Bordeaux and the barrel builder
22 March 2017
Early up for our drive to Margaux, breakfast at La Familie [our hosts name for their home], and off we went. We left a little before 0830 for a 1000 appointment,, and we were about two minutes late. Traffic across Bordeaux was like traffic in any major city - crappy.
We arrived at Chateau Giscours [jeez-cour], a classified third growth estate, and were greeted in the courtyard by Lucie, our hostess. She was very welcoming, and she started our tour with a look inside the chateau. It is not something they normally do, but the front door was open, so we took a look inside the main hall. From there to the crush pad and then into the cellar ending in the barrel room. We talked about the estate [150 hectares, with 100 in Margaux and the other 50 in Medoc], about how they manage the vines. One of the pieces of equipment they have is an optical sorter that allows them to program what a berry should look like. It can scan over 300 berries per second, and it uses compressed air to blow unacceptable berries and other material from the table. We need one of those. They are only E500k...
We walked back over to the tasting room/offices, which were formerly the horse stables for the chateau. We tasted two wines, a 2014 second label and a 2010 Chateau Giscours. They were nice, and we ended up with a bottle of the 2010 Giscours.
From there, we went to Chateau Tertre, a sister property, but not a classified growth. Daphne was our hostess here, and she was lively, funny, and engaging. It was clear she loved her work, and she had a passion for the estate.
Tertre has 53 hectares of vines, and the property is converting to biodynamic. They expect to complete the transition in 2035. Similar walk through the grounds, cellar, and barrel room, then back upstairs for the tasting. Here again, we tasted two wines, one second wine and the other Tertre. The 2011 Les Hauts du Tertre was the second wine from the estate, and we also tasted the 2006 Chateau du Tertre first wine. Both are Margaux appellation, and they were nice. Dianne and I both preferred the second wine, and we took a bottle home with us.
We left there and started our drive to our third and final appointment of the day, but we stopped in Margaux for lunch at Restaurant Savoie. It was the best meal we had had to this point in the trip. I had monkfish with pepper ratatouille and a pepper sorbet, and Dianne had a t-bone with mushrooms! The chef felt like our meal was taking too long [we did not notice] so he sent out a little salmon sandwich amuse bouche; it was very good. We finished the meal with dessert where Dianne had a couple of small mousses and I had a wonderful apple tart with vanilla glacé.
Funny enough, we were a few minutes late for our appointment at Chateau Malecasse, but they had forgotten they had an appointment, too, so everyone had a laugh. We met with our hostess there. Dianne nor I remember her introducing herself, but we feel certain she must have. Our loss, because she was charming too. She took us to the crush and fermentation area, and we were surprised by the modern look of the space. From the outside, Malecasse is very traditional, but inside, everything has a touch of modern architecture. Dianne noted that Malecasse was owned by Alcatel until 2014, but it is now in private hands, and they are renovating the spaces to use the chateau for private events. We walked down into the barrel room, and over into a space they use exclusively for blending trials to taste the blends. Back upstairs to the tasting, and again two wines with one from their first label and one from the second. The first label Chateau Malecasse Medoc was a 2008. It was good, but like at Tertre, we both preferred the 2014 second label.
From there, we drove down to Bordeaux and went to the La Cita du Vin [the city of wine], the modern architecture building housing the new museum of wine. We arrived right at closing so we just walked about the ground floor and around the outside. Back to the car for a ride along the river, and holy crap did that turn out to be a mistake. Traffic was miserable. It took us about an hour to cover 3km. We finally escaped, and headed back toward La Familie, with a stop in St Emilion for dinner.
We ate at Logis de la Cadene in St Emilion. It was likely the most fine fine-dining experience we have ever had. It was also one of the most expensive meals we have ever had. We were a little surprised by both of those things, but the experience was wonderful and so was the food. [Post-travel note: We had dinner at Logis de la Cadene on 22 March 2017. In February 2017, they were awarded their first Michelin star. We had no idea; in hindsight, we were way under-dressed for such a place!]
Dianne said, "...this chef was an artist with foam, delicate citrus, and butter. Each course was visually stunning, and the taste was equal to the vision." The chef started us with three amuse bouche that were delicate and delicious. Dianne and I shared a crab appetizer that was unbelievably good, and then we both had scallops for the main course. We also had a bottle of white Bordeaux from Graves. It was a very nice white, predominantly Sauvignon Blanc with Semillion making up the rest of the blend. Dinner concluded with dessert, which I had a platter of mini tarts with lemon curd, grapefruit and lime zest with a side of grapefruit sorbet, and Dianne had a chocolate soufflé with vanilla glacé and a chocolate sauce. We thought we were finished with the meal, but the chef sent out another tray of tiny little palate cleansers. They were incredible. This meal was a wonderful way to conclude our time on the Left Bank.
Left the restaurant, returned to La Familie, and caught up on things. I posted something to Instagram, Dianne wrote in her journal, and then we hit the rack. We have another early morning to make our meeting tomorrow at Tonnellerie Bossuet with Jean-Guillaume.
23 March 2017
Up at 0700, shower and breakfast [not at the same time], load the car, take a photo with Mamie et Papi, and hit the road for Tonnellerie Bossuet. Before we left, we had a hitch-hiking escargot. Mamie did not want him in her garden! It was a little over an hour drive, and we were there just a few minutes before our 1030 appointment. Jean-Guillaume [JG for the rest of this writing] was just finishing a meeting with his boss, so we hit the toilette and then waited just a minute or so. He took us all around the property, showing us the former lumber yard which still has lumber, but they do the milling and most of the stave storage off-site, then into the new part where they are beginning a Cognac barrel production.
