France Bordeaux 2000.11.25 - 12.03

Grapes, Grapes, and Wine

We headed for Bordeaux specifically for the wine. Hardly educated in French viticulture (although Masami took a viticulture class at UC Davis, most facts concerning France were long forgotten), we didn't know the difference between the grape growing regions of Bordeaux, nor the difference between the wineries within each region. Mentally using Napa Valley, California as our benchmark, we drove towards Bordeaux.

As in previous French towns, we rented a Gîte for a week. Directions to the Gîte simply said, "House and yard border the town hall of St. Hippolyte". Expecting to be in the middle of a town, we found ourselves out in the middle of nowhere with miles and miles of grape vines extending in every direction. It turns out that a simple square building called the town hall is the entire town of St. Hippolyte. The closest town with a store or restaurant was St. Émilion about 10km west. The city of Bordeaux was 40km west. St. Hippolyte to the Atlantic Ocean was a blur of perpetual grape vines.

St. Émilion is a cozy, relaxed town with delicious restaurants, local wine producers, and historic subterranean religious structures. Several wineries and wine distributors have tours and wine tasting, some free and some not. Having only toured California wineries, we were most impressed with ancient multi-level wine cellars. The Château Villemaurine tour was fabulous. In addition to leading us through the wine production facility, as do California wineries, we descended under the château into spacious caverns carved out of limestone from the 6th century. Château Villemaurine has 7 hectares of cellar space descending 4 stories underground. Being low tourist season, we had our own private tour and wine tasting for FRF50 per person.

The St. Émilion tourist office gives a tour of subterranean religious structures whenever there's demand. Sites include dwellings, catacombs, and a huge cathedral entirely carved into limestone rock. But don't rush out to visit St. Émilion just yet. The tour is suspended from Dec 2000 - Aug 2001 while cathedral pillars that support the ceiling are being repaired. Those looking for a superb meal should try Le Clos du Roy restaurant at 12 rue de la petite Fontaine, St. Émilion (Tel: 05-5774-4155) near the center of town.

North of the city of Bordeaux is Médoc, one of the most acclaimed wine producing regions of France. The châteaux are giant and exude wealth. We'd have some pictures to show you if Wes had remembered the camera. A multitude of micro-climates in Médoc give each sub-region distinction. Masami remembered a particular winery from her viticulture class: Château Margaux. At least we could pick up a bottle. We decided to visit. Strangely, the grounds were deserted and wine selling was missing. In the town of Margaux, we inquired at a wine distribution shop. "Many of the Médoc wineries don't sell directly to individuals, " the salesman enlightened. "And since I'm the only wine seller in town, the wineries send their prospective customers to me." Fair enough. We perused the wine racks and found Château Margaux. Only FRF 1700 / bottle. "OK," thought Wes. "Wait a minute, that's $250!", said Masami. "Oh, you're right!", thought Wes. We settled for a cheaper FRF 1050 bottle of Château Latour - just one.

The city of Bordeaux is average. If it weren't for the decent Internet Café, we probably wouldn't have spent more than a few hours in the city. The cathedrals and government buildings are ordinary, the streets are drab, the traffic is bad, the English bookstore is sparsely stocked, and the primary entertainment seems to be skateboards and peepshows. Pity of a town for such a prime location.

Every now and then, life reminds you of a lesson that you should have already known. We had a Renault rental car. The contract expired so we returned the car and started a new contract. The Renault was a good car - new, clean, comfortable. Instead of asking for the same car after an inspection and cleaning, Wes thought he'd also like to try a Peugeot. Bid mistake. The car stunk of tobacco. The Renault we returned was gone. After a huge, time consuming hassle to switch cars, we finally rid ourselves of the putrid Peugeot. The lesson to remember: Don't change a good thing.

The town of St. Émilion from the church tower. Beyond the town is endless miles of grape vines.

HomePrevious PageNext Journal PageJournal Index 2000Map of Europe

  Copyright © 2000-2002   Wes and Masami Heiser.   All rights reserved.