a famous producer imprinted every year in the cellar loses the attention of the writers. Much of this wine slips into private hands with no rating spotlight. No Volnay was ever labelled Grand cru.
I think the ‘General’ would not mind. His legacy was clear. This ‘Corporal’ does not object as he opens another bottle. A ‘victoire’ of the sort that does not need a street named after it or a title for validation. It’s possible. Quite possible.