Monday, 27 October 2014

Bordeaux 3 - Chateau Feely, Haut Garrigue, Winemaker for a Day

We were up at 6am and on our way to the tram before 7am. Today we were going to Feely Wine, Haut Garrigue at  Saussignac to learn all about wine making and then make our own blend and bottle, cork and label it

We wrestled with the tram ticket machine eventually working it out and got our tickets and go it on the C tram to the Saint Jean railway station. Once there again it was a battle with a ticket machine - this time the machine defeated us so we found the ticket office and got our tickets there, good job we gave ourselves plenty of time!

Saussignac Chateau through the Vineyards
The train set off on time at 8am and as we glided east through the Bordeaux suburbs we munched on our delicious breakfast croissants. Soon we were passing acres of vineyards and famous station names such as St Emilion. After just over an hour we arrived at Gardonne, where we were getting off and being met by Caro Feely who was running our tour.

She was a warm, effervescent, chatty woman who was very organised. She and her husband Sean are from South Africa via Dublin, they are both have Irish Ancestry. They gave up high powered jobs about ten years ago to follow their dream of having their own vineyard in France. There were many trials and tribulations, well documented in Caro's book Grape Expectations about their early days in France. I had read the book and found knowing something about the background to this vineyard really added to the experience.

Haut Garrigue
Merlot Grapes on the Vine

The organic and bio-dynamic vineyard was only a few kilometers from Gardonne and Saussignac and its lovely chateau was just a short distance across the vineyard. Haut Garrigue was a delightful white farmhouse with bright blue shutters, surrounded by vineyards and had a fantastic view down across the valley, the Dordogne River shimmered in the distance. There also was a beautiful newly built gite that you can stay in, a tasting room and the working areas of a winery.

Caro Uncorking Wine in the Tasting Room

There were twelve people from various countries, the UK, US, Japan and France. Caro started by telling a bit about organic and bio-dynamic wine making as we wandered through the vineyards. Some of the stories she told us about pesticides etc used in some vineyards was plain scary. We sampled various types of grapes straight off the vines (totally safe as there were no pesticide used) and it was fascinating just how different tastes they had. It was very pleasant wandering around the vineyard, Caro took us at a leisurely pace so we did not feel at all rushed. The initially rather overcast weather broke out into a beautiful warm and sunny day, perfect! Walking around the vineyards took me back many, many years to when I was 21 and went grape picking in a place not that far from here, Bize-Minervois. It was a small, traditional village, no one spoke English and in the weeks I was there my French improved vastly. The actual work in the vineyards was relentless, hot and back breaking. We worked non-stop from 7-11, had a break during the hottest time of day and then another four hours work from 2-6. We could not stop for a minute, otherwise "Vite, vite" was shouted by the overseers. Pay was good, and we also had a litre of wine a day as part of our payment! I think it is the hardest I've ever worked, but it was an amazing experience. And here I was again decades later wandering round a vineyard, but in much easier circumstances!

The Menu
After the walk we went into the tasting room, neatly set out for us with glistening glasses and buckets to spit the wine we were tasting in (I've forgotten the proper name.) However Debbi and I did not use the buckets we were going to enjoy every drop of the wine! We tried a few white and red wines made at Haut Garrigue, I really liked the white ones which surprised me as I'm not that into white wine. Caro told us more about their vineyard and wine making, she was very good at this and made it fascinating to listen to and her enthusiasm was infectious.

By 12 noon we were feeling the effects of the wine a bit, after all we'd been up since 6am and only had a croissant since, so we were ready for lunch. Rather than write what we had down I've added the photo of the menu above. These items, beautifully presented, were served with unlimited delicious bread and salad and more wine. The pairing of food and wine was fascinating, anyone who knows me
knows I don't like blue cheeses. Roquefort was served along with the Feely Saussignac dessert white (the latter is something I had not had before) and I loved the combination, the cheese tasted so different, the saltiness came through more strongly and the "mouldy" taste (which is what I don't like about those cheeses) was very much in the background. I loved the cheese and the dessert wine when served together. This was my second wine revelation of this holiday! Caro left us to take our time over lunch, we took our time and chatted to the other people there, who were friendly, some having travel lifestyles which I could only dream of.

