Tag Archives: French Wine

Grand Cru Drive Thru: Rhône Valley

Guest Wines Tour de France

The weather had certainly changed as we started our journey through the Northern Rhône. No longer were we greeted with beautiful sunshine, instead, lots of rain! La Côte-Rôtie? More like La Côte-Rainy indeed! Still, those hillsides looked imposing and impressive!

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Driving along the valley famous names started to appear on large billboards on the hillsides amongst the vines, as we had seen in books but nothing really prepares you for seeing it with your own eyes! Firstly, Guigal, then Condrieu, then Paul Jaboulet Aîné and Chapoutier to name just a few. The slopes were extremely steep and in the pouring rain, with mist hanging low on the hills, it made for dramatic scenery. It reminded me of many a place in Asia, such as Southern China or Vietnam.

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Much the same as we first experienced in Burgundy’s Côte-d’Or, the vines were trained straight up stakes rather than on trellis systems, which are not so practical on the steep slopes. Geek alert: we found this fascinating to see as so far we had mainly seen the Guyot system, most widely used nowadays.

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Our first stop was by appointment with a producer in Mercurol, Domaine des Remizières, but despite us endeavouring to get there on time in the rain we arrived about 14 minutes later than our estimated arrival and were refused the appointment. We were extremely grateful that the Domaine had agreed to see us on a Sunday as they would not usually be open on this day but we were so disappointed to be turned away despite our long drive in torrential rain on roads that we had not travelled on before but sadly the proprietor was unwavering in their decision. We felt that their reaction was a tad extreme but hey, there were plenty more Rhône wines to be had so onwards we drove.

So our first tasting of the day was at the cooperative winery Cave de Tain, in Tain l’Hermitage, thankfully one of the few places open on a Sunday! We were given a taste of their range to get an overview of what they produce and were pleasantly impressed, for the price of 10 euros, the Saint Joseph Classique 2012 was smooth and fruity. Unfortunately, the Hermitage Classique 2009, at 25 euros, was corked and although a little apprehensive to point this out to the advisor since there were several French people also tasting this wine who had not raised any issue, we were very pleased when he agreed and threw the wine down the drain, but not before getting other staff members to smell and taste it as part of their education on an example of a corked wine. Another WSET success there – Hoorah!

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The Cornas and Hermitage reds were particularly tasty, especially the Cornas ‘Les Arenes Sauvages’ 2007 and Hermitage ‘Gambert de Loche’ 2007. As a bit of experimentation we also picked up a bottle of the Vin de Pays Syrah 2010 for all of 3.60 euros, and it wasn’t half bad whiling away an evening in our Premiere Classe Hotel on the outskirts of Avignon.

Next to visit was M. Chapoutier wine shop, also in the town of Tain. Whilst waiting for the shop to re-open after lunch, we took the opportunity to have ours sat on the railway station platform, with the impressive backdrop of world famous vineyards to gaze upon (you wouldn’t expect anything less of us, would you?).

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The wine advisor at Chapoutier talked us through a wide selection of wines and treated us to taste their single vineyard Ermitage ‘Le Meal’ 2001, which had the most amazing fruitcake aromas held up by a very good structure, the 2010 vintage listed would set you back at least 230 euros! We were particularly impressed by the Hermitage Chante-Alouette 2011 from Marsanne grapes, beautifully soft with creamy cooked apricots and hints of orange, lovely mouthfeel, as well as the Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses 2010, showing classic gamey/rubber with dark, spicy fruit.

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Before leaving the shop, we thanked our wine advisor for the tasting to which he thanked us, i.e. the English, for helping Hermitage wines to exist, he then went on to explain the history further, how Merlot and Cabernet were brought from Bordeaux in 18th century to be blended with Syrah – hermitagé became the term used for blended Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet, hence hermitage came into existence, although now without wines from Bordeaux of course!

We made the most of having a day in one place and in between showers were able to walk around Tain, enjoying the views of the Rhône River as we crossed over to Tournon on the other side, a glimpse of sun even shone through for us!

