The drive from Bourg to Toulouse took the majority of our day. We had a late check out of Chateau de la Grave and started our drive south towards Italy where we will spend the next 5 weeks!
The drive wasn’t particularly interesting as we were on the toll roads the entire time, stopping for lunch at a random cafeteria type place. By the time we arrived at the Marriott in Toulouse…we checked in and relaxed.
We both got on the computer, watched a little news and ordered dinner through the hotel restaurant which was surprisingly good. We had a juicy cheeseburger with fries, a caesar salad and a cheese plate with bread. Of course we opened one of the many bottles of wine we had purchased along the way.
We went to bed at a decent time knowing we would continue our long drive tomorrow.
Today was a big day for Chateau de la Grave…they were bottling their 2009 harvest. Philippe (the wine maker) asked us to join him for a tour of his wine cellar this morning. There was one other couple who joined us on this private tour which was great because we soon found out that Philippe didn’t speak English and the other couple was able to translate.
The tour started in the front area of the château overlooking their vineyards and it was explained to us how much they produce, what percentage of which grapes are used to blend and where each was planted. After some questions, he walked us into where the huge silver tanks were holding wine. This is where the 2009 was actually being pumped out of the tank via a long hose and then through a machine into the bottle.
Philippe pointed out a map drawn in chalk on a small blackboard where each vineyard was numbered and corresponded with which tank those grapes were in…he tastes each different wine from each different area of the vineyard every night, it is how he keeps in touch with the different parts of his vineyard.
We continued following him to the next room which was where all the barrels were being stored…this is where the wine ages. He talked about how this vineyard has been in his family for 100 years…his grandfather handed it down to his father who handed it down to him and now he has two young boys. He pointed to the old dusty bottles made prior to him and said they sometimes open them and they are still good.
After showing us the large wooden vats where he holds his superior wine, we walked outside where the ’09 was being bottled. We took a short video of the small machine with a conveyor belt running through the center and the two men putting the bottles on one side….wine was then put into it by the machine, corked, sealed and the other man would remove it and place it in the cradle. It was so classic when we saw the guy using one hand to load the bottles and the other hand to eat a croissant. Philippe continued to show us the bottling process and explained that the cork was actually too big for the bottle and would need time to settle before it could be opened. Even though this one machine seemed fairly small…they were bottling 20,000 bottles.
We closed out the tour by tasting his various types…white wine, table red, superior red as well as the 2009 that we were watching being bottled and he snuck us a small taste of the 2010 which is still in the wooden vats…he thinks 2010 will be even better than 2009 and as we tasted it…we agreed. Unfortunately, we could not buy any of the 2010, it was too young and needed more time to mature.
After our tasting we drove up to the town of Blaye where we were taking a ferry to the Medoc region of Bordeaux…this area is where the largest château’s are, and some of the most well-known wine like Rothschild. When we arrived to the ferry, we saw it didn’t leave for another hour so parked our car and walked around a bit looking for food. A bakery was open and a little girl about nine years old was handling the cash register while her mom worked in the back. We ordered some bread and paid her thinking how cute she was already learning her family trade.
Finally the ferry arrived. We drove onto it and crossed the river which took about 25 minutes. Once on the other side, we input some vineyard addresses and started our tour. The first château we went to was a huge one and it was recommended to us by Hugo in Saint Emilion but unfortunately we didn’t have a reservation and they were too busy…disappointed we continued driving looking for our next stop. We went to a couple other vineyards and tasted their wines, we bought three bottles…one of which was a 2005 (a great vintage for France but hard to come by).
On our way back, we saw a huge wine tasting sign in front of a warehouse type building. We pulled in and found out it had wines from around the world with a counter to taste wines at a fee. We tasted two and left, we had tasted enough for today and since we were driving all the way around the river vs taking the ferry back, we needed to get on the road.
We arrived back in Bourg around 8pm and found the one restaurant in the entire town that was open and serving dinner. We ordered a salad and breast of margret for dinner. It was a diner type restaurant and had pretty good food at pretty good prices. We had a leisurely dinner before calling it a night.