At around 2pm, some of the people left and those of us who were on the Winemaker for the Day tour stayed on to make our own blend of wine. Caro, well organised as ever, gave us aprons that we could keep along with three bottles of wine to blend according to our own taste. We had fun tasting and mixing the wine, Debbi bottled, I did the labels and we both had a go with the manual corking machine to cork our individual bottles. Finally we chose copper foil caps and that was it, we'd created
Our Wines!
our own bottles of wine, Chateau Susanna and Chateau Voisey (the latter sounding very good as it's a French name!)

Around 4pm we got ready to leave, we'd had a a wonderful day. We'd learned so much, had fun and blended our own wine. It was also a very relaxing day, nothing was rushed which was lovely, we were really able to take in the whole ambiance of the place. It had been hard for Sean and Caro in the early days, but having visited Haut Garrigue I can see why they fought to succeed, it is truly an enchanted place. A stay at the gite much be fabulous! Their wines and tours have won awards and they are well deserved. You can see the full list of their tours French Wine Adventures.

Sean drove us to the airport and we had a 20 minute wait for the train back to Bordeaux. It was incredibly quiet at the station, there is a peace about this area. The train back was busy, Some people were speaking English opposite us and I heard the man mention my home city, it's a small world!

We got home about 6pm. We didn't go out, instead we had some nibbles and the wine we had blended (we could not take the wine home as we had cabin luggage only) and of course, celebrate Debbi's official 50th birthday. We had a lovely relaxing evening and we both agreed our own wine was absolutely delicious! It was a good way to end our short, but busy trip to Bordeaux.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Bordeaux 2 - Exploring the City - A Water Mirror, Great Bell and Roman Amphitheatre, Plus Some Wine Magic!

We had a lie in today, I was looking forward to a freshly baked baguette for breakfast from the baker just a couple of doors up from us, but it was Sunday and it was closed! Today was our traditional lazy day, when we just drift from place to place sampling the wine and food. We walked the short distance to the Place de la Comedie and found a table at a cafe (sorry didn't note it's name) on Cours du Chapeau Rouge. We had brunch of the hugest and truly delicious croque monsieur whilst watching life go by.

Aperol Prosecco
Afterwards we walked the short distance to the Tourist Office to buy tickets for the city sightseeing tour. We did that and had a bit of time to spare before the tour left so we walked back to the Place de la Comedie and found a seat under the impressive colonnade of the Grand Theatre cafe. We had an Aperol Prosecco which is a lovely refreshing mix of Aperol orange liquor, Prosecco and soda water, new to us both and much enjoyed!

We went to catch the bus tour and the bus drove through the Esplanade des Quinconces, the largest public square in Europe, dominated by a column with a golden statue of Liberty breaking her chains. Below this was a bronze fountain with horses rearing out of the water. During the war these were hidden by the Resistance in order to protect them.

The bus continued on towards the banks of the mighty Garonne River. At  Bordeaux the river is very wide and brown in colour, the river has a tidal surge and the brownness is silt brought in on these tides. We passed the Place de la Bourse built in the 18th century as the medieval city broke through the old city walls and expanded. The fountain of the Three Graces was erected in 1869 and one of the figures is said to have been modelled on Queen Victoria though I'm sure she wouldn't have approved of their nakedness!

We passed the Mirror d'Eau, the water mirror, a large area of granite and with water fountains that create alternately mirror-like and then mist-like illusions.

Next we see an impressive part of medieval Bordeaux the Porte Cailhau built in 1494 and remains almost unaltered since then. We continued on and then crossed the Garonne via the Pont de Pierre.

Grosse Cloche
Place de la Bourse

This was the first bridge to be built over the river, the very wideness of which made it difficult to span the river. But Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned the building after having to ferry soldiers across the river in boats on a march down to Spain. The bridge was opened in 1822 a year after Napoleon's death. It has 17 spans which is rumoured to be one span for each letter in Napoleon's name.