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On leaving Tain, we headed South, driving through Cornas and Saint-Péray, interested to see where the wines we had just tasted that morning had come from. Stunning castle ruins balance almost precariously on rocky outcrops all the way down the Rhône, which was an amazingly emerald green colour with wide and high waters. The small town of Rochemaure, had a particularly impressive castle overlooking the streets below!

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The landscape strangely changes between the Côte-Rôtie and Southern Rhône where the expanse of vines disappear to be replaced by heavy industry. In contrast to our experience so far, many of the famous names of Southern Rhône, such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras, were further off the beaten track and the next vineyards we hit were at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Luckily, we were in for a treat as the skies cleared, a rainbow stretched out above us and the sun shone across the goblet shaped vines shimmering against the large pudding stones all around. It looks so stony, it’s a wonder anything grows but it shows the resilience of the vines that reflects that special ‘terroir’.

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Whilst here we sought out another of the producer’s we have bought wine from at the Paris Vignerons Indépendants Fair, Domaine de la Millière, more out of interest to see where they are based rather than expecting any kind of tasting, as it was Sunday so not general opening hours. It certainly is a beautiful area, which rather impressed us.

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Extremely happy with this lovely end to our journey through Rhône, we headed towards Avignon and even managed to find our hotel by 8pm, just before it turned dark!

Next we skim the Mediterranean sea through Languedoc to arrive in South West France.

Chateau de Lavernette, Beaujolais Blanc 2011

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Having survived our first few days setting up Tranche 1 at IWC 2014 in London, we settled down last night to a lovely glass of Beaujolais Blanc, purchased on our recent travels in France at Chateau de Lavernette in Leynes, southern Burgundy. The chateau and estate were originally the property of the monks of the abbey of Tournus and now belong to the de Boissieu family, descendants of the Lavernette family. We visited the Chateau just days before their harvest was starting in September and enjoyed a wonderful tasting with the family. Interestingly, the chateau is at the crossroads of the Mâconnais and Beaujolais wine regions, quite literally as the border cuts their driveway in half. To read more about our visit, see our Burgundy and Beaujolais blog just published.

Their Beaujolais Blanc had lovely juicy white fruit and flower flavours, a soft and creamy mouthfeel with a nutty edge. It went down very nicely on its own as well as with our vegetable pasta dinner.

Grand Cru Drive Thru: Burgundy & Beaujolais

Guest Wines Tour de France

We had now reached what seemed like miles and miles upon miles of vines, it was truly beautiful! Every available space was lent to viticulture – welcome to Burgundy!

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The weather was still being kind to us, with temperatures in the twenties, enabling the skies to clear later in the day opening up a wide vista of vines as far as our eyes could see. What better place to begin our day than at Gevrey Chambertin.

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We had an early morning appointment at Domaine Heresztyn and did not want to be late as we knew that we were in for a treat. We were met and greeted by Ewa, who is mother to winemaker Florence Heresztyn, third generation of the family, whose husband Simon Mazzini also makes Champagne.

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Ewa spent a little time explaining her family history and how the Domaine has developed over the years. You would be right in thinking this isn’t a very French Domaine name because it’s actually Polish. Jan Heresztyn emigrated from Poland in 1932, eventually arriving in Gevrey-Chambertin where he started acquiring parcels of vines, building up the business to what it is today with his two sons and now grand-daughter. It was a lovely start to the day and helped create a nice ambience in which to taste some truly excellent wines.

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Kelvyn particularly liked the more gamey aromas of the Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru 2007, whose grapes came from the parcel of vines right next to the house. Ruth preferred the softer, fruitiness of the Morey-Saint-Denis 2007. It was fascinating to taste the differences between each vineyard site.

Soon we were on our way again, travelling south. So much is in close proximity to the road that name after famous name simply pass by as you drive. It was with awe that we tried to take all this in.

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In order to gather our thoughts, we felt that it would be a good idea to stop off and stretch our legs at Vosne-Romanée to walk around its many famous high sloping vineyards. What an ideal place for a picnic whilst bathed in beautiful sunshine, leading to an immense feeling of satisfaction, eating local produce (though the tomatoes were from an allotment in North Shields!) and drinking a glass or two of the red stuff. A lasting memory indeed!