They were busy building Cognac barrels this day. We walked through the stave selection area, into a barrel repair section where we watched a new stave being installed in a leaking head, then on to the loading area. From there, we walked into the wine barrel production area, and saw more barrels being built, still Cognac, but they had finished toasting barrels for the day. One cooper was working on a dress, the name they use for the beginning of the barrel when only one end is fastened by hoops. They use heat, water, and a steel cable to steam bend the lower portion of the barrel to shape, and hold it in place with additional hoops. The only toasting we saw was some toasting on the Cognac barrel heads, which is really charring, not toasting.
We watched a couple of guys leak testing, watched one of the coopers sanding the outside of the barrel on a really, really large sander that smoothed the edges of the staves and cleaned off any markings.
From there, we met a couple of the coopers as they worked. #4 Thomas showed us how they cut heads. He actually did an extra one for the day because he had already cut all that he needed for that day's work, but he was gracious enough to demonstrate how the CNC machine worked. And I think that is a bit of a stretch, it was more of a rotary saw that uses lasers to center and justify the blank, then blades to cut to size and angle the edges of the head.
Fred, #6, was finishing a leak test, and #10, whose name we did not catch, was sanding the lip of the barrel to perfect smoothness. JG said he was the maestro, but only a couple of years away from retirement. The first number of the barrel identity, JG told us, are used to identify who built which barrel, and we can't wait to get home to see who built our barrels. Was it Thomas or Fred or Il Maestro or one of the other guys? Note: We now know that cooper #1 [Fred] and cooper #3 [Vincent] built our 2016 barrels.
JG then showed us the laser etching and packaging area, and showed us a mock up of a head etching with the Bossuet and Addison Farms Vineyard logos. And that was the end of the tour. He said they are one of the very few cooperages left building barrels the traditional way, that many of the larger firms had moved to a much more mechanized system. They are a small cooperage, producing about 6000-7000 barrels annually. He said Radoux builds 10 times that amount.
We jumped in JG's car, and he took us to his sister-in-law's restaurant for lunch. The food was fantastic. I had an appetizer of tuna carpaccio with white chocolate, which sounded strange but was a wonderful flavor profile. Dianne had a vegetable puree soup that was very similar in flavor and texture [but not color] to the purple cauliflower soup that Corey made for us in February. The food was really good, but the conversation was great. We discussed everything from travel to the differences in working the east vs. west coast of the US to the French judicial system. Dianne and I thoroughly enjoyed the food and the company this day.
From lunch, we went to visit two of JG's customers. The first was a larger winery in the Blaye appellation of Bordeaux but I fail to remember the name. We met the winemaker, David, and he was generous with his time, samples from tank and barrel. Their barrel room probably had something on the order of 300-350 barrels of wine, with maybe six different cooperages represented. Dianne and I were grateful for the generosity of spirit and conversation we shared with David.
From there, we drove over to Chateau La Perouse where we met the vigneron, Cyril. Like us, Cyril does it all, from vineyard work to winemaking to sales. Even though he spoke little English and we spoke little French, it was clear he was kind and generous and gregarious. We shared tales of the struggles of doing it all, and he made several jokes, some of which we got even without JG's translation. The winery space is about the same size as our winery, and he had perhaps 20 barrels of wine in total.
Cyril invited us to his tasting room, a space about the size of Eddie and Maleada's carport, and he opened a bottle of the 2014 Chateau La Perouse 'Empriente' [fingerprint!] We knew right then that our connection was more than the moment because we also use the fingerprint as part of AFV identity. This is an unusual wine for the Blaye appellation [Right Bank of Bordeaux, heavily Merlot influenced blends] because it is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. And it is fantastic. I think it is the best dry wine we have tasted on this trip so far. We asked to buy a bottle, but he insisted on giving it to us. It was very generous, and we were honored to accept it.
JG drove us back to Bossuet, we said our good-byes, and Dianne and I headed up to Cognac. We arrived just a minute or two shy of 1800, and we finally found our Airbnb. Finally isn't exactly the right word, we actually found it on the first try, but finding a spot to park was a different matter. Third time is a charm, and we met Nicol. She is a British ex-pat, living in Cognac with her husband, Mark, and their children. She is really charming and another outgoing personality. She showed us the flat, invited us for drinks on Friday evening at 7p, and off she went. We spent a few minutes with social media, FaceTime to E&M and got to see Mark and Ben for a brief moment but the connection stunk. Walked over to Nicol and Mark's to ring the bell for our appointment for drinks. Nicol came out with her apron on, and asked if we needed anything. And then it hit us that this day was Thursday, not Friday!
We had a good chuckle at our expense, and we were off for some dinner. We walked down the hill and across the river to La Scala, a pizzeria that Nicol recommended. She said the inside looked like you were sitting outside in an Italian piazza, and she was right. The pizza was great, and it was a nice break from French food, which can be a bit heavy. Dianne was 'ducked out' and I think she may have been beefed-out too.
We made our way back to the flat, Dianne wrote in her travel journal, and I brushed my teeth and hit the rack. I was exhausted. I had a great night's sleep, though, and woke refreshed to start our day in Cognac.