Tag Archives: wine tourism

The Sweet Spot.

The sweet wines of Bordeaux are too often overlooked. They were at the height of their fame and success in the 19th century, whereas now they are too often relegated to a dessert wine after dinner, when everyone is already replete, or as an optional add-on to a Bordeaux wine tour.

The wines have an undeserved reputation for being expensive. They are certainly costly, and difficult, to produce. Low yields, labour intensive, risky harvests, but they are rarely expensive to buy, certainly not compared to many Bordeaux reds. Sweet Bordeaux wines merit a closer look. Do get yourself to Sauternes, it has never been easier or more exciting. Add an extra day (or two) on your next Bordeaux wine tour – it’s nearer than Pauillac and no further than Saint Emilion and every wine tourist finds time to go there.

When I say Sauternes, I really mean Sweet Bordeaux. Did you know there are 15 different appellations in Bordeaux where sweet wines can be made? Some are really tiny and don’t make sweet wine every year. The first person to list them all in the comments below will receive a signed copy of my new book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’.

So what is so exciting? First the wines themselves: wine makers are producing sweet Bordeaux wines that are brighter, lighter and perfectly adapted to so many drinking opportunities, from aperitif, to fish, from roast chicken to blue cheese. Try them with spicy food and there are always the classic matches of foie gras and dessert – but be bold, don’t limit yourselves to the classics. The producers don’t – they will show you the way. The doors of Sauternes chateaux are now thrown wide open for amateurs and enthusiasts alike to sample the wines alongside all sorts of food options.

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Sweet Bordeaux and fish? be more adventurous

The area is beautiful. The rolling hills of the Sauternes plateau, the vines of Barsac along the Garonne and the limestone slopes of Saint Croix du Mont, Cadillac and Loupiac on the right bank are often swathed in the legendary early morning mists, responsible for the noble rot and adding to the romantic atmosphere. In amongst all this there is a wealth of wonderful architecture, witness to the historic and prosperous past of the region and the success of these fine wines.

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The beautiful morning mists of Sauternes

One such gem is Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, a 1er Grand Classé (a first growth) in the heart of Sauternes – just down the slope from Château d’Yquem (always the reference).

Dating back to the 13th century, this proud, fortress-like construction has always been an iconic part of the diverse architecture of the appellation. Renovations were under taken by the previous owners but under the new ownership of Sylvio Denz it is really enjoying a renaissance, with the opening in June of the Lalique Hotel as a 400th birthday present to the estate.

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Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, now the home of the Lalique Hotel

Denz is no stranger to wine; he owns a wine auction house in his native Switzerland, vineyards in Spain and Italy and Château Péby Faugères and Château Faugères in Saint Emilion and Château Cap de Faugères in Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux. Lalique is no stranger to wine either. Rene Lalique was from the town of Ay in Champagne, (a Lalique discovery trail opened there this spring). He designed a collection of Yquem carafes and glasses in 1934, and a Barsac collection in 1939.

This is the third Lalique hotel, La Villa René Lalique opened in 2015 (a Relais & Châteaux 5 star hotel and 2 star restaurant) and Château Hochberg in 2016, both in Alsace where the crystal is made.

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Make yourself comfortable at The Lalique Hotel

The decor at The Hotel Lalique in Sauternes is amazing, there is Lalique crystal everywhere; the door handles, the arm rests of chairs and sofas, crystal panels of the signature grape motif inlaid into the furniture, crystal vine leaf light fittings and chandeliers and vases and other objets d’art scattered around the rooms and check out the taps. It’s like a permanent crystal treasure hunt.

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The crystal treasure hunt

A modern extension (glass of course) houses the restaurant; the ceiling is decorated with gold crystal Semillon leaves. More Lalique pieces grace the tables, including perfect replicas of the salt and pepper mills co-created by René Lalique and Peugeot in 1924.

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Some of the beautiful crystal ‘objets-d’arts’ are for sale in the boutique alongside the wines of the property

It takes quite a chef to compete with all this and Jérôme Schilling, the former executive chef of Villa René Lalique, (two Michelin stars) rises to the challenge with a menu that plays with different ways of using Sauternes in preparing the food as well as serving it. In his opinion ‘Sweet wine brings other foods into the realm of haute cuisine’. I’ll drink to that.

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The restaurant with its views over Sauternes

Lalique at Lafaurie Peyraguey is set to be an excellent showcase for Sauternes, if you were waiting for an excuse to get down there this is it.

Sauternes is not a one-stop shop; there are plenty of other things that merit the trip.

When you are sitting at your table in the Lalique restaurant you look straight across the vines to neighbouring Château Sigalas Rabaud, another 1855 1st growth. You can’t miss the bright red parasols on the sunny terrace. I’ve mentioned Sigalas Rabaud before, due to the dynamism of owner-wine maker Laure de Lambert Compeyrot. Since taking over the family property in 2006, she has added two dry white wines to their portfolio, including a 100% dry Sémillon, and a ‘natural’ sweet wine (i.e. without sulphur). Called Le 5 It is a typical example of a move in the region toward brighter, lighter wines. She is just as dynamic in wine tourism, she has opened the doors of the traditional one storey Chartreuse, where you can happily spend an afternoon sipping her wines on the terrace: Sauternes – the perfect siesta wine.

 

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The Terrace of Château Sigalas Rabaud

The most spectacular Chartreuse in the sweet wine region of Bordeaux is Château de Cérons, taking its name from the appellation with one of the smallest productions in Bordeaux.

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Chateau de Cerons

Château de Cérons is a listed historic monument, built in the early 17th century on a gravel terrace overlooking the Garonne River.

Xavier and Caroline Perromat, who took over the family estate in 2012, will make you feel at home under the trees in their park overlooking the beautiful 12th century church. Settle in to enjoy a picnic with a by the glass selection of the dry white and red Graves that the property produces, their rosé and of course their flagship sweet Cérons.

