Geographer’s book binds ‘complex, intricate and intimate landscapes’
HOTCHKISS – From the spacious lens of glass on the second floor of the Leroux Creek Inn near Hotchkiss, a viewer sees well-manicured vineyards stretching into the distance, the gentle fall of land dipping north to the North Fork of the Gunnison River and then climbing again to the distant mesas and patchwork tablelands of Fruitland Mesa.
All of us, asserted writer/geographer Wallace Stegner, are “conditioned by climate and geography,” those “forms and lights and colors” of the natural world that have shaped us.
For Thomas Huber, also a geographer and author, the landscape he saw stretching out before his gaze brought to mind another “climate and geography” – one more similar than different: that of the Provence region of southeast France.
“Seventy-five percent of the two valleys are the same,” said Huber Saturday afternoon, standing on the inn’s blossom-laden deck just prior to a dinner marking the annual West Elks Wine Trail celebration. “The main difference is the vineyards here are 15 years old while the vineyards in Provence are 2,000 or more years old.”
Shaky history aside, since vines have been grown in the North Fork area much longer than 15 years, it was no coincidence that Huber and his French-born wife Carole were in Delta County this weekend when the fourth annual West Elks Wine Trail was turning attention to local wines and foods. Along with the tours and tastings, several of the wineries, including Leroux Creek, were hosting special dinners featuring their respective winemakers.
Americans are wont to source, correctly or not, the current trend of locavore-istic noshing to ‘les agriculteurs et viticulteurs’ of the French countryside (and to a degree those of Italy and Spain) and Huber’s most-recent novel “An American Provence” is a scholarly yet entertaining treatise on the connective roots shared by people thousands of miles apart who love and work the land.
Huber said inspiration for the book came during an early morning amble in 2002 when Tom and Carole Huber first visited Leroux Creek Inn and Vineyards, owned and operated by Yvon Gros and his wife, Joanna Reckert.
“For an instant my sleep-addled brain found itself in Provence,” writes Huber of that first morning wandering through the inn. “An instant later the mental fog lifted and I was back in western Colorado but wondering why the Provencal image had not flashed into my mind sooner.”
Huber, a professor of geography and environmental sciences at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, already was familiar with Provence, thanks to multiple trips there with Carole to visit her family. But that early morning meditation through the window at Leroux Creek Inn uncovered a particular connection between the North Fork Valley and that of the Coulon River valley in northern Provence.
That connection, Huber said, “set in motion my desire to chronicle, these two complex, intricate, and intimate landscapes.”
He notes the differences in the geology (Provence has thick beds of limestone while the North Fork Valley is predominately sedimentary shales) and the different plants and trees. “But really, there is the same valley terrain, the same aspect, the same sort of ‘garrigue’ and the same type of people focused on the landscape and working that landscape,” he said while speaking to some of the 60-plus guests attending Saturday’s Provence-style dinner prepared by chef and winemaker Yvon Gros, who also hails from the Provence region.
Curiously, “garrigue” refers to a Mediterranean, limestone-rooted shrub ecosystem but it’s also a term occasionally heard in wine tasting referring to the warm, earthy scents of autumn often found in rustic-style wines.
With chapters with such titles as “Places”, “The Land”, “Villages”, “Wine” and “Food”, Hubers takes readers on an intimate journey into the unexpected intertwining of two cultures separated more by distance than outlook. As Gros said, only half in jest, “Perhaps Tom’s book will convince people who don’t want to travel to France to come and get a brief taste of the Provence in the North Fork Valley.”
"An American Provence” was published by University Press of Colorado and is available through Amazon.