Mr. October

And much as Wine has play'd the Infidel, and robb'd me of my Robe of Honour well, I often wonder what the Vintners buy one-half so precious as the Goods they sell - Omar Khayyám

The summer of 1994 is, in showbiz lingo, a wrap. Or, as Bill Stern, the Colgate Shave Cream Man, would say, "that's the 'three-oh' mark for tonight." (Any newspaperman over the age of 50 can tell you who Bill Stern was and what the "three-oh" mark refers to.) How ever you want to put it, it's over. The large lady has broken into song.

Though it is the end of August, and the change of seasons in the San Francisco Bay Area is much more subtle than in most of the rest of the country, this morning I feel the coming autumn. And with it, I am reminded that late September and October is the best time of year to be in Europe; autumn leaves, the grape harvest, crisp air but still warm enough in the sun to enjoy lunch outdoors, and, except for Munich and Oktoberfest, not so many tourists.

Our first visit to Europe was in October, 1973. I was much into wine then. Had my picture taken in front of some of the famous properties of Bordeaux: Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Petrus and beneath the arch that is on the label of bottles of Chateau Leoville Las Cases. At Chateau Mouton Rothschild we took home movies of the harvest being brought in through the rain.

In the old, hilltop town of St. Emilion, we stayed in a hotel that occupied the town's highest point. It had a fine restaurant, but the hallway near our room had a gagging odor that assaulted us each time we entered or left the room.

In Reims, we toured the Mumms champagne cellars. Arriving without an appointment about 10 a.m., we were guided, just the two of us, by a young English-speaking girl. At every stop she greeted each worker, the women with a little left-cheek-right-cheek-kiss-kiss, and the men with a one-pump handshake. At the end, the three of us shared a bottle of champagne. After that I drove to Strasbourg and yawned all the way.

In Alsace, we drank Gewrztraminer and now sometimes I'll order a bottle in a restaurant simply because one whiff of it and for an instant it's 1973 again and I'm back in Colmar or Ribeauvill.

There's a lot more I could tell you about that trip. In fact, I have the slides right here if you'd like to...

Since your eyes are beginning to glaze over, maybe we should shift our attention to the present, like where to go in the fall of 1994.

Were it me, though regrettably it is not, I would want to be near the vineyards and harvest. Here are some considerations for an October visit:

• Two or three days in the town of Marktheidenfeld, about 40 minutes east of Frankfurt, where I'd stay with the Deppisch family, wine-makers who also own one of Germany's most gemütlich hotels, the Anker (phone 09391/600 40, fax 600477). (Subscriber Bob Gillespie, who can't say enough good things about the Deppisch's hospitality and has made 47 business trips to Germany in the last five years, reckons he has stayed at the Anker about 20 times since first reading about it in Gemütlichkeit.) I would dine at least one night at the Weinhaus Anker (phone 09391/1736, fax 09391/1742), being sure to quaff some of the Deppisch's Franconian wines.

• This time of year one shouldn't miss a drive down the Mosel, staying two nights at the Gutshotel (phone 06507/20 35, fax 06507/5644) in Neumagen-Dhron. This is a busy time of year for wine properties, but I'd check with local tourist offices to see where I might be able to watch the harvest being brought in.

• In Vienna, I'd head for the suburbs, making a southern loop through the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods) and villages like Gumpoldskirchen, Mayerling (where, in 1889, Archduke Rudolf, son of Emperor Franz-Josef and Empress Elizabeth, and his 17 year-old lover, Maria, committed suicide), Baden and Heiligenkreuz. Gumpoldskirchen is the main wine village and I would look for houses displaying the green fir branch indicating new wine ready for sampling.

• The area around the east end of Lake Geneva would be my choice as a Swiss wine destination. I would stay two nights at little L'Auberge de Chernex (phone 021/964 4191, fax 021/964 6857), in the hills above Montreux. Walking and driving through the miles of vineyards perched on the hillside overlooking the lake would be pleasant, as would a visit to Castle of Aigle/Vaudois Museum of Wine in the vineyards at Aigle. For a light lunch of wine, cheese and dried meats, I would choose Café Au Bon Vin in Chardonne. Then I might drive the N9 past Martigny and into the Rhône Valley, stopping at Hotel Des Vignes (phone 027/311671, fax 027/313727) in Sion, a hotel set in the vineyards.

• If, near the end of the trip and short of money, I found myself anywhere near the southwestern part of Germany, I'd check out the Baden wine region from my base in the town of Kandern at the Hotel Zur Weserei (phone 07626/7000, fax 07626/6581) with its excellent restaurant.

And finally, even though it isn't in Germany, Austria, Switzerland or the "New Europe," I might sneak over the border into Alsace for just one more sip of October 1973.

Car Wars

There is a bloodbath taking place among Germany's car rental firms. The basic price per week, unlimited mileage, for an Opel Corsa is now $85 per week; $92 for an Opel Astra and $106 for the Opel Vectra category. But, according to some industry sources, we ain't seen nothin' yet. By the time you read this, even lower rates will probably be in effect. Among the predictions: $62 a week for an Opel Corsa and, get this, a weekly rate of less than $100 for a Mercedes Benz 180C! Unfortunately, prices for cars in categories larger than the small Mercedes and the Vectra have either stayed the same or risen slightly, as have rental car prices in most other European countries. Call 800-521-6722 for a quote.

First Winter Air Fares

DER Tours, which buys seats to Europe from major air carriers and markets them at rates generally below what the airlines themselves do, will soon announce winter airfares on Lufthansa. Below is a sampling of midweek roundtrips during the period November 1 to March 31, 1995:

Germany Zürich London

* Bost/New York 499 527 527

* Dallas/Houst 627 655 655

* LA/San Fran 649 705 683

* Atlanta 555 610 610

* Miami 594 627 627

* Chicago 516 544 544

* Washington 499 527 527

The prices do not include taxes and there is a $50 surcharge for weekend travel and a $125 add-on for travel December 15-24. There are other restrictions, as well. You must book through a travel agent. Call 800-782-2424. RHB

August 1994