If you want a more substantial lunch, Chateau Guiraud back in Sauternes has also recently opened a restaurant, La Chapelle, in the beautiful old chapel in the grounds next to the Château. As well as Château Guiraud by the glass, they have a really good selection of half bottles of Sauternes and Barsac on the wine list, a great way to taste your way across the appellation.

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La Chapelle de Château Guiraud

 

It’s not all about food and wine in Sauternes, you can also just hang out, literally. Château Rayne Vigneau, another 1st growth, sits right at the top of the plateau of Sauternes, considered by many locals to be some of the best terroir in the region. Their hillsides of vines run down from the fairy-tale chateau – still lived in by the previous owner of the vineyard – with views across the Ciron valley.

To get a better viewpoint, don a harness and hoist yourself up a 200-year-old Cedar tree, here you can sip your wine seated at a suspended table high above the vines. Or get up close and personal with the terroir on a horse back tour through the different soils that make up this beautiful region. Returning to the chateau, you can blend wines from the individual grape varieties to create your very own blend of Sauternes.

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Hanging out at Château Rayne Vigneau

Barsac and Sauternes are often said in the same breath. Barsac is one of the five villages that makeup the appellation, but the only one that has the choice to put its name on the wine labels. When you come you really should visit Barsac too. It is lower than the Sauternes plateau, closer to the Garonne, on a soil dominated by limestone with a thin layer of red, iron dominated clay and sand giving wines a lovely freshness – a trend towards which most sweet wine producers are now working. There are two first growths in Barsac: Chateau Climens and Château Coutet. Visit them both.

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La Tisanerie at Château Climens. Photo credit @ F. Nivelle

Château Climens is owned and run by Berenice Lurton and she is passionate about Biodynamics. A visit to Climens will allow you to discover the wines but also get an understanding of biodynamics with a visit to her ’tisanerie’, a special plant and herb drying room dedicated to biodynamic preparations. Climens was one of the Bordeaux vineyards that produced no wine at all in 2017 due to the terrible frost early in the season.

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Château Coutet

Nearby Château Coutet is also a must see. It is an impressive 13th century fortress with its own chapel and the cellars are in what used to be the stables of the Lur Saluces family, then owners of Château d’Yquem. The Baly family now owns and runs the property and they offer a warm welcome. What I really enjoyed was a unique way of understanding the aromatic complexity of these wines. With a local jam maker, owner Aline Baly has created a range of grape preserves from the emblematic grapes of the region, one from Sauvignon grapes, one from Muscadelle and one from Sémillon. There is also one made from Sémillon affected by botrytis, which really educates the palate as to how the complexity of these great sweet wines develops. Tasting each of these is a great introduction to how the different elements come together to make these special wines.

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Discover the flavours of Barsac

One day is just not long enough to discover everything there is on offer. It is a good job there is a new hotel here If you wait a while, you will be able to enjoy more Sauternes hospitality at Château d’Arche. This Classified Growth has operated a hotel in the 17th century château since before I arrived in town. Now everything is getting an upgrade. The cellars first, they are investing over three million euros in an eco friendly winery, with a vegetal roof and wooden architecture to blend in with the surrounding area. This will also give them room to welcome visitors with an emphasis on discovering the unique viticulture needed to create a great sweet wine. The hotel will also be renovated with and there are rumours of a high-end spa. A little relaxation after all this activity? Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

We heart Bordeaux.

I’ve already praised Bordeaux as the perfect romantic venue: the scenery, the chateaux, the wine, the food, and the waterways, all grounded in history, leave you spoilt for choice.

As the boom in wine tourism sees more properties opening their doors to visitors, these special spots are now accessible, whether for a tête à tête dinner, a romantic weekend or the perfect spot to pop the question.

As you explore the winding roads through the vines you will come across chateaux, views and villages that will inspire. Here are a few suggestions to make your next Bordeaux wine tour the height of romance.

UNESCO Heritage site, Saint Emilion, has to be one of the most romantic settings in the region; the perfectly preserved medieval village with its tiny lanes and many restaurants is perfect for hand-in-hand strolls. Famed for its red wines, you might not know they also make a sparkling wine here – Cremant de Bordeaux. Every romantic evening needs a little sparkle. Tucked away down a back street discover a hidden gem: the old cloisters of the Cordeliers. The wines are aged in the underground caves here and you can taste the results at a table for two under the tumbled-down old arches in the secluded gardens.

View from the steeple of Saint Emilion

A stone’s throw from Saint Emilion is the small, prestigious appellation of Pomerol. The 18th century Château Beauregard here has a classified garden full of mature trees that can be viewed from the terrace over looking a small lily filled moat. The private salons and dining room are at once elegant and intimate as are the newly renovated bedrooms

The Château Beauregard lilies

Should you wish to whisk your true love away in style why not in the Rolls Royce from Château Prieuré Marquet? They can pick you up and tour you around the vineyards before returning to this elegant chateau to the North of Bordeaux. Once there you can relax in the heated pool and enjoy the spa.

Spring at Château Soutard – Photo TOM FLECHT

Or wow with the ‘French Chateau’ factor, grander properties with gorgeous guest rooms include Chateau Soutard or further afield, the more intimate Chateau la Pape offers 5 beautiful rooms, also in the Graves. One of the rooms under the eves would be the perfect choice for a romantic stay.

Chateau Le Pape,

Setting the scene is important for a successful romantic venue, views over vineyards are usually pretty cool, even more so when there is a backdrop of a great river. The terrace of the magnificent 16th century Château La Rivière in Fronsac over looks the Dordogne. The romantic renaissance architecture offers more than a view, with secluded areas in the garden including a fountain as well as guest rooms for the night.

Château La Riviere

Across the Entre Deux Mers, Château Biac enjoys vertiginous views over the Gironde heading south towards Toulouse. You can even stay in one of their guest cottages to complete your romantic evening.

The view across the Garonne from Château Biac

Dine on the water by joining a Bordeaux River Cruise along the Gironde, Dordogne or Garonne, watching the vines slide by as you enjoy cocktails, a wine tasting or dinner. You could even venture as far as the coast. Less than hour from Bordeaux, at Pyla is Europe’s largest sand dune. The hotel and restaurant La Corniche is perched right at the top with views over the Arcachon Basin. Taste the oysters, fresh from the ocean, with a dry white Bordeaux – we all know the reputation of oysters.