On the way back over the bridge we had a wonderful view of the the buildings on Bordeaux's river front. We passed through the Porte de Bourgogne and soon passed the Grosse Cloche, the Big Bell. the bell housed in a beautiful double turreted gateway. There is an inscription in the bell that reads: "I ring the hours and my voice is a call to arms, (…) I sing for happy events and weep for the dead".

On we went and passed the Cathédrale Saint-André, consecrated in 1096. Then we passed the Porte Dijeaux, one of the gates to the old city, and on to the Place Gambetta. The next place of interest was Palais Gallien the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. It was surprising to find this in the centre of Bordeaux! It is thought to have been built in the second century AD when the city was occupied by the Romans and called Burdigala. there was a lovely little garden in front of it where people were relaxing. After that we continued past the Jardin Public that looked like a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. 
Palais Gallien

We were dropped off and then told to go across the road to Bordeaux Magnum, a wine shop, for a tasting. We had the chance to taste one wine free and I didn't like it, it was full of tannins and smokey, just what I don't like in French wine. The man must have seen my face as I tasted as he asked if I would like the tannins taken out of the wine and of course I said yes, having no idea how that would be achieved. He got out a small item that was a wine aerator, which apparently mixes oxygen with air at precisely the right rate. Well if I had not seen him pour my wine through the aerator and hand it back to me I would have thought he'd given me a different wine! Debbi said my face was a picture. It was so much smoother and more to my taste, you learn something every day!
Me outside Maison Magnum!

We both really enjoyed the tour, Bordeaux has some amazing architecture and fully deserves its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

We headed back to the apartment and freshened up. We set out for our evening meal quite early as we had a very early start the next day. We went to a restaurant called L'Allyson very close by as it had a good menu at reasonable prices. And it turned out to be a fabulous meal and our rib-eye steaks were the hugest I've ever seen, tender too. I will do a full, separate review of the restaurant on this blog soon.

Once home we relaxed over a glass of wine on our balcony overlooking Rue Sainte-Catherine and chatted as we watched the people passing by below. I could get used to this life!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Bordeaux 1 - French Ambiance

Our apartment on the first floor
We stepped out of the plane into a blissfully warm afternoon and rich blue skies, we had arrived in Bordeaux, a place that neither my friend Debbi nor I had visited before, so it was to be a trip of discoveries. We were there to celebrate Debbi's 50th birthday (well, the real one is in December but this was her "official" birthday, if the Queen can do it so can Debbi!) and she really liked the idea of a wine-based trip and what better place to do that than Bordeaux.

I phoned Christophe who managed the apartment we were renting and he soon arrived - a huge guy from Mauritius with a very gentle handshake and small car that I am amazed he could fit into! He drove us into the city and we had to walk to our apartment in the  Rue Sainte-Catherine as it is a pedestrianised street  At 1.2 kilometres long this street is said to the the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.

We arrived at the apartment and went along a long corridor and up a flight of old stone steps to our apartment. It was small, but very nicely decorated, clean and had all we needed. There were two French windows that led onto a small balcony that overlooked the street, a great place for people watching on the busy street below.

Cheers Debbi!
After a while we went out to do a bit of shopping, then had a shower before going out to look for somewhere to eat. We strolled up to the Place de la Comédie, a beautiful square of neo-classical buildings dominated by the Grand Theatre and the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux.  We looked at the menu for the hotel restaurant Le Bordeaux, and, though it was quite expensive, decided to try it.

We sat outside part of the restaurant as it was a balmy evening and it is always lovely to eat al fresco. We ended up having the same food, which was delicious, a mushroom starter, a chicken and mushroom main (we got a bit mushroomed out!) and the dessert of pistachio mousse with raspberries looked too beautiful to eat! I'll do a separate review in full about the restaurant on the blog.

We took our time over a bottle of local wine (which we really didn't like that much, I know it's sacrilegious, but we are actually not that keen on some French wines) and just relaxed. A busker nearby was singing rather dismal songs in English and the Grand Theatre opposite was all lit up and looked beautiful, it was lovely just to chill and take in the French ambiance that we both love.

The Grand Theatre