Sailing the Garonne
Mar 29, 2018
|A glass of wine, time to do the blog all in the comfort of the boats lounge. The rain subsides a bit but not so much that we are tempted to head outside. There are still people from last week’s cruise on board for lunch which apparently we can do next week as our flight is not till 3 pm. So after a while we wander down to the dining room for lunch until our rooms are ready.
The rooms are very nice but not as large as the Emerald but still lots of space to unpack and then shove your suitcases under the beds. With the narrower boat our beds are pretty close together but we will make due. After unpacking we relax and see what is available in our TV … lots of English if we are so inclined.
After changing for dinner we head back to the lounge for the daily talk by our cruise direction, Sharon from England. But first we are introduced to our young 33 yr. old French captain Xavier for the requisite welcome aboard speech. We join a couple, Linda and Mike from Jupiter Florida who turn out to be a lot of fun and have dinner with them and their friends Frank and Deanna that night and the next.
Dinner is delicious. Gail has salmon and pork tenderloin for me. Slightly different from Emerald is that all drinks are included except premium wine, all the time. Of course they are featuring Bordeaux wines and explained by our sommelier Nedko. Thought that was pretty funny with Dad having worked most of his life for Nedco.
Much of the crew seems to be from Bulgaria and our favourite wine steward quickly becomes Yordan. Who is now from the US and just lovely. Most of our dinner partners are doing the head bob at the end of dinner having just arrived that morning so they are off directly to bed.
Gail and I head back up to the lounge and end of chatting with a younger, in their 40’s, couple also from Florida, Heather and Keith. Very nice and semi-retired, he is ex-military and they are starting the travel the world life. It is a later night thn planned so when we get to the room we crash pretty quickly.
Up at 7:30 for breakfast before heading out on a full day of touring to the Sauternes area. As we head off on our tour the boat sets sail south down the Garonne river t meet us later.Our guide is Beatrice, a local from Bordeaux who has a great sense of humour. We head south about 40 km to the land of sweet wine. But first we have to get out of Bordeaux and we are in a ‘Bouchon’ or a traffic jam. Bouchon translates literally to the cork so a great word for a bottleneck of traffic in this area.
The Bordeaux region is on a rapid growth trajectory, with 750,000 inhabitants now and expected to be one million in the next 5 years. The growth is a direct result of the cost of living in a place like Paris and having the TGV train, which covers the 580 km in 2 hours.
Today should be interesting as I have never been a lover of sweet wine but it is supposed to be all about the delicate balance of alcohol and freshness with the noble rot of the grape. The grapes here are primarily Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and a bit of Muscat. Here they found in the 1800’s that a fungus on the skins that caused the grapes to lose their water and shrivel up like raisins ended up making a very sweet wine. This is now called Noble Rot.
The soil is very rocky and all you see is either vineyards or Pine Trees. In fact, there are 2.5 million acres of pine, primarily privately owned that stretch down to the Spanish borders. From 1850-1950 the primary use was the sap for turpentine. Today instead they are used for furniture making
So as we drive down the view is primarily trees until we hit the low plants of the vineyards. The vines are little more than a foot high and even the lines to train leaves are only a few feet high. Much shorter than we are used to at home. This means hand picking is the only option.
There are somewhere between 7000-9000 Chateaus in Bordeaux. While we have always thought Chateau was the big palace homes in fact it refers to a winery. So yes some of them have big stately homes but that is not required. To be a chateau you just have to have vineyards and make wine.
The biggest and most famous are the 60 that back in 1855 received the first classification and they have been able to keep that prestigious title ever since. In the past the wineries were owned by either the church or aristocracy. That all ended in 1789 with the French Revolution. Today many have been passed down generation to generation so who you marry is very important. Unfortunately the cost of managing a Chateau now has meant that many have sold out to large companies like Louis Vuitton.
The homes in this area are all over a century old. They can tell as that is how long ago it was banned to extract the stone and rocks from the soil. It is the rocky soil here that make the wine. Today not only can they not extract rock but they cannot plant more grapes, only replace old vines with new. All done so that they can control the quality of what is produced in Bordeaux.
We stop at Chateau Filhot, a family owned estate still run by the descendant of the original count. It is an impressive Chateau but as with most, the family, especially at this time of year, do not live in the house or at least only live in a small portion. With no central heating and high ceilings these stone houses would be freezing and very expensive to heat.
Chateau Filhot dates back to the origin of the vineyards in 1630. The chateau, being much younger was built by Romain de Filhot in 1709 but sadly he died only one year later. The estate was later inherited by the Lur-Salaces family after the revolution. They rebuilt the chateau in 1845 and had the famous French landscape gardener Louis-Bernard Fischer create the 35 acre garden and grounds around the chateau that today is as famous as the chateau.
We are introduced to the process of Sauterne production by the current count Gabriel. The low vines are passed 6 times during the picking process. The grapes younger than 5 years are used to make dry white wine vs Sauterne. The vines are kept deliberately low to take advantage of the heat from the soil. They are higher than the Medoc area so that the grapes are exposed to the fog and thus the creation of the noble rot.
The Sauterne wines are bottled after 22 months of which 1 year in in barrels. The cellars are all built the same way to take advantage of the climate throughout the pre bottle life. Whether that be the heat of the sun on one wall or the coolness on the other. There are no underground cellars due to the water table in Sauterne, unlike St Emilion which we will find out later.
From here we are off to lunch at the 11th century Castle or Chateau Cazaneuve. On route we pass the local school where are all the children are outside playing. In fact, it seems French schoolchildren tend to be out more then inside the school. In Bordeaux 90% stay for lunch as it is incredibly cheap. At most 3 euro but less for the poorer families which, means that the children get a healthy hot meal daily
The castle, again still managed and lived in by the descendants of the original owner is hexagon in shape with a grand entrance gate. The descendants trace back to King Henry IV from the 16th century who was married to the youngest daughter of Catherine di Medici, Margot. However when the war between the Protestants and Catholics was lost Henry was killed by the Catholics. Prior to that he kept Margot in house arrest for 19 years.
We have an incredible lunch paired with different types of Sauterne. The first smoked salmon with horseradish emulsion. Not being a fan of smoked salmon I eat the creamy cheese with bread and give the rest to Gail. This is paired with a lighter aperitif wine. Next we have caramelized hens with mushroom pastry and asparagus. A delicious dish paired with a more full body Chateau Filhot. And for dessert and Peach Melba with praline, vanilla ice cream and chocolate drizzle this time paired with a sweeter version of Sauterne.
After an excellent lunch we are able to tour the chateau itself. Being winter, the family is not living in the home so it is very cold right how. However it is very well maintained and full of amazing pieces over the life of the hotel. One of the family in fact was the original author of Rapunzel and much of her heirlooms and her room are authentically restored.
Tonight after dinner we have George Smith and his son from the UK as our entertainers and they are excellent. A lot of old rock and roll which has the boat rocking and the dance floor hoping. It is a great evening but late.
We stay up for the midnight sail under the Pont Pierre the oldest bridge of Bordeaux. It is a cold but beautiful evening and the sites beautiful. Unfortunately really difficult to take pictures that do it justice.