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We then drove through the famous Côte d’Or villages of Nuits-St-Georges and Beaune. Stopping off at Nuits-St-Georges as well as making a detour to Meursault, Saint Aubin and Puligny-Montrachet for brief strolls to soak in the atmosphere. It was also great to see the many pickers at work in the vineyards – something that we would be doing in a few days time.

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Near to Saint Aubin we passed the sign for the quaint village Gamay (though none of the grape variety of the same name is found here) and recalled a producer from there whose wines we have previously bought at the Paris Vignerons Indépendants Fair, Domaine Gilles Bouton et Fils, and are excellent. Sadly, all was quiet due to harvest so we weren’t able to visit on this occasion but we hope to return again.

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On our way from North to South Burgundy, the terrain turned quite flat and agricultural concerns other than vine took precedence before regaining their status as we approached Mâcon. Here, the valley that we were driving through grew more hilly.

After a little bit of driving up and down small winding country lanes, we eventually arrived at Château de Lavernette where we were greeted by another mother of one the wine makers, Anke Boissieu. She made us feel very welcome and gave us a bit of a history lesson whilst we were waiting for her son Xavier and wife Kerrie, who share the wine making between them, to arrive.

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We discovered that the Château has been in the hands of the family for some 400 years, having taken over from The Lordship of Lavernette and prior to this, the place had been owned by monks. It also lies on the border of Mâcon & Beaujolais, in fact the driveway of the Château is located in both AOC’s. Therefore, allowing the property to create both these regions’ wines.

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Ta-da on the border of Burgundy and Beaujolais

We were met by Kerrie, who took us on a tour of the vineyards, first the Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais section and then onto the vines of Mâcon. Quite a novel experience!

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Kerrie explained that the Estate is managed biodynamically, of which both her and husband Xavier are keen advocates. However, Kerrie also likes to inject a bit of a scientific approach into this as much as possible as her background was originally in medicine when she was a native of the States. It is here that she met Xavier when both were studying oenology at Saintsbury in the Napa Valley California.

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We later came across Xavier in the winery where he was undertaking final checks and preparations for the forthcoming harvest, which was expected to start after the weekend of our visit.

Both he and Kerrie make the wines, though both have different approaches. For example, Kerrie has purchased some stainless steel tanks and is producing a range of wines from these, whereas Xavier prefers to use the traditional concrete tanks.

However, despite the family being steeped in tradition and Xavier’s endeavour to maintain this, he is not afraid to try out new things, for example by developing a sparkling style Blanc de Noirs ‘Granit’, with 100% Gamay, alongside a more traditional Crémant de Bourgogne and we must say that we thoroughly enjoyed both.

Kerrie showed us around the winery and cellar, where there were some interesting looking ‘saucissons’ hanging from the ceiling, of which one was enjoyed with a glass of vino later on around the table. She also showed us the equipment used for making up the biodynamic mixtures as well as examining the fertiliser that is produced from manure that had been placed in a cow’s horn, the earth was alive with worms and wee beasties.

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It was great to while away a few hours tasting the wines from both winemakers and being made to feel very welcome by other family members and their friends on what was becoming quite late on a Saturday evening. We came away knowing that we would return to this delightful Château and its wonderful hosts hopefully sometime in the not so distant future.

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Would things heat up as we headed South to the  Rhône? ….

Grand Cru Drive Thru: Chablis

Guest Wines Tour de France

Following our introduction to the Champagne region, we stopped the night at a budget hotel in Auxerre (‘oh-sair’), a small port town on the river Yonne just West of Chablis itself and capital of the Yonne département. Upon leaving for our next stop Chablis, we noticed that the landscape became increasingly hilly and rolling and very picturesque.  The sun was shining and a temperature of 23.5 degrees gave for a happy mood and readied us to taste some Premier and Grand Cru Chablis.