The cathedral towers the city of Bordeaux…it was the first thing we noticed driving into the city today. This massive building took 400 years to build! We decided to take a break from wine tasting and visit the actual city. The vinexpo (the world’s main wine fair) was being held this week so there were a lot of people in town both potential consumers and vineyard owners. We would have loved to sneak in but the fair is business only…you have to work in the industry to get in.
We started walking through the streets, we quickly found the “old town” area which was a pedestrian zone only. The streets were big and lined with boutique after boutique with all kinds of specialties specific to Bordeaux as well as your usual clothing stores, restaurants, pubs etc. We were ready for lunch and found a small cafe packed with people but with a table for two open on the patio. We snagged it and placed our order. The waitress didn’t speak a bit of English, Giff pointed to what he wanted which in hindsight is what I should have done. Instead, I tried to explain in English what I wanted to a women who only spoke French…then finally picked a random salad off the menu hoping for regular mixed greens but received smoked salmon, shrimp and some lettuce with a piece of white toast…not a bad lunch but not exactly what I had in mind. Giff got a piece of vegetable lasagna with a mixed green salad which was very good.
After lunch we continued strolling around the large city…it definitely wasn’t a small town or village…it was city with a city feel..it had taxi’s driving around and all types of people on the streets. Giff saw a little bakery and even though we had just eaten, he ordered a sandwich and a piping hot baguette. Giff literally made himself so full he was in pain but felt he had no option being the baguette was so delicious…it could not be wasted.
Did I mention how hot it was today? The city retained so much heat with all the buildings and people and we were slowly melting so found a square to sip on a smoothie and people watch for a bit. We left the main shopping area and found a few other major streets with impressive buildings before starting to walk back towards our car.
We saw a vendor with all kinds of fruits and veggies and purchased some cherries which were stacked up high and a couple of tomatoes to eat later and then walked back to our car to head to our B&B..
Today is wine tasting day in both Bourg and Blaye. We had gotten a taste for Saint Emilion wines and now wanted to see the differences between these areas of Bordeaux. Unlike the town of Saint Emilion, the towns of Bourg and Blaye were fairly quiet…not many people were out and most of the stores were closed. We first stopped in at the large citadel of Blaye which was an old fortress built in the 17th century. There were some parts that were just ruins but it was nice to walk through and take pictures of it right on the river.
After our walk we stopped for lunch at a restaurant for a basic pre-fix menu before going to our first wine tasting of the day. This wine was made from a cooperative and the women working spoke no English but poured us several wines and pointed to various things on the bottle to try and communicate with us. None of the wines were so great…or are we spoiled by Saint Emilion wines? Or does this specific wine cooperative just suck?
We plugged our next wine chateau – Roland La Garde – into Bridgette (our gps navigator). We pulled up into a tiny village…I mean does it even count as a village if there are only five buildings? We pulled into the driveway of the chateau, there was only one other car parked. The door to the tasting room was locked and we were starting to think they were closed when we saw a guy walking around the corner. He spoke minimal English but walked us back to the front where there was a button to push. He pushed it and said the “wife of the owner will be down”. We waited about a minute and sure enough a women was walking down the driveway from another house greeting us. She too spoke no English but we don’t speak French and we are in their country…so we can’t exactly complain! She let us in the wine tasting room and opened various bottles for us as we flipped through a book that listed details about their wines. After tasting, we chose a bottle of their 2005 vintage to purchase. We are noticing the wines in this region are cheaper than Saint Emilion.
