France - Bordeaux - Red Red Wine
Jun 29, 2004
|The Bordeaux wine region, which I'm sure many of you have visited, covers around 1,000 square meters made up of 57 production areas, or "appellations", and more than 5,000 wine chateaux, each producing highly regarded wines with distinct characteristics and taste. Now THIS is definitely my kind of place!
Bordeaux itself is just another big city, and you know my thoughts on big cities, but I was willing to sacrifice my standards for the sake of the wine. Having a reputation for being somewhat grimy in the past, Bordeaux is presently going through a fairly major facelift ... old buildings are being cleaned, the subway is being expanded, and more pedestrian areas and parks are being developed. As a result I found it a great place to hang out for a few days.
Without benefit of a car, I was once again challenged with getting around to areas of interest. Buses and trains reach some of the villages outside Bordeaux, but not usually individual wineyards which are out in the country. So once again I was forced to take a tour. Man, these tours are quickly eating through my budget, but since this one was for WINE, I considered it a justifiable expense.
I chose an all day tour, which started in Bordeaux with a morning walking tour through the original wine merchant district and a visit to Les Musee des Vins. Great way to learn about the history of the Bordeaux wines. I'm not usually a museum person but this one I found quite enjoyable, partly because we received a lot of really good info and saw tools and bottling processes used "back in the old days", and partly because, well, this was relating to WINE!
We continued on, sweltering in the heat, hearing more about the city, slowly winding our way back to city centre where we were treated to an amazing 5-course lunch, plenty of wine flowing, at a little wine and cheese cellar and restaurant. Very French, and very very good.
In the afternoon we boarded a coach and headed out to the St. Emilion wine region, stopping at the wine chateau of Maison Blanche. I've been on many a wine tour before and this was pretty much a carbon copy, so I chose to bypass the grape processing part of the tour, and instead wandered around the wineyard where row after row of grapevines with small young grapes were planted as far as the eye could see. I eventually returned to the tour, in time for the wine tasting of course.
What I did find interesting was that these wineyards rarely sell their wine directly to the public, some don't even bother conducting wine tours as a result, and instead sell solely to wine merchants who in turn handle the retailing. As a matter of fact, this year's crop has already been sold and paid for, even though the grapes won't be harvested until September, and regardless of the yield or quality of the grapes! Pretty good deal for the wineyard, I'd say.
We also stopped in the actual little medieval village of St. Emilion for a couple of hours. A cute place for a wander, cobbled streets, yadda yadda and, not surprisingly, every other shop was a wine retailer. Although I was tempted to spend more money, most wines there were very expensive, so I decided to just stick to buying my regular drinkable/cheap stuff (less than €2 per bottle!) from the grocery store.
St. Emilion also has an interesting 9th century subterranian church ... totally underground, carved out of the limestone rock.
Anyway, it was altogether a totally enjoyable day. I especially had a lot of laughs with Darryl, a fella from Australia who was also on the tour. In fact, we went for drinks after the tour ended, still too full from lunch to consider going for dinner. And now I have a new friend in Australia to visit in the future.
My original intention was to leave Bordeaux for places unknown on June 30th. But when I noticed that July 1st was the first day of Bordeaux's 4-day "Fete le Vin", I decided that Bordeaux would be a perfect place to celebrate Canada Day.
Bordeaux's wine festival was held in a large park in city centre, starting at 6pm. Admission was free. Pavilions were set up. Bands were playing. Two types of tasting tickets were available: "wine" and "food".
Not surprisingly, I bypassed the food ticket line and went straight for the good stuff! For €10 I got 11 tasting vouchers, which gave me 11 very generous samples of wine from the various wine regions. Most people buy a book of tickets and use them over the course of the 4 days. Not me. I was leaving in the morning, so I was forced to use all my tickets in one day. After a couple of hours I was pretty much snookered, and having a great time.
Other festival events included some very official opening ceremonies, starting with a parade of the Grand Counsel of Bordeaux wines. Officials were carrying banners, wearing capes and hats which reminded me of the parade of professors at my university convocation.
Each evening is wrapped up with musical entertainment in the park, free admission for the first 4,000 people. For opening night they held a 1-1/2 hour classical music performance featuring the National Orchestra of Bordeaux and 3 unknown-to-me soloists. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love this stuff (I used to have seasons tickets to the opera and symphony with my sister Jeanette) so this was a perfect way to end the evening.
And with that I stumbled back to my hotel, having thoroughly enjoyed Canada Day in France!
Oh, by the way, I decided to splurge while in Bordeaux and stayed at a hotel instead of a hostel ... and ended up getting bitten by bed bugs and some nasty thing that made my ankle turn red and swoolen and sent me on a trip to the pharmacy to ensure my foot wasn't going to rot off! Guess I'll just stick to hostels from now on!
One additional adventure for me while in the Bordeaux area was a day trip to the beach resort of Arcachon. Arcachon is a touristy seaside resort town with pine trees, condo complexes and red clay roofs more resembling Southern California than France. But I wasn't there for the beach. I was there to see the Dune of Pyla ... strangely enough, the highest sand dune in Europe. I had expected a bit of a sand pile, but at 114 meters and stretching along the coast for 8 kilometers, this thing is massive! Climbing up and walking along the top, I felt like I was in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Walking back down I sank almost up to my knees in white powder sand. What an unusual geographic anomoly.
So, after experiencing wine tours and wine festivals, beaches and sand dunes, and nasty little biting critters, it was time to leave the Bordeaux region behind.