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Prior to embarking on our work for the day, we took in breakfast at the ‘Chablis bar’ bang in the centre of town, where the very friendly staff topped us up with the obligatory croissant and cup of strong French coffee.

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Our first stop was at La Chablisienne, which started life as a cooperative winery but has now evolved to bring everything in-house. We were possibly the first customers of the day – well, better to get in early and avoid the crowds!

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After being shown a short video on Chablis explaining the different wine appellations, Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru, we were introduced to a selection of wines from each, Ruth immediately picked out a slight cork taint in one of the Premier Cru wines, which was gladly exchanged for another in better shape. Well done – WSET in action!

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We thoroughly enjoyed the wines from the range we had and would best describe them as being of good body and substance. There was quite a difference in the flavours and structure of each wine, marking out where it came from, with intensity and complexity growing as you moved through to Grand Cru level. They were all very good wines, however, the Grand Cru Les Preuses 2009 stood out for us, an elegant wine showing lovely apple, pear, fennel, almond aromas and flavours, a true ‘phwaar’ wine!

We also picked up a few recipe cards, suggesting dishes to go with their wines. The asparagus and avocado tart with Premier Cru Montmain sounded pretty tasty indeed!

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Next, was William Fèvre, where we were taken through a range of wines selected from the available list by Sylvain (our Wine Advisor), who was very helpful with explaining the chosen wines to us.

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The range here was lighter in style, with more subtle flavours, to what we had already tasted but the differences between the wines were still marked in terms of which appellation the grapes came from. The prices at William Fèvre were a step up from La Chablisienne but based on what we had tasted, we felt La Chablisienne was pretty good value for money.

However, we did like their Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc, which had a lovely aroma of fresh green peas (and it happened to be their cheapest).

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Just around the corner from William Fèvre, we found Domaine Pinson and were led into a tasting cave (literally!) by the proprietor’s daughter Charlene. We loved their wines with their fuller flavour that still maintained steely acidity. More oomph, in terms of flavour, for a great price. With each tasting we were beginning to understand which characteristics could be attributed to which appellation of Chablis.

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We especially enjoyed their Premier Cru Montmains 2011, Fourchaume 2011 and Mont de Milieu 2011, all exhibiting a fuller bodied, richer style of Chablis with good acidity.

The tastings we experienced this morning brilliantly demonstrated terroir in action, although each individual producer had their own style there was no getting away from the fact that the terroir shone though, certain areas had quite distinct characteristics no matter who produced them, for example Premier Cru Fourchaume to the right side of Chablis always had a soft roundness to it, whereas Premier Cru Vaillons on the left side had a more mineral touch.

On our way to Préhy and Saint Bris, we took to the hills that offered wonderful views across the valley and stopped for a lovely picnic lunch just outside Courgis with stunning views of the vineyards stretching out around us!

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The afternoon was spent at Domaine Jean Marc Brocard in Préhy, where we were given an excellent and informative tasting in lieu of a tour, which wasn’t taking place due to the busy activity of harvest.

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It is an impressively large winery, nestled next to the small church Sainte Claire that stands proudly amongst the vines, a picturesque scene indeed.

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Three generations produce the wines on sale here, with third generation Julien gradually taking over the reins from father Jean-Marc. Father-in-law, Emile Petit, also produces an Auxerrois range of wines at the Domaine. Julien is pursuing biodynamic practices and his range of wines all reflect this along with a modern slant to his bottle labelling. The main range of wines continues to be produced by father, Jean-Marc, which also now includes several biodynamic wines. In tasting both father and son’s biodynamic wines, we noted similar characteristics that carried over between them, which we found really interesting.

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We enjoyed tasting a wide range of the wines from Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites and were especially impressed by Jean Marc’s Premier Cru Vaulorent 2011, honeydew melon, grapefruit, round and buttery and Grand Cru Les Preuses 2010, white flower blossom, honeyed melon, lovely richness, as well as Julien’s Premier Cru Les Vaudevay, fruity green fig character, flinty and fresh. All these wines were biodynamic.

