Saturday, May 17, 2008

Day Four - The Wine Flows

April 26. This time the bus wasn't scheduled to leave until 9 a.m. (so our "let them eat cake, I don't care if I'm late" person didn't hold us up). We drove to a different region. On the first day we visited chateaus on the left bank, this day we were to visit the right bank. Our first stop would be a lovely little chateau, Petite Village, which looked new, but was old and much more modest than the ones from the day before. This place had just recently completed a renovation making it into a very modern facility. The most unusual aspect of this chateau was that the fermenting tanks were made from cement instead of stainless steel or oak. The other difference was that the proprietress of the chateau, who was also our guide, was an American. This lady had been in France for the past 17 years and worked various positions in the wine industry over the years. This chateau is also owned by an insurance company rather than a family like all the others we visited during the two days. I'm sure that's why such an expensive/extensive renovation happened. This place is also used to entertain clients. The property is around 25 acres located on a plateau Pomerol which is the highest point in the Bordeaux region and produces 60,000 bottles a year. The chateau and more of this area has no classification, however, this is one of the best growing areas in the Bordeaux region and produces some of the highest quality wines in the area. The property adjoining this (the white house on the left) was only 4 acres, produced 200 bottles which sold for over 4,000 Euros each. Sounds like a great way to make a living. We tasted two wines and bought a half bottle which was enjoyed when we returned to Paris.

Back on the bus, we drove through several small villages until we finally reached the town of St Laurent d'Arce and Chateau L'Hurbe de Cablanc. This chateau was different from the others in that the property was leased, but had been leased by the same family since 1919. One of the owners, Marc, was our guide, but did not speak English. He had an interpreter, Lionel, who was also a PR person for the region. This property was not a business venture, but truly a way of life for a family. When the crop is bad, Marc has to find an outside job which he has done in the past. Marc lives in the oldest part of the house which was built in in the 16oo's and his sister lives in the other half built in the 1700s. Their grandfather began the winery after World War I. Marc and his sister run the vineyard together and had recently hired Lionel to help promote the business. Marc gave us a tour and what was different was that the aging took place in the stainless steel fermentation tanks. I think this was a matter of efficiency and economics. The wines produced were not of the quality of the ones we had previously tasted, but were very good everyday wines. After our tour, we tasted several wines and had pate, crackers and cheese in Marc's backyard. Then Marc's wife served us a four course lunch in the chateau. It was lovely with the French doors opened on both our left and right sides, a slight breeze passing through the room. The woman was amazing to be cooking a wonderful lunch for 20 strangers (even though I realize she was compensated for this). We again started with a poached salmon (must be the thing to serve these days), then another white fish with fresh vegetables, cheese course and dessert was tarte tartine, along with three different wines served during the lunch. I was fortunate enough to sit next to Marc and lucky that Lionel was at the same table. What was interesting was that Marc ate the opposite of how I was taught a Frenchman ate. He held his fork in his right hand and shoveled the food in. He was always the first to finish each course! But he was happy to pass more wine around to all of us. The wines were quite good and sold for less than 5 Euros each so we bought a couple bottles. Cheap wine with a year on the label, it must be good.

We said our goodbyes and boarded the bus for our last tour at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. This property has been around for centuries, but was bought by a successful French couple (almost celebrities), in 1990. They sold everything to acquire this place. What is wonderful about them is that they are very concerned about the environment and built the main public building and storage area out of recycled materials and do not use pesticides on their vines. All grapes are hand-picked. The property at 150 acres was the largest of all the places we visited, and they produce around 200,000 bottles a year. Also on the property is the Caudalie Spa which the owners' daughter runs. I forgot the name of our tour guide, but she was friendly and very French. We toured the fermentation area with oak tanks instead of stainless steel like most of the others. Then on to the cellars and a visit to the cooperage which is the on-site barrel maker. Most chateaus purchase their barrels, but this chateau decided that is was actually more economical to have a full time barrel maker. The barrel maker turns out two barrels a day, 600 barrels a year, so there is still a need to purchase some barrels. From there we went to the tasting room where one of the owners, Florence Cathiard, greeted us. She was quite charming and showed us the "James Bond" room which was a secret party room beneath the tasting room. The floor opened up and we were led downstairs to a very dark room with one back-lit wall with a blown-up picture of grapes. She explained that it wasn't quite finished yet, but it was a fun place to be. That concluded our tour.

We arrived back at Bordeaux around 6 p.m. Since our day consisted of mostly eating and drinking, that evening we had only salad for dinner--and calvados afterwards.

1 comment:

Lindsay T said...

Merci, merci, merci! Love the trip report.