Taste of Wine


Eight years later, Henriette's son Louis Mouquin is indeed an innkeeper, although not of the auberge in Echallens. Louis married a 15-year-old girl from the farming village of La Sarraz on December 14, 1836. Elise Fanny Morel needed permission from her parents, Jean Gabriel Morel and Louise Buffi Morel to marry at such a young age. The marriage record shows that they were married first in a civil ceremony in the town hall of La Sarraz, and then in the church of Aubonne on the same day.

There were no railroads in Switzerland before 1847, and the country did not make an effort to improve the carriage roads until 1848. Early roads existed as cow paths for driving livestock to market. Aubonne is about 23 kilometers from La Sarraz. It must have been a long day to celebrate a wedding in both places. The Register of the Marriage, which I located in Aubonne, indicates that Louis was living in Aubonne at the time of his marriage, and also notes that he had previously lived in La Sarraz.

His grandfather Jean Abraham Mouquin died in his home, a farmer living near La Sarraz, January 5, 1821, at the age of 72. Other family members also lived on farms in the area. It's possible that Louis and his sisters, Sophie and Fanchette left the auberge in Echallens and moved to La Sarraz to live with relatives after their mother died. Perhaps the struggles between the Catholics and the Protestants in Echallens made it difficult for them to remain there and keep the inn.

In Aubonne, Louis operated an auberge called Le Bornalet, on a slope of terraced vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva, about twenty kilometers southwest of Lausanne.

Charles and I visited Aubonne in November 2000, and located the house still called Le Bornalet. It is currently owned by Dr. and Mrs. Andre Brot. They purchased the house in the late 1970's. The Brots told us that the house had indeed at one time been an inn and showed us the holes in the stucco where the sign had been. Le Bornalet had been a working farm when they bought it. Animal pens and a wine press are still there.

A New York Times article describes Le Bornalet as "a pleasant house, like a villa, or modest chateau." In fine weather, guests gathered at tables and chairs in the garden of roses and blue gentians to take advantage of the view looking out over Lake Geneva to the snow-covered Alps on the opposite shore. Louis must also have had an interest in the vineyards that still surround Le Bornalet, as the business of winemaking became very important to him.

Elise Fanny gave birth to her first child at the age of 16. Henri Marc Mouquin was born on October 11, 1837 at 2AM in the wine making season. Wine, by then, was such an important product to the 26 year old father that Louis scooped up his newborn son and gave him a spoon of the newly pressed wine so that Henri tasted wine before he had even tasted his mother's milk. After returning the infant to his young mother, Louis went immediately to call his workman and begin pressing the grapes of the day.

In an era preceding the convenience of electric lighting, calling the workmen to help him press grapes into wine before dawn seems a daunting task. Louis Mouquin's passion for wine and vineyards inspired him to baptize his new son with wine. On the fourth day of Henri's life, his father brought him out into the sunshine and poured some of the new vintage over his face, letting it dry. Louis rejoiced when his son did not blink an eye or cry.

Young Henri grew up with a love for the vineyards of Aubonne and a reverence for good vintages. As a boy, he learned to drive a team of oxen yoked together and sporting huge Swiss cowbells around their necks. The clanging sound of the bells echoed around the gently sloping vineyards high above Lake Geneva. As his skills developed, he progressed from driving oxcarts to driving horse drawn carriages along the shore road of Lake Geneva.

Soon the task of meeting the diligences traveling on the lakeshore road from Lausanne to Geneva fell to the young Henri. Aubonne is located nearly 20 kilometers Southwest of Lausanne. It is another 40 kilometers along the shore of the lake to the city of Geneva. According to an article in The New York Times, Henri earned his first ten francs driving a carriage full of passengers the remaining forty kilometers to Geneva, with an extra tip for making the trip in haste. "The bridge into the city would have slowed him up, had he negotiated it at legal speed. Clever Henri went over the bridge at a mad gallop, pretending that the horses were running away and seeming to hang on desperately, and so tricking the gendarmes."

As Henri served wine in his father's inn, he listened to the adventures of the travelers and could hardly contain his own desire to travel. His Uncle Morel was already in New York.

One of the frequent guests in Le Bornalet was Louis Napoleon, hiding out in Switzerland and planning his next moves in his plot to become Emperor of France as Napoleon III. After Waterloo, Louis Napoleon's mother Hortense had been exiled to Switzerland, where she eventually purchased a castle on Lake Constance. Her son, Louis Napoleon was educated at a gymnasium in Switzerland and also entered the Swiss military. Once, while serving wine to Napoleon, the young Henri was invited to sit with him in the garden and join him for a glass of wine. Henri shared his dream of traveling to the United States and opening a restaurant.

"That's a fine idea, young man," said Napoleon. "I've been there and those people are rapidly becoming whiskey sots. Teach them to drink wine. It will civilize them." Napoleon gave the young Henri one of his name cards, inscribed, "A mon ami, Henri Mouquin." He invited him to stop and see him in Paris on his way to America.

At age 17, Henri traveled to Paris. He went by diligence from Geneva to Dijon; and from there he continued by diligence set on rails to Paris. By 1854, Louis Napoleon had finally succeeded in becoming the Emperor of France, Napoleon III. Henri presented himself to the snickering guards at the palace of Tuileries. The guards were soon astonished to learn that the Emperor warmly welcomed the young man. Napoleon ordered that he was to receive every courtesy during his visit. Henri was bold enough to ask the Emperor who the beautiful woman was. Napoleon introduced him to the Empress Eugenie. It was an experience Henri would remember and talk about all his life.

Henri left Paris, and traveled to Le Harve, where he booked passage to New York on the first German steamer to cross the Atlantic. Henri referred to the ship as "the forerunner to the Bremen and the Europa" without mentioning the name of the ship. (The Bremen and the Europa were modern steamships in the early 1930's.) It may have also had sails and masts as Henri related the following story:

On the lower deck, piles of potatoes were casually stowed to be used as food for the passengers. The boys on board used them as missiles, and a potato fired by Henri knocked off the hat of a priest. As punishment, he was hoisted to the giddy mainmast head, and held there in a sling as the ship entered New York Harbor.

Wearing both his wool suits, Henri landed in New York on a hot day, June 9, 1854, with $26. in his pocket. He was met by his Uncle Morel and put up in the all-French neighborhood on St. Mark's Place. West of Broadway, from Canal Street to Union Square, in those days, only French was heard in the streets. The very next day, his Uncle Morel took him to his first day of work at Delmonico's Restaurant, a French Restaurant operated by the Swiss-Italian family of the same name.