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This was followed by a trip to Saint Bris but unfortunately the cellar at Domaine Groisotwas closed to appointments. However, we were able to see that they were busy washing out the press after a busy morning harvesting. We therefore decided to wander around the town and soak up its grand buildings and an ancient past.

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The day was pressing on but we felt that it would not be right of us to go away from Chablis without trying some of the reds available. So we went to Irancy on the hunt for their take on Pinot Noir. We found a good example of this at Benoît Cantin. Sonia, the winemaker’s wife, talked us through a few of their wines, including a rosé, before showing us around the winery, all excellent stuff! A gorgeous little place nestled between hills and well worth a visit.

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Their Irancy “Palotte” 2010 combined Pinot Noir with 10% of the local grape Cesar and showed savoury, forest floor aromas alongside the red fruits.

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Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to call in to Les Caves de Bailly, with their impressive cellar, as it was already quite late in the day and we had a long journey ahead of us in order to reach Burgundy before darkness in the hope that finding the budget hotel would be less difficult than the previous night!

The journey to Dijon was pleasant, with a noticeable change to the terrain – steep inclines and rocky outcrops suddenly jutted out from the earlier gently rolling landscape.

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It was our first try with a ‘Fast Hotel’, cheap but with a welcomingly cheerful receptionist, who was happy to make us a pot of green tea late at night as there was nowhere to get a hot drink (coming back to the lack of kettles in French hotel rooms again!). And so ended another great day. We both came away from Chablis feeling that little bit more knowledgeable about the region and its wines.

So, would we feel the same upon entering Burgundy’s other half?

Grand Cru Drive Thru: Champagne

Guest Wines Tour de France

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Leaving home at 7am we hit the road, sad to leave our little Tibby behind but excited at our French adventure ahead, plus we knew his lordship was in good hands with his very own support crew!

After a very easy drive south, we arrived at the Eurotunnel port. Having never experienced this before it was quite exciting and amazingly easy. We were even early enough to catch a train one hour earlier than booked. It’s a strange experience driving onto a train, then travelling at 110mph underwater without actually moving the car! If you haven’t travelled by Eurotunnel, we would recommend it. The return cost just over £100 and although it takes time driving to Folkestone and then onto your French destination, the fun is in the journey and this is day 1, not just a day lost to travel – we also got to see a bit more of England and of France as well!

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We arrived in the northern Champagne region in the early evening. It has a noticeably flat landscape and besides the obvious vine, other types of agriculture featured such as potatoes and sunflowers. Although a lot of the Champagne vines were on slopes, many seemed to be on flat land. We would be hard pressed to say that the surrounding countryside matched the grandeur of the drink itself. Often, it seemed to be more in contrast: one dimensional and flat!

Also not reminiscent of our “atypical” picture of Champagne was the location of our Hotel Première Classe (yep, living the dream!), which was located within a business park on the outskirts of Reims (not pronounced ‘reems’ but ‘rance’ as we were corrected). Compact, decent and clean but most importantly, within budget (though French budget hotels are pricier than their English equivalent). Why waste good money on expensive accommodation when there’s Champagne to be bought (which surely must be in our budget, right?)!

The following day we headed to Ay, South of Reims on the outskirts of Épernay, and our appointment at René Geoffroy Champagne House.

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The harvest, la vendange, had commenced the day before with attention being focused on the red grapes – the rosés were first in line, and although he was rather busy with all the harvest activity going on, we got to meet the man responsible for these wonderful wines, none other than Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy.

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Anne, the Champagne House secretary, gave us a tasting and showed us around the winery. We were also lucky to witness the traditional Coquard wooden presses in action, pressing the grapes harvested that morning, with the dark juice flowing into stainless steel tanks on the floor below, gravity-fed as this is a more gentle procedure.

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It is difficult to have a favourite of those we tasted as the quality of all was excellent, the Brut Expression, 50% Pinot Meunier, 40% Pinot Noir & 10% Chardonnay, was light and fresh whereas the Brut Volupté 2006, 80% Chardonnay & 20% Pinot Noir, was richer, spicier and wafted those recognisable Champagne yeast aromas.

