Land Rover – it’s all about the ‘Grin Factor’

I am not sure who was more excited about the arrival of Mirabeau’s new “RoséRover” – new owner Stephen or my wife?

Not that you could describe Victoria as a farmer. Nor is she particularly clued-up on the machinations of the agrarian sector as a whole. She does, however, have a green thumb, insists on having plants in the house (real ones) and derives particular pleasure from the spring buds as well as flowers in full bloom. And she loves tractors!

Big green John Deeres sporting impossibly large ploughing accessories and extremely large tyres are impressive enough, but her favourites are the little ones; the simple little tractors just getting on with their business. I think her dream would be to drive one all day and visit the local supermarket to buy a couple of wine bottles in a rickety old, smoking, rattly diesel if she had the choice, something akin to the tractors in the movie ‘Cars’. If they were allowed on the highway? We would probably already own one. Yes – she has an affinity for the exotics, but then again Lamborghini started out as a tractor manufacturer right?

What does this have to do with wine? Well, if a tractor is proverbially the farmer’s right hand then a Land Rover is the slightly-more civilised version thereof with a little more room, some more versatility and a bit more comfort (though not by much). Farmers treat their Defenders like farm implements, built for a purpose and merely part of the motor-pool often with months-old mud on the windows, a chicken in the footwell and three bales of hay in the back. It might even have a peculiar odour similar to manure…

Mirabeau needed a new delivery vehicle to complement the Citroën Acadiane for local rosé deliveries and keeping the Mirabeau wine store well stocked. We could have opted for a little Berlingo or a Volkswagen Caddy for this purpose. They are practical, efficient vehicles and would have made for perfectly acceptable solutions. But they crucially lack one thing…

The grin factor

And that is what Mirabeau is all about. Having some fun while getting on with the business of making seriously good wine.

Our Acadiane is forty years old and answers to the name of ‘Belle’. It is a hoot to drive: slow, noisy, rolling in the corners and a constant battle between momentum and (lack of) power on the hills. Getting anywhere in a hurry just isn’t an option, but you’ll certainly get there with a big grin on your face. A Defender offers a comparable driving experience.

By this point you might be wondering whether Mirabeau has invested in the modern equivalent of a horse-drawn cart by choosing a Defender, of all things. However the latest (and sadly last) model has leather (yes, it’s true), air-conditioning and even electric windows (can you believe it?). Besides those three nods to ‘luxury’ it is still very primitive compared to a brand new Volvo and the driving experience is akin to a tractor.

But… It has an undeniable charm and a certain presence you can’t quite put your finger on. Refreshingly ‘classless’ – you’re never quite sure whether the owner is the local builder or he actually owns the chateau along with half of the hillside and parks it next to his Aston Martin. It can be seen at the lumber yard or on the forecourt of the Savoy hotel, I mean even the Queen had one.

Every time you undertake a journey you are mentally travelling along an old camel trail in the middle of the Sahara or attempting to cross a raging torrent in Siberia. Both of which are easily possible should you wish to attempt them, as well as the ability to tow our pimped-out ‘Belle’ (the Citroën Acadiane wine-bar) which is star of the show at wine tasting events. Imagine doing that in a little van…

As a novice to the Land Rover world Stephen turned to us for some advice because we’ve had a bit of  experience with these peculiar vehicles and although perhaps you might find it difficult to justify in a purely business sense, sometimes you cannot quantify the added value on paper. I mean it has become a classic in its own right… Besides I think our enthousiasm helped… He insisted on a new model, partly as a business card for the company as well as the choice for a “Utility” (five-door with closed rear panel) and they can be rare here on the mainland.

Of course the driving experience took some getting used to for him. The engine is louder than expected, the clutch is “positive” with a clunk from the driveline and the ride is rather bumpy with the stiff suspension. And what do you do with your left elbow? But it has adequate power on the highway and a little care and attention with the clutch pedal makes everything bearable. Stephen tackled the stone-strewn dirt roads around here rather over-confidently and we keep reminding him to have a certain amount of mechanical sympathy. It might look like indestructible but there are limits! Within no-time there is mud up to the windows (after one week) and he even considers removing the mudguards so the grey paint can be further treated to a brown layer of dust and mud. I believe he ‘gets it’ – a real Land Rover man …

Meanwhile, the car is used to transport boxes of wine – 400 bottles can easily fit if you like – as well as dragging our offroad trailer for a few days near Monaco on the Italian border for a wine festival. A nice contrast for us, where we pour wine for guests in an idyllic setting at an upmarket seaside hotel with a parking lot littered with cars more expensive than our house. At the end of the day you will find us a reclining in a camping chair, beer in hand in the shadow of the roof tent, gas barbeque sizzling and the three-week-old 110 subject of intense debate on the TD4 engine, six-speed gearbox and whether leather upholstery should be standard (it is indeed very comfortable). And the fact that it turns more heads than the Bentleys and Ferraris on the forecourt…

This is where the similarity lies between Mirabeau-en-Provence and a Defender in my opinion. If you turn the corkscrew on a good bottle of wine or turn the ignition key in a Land Rover, it’s about sharing. Sharing your enthusiasm, enjoyment, fun and adventure. Whether discovering the complex world of wine, or planning a complex 4×4 expedition (even if you’re just on the highway towards Monaco). And go on admit it – it’s a cool truck.

So if you see a 110 barreling (pun intended) down the highway with a pale blue Citröen in tow on the way to a wine event somewhere, give us a wave… You will always get one back…