Cruise Bordeaux

Driving back inland stop in the Medoc. Le Château du Tertre in Margaux has beautiful guest rooms. The Orangerie by the pool there has to be one of the most romantic dinning venues in the Medoc.

The orangerie at Château du Tertre

What wine to serve on Saint Valentine’s? Château Calon Segur has the perfect label for the occasion. The Marquis de Segur created the label for this wine in the 18th century. it remains the same to this day. Despite owning the more prestigious Chateau Latour and Chateau Lafite at the time, he said his heart lay with Calon Segur and drew a heart around the name just to prove it.

I hope your Bordeaux romance lasts just as long. Happy Saint Valentine’s day.

A version of this post previously appeared on the Great Wine Capitals blog 

 

Happy New Year

Goodbye 2017, you’ve been great company and certainly kept me busy. My strapline states I’m Bordeaux based but open to persuasion. Well I was persuaded this year. I started the tour season with wine in the Rhone and ended with whisky in Scotland – quite a contrast!

It’s not only Bordeaux that blends –  whisky blending at Glenfiddich

The Rhone tour was mostly familiar territory, with a few new discoveries. The wines from the northern Rhone never fail to thrill and the scenery is so breathtaking.

The view over the Northern Rhone

The tour ended with a few days in Provence staying at the spectacular Villa Lacoste. For me, Château Lacoste is emblematic of the changes we are seeing in wine tourism. The wineries visited, the wines tasted and meeting wine makers remains of course at the heart of the experience, but there is now so much more to wine tourism than simply wine. Château Lacoste, with its spectacular art park and hospitality, is the perfect example of this trend towards a complete and high-end experience.

Breakfast at Villa Lacoste

The marriage of art and culture has inspired me for 2018. In the Spring, I’ll be joining forces with interior designer Abigail Hall on a Bordeaux Wine and Design tour exploring how wine has influenced the history of architecture and design in the city of Bordeaux and its chateaux.

It is now easier than ever to participate in a broader approach to wine tourism thanks to a new initiative known as Wine Paths. I’ve been working with their new web site recommending some of my favourite wine tour experiences. Their objective is to make it easier than ever to plan a complete international wine experience. They have partnered with leaders in wineries, hotels, restaurants and other wine led experiences from most major wine regions. France of course, but also across Europe and the world as far afield as South Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand. You can book with them directly though the site or hand your experience over to selected local specialists.

Filming with Bordeaux Tutors from the Wine School at the Cité du Vin.

Teaching is at the heart of what I do, at the Bordeaux wine school and around the world. As well my annual coast-to-coast tour of the US, sharing the wines of the Medoc with the American distribution trade, I taught in Hong King again this year and in Switzerland. In Hong Kong and Switzerland, the emphasis was on hotel schools. I love these classes, here is the future of wine service and it looks very promising indeed.

With students from the Culinary Institute in Hong Kong

Next year I’ll be involved in more virtual teaching. Around February my book, Bordeaux Bootcamp, will grow into an online experience thanks to The Napa Valley Wine Academy. They are creating an all-online, interactive course, perfect for anyone who wants to become more Bordeaux confident; I’m excited about reaching a broader audience than I can when I’m on the road. The course will be the perfect preparation for Bordeaux drinking but perhaps for a visit to Bordeaux too.

Bordeaux Bootcamp.

When I was in the USA I managed to finally visit the Fingers Lakes. Yet another region where the landscape is a beautiful as the wines – a theme in many wine regions. I had the pleasure of meeting up again with Karen McNeil. As the keynote speaker at the Women for Wine Sense conference her take on cool climate wines was right on trend. Again and again this year the notion of elegance and freshness seems to be on the lips of wine makers – and drinkers.

The Finger Lakes

Of course I spent some time in Bordeaux too, with many familiar faces coming back to Bordeaux for more. In my suggestions on how to tour, three days is an absolute minimum. This will only want to make you come back for more and include a visit to a lesserknown part of Bordeaux or to another winery. This year I’m looking forward to welcoming some guests back for their third visit – you just can’t get too much of a good thing.

Every year I say I’ll do a bit less but 2018 doesn’t look like it’ll be that year. Touring will start in Champagne this year and I’ll be heading to India – more for yoga than wine, although I have it on good authority that Indian wines are worth seeking out, so watch this blog for my impressions.

Wine and wellness is also a theme I’ll be exploring more throughout the year. After the success of wine and wellness events in 2017, where I met some amazing people, I’m keen to take this further. Winefulness is now officially a thing; meditation skills can increase your tasting skills. Don’t believe me? You can try it with me this spring when I’ll be working with yoga teacher Martine Bounet for a Wine and Yoga weekend where we’ll be visiting top wineries in our yoga kit. On a yoga workshop this year in Mauritius, I meet the inspirational Karine Kleb – who initiated me into the pleasures of a chocolate meditation that’s definitely going to be on the programme.

Yoga in the grounds of Château Lamothe Bergeron

Wine, chocolate, culture and yoga – what is there not to love? Health and Hedonism is going to be a much used hashtag in 2018, at least by me. My latest book, A Drinking Woman’s’ Diet, a liver-friendly lifestyle guide, is now with the publishers and should be available early next year – hopefully in time to give a helping hand to any flagging New Years’ resolutions.

Happy New Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Finger Lakes – at last.

On my social media strapline I say I’m “Bordeaux-based but open to persuasion”. So far this year I have been to the Rhone, Scotland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, England and across the US. So I’m easy to persuade. Wine regions aren’t always the destination. I’m often teaching rather than exploring but happily sometimes the two collide.

When I was in the US this summer I finally made it to the Finger Lakes and I fell for the charm and beauty of the region. I have been tantalisingly close before; teaching Bordeaux Master classes at the nearby Hospitality Faculty at Cornell, which left me frustrated by a lack of time to discover the vineyards, especially after tasting some of the wines with faculty members.