This producer also makes a limited number of still Pinot Noir wines (Cumières Rouge Traditionnel), which is interestingly a non-vintage blend of grapes from 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2009. He also makes Pinot Meunier still wines by the bottle, unfortunately the latter was sold out but we did pick up the Pinot Noir, which we are looking forward to trying.

Afterwards, we decided to take a leisurely stroll around Ay. It was an amazing feeling walking around and seeing so many world famous Champagne houses in close proximity to one another in such a small quiet village, surrounded on all sides by vines.

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You really don’t appreciate just how big the Champagne department is until you take a drive from Montagne de Reims to reach the Côte des Bar, a mere 20km from Burgundy, where we were destined for our next appointment at Louise Brison in Noé Les Mallets.

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A three hour drive took us from flat open plains, through forest and idyllic villages to reach this Estate in the Aube department. We arrived fairly late in the afternoon, though Julie (Assistante Commerciale) was aware of our drive and had kindly agreed to wait beyond her usual closing time to receive us. And glad of this we were as we were treated to some excellent wines.

Julie displayed her wealth of knowledge for these Champagne’s and took her time so that we could really appreciate what we were drinking.

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We were impressed to learn that every wine produced here is vintage, apart from the rosé, bottles from each year dating back to 1991 were on display and available to purchase all at very reasonable prices.

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We particularly enjoyed tasting the Brut millésime 2007, 50/50 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, which had a lovely balance of fruit and toasty notes, and the Cuvée Tendresse Blanc de Blancs millésime 2005, 100% Chardonnay, which had a much more expressive nose displaying creamy fruit and hazelnut richness.

The harvest had not yet started here but was due to commence the coming Monday. It was fascinating to witness the procession of caravans and mobile homes that were being parked up next to vineyards creating small villages in themselves, in readiness for this event.

We definitely came away from Champagne with far more questions left unanswered and the desire to return to explore this region in far more detail than our quick whistle stop tour.

We were now on our way to our next destination. Though not in too much of a hurry so as not to take in Essoyes, a quietly picturesque village that the impressionist artist Renoir loved, spending many summers of his life here with his wife (originally from this town). Taking a walk around “Du Côté des Renoir” and seeing first hand where some of his inspiration was gained it was entirely understandable why he loved it so and in gratitude to this, the village displays various Renoir creations as large murals on the side of buildings all over the village. There was certainly an air of something serene and peaceful here.

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Darkness soon fell upon us and unfortunately so did a diversion that took us miles out of the way of our original route. Feeling like we were driving blind in the dark with the fuel indicator creeping down lower and lower and no sign of a petrol station for at least 50 miles or so, we were preparing ourselves for a possible night of sleeping in the car (still looking on the bright side, we did have Champagne!). Running on empty, we finally found somewhere to fill up that accepted our credit card, having earlier discovered that certain petrol stations only accept French cards (silly us for mistaking France as being a part of Europe)!

Finally, after getting lost in yet another business park (in our defence, apart from lack of any signage, they also look the same), we found our budget hotel. Though, what is it with not providing a kettle at these places?  Tea = civilisation! So off to bed we went to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for taking on Chablis.

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Follow us to Chablis next …

Weird Science

My Last Day in Roussillon 

It’s dark at 6am and then still dark at 7am but I managed to drag myself out of bed to set off with Georgia to collect grape samples again. Typical though it rained whilst out, so the grapes were a bit wet which could skew the results. Nevertheless we took them back for analysis.

After a couple of hours work, by 9am, my tummy was ready for breakfast, so I popped along to the Boulangerie for a pain au chocolat and picked up some fresh, juicy strawberries from the local market that had a floral sweet touch. Yummy yum!

So here’s a brief guide to sample analysis:

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  • Squish the grapes in the bag to get the juice flowing, every single berry must be squished
  • Pour the juice, preferably without bits, into a glass
  • Use a pipette to drop juice from each wine in turn on the Refractometer and look through the lens to read the alcohol level, clever stuff.
  • Wipe the instrument clean and do the next juice.
  • Check the pH level using the new nifty pH meter, stick it in the juice and wait.
  • Check the TA, titratable acidity,  for the acid level, by filling 10ml juice in a glass and adding 5 drops of indicator, which will react with the reagent that is added to the juice turning it blue/green, once the colour changes read the reagent level and divide by 1.9 to give the acid level. Simples!

