The winemakers of Bordeaux may yield to rain and heat and taxes, but never before have they been forced to bow so low as to toast their friends with empty glasses.
But yesterday the Capitol Police accomplished that implausibility. Nearly two dozen proprietors of some of France's most exalted vineyards stopped in Washington on a six-city tour of the United States, promoting their wines and honoring their friends. Wednesday night there was an induction (or "intronization" as the French call it) of new members into the Washington chapter of the Commanderie du Bontemps de Medoc et des Graves, a centuries-old wine society. Then yesterday morning somebody came up with a last-minute plan to induct Jean Louis Palladin, long a neighbor of these winemakers in France and now chef of the Watergate's Jean Louis restaurant, into the French Commanderie itself. Usually such a thing is done in a stately chateau in Bordeaux; in fact, it has never been done outside of Europe before.
And maybe never again.
Palladin appeared in front of the Capitol right after his restaurant's lunch service with his own candidates for induction, Francis Leyerle, chef of the French Embassy, and Emmanuel Engrand, assistant chef at Jean Louis. In the meantime, the Bordeaux winemakers were donning heavy wine-red velvet robes and doughnut-shaped velvet hats, weighty brass medals and other winey paraphernalia. And the wine was being poured. Bordeaux, of course, in properly large stemmed glasses.
That's when the Capitol Police went into action, first insisting that without a permit a ceremony could not take place on the Capitol steps, but only on the sidewalk, then adding that alcohol (hardly a term a Bordelais would consider a satisfactory description of his product) could not be served on public property. As the inspector put it, it was a "violation of the law to have drinks in public." Furthermore, by then the group--sweating under the heavy velvet--was being forbidden to even conduct its ceremony on the grounds of the Capitol, wine or no wine.
Next to swing into action was Aymar Achille-Fould, not only the proprietor of Chateau Beychevelle, but also a former minister of the French government. A politician understands bureaucracy no matter what its language, so Achille-Fould took the inspector aside to explain that these were respectable and prominent men on an errand of honor.
"I'll go inside and see what I can do for you," promised the inspector.
"Regulations are regulations," agreed Achille-Fould.
Thus within a few minutes an international compromise was reached, with the three chefs being inducted on the quieter, west side of the Capitol, without wine, in an abbreviated version of the Bordeaux ceremony as fast as a McDonald's dinner.
As the wines were recorked and packed away and the robes removed to reveal sweat-soaked shirts, Grand Chancelier Jean-Michel Cazes, of Chateau Lynch-Bages, finished the induction with, "We'll do it in France again when they come." This time with wine.