When you think of New York, wine making might not spring to mind. Wine drinking perhaps, but grape growing? There’s more to New York than New York City. Manhattan may have been the first place in New York State where Dutch immigrants planted grapes for wine in the 1600s, but they didn’t survive and New York wine country is now well established further north.

New York wine country prides itself as having a ‘new world attitude with an old world latitude’. It’s on more or less, the same latitude as Rioja and is the third largest wine-growing region in the US with over 400 wineries.

The history of wine-making here goes back 400 years but it has recently boomed. 35 years ago there were just 31 wineries but 133 have opened since 2011, wine production has increased by 50% since 1985 and tourist visits are up 85% since 2000 with over 5 million visitors each year.

There are five major wine regions: Lake Erie (AVA – American Viticultural area), The Niagara escarpment, (AVA), The Finger Lakes (AVA), Hudson River (AVA) and Long Island (AVA), and a total of 9 AVAs altogether.

It was the Women for Wine Sense organisation (WWS) who brought me here for their Grand Event in July. WWS is an association that brings together women in the wine trade (and quite a few men) with the original aim of encouraging reasonable alcohol consumption. They now offer educational programs, mentoring and networking opportunities to wine enthusiasts and industry professionals across the US.

I have presented Bordeaux wines to the California chapter of WWS over the last few years so it was great to finally meet members from all over the US. We were very generously hosted at wineries across the Finger Lakes, and judging by their hospitality I’m not surprised that visitor numbers are up.

Karen MacNeil explains the theory of cool at Ravine Winery

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to visit yet – here’s a bit of background. This is cool climate wine region, as Karen McNeil so clearly explained to us in her opening address. She sang the praises of the elegance of cool climate wines (including Bordeaux I might add) explaining how great wines often exist on ‘the edge’ and how their ‘slow dance towards ripeness’ bestows elegance. This was the perfect region to express this elegant and easy drinking approach to wine making.

A range of wines from Dr Konstantin Frank – one of the pioneers of the Finger Lakes.

The area is well known for its Rieslings and now its Sparkling wines, I also tasted some excellent Cabernet Francs, Pinot Noirs and other regional varieties such as Catawba, Niagara and the Cornell developed Cayuga (white) and Tramine.

A vertical if the Saperati variety rom the Standing Stone Winery

The region takes it’s name from 11 thin parallel lakes, the four main lakes: Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga and other smaller lakes: Conesus and Hemlock Owasco and Skaneateles formed as glaciers retreated leaving the impression of the fingers of a hand – thought by native Indians to be the hand of god.

The region counts for half of New York’s wineries producing about 175 Million bottles from over 9000 acres of vines. There is a concentration of wineries around the Southern half of lake Seneca, which has it’s own AVA.

The limestone escarpment falling down into lake seneca at the Standing Stone Vineyard

Steep hillsides run down to the water’s edge, and these large bodies of water have a temperate effect on the climate protecting the gravel, shale, schist, limestone and clay soils from the extremes of temperature up here. These diverse landscapes, soils and a large choice of varieties give a very wide range of wine styles: white, rosé, red, sweet and dry, still and sparkling.

I mentioned earlier grape varieties developed by Cornell and just as Bordeaux has the faculty of oenology as a centre of excellence in research into vine growing and wine making so the Finger Lakes has Cornell. This and the fact that the 126 wineries of the Finger Lakes work closely together in not only welcoming visitors to the region, but also technically, and in raising the profile of the region and its wines on the international wine scene.

The View across the lake from the Geneva on the Lake Hotel

Sadly I only skimmed the surface, but I recommend a visit. I would suggest staying in or near Geneva on the Lake – it’s a great base. The Geneva on the Lake Hotel has a gorgeous old world feeling with beautiful gardens, pool and view over the lake. If you want something more low-key the tiny New Vines winery has a guesthouse with B & B rooms.

The sculptural gates of Fox Run Winery

As to which wineries to visit, I only managed a few; Ravines with their Ravinous kitchen in a gorgeous old barn should be on your list. They promote farm to table eating sourcing local products and their relaxed down to earth hospitality and collaboration with other local producers is very much a signature of the region. The café and market at Fox Run vineyards has a similar atmosphere as well as an amazing sculpture at the entrance gate.

Vineyard with a view – Standing stone Vineyard

On the other side of the lake the views across the water at Standing Stones Vineyards as well as the range of wines are also worth a trip down the eastern side of the lake. If you have time, drive all around Lake Seneca and call in at the many tempting wineries on the lakeside route.

Tierce, an example of vineyards working together recommendation from the Microclimate wine bar.

Then call in at the Microclimate wine bar for an over view of the wines of the region. At this tiny bar on Linden Street, in the centre of Geneva on the Lake, the owner sommelier Stephanie will serve you Finger Lake wines alongside the same varieties from across the globe giving you a fascinating benchmark. The wines are served with more local cheeses and charcuterie or if you are fed up with wine (?) after a long day tasting – a refreshing local beer.

The sparkling wine from Konstantin Frank – possibly my favourite tipple of the weekend.

I’m planning a trip back so when you do go, please report back with your suggestions to add to my ‘must visit’ list.

 

Château Soutard – At your service

Château Soutard, Classified Growth of Saint Emilion, has undergone a complete renovation and renewal since its acquisition by French Insurance company l’AG2R La Mondiale in 2006. L’AG2R were no strangers to wine, or to Saint Emilion, as they already owned and managed Château Larmande Grand Cru Classé and Château Grand Faurie La Rose Saint Emilion Grand Cru near by. In 2009 they added neighbouring Château Cadet-Piola to their collection, now fully integrated into Soutard as of the 2012 classification. Château Larmande and Grand Cru Grand Faurie La Rose maintain their independence, each being made in their own wine cellars. The total holdings add up to 60ha of which Château Soutard represents half at 30 ha.