At that moment in early September, the alcohol levels were not quite right for picking and the skins still a bit too tough. The conclusion was that we would need to wait.

My afternoon was then spent doing something quite different from sample analysis. I joined Jonathon at the local Intermarché supermarket for the ‘Foire aux Vins’, a promotional wine event that is common at this time of year, known as ‘la rentrée’ when schools go back and the long summer break is officially over. Jonathon had a stall and was trying to entice the French public for a taste of his wines.

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The stalls were outside, creating a French market feel where people could wander around, taste the wines and chat to producers. As well as tasting the wines, which were then to be on offer in the store, customers could try some meats and hot food from a pop up kitchen. However, the rain kept falling and eventually everyone was forced inside.

Most of the customers had driven to the store and seemed to be in a rush plus it was still the middle of a week day. We were also placed next to a rather energetic sausage selling lady near the entrance/exit, which admittedly made trying to attract people’s attention to taste our wine a bit of a challenge.

Customers were also offered the chance to enter a competition to win their weight in wine and were encouraged by the man with a microphone who wouldn’t let them leave until they did so. Strange indeed but an eye opener into French supermarket sales techniques.

It proved to be a long hard day and certainly one of the more challenging wine fairs I have worked at.

Once back at the winery I felt a bit wiped out, the early starts and late evenings were catching up on me a little. However, a glass of Treloar One Block Muscat and La Terre Promise perked me up before dinner.

It was interesting to try the wines that Jonathon had picked up on promo at the ‘Foire aux Vins’ at Intermarché today. A 2009 Bordeaux from Chateau Picardy at 2.86 euros surprisingly wasn’t too nasty for that price and the Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Louis Chavy, 2010, was pretty decent at 8 euros but unfortunately the Mercurey 2010 Pinot Noir was corked.

I thoroughly enjoyed my week at Domaine Treloar and feel I learnt many new things about life running a vineyard and winery. Although participating in the harvest was my original goal, in some ways the delay turned out to my advantage because I was able to do more of a variety of jobs and learn about those all essential jobs in order to prepare the winery before the harvest. Each trip so far this year has provided me with new skills and experience of another aspect of the wine making process, so it is all fitting together nicely like a jigsaw puzzle.

Thank you to Jonathon and Rachel for looking after me.

 

Picture this … Catalunya!

Day 6 in Roussillon

It was an early start today to tidy the winery ready for a group of American and French journalists who were arriving for a tour and a tasting.

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Leaving Jonathon to host them, I went to see the 25th International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan with Rachel, Georgia and Jill. The photographs are exhibited in various buildings across the city, some of which are not usually open to the public. So it is a fantastic opportunity to see some rarely visited places as well as beautifully shot photography although the images were often shocking and at times disturbing. I must admit the majestic Serengeti lions made up for the dark violence of human behaviour.

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A lovely lunch at a nearby cafe gave us a chance to sit and have a break from the intensity of the exhibition after which we were ready for more.

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Then on our way home, a caramel ice cream from Olivier Bajard was most welcome, possibly one of the best ice creams I have ever tasted!

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picture sourced from http://ecole-olivier-bajard.skyrock.com

Back at the winery, I took a short walk around Troullias before settling down in the evening sun with a glass of Pierre Andre, Les Craies Bourgogne Aligote 2010, which I had bought at Les Caves Maillol and was planning on using as the mystery wine for everyone to taste that night.

The wine had a flinty, smoky nose with some tropical pineapple and passion fruit aromas. Both Jonathon and Georgia were impressed and we all liked it a lot, not bad for something under 10 euros. It matched extremely well with the barbecued duck, rice and salad that we had for dinner.

