Thanks to the warmth and generosity of Graham Nutter (Geography 1965), fourteen of us joined him and Jenny for a wonderful weekend of fine wines, feasting and gentle culture at his domaine just north of Carcassonne in southern France. In 2001, Graham left his previous career in finance to develop a run-down but intrinsically promising domaine situated in a beautiful corner of the Minervois. In the intervening years he has invested heavily in every aspect of the enterprise – soil, vines, machinery, expertise, storage, drainage and water supply; in turning the chateau into an exceptionally beautiful dwelling and winery; and vitally, investing his own vision and indefatigable energy. We arrived from every possible direction on Friday evening, found bedrooms in his house and gîtes, and gathered on the still-sunny terrace for an aperitif and then for dinner.

Graham Nutter

Graham Nutter

On Saturday a minibus took us all to the village of Caunes Minervois, where a delightful guide showed us medieval streets and renaissance houses with some beautiful features. The heavily restored Abbey was particularly stunning from the outside: square towers, and ancient apses.

Lunch involved a happy séjour under plane trees at a restaurant exhibiting historic tools from the local pink marble trade (“le restaurant la Marbrerie vaut un détour”, as Michelin would say), and then we were off to a Truffle Museum (this part of France being one of the global producers of this quixotic natural fungus that sells at a price to make eyes water) and then finally up into the limestone hills at the foot of the Black Mountains to visit the huge underground chamber at Cabrespine (170m long, 250m high). As we entered, there was a short son et lumière to Carl Off’s Carmina Burana (a nice link back to Fitz where we performed this work with enthusiasm last term). The day ended with a feast cooked by Michelin-starred chef Jean Marc Boyer, chez Graham.

Sunday was a glorious day of sunshine and light breeze, and we explored the domaine on foot through the eyes of its patron: the flowering vines, the eleventh-century chapel he had so painstakingly restored, the truffle oaks he had planted and was tending, forests, vestiges of Roman road and a Visigothic cemetery, and wild orchids galore. Paradise!

crop 119The weekend was marvellous; much of the time hilarious – easy companionship enjoyed by a group of Fitz alumni and their partners who slipped into that relaxed conviviality for which Fitz is so well known. You may have missed Fitz Sud, but you can still book one of Graham’s luxurious gîtes or buy his wonderful wines: see Chateau Saint-Jacques d’Albas.

St Jacques d'Albas

St Jacques d’Albas

 

 

I’ve always felt that friendships need to be fed by doing something together, something you care about, to make them meaningful. Formal dinners in College every five years or so don’t quite reach all the necessary parts; at least not on their own. Graham clearly understood just that and more; he provided a brilliant example of Fitzwilliam get-up-and-go, by creating a whole host of opportunities for people to chat and to laugh and to explore, in different groupings throughout the weekend, and thus to create fresh, living memories to add to a pretty important part of each of their histories.

Do tell me about reunions that you have been part of – and/or if, near you, there are wonderful things to experience and good places to stay, why not organize your own at-cost reunion in your own special corner of the globe? We‘ll help with contacting people … and I’ll come!

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

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