The Beautiful Château Soutard, Grand Cru Classé of Saint Emilion
Photo Credit Tom Fletch

Two Best of Bordeaux Wine Tourism awards have justly compensated the dedication of the new team in bringing Château Soutard back to the elegance, deserving of its classified status. The first, in 2012, was for the architecture – hardly surprising given the beautiful gravity fed cellars created by architect Fabien Pédelaborde. As well as being an efficient working cellar, it is a showcase for both the history of the property and the unique limestone terroir of the plateau of Saint Emilion on which the vineyard is situated.

Their latest award was for Wine Tourism Services, highlighting how they have put this newly renovated facility to excellent use, opening it up to visitors in so many ways.

The view from the guest rooms in the château. Photo Credit Tom Fletch

In addition to the cellars, they have now transformed the 18th century Chateau at the very heart of the estate, offering a complete range of wine tourism from accommodation in the four suites of the Chateau to seminars and weddings in the cellars and intimate cooking classes. This is in addition to the 3 guest rooms they already had in Château Grande Faurie Larose.

They offer walk-in tours, no reservation needed (11 am and 4pm in French, 2pm in English), as well as private tours by reservation with a Corvin on hand to taste older vintages by the glass from the private cellars of the Château.

You can take a more relaxed and informal approach to discovering Château Soutard. Being so close to the centre of Saint Emilion, many people call in just to visit the boutique. It’s worth a visit; the chic French country theme includes an eclectic range of wine related gifts for all ages (the crossbow that fires corks is a particular favourite) including their own porcelain collection. Shoppers often stay on for a glass of wine and a plate of charcuterie or cheeses on the terrace in front of the château, or take a picnic hamper to enjoy in the parkland surrounding the château.

Lunch at the Château

If, after that glass of wine, the short walk back to town is too much, they rent out bicycles to discover the vineyard and surrounding area or you can walk it off with one of the especially designed walking tours through the vines.

These tours are specifically designed for wine enthusiasts who want to learn more about the vineyard. The cellars may be impressive, and many visitors will stop there, but what happens in the vineyard is what really determines the quality of the grapes and therefore the quality of the wines. The tour explains the agriculture behind the grapes and the annual calendar that dictates the many tasks throughout the year necessary to ensure a quality crop. Visitors also learn about the grape varietals, the influence of the climate and how the vineyard manager monitors it with their own weather station and how he uses this information in his viticultural decisions. Inspired to learn more? Careful what you wish for, you can even participate in the harvest and work in the cellar if you fancy getting your hands dirty.

There is a nature trail specifically designed for children too, they love to discover the biodiversity of the site; the other flora and fauna found in the vineyard including a good bug guide – known in-house as the ”who eats whom” tour. The children’s guide includes an illustrated map with drawings to colour in, the same pictures that they can find at information points throughout the vineyard, keeping them busy while their parents visit the cellars and taste the wine.

All these services add up to over 18 000 guests across the three vineyards, from business seminars to romantic weddings and gastronomic dinners to children’s trails; anything is possible at Château Soutard.

The cellars at Château Soutard – technical and practical. Photo Credit C. Goussard

It’s no secret that Château Soutard is focussing its quality efforts on the next classification with a clear ambition to become one of the 1er Grand Crus Classés of Saint Emilion. If they are as successful in their objective as they are at wine tourism – this is one to watch.

 

The original of this article was posted on the Great Wine capitals Blog.

The sandy side of the Medoc.

The proximity of the Bordeaux vineyards to the ocean keeps the Bordeaux climate both temperate and humid, a major influence on the style and quality of Bordeaux wines. This is especially true for the Medoc.

The 16 500 ha of the Medoc vineyards are on a narrow strip, just 80 Km long and up to 15 km wide, running along the eastern side of this peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. It is here on the Eastern edge that the famous gravel soils are found, but also some clay and limestone. Head west; towards the coastline it’s sand.

The Medoc Peninsula Map Conseil des Vins du Médoc

I want to take you further north, past the last vineyards of the Medoc appellation, past the salt marshes where wild horses still graze, to the sandy beaches. I have just spent a week here, at the very northern tip of the Peninsula and it has given me a different view of the region, compared to the one I am normally looking at through the bottom of a glass – which can distort your view in more ways than one!

Up until the 17th century this region was a series of marshy islands. Then, to help suck up some of the water and stabilise the sandy coastal soils, forests were planted. This didn’t go down too well with the locals who were used to shepherding their sheep on stilts across the marshy salt plains. They eventually turned toward forestry, harvesting the pine resin and seeds as well as the wood.

Then the Dutch came along with their expertise in polders and recuperating land from the sea; they built dykes along the estuary, introduced drainage ditches and started to dry out the land. It’s not a coincidence that the name ‘Moulin’ or windmill is found on a lot of wine labels. Even the name of the appellation Moulis comes from the presence of windmills on this higher area. This ‘new’ land allowed the planting of the vineyards we know today.

A drainage ditch or Jalle, just south of Saint Julien. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Despite the daily ferry that runs across to Royan, the Bordelais tend to think of the peninsula as a dead end, but the tip of the peninsula has always had a strategic role thanks to trade by sea. It seems to have been an important region as early as the Bronze Age. It’s possible there were foundries here, judging by the Bronze hammer heads that are often found washed up on the shore, most probably from bronze age villages engulfed by the ocean. There is neither copper nor tin here but it might have been a meeting place for these two raw materials from which bronze is made.

Looking across the Gironde Estuary from one of the dykes. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Soulac, at the northern tip, now a holiday town, was where the medieval pilgrims would disembark from Northern Europe to start their trek south to Saint Jacques de Compostella in Spain. In the 11th century Benedictine monks built a Monastery, Abbey and Basilica, to welcome them. The Basilica is called Notre-Dame-de-la-fin-des-Terres (Our lady of the end of the land) an evocative name. In the 18th century the whole village was engulfed by sand blown in on the Atlantic storms. Only the tip of the tower of the church remained, acting as a landmark. The Basilica was uncovered again in the mid 19th century when Soulac became fashionable thanks to the introduction of the railway. The train bought the great and the good from Bordeaux to bathe and breathe the fresh marine air and pine resin aromas that were thought to be restorative.