We were treated to Treloar’s Tahi and Le Secret as well as a taste of the co-fermented Carignan/Syrah that is still in barrel. What a powerful wine, beautiful voluptuous nose of violets, black and red fruits, spice, the gripping tannin is to be expected but should integrate and soften out nicely. I look forward to getting hold of a bottle of this next year!

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As yet unnamed Carignan/Syrah

The wine was flowing and everyone was chatting, Jonathon got his guitar out and entertained until bedtime.

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Join me for the final episode in my Roussillon experience next week.

Not Fair Game!

Day 5 in Roussillon

A Sunday lie in didn’t really happen this morning, if anything I was awake earlier, lots of noises disturbed my slumber last night. The chickens were bloody lively so I hope its chicken for dinner today, sweet revenge!

I got up for a coffee and decided to make the most of a bit of down time to write up my notes. I can now see the bruises developing nicely on my arms and legs alongside the scratches, ah the signs of hard work!

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So far, it’s been an interesting experience at Domaine Treloar. I’ve certainly learnt a lot in a short time and had the chance to do a variety of jobs already, all very important in learning how to run a small winery. It’s nice to know my French is coming in useful too, helping with customers and sending out messages to the pickers. Rachel and Jonathon’s lives are certainly pretty hectic but its really not a bad lifestyle at all.

The town of Troullias seems like a nice little place, on my first day a couple of ladies out walking said good morning and commented on the heat, which came as a welcome surprise in contrast to my frequent visits to the small town of Ceret where I have visited my sister for near enough 12 years, possibly as Ceret receives so many foreign visitors each year.

As picking was still delayed, more grape samples were required so Georgia and I headed out to the vines.

Sample taking was easier today because it was overcast, so was much cooler, however, the trip out was a tad less peaceful than usual when a single and very loud gun shot rang out across the vines scattering a flock of birds sky high. I nearly jumped out of my skin and not for the last time as the shots continued to shake the air.

It was very unnerving not being able to see where the shots were coming from, they sounded too close for comfort a couple of times. In the Grenache vines on the hill three grouse flew out as I disturbed them, flipping heck I wondered if I would end be the next target. Further down the hill, in the Syrah, the shots felt very close over head and a hare ran past me, terrified. Again, I thought I might get hit if the hare was the target. Then I noticed a man standing behind camouflage at the tree line, rifle in hand, who was responsible for the shooting.

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Sam, Domaine Treloar’s dog, seemed non fazed, which was good in a way as I was jumpy enough and glad to head to the next parcel out of the way of gun fire. Nevertheless, Sam got his comeuppance as something startled him in the vines, Georgia said she might have seen a snake, yikes, maybe that spooked him but whatever it was made him yelp and run like the wind. We frantically shouted for him hoping he hadn’t run into the road but there he was, tail between his legs at the end of the row. Silly pooch!

Back at the winery, Jonathon checked the alcohol and acid levels of each sample. Still none were ready for picking yet, as the acids were high and skins not quite ripe enough, further delaying the harvest until after I leave, which is a shame.

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The next job to be done was to transfer the white juice we pressed on Thursday from the steel tank to barrels, these needed washing out and then rolling under the concrete tanks. This was not a nice job and was made even nastier when each tank had to blasted with CO2. Jonathon looked on the verge of fainting. We stuck our noses in it and it smelled very strong with a burning sensation like peroxide up your nose.

After filling the barrels, it was once again cleaning time! With a slight wobble, I climbed the ladders up to the top of the tank to hose it down. Just when Georgia and I thought we might have finished for the day we then had to re-rinse a couple of the concrete tanks, detach the sluice doors and clean out the gully, making sure all pump hoses were rinsed thoroughly and detached. Phew, done by 7pm.

As the sun set and the clouds have cleared, the sky was once again blue. The grapes will welcome the sun and heat now.

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We were treated to a Sunday dinner of beautifully tender lamb shank with roast potatoes and green beans! Along with a bit of Domaine Treloar’s Motus, 100% Mourvedre, and Domaine Trilles Incantation Rouge, it went down a treat.

To hear what happens next don’t forget to follow the series.