Before we arrived at our favorite vineyard of the day…we made one more quick wine tasting stop at Chateau Haut-Bourcier where the wine was cheap and pretty tasty. We bought a magnum which will be fun to open with a group of people somewhere in our travels. Our favorite stop of the day ended up being the last winery of the day…Chateau Cantinot (www.chateau-cantinot.com). Yann Bouscasse (the owner) was sitting in a room at a large table chatting with two other people. It wasn’t really set up like an official wine tasting room…there were no bottles out or pricing list or bin to spit the wine into. We thought we were walking in on a meeting or interrupting their visit but Yann told us to come in and have a seat. He said he would open and let us taste his 2009 vintage which was just bottled but not being sold yet.
He was drinking wine along with us and was very informative but also laid back. After tasting the 2009, he pulled out a couple other vintages and the five of us sat around the table chatting. The other couple left and Yann asked us if we wanted to see his wine equipment…we of course said yes. He walked us to the warehouse area and showed us the old tanks, the new tanks, the oak barrels and the huge wooden vats (which are the extremely large barrels that not all chateaus use because of how expensive they are). At one point we discussed the “rules and regulations” set by the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) on the various wine producing regions. Although the majority of his wine is the traditional-AOC labeled-bordeaux blend…he also makes some wine the way he wants to make it which may not always be approved by the AOC…this is not so common to find in France.
Because the AOC regulates all the wine appellations in France…the acknowledgement on the label from the appellation helps the winemaker sell their wine for higher prices. So as a consumer…you could buy wine from France without any kind of AOC stamp on it which means the winemaker didn’t follow the very strict rules on their vineyard which means you are gambling on whether or not the wine is any good. Or…you could stick to the AOC labels, which means you will drink what you expect based on the tradition and consistency of the French appellation labeled wines. For example…AOC regulates that only certain grapes are allowed to be growing in certain appellations, only certain grapes are allowed to be blended together, the vines need to be planted a certain distance apart, the vines have to face a certain direction, etc., etc. So if for example a wine maker like Yann has a year where his malbec grape had a great year and he therefore wants to use mostly that grape combined with a little merlot…he is not permitted to do that because in Bordeaux, merlot must be the majority grape in the bottle. Some winemakers such as Yann…go right ahead and blend what they want regardless of the AOC. Let me be clear…we are very happy Yann went ahead and made his Malbec. This wine was delicious and one of our favorites of the trip.
We spent quite a while with Yann, learned alot and left with a couple bottles we purchased and a half bottle of his malbec he gave us at no charge to have with dinner. We found our way home, went out on our balcony overlooking the vineyards and relaxed as the sun set.
Vibrant fruits and veggies, cheeses, live chickens and foi gras were the majority of the vendors at the Libourne market. We stopped to grab some food on our way to Cote de Bourg where we will stay the next four days. We stood on the river to eat some of our produce and noticed how brown the water was…hopefully the drinking water in this town doesn’t come from this water source. I would not even dip my big toe in this river.
We arrived in Bourg in less than an hour and started to look for signs to our B&B. We were admiring the landscape full of vines when we saw a large sign stating, Chateau de la Grave (www.chateaudelagrave.com)…we followed the signs past the sleepy village of Bourg and over the hills to our place. The huge 14th century château was authentic and beautiful. It stood tall and massive among the fields and has been in the family of Philippe and Valerie for the past 100 years.
After literally stopping the car in the middle of the street to take a picture of this place, we checked in with Valerie’s father who was very friendly but spoke no English. He showed us our room and immediately brought us to the back building where they had tanks and barrels full of the wine they have been making for so many years. He did a quick tour with us and then opened some wine for tasting. We may not all speak the same language but we can all communicate through wine…describing what we taste in English and hearing his response in French.
We thanked him for the tasting and went back to our room to prepare dinner. Our room was called the “The vineyards” and for good reason…we had panoramic views of their (45 hectares) of vines and a balcony to take it all in. We took our food downstairs to the backyard and sat at a stone table right on the edge of the patio with the horses to our left, the vines in all directions and the pool to our right. We drank our wine and ate our finger foods from the Libourne market. The sun didn’t set until nearly 9PM which gave us plenty of time to enjoy our surroundings…the views, the wine and the food. After dinner, we went back into our room and settled into a movie.