The pine trees along the coast were thought to be good for the lungs. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The coastline continues to move here, constantly putting water front properties at risk but it is this power of the Atlantic that attracts tourists to the area. The crashing waves and huge empty beaches are a haven for surfers and campers; there’s a real cool ‘Californian’ vibe along the coast in the summer.

Surf’s up Soulac – Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Soulac has a particular and charming architectural style, known, unsurprisingly, as Soulacaise. The picturesque turn of the century cottages and villas are all built of a mix of limestone and local fired bricks.

One of the Soulacise villas seen through the eyes of local artist  Heidi Moiriot https://www.heidimoriot.com

Next time you are on a wine tour to the Medoc, take the time to go ‘off piste’ and head to the beach. A plate of oysters, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a paddle in the Atlantic is a great change of scene from the cellars of Medoc. Thanks to their restorative powers, you will return to the tasting rooms with renewed vigour.

On your bike at Château Marquis de Terme.

Chateau Marquis de Terme walked away with the top award for the Global Gold Best Of Wine Tourism in Bordeaux at the end of 2016. Their original ‘Best Of’ win was for Innovation in Wine Tourism. They have really embraced wine tourism since their renovation with the arrival of director Ludovic David in 2009. They have an open door policy with receptions rooms for groups and different tours including food and wine tastings for wine tourists.

Château Marquis de Terme

Vineyards are pretty adaptable at catering to the interest of the visitors. Subjects include the history of the property, as most Bordeaux vineyards have a long and fascinating story to tell, wine making, barrel ageing and of course the tasting.

The actual vineyards, the fields of vines, don’t always get a look in. In recent years the role of terroir, the responsibility of the winemakers to look after it in an ecologically sound way and the management of this terroir in a plot-by-plot fashion (precision viticulture) is at the heart of wine making. The emphasis is all about growing as perfect a grape as possible and getting it safely to the wine cellar so the wine maker can then work his or her magic on the best possible raw material.

To do so, the matching of the varietal to the soil is all-important. The terroir of the left bank, where Margaux is situated, is usually described as gravel, compared to the clay and limestone soils of the right bank around Saint Emilion for example. But there is so much more to it than this. To understand the variations in the soil that can make all the difference to wine you need to get out there and take a closer look.

Welcome to Marquis de Terme for their unique ampelography tour. This unique tour was the deciding factor for their winning the Best of Wine Tourism award to innovation. Ampelography is the branch of botany specifically about the identification and classification of vines. Château Marquis de Terme is perfectly situated at the heart of the Margaux appellation, a classified growth of 1855 surrounded by other classified growths. The plots belonging to the vineyard are spread throughout the appellation over four different types of soil; gravels of different dimensions and clay, each identified thanks to precise soil analysis. Each type of soil is deemed best suited to one of the four different varietals that make up the blend of the chateau wines.

After all, blending is one of the signatures of Bordeaux. These Bordeaux blends are always mentioned during the tastings but why we blend in Bordeaux rather than creating mono varietal wines is not always made clear. If you really want to understand this, there is no better way than to go into these plots of vineyard and see for yourself.

On your bike!

On your bike then! Reflecting their environmental values, demonstrated by their ecological certification, these tours are conducted by a guide leading you across the vineyards of Margaux on bicycles. It’s a great way to understand the appellation as a whole and not just Chateau Marquis de Terme. Margaux is the largest of the ‘village’ appellations of the Medoc, known for the complexity of its terroir. Up close you will really see how different viticultural techniques are adapted to each plot, from pruning to harvesting dates, aiming to producing the best grapes possible.

Back at the chateau, wine making is explained, a tour of the cellars showing how the characteristics cultivated on each of the plots you visited are preserved through precision wine making and barrel ageing. And after all that pedalling you will have worked up a thirst for the tasting.

The original of this article was posted on the Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism Blog 

Villa Lacoste – breathless.

Finally I arrive in Provence.

I say finally as it was a last minute inspiration to add a few Provence days on the end of a recent Rhone wine tour. My friends (we’ve been touring together too long to call them clients) had decided to go and I tagged along for a few extra days.

I’m thrilled I did; thanks to a recommendation from Mary Dardenne of Decanter Tours I discovered a spectacular new wine tourism destination: Villa Lacoste.

Our timing was perfect. The vineyard and sculpture park of Château Lacoste are well established, but we were there just in time for the opening of their new hotel.

I have been known to be gushing in my praise before, but this place took my breath away. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I had been warned it was very contemporary. We arrived on a very busy Sunday afternoon. Driving through the sculpture park and past the art centre looking for the hotel, I wondered what we were heading for. So well hidden is the hotel that initially I thought I’d brought my friends to stay in a series of Nissan huts. Fortunately these were the new, Jean Nouvel wine cellars, not the hotel.

Around a bend, up a slope, hidden by trees and vines we discovered the spectacular new, purpose built  hotel.

Villa Lacoste amongst the vines and trees

Having just left the historical building of la Mirande in Avignon, (see a previous post) this was a big culture shock. The beautiful, ultra modern suites are perched high up the hillside with spectacular views of the vines, the valley and the art scattered across the 200 ha estate.

We enjoyed the warm welcome and undivided attention of their very first days. With everything brand spanking new, we had the impression of having the place almost to ourselves – but given the layout I think this would be the case even if the hotel was full.

The elegant suites are not exactly minimalist but their deceptively simple design is a show case for wonderful details: lots of contemporary art, complemented by curated books to learn more about it, as well as fresh fruit, local specialities and of course, a bottle of Château Lacoste Rosé to be sipped on the balcony looking at that view.

My suite at Villa Lacoste                                       Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The all white theme runs into the marble bathrooms each with their own terrace and an elegant olive tree over the bathtub.

The bathroom with it’s own olive tree             Photo Credit Wendy Narby

We dined in the Louison restaurant. Thanks to a photo shoot, Michelin star chef Gérald Passedat was there and it was like having a private chef. We were thoroughly spoilt.

The Couple by Louise Bourgeois high above our table at dinner.

 

Amuses bouches at Louison                                Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The food was spectacular. Excellent quality local ingredients, traditional recipes, all with an original and inventive twist, as exciting for the eye as the palate.

Olive Bread – more olive than bread                Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The art theme runs right though this place down to the smallest details. My friends liked it so much they returned for dinner the following night and were just as thrilled.

The crab…..                                                               Photo Credit Wendy Narby

and its provencal vegetables         Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Onion: the content and the container. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

There is also a more informal restaurant, a cool bar, a well-stocked library to browse the wine and art books, as well as a swimming pool to occupy the residents.

The next morning, after a power walk through the vines, getting lost amongst the art installations, breakfast was served on the terrace of the hotel. Suspended high up above the pool, as delicious as breakfast was, it was hard to concentrate on with such a spectacular view.

Breakfast with that view                                      Photo Credit Wendy Narby

After breakfast off we went to discover the sculpture park – driven in a shiny new Land Rover Defender. Another box ticked for the boys on the tour.

Irishman Patrick McKillen purchased this classic French Provencal estate in 2002. As well as renovating the chateau and replanting the vines, Mckillen has created a unique sculpture park with thirty major contemporary artworks spread throughout the vineyard. The art centre, created by Japanese architect Tadao Ando in 2004, holds pride of place at the centre.

The Louise Bourgeois spider at the art centre Photo Credit Wendy Narby

It is breath-taking – arriving in front of the centre you are welcomed by a Louise Bourgeois
 Crouching Spider sculpture, which seems to be floating over the water. It was here that charming young Irish art expert, Tess Rumgay, met us.

I highly recommend taking a guided tour. You can of course walk around and discover at your own pace with a well-edited guide and map but Tess’s explanations and insights made all the difference. We felt so much more intelligent and cultured at the end of the morning.

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Tom Shannon’s Drop – in action

And the wine? Well, sadly I didn’t have time to visit the impressive new cellars designed by Jean Nouvel, (the ones that look like Nissan huts). That’ll be for another trip. But we did taste the wine. As well as the tasting room and shop, there are several restaurants to choose where you can sample by the glass or the bottle. The art centre has a light and airy Tadao Ando restaurant running alongside the water. But, after all the contemporary art, we returned to the more traditional atmosphere of the original château courtyard for lunch. The Terrace restaurant serves fresh organic produce from the neighbouring kitchen garden, at tables laid out around the fountain, all served with a selection of the delicious still and sparkling rosés from the property.

The Rosé Fountain                                                Photo Credit Wendy Narby

There is so much to see here that it merits at least a couple of days stay, but do allow extra time if you can just to soak up the Zen atmosphere of the place. A quite remarkable wine tourism experience; it merits reflection.

Part of the warm welcome at Villa Lacoste    Photo Credit Wendy Narby

 

 

 

 

Come to your senses at Château Smith Haut Lafitte.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte is no stranger to contemporary art; the owner, Florence Cathiard, shares her collection with visitors as they wander through the vines and the château – one of the leaders of wine tourism in Bordeaux. She has been systematically adding a piece a year to her collection over the last twenty-six years since they purchased this classified growth of the Graves.

It is no surprise then that the Chateau has taken a step further into the world of art, opening a new ‘Land Art’ installation – The Forest of the Five senses. This new venture is hidden away in eight hectares of woods between Château Smith Haut Lafitte and neighbouring Château Le Thil, which was acquired by the family in 2012 and is now a ‘guest lodge’ for clients of Les Sources de Caudalie.

The entrance to the Forest of the Five Senses walk

I stumbled upon the project a couple of weeks before it opened when visiting their ‘stealth cellar’ built in these woods, with Wine Maker Yann Laudeho. This completely carbon neutral winemaking and ageing facility was created for their second wine, Les Hauts de Smith, for the 2013 vintage. With its vegetal roof and hidden in an old gravel quarry, it is completely integrated into the natural environment.

I asked what the new raised pathways being built were for. “All will be revealed” he said and it was; a couple of weeks later, they opened their new natural sculpture walk.

View of Château Le Thil from the Forest path

It is designed as a walk through the woods, accompanied by local artists whose pieces are installed here. It takes about two hours to wander through, especially if you pay attention to all the surprises. The park of Château Le Thil, with its classified collection of old trees, can be seen at the end of one alley, a contrast to the contemporary pieces.

The Vortex by Durante and Segond – more affectionately known as the spiders web

These include ‘The Vortex’ by Durante and Segond; a giant spider web of stainless steel hanging between two trees and the creations of José Le Piez on the singing island, which uses your sense of hearing as well as sight (and balance to get across on the little ferry). He has also created an ear trumpet installed above one of the little streams that amplifies the sounds of bubbling water.

Jackpot keeps an eye on the raft while José Le Piez makes the wood sing

Listen to the bubbling brook

Its not all new art. Tucked away are old vestiges:a witches seat from an old tree, the old drainage channels, what looks like the remains of a chapel above a spring.

There is also a ‘palombiere’, the traditional hide built by hunters to catch the seasonal doves. They are too eco friendly here for hunting but it shows the old skills using wood and bracken to create a dwelling that is perfectly hidden away.

The Palombiere made of bracken

And they have nothing if not a sense of humour; Gulliver’s Skis by Cyrille Menei is a nod towards the past career of M & Mme Cathiard as ski champions and talking of giants there’s an enormous footprint created by the gardeners. With the goats, lamas and chickens in the farmyard and the majestic working horses used to plough the vines, there is something for all ages, guaranteed to bring out the wonder of nature and the child in us all.

Yann with Gulliver’s skis

There is a nod to wine of course, as well as being a showcase for young artists, it is also a shop window for the Cathiard’s respect for the for biodiversity in their vineyard. Towards the end of the walk, there is a cottage ‘The Tisanerie’, where the herbs and wild plants, used in biodynamic preparations for the vines, are dried and stored. Close by is an aromatic garden planted with herbs and flowers that represent the different aromas found in their red and white wines as well as some of the ingredients used in the creation of the Caudalie cosmetics.

La Tisanerie

It is altogether a peaceful antidote to the rush of everyday life and a welcome change of pace from more classic cellar tours and chateau visits. Follow the path on your next wine tour of Bordeaux.

Follow the path

 

 

Star studded Rhone.

Tasting wine works up an appetite. I’m not looking for sympathy; as we tasted our way down the Rhone Valley last month, the high concentration of Michelin stars more than solved our wine induced munchies.

Being spring, the French passion for seasonal produce meant we had asparagus at almost every meal – it was delicious and on a wine tour any nod towards detox is very welcome!

Here are some of our gastronomic highlights should you find yourself in the same position on a Rhone Wine Tour.

In 1934, Andre Pic opened La Maison Pic in Valence, wining his three Michelin stars the same year. He would be proud of his great granddaughter; Anne-Sophie took over the kitchens in 1997 and re established the 3 star status in 2007; the first woman chef to win this accolade.

A history of Michelin stars at la Maison Pic

Her personal passion for certain ingredients is generously shared. Tea (not asparagus) seemed to be a highlight when we were there. Her 3 star-cuisine is breath taking in presentation, taste and inspiration. The same elegance is reflected in the décor that more than makes up for the location, that can take you by surprise.

The interiors as inspirational as the cuisine at Maison Pic

I think this aesthetic made it a favourite with the ladies in the group more than the men! In the seven years since I was last there (I won’t wait so long before returning again) she has spread her brand across this part of town: as well as the hotel, 3 star restaurant and Bistro André she has opened a relaxed ‘Cantine’, a cooking school, a kitchen shop, a patisserie and a deli – selling more of those products she is so passionate about.

Spolit for 3 star choice

I highly recommend the Bistro André; dinner there was one of the highlights of the trip. The atmosphere is less restrained than the Grand Restaurant, the service is generous and the staff very friendly and especially good at pointing out value amongst the famous names on the wine list.

Even the simplest fare has the Anne-Sophie signature at Bistro Andre

If you can’t get to Valence, Anne Sophie can come to you, at least if you are in London, Lausanne or Paris. She opened La Dame du Pic in Paris in 2012 (in French La Dame du Pic means the queen of Spades) now a Michelin star. She also opened a restaurant in the beautiful setting of the Lausanne Beau Rivage Palace in April 2009, winning 2 Michelin stars in October of the same year. She has just opened her latest venture; a Dame du Pic in collaboration with Château Latour in the Four Seasons Hotel in London – it’s on my radar for September so I will report back.

Breakfast at Pic – who gets the domino reference?

La Pyramide is another historical gastronomic monument of the Rhone. Opened in 1922 in Vienne, just where the Rhone vineyards start, it was named in 1925 after the neighbouring Roman obelisque. Chef Fernand Point put it on the map in 1933 winning the very first 3 Michelin stars. He was an amazing character, more or less inventing Nouvelle Cuisine and was the first chef to come out and meet the customers, wrote ‘Ma Gastronomie’ what many called the most important cookbook, and trained such famous names as Paul Bocuse, les frères Troisgros and Alain Chapel.

The view of the Pyramide in Vienne from my bedroom window

The hotel and restaurant re opened after renovation in 1989 and it is still in the capable hands of Patrick Henriroux, who earned his 2 star status in 1992 which he has kept continuously to date – quite an achievement. The wine list, very important on a wine tour, received the seal of approval from our wine experts for being ‘well rounded, deep and relatively reasonably priced’. Sounds like a wine recommendation to me! The cuisine is inventive with a dash of humour – a pyramid of snails anyone?

A pyramid of snails and seasonal asparagus at La Pyramide.

It wasn’t uniquely Michelin star dining all week, honest. I always try and visit The Beau-Rivage in Condrieu when I’m in the northern Rhone, mainly for it’s situation on the banks of the Rhone – you almost have your toes in the water while sipping wine on the terrace. I was particularly impressed by the food this year and it has a really good local wine list.

Asparagus was the star of the show at the Beaurivage in Condrieu

Further south in Avignon, La Mirande gets my vote for a future Michelin accolade (it has 3 knives and forks). When we came here a few years back it was one of our best dining, experiences, we promised to return and we weren’t disappointed. The building is tucked away right behind the Palais des Papes – you almost fall into it when you come out of the gift shop! The 18th century décor makes you feel like you are living part of the history of the city, managing to keep this traditional feel but with 21st century fittings, including very cool TV screens hidden in ancient mirrors.

Aperitif in the courtyard of la Mirande

The walled garden, in the shadow of the majestic walls of the Palace, was perfect for breakfast, the cosy bar serves a mean martini and there is even a cooking school.

Perfect lighting for a late night Martini in the bar of la Mirande

Dinner was brilliant, definitely Michelin star quality but its unpretentious charm is perhaps best kept away from stardom? The wine list offered a very good selection across a large price range with a great selection of the local Chateauneuf du Pape.

La Mirande – The cherry on the cake!

There are many local bistros that merit a stop over for great value food and wines. The Bistrot de Serine, a stone’s throw from Guigal cellars in Ampuis has great food but a very well priced and interesting wine list and, judging by the wine makers we saw there, is obviously a local favourite.

Great wines, great food at la Serine in Ampuis

I mentioned in a previous post about the wineries getting in on the restaurant act. Jaboulet opened their Vineum shop and restaurant in the centre of Tain l’Hermitage where you can taste, and buy, all the range of the Jaboulet wines and a very good selection by the glass offered with a light lunch, right in the town centre.

How Jaboulet puts their corks to good use at the Vineum in Tain l’Heritage

On the other bank, tucked away in Cornas it’s worth searching for La Ruche. Named after a beehive, as the owners consider themselves like bees buzzing around the wineries picking out local favourites, the wine list proves them right, with a wide range of local and more distant Rhone wines at very competitive prices.

Cherries were another seasonal favourite – Cherry clafoutis at La Ruche

OK, so my last recommendation is not a restaurant but it is gastronomy. You really should include a Tour of La Cité du Chocolat in Tain l’Hermitage, if you need any persuading that red wine and chocolate work – this is the place!