Wine, wine, wine…
When I booked our stay in Laroque I really wanted a full week here. Things just didn’t work out that way with the flights and the timing of my French Immersion stay it could only be 5 nights. We had originally thought we would take a day trip up to the “hoity toity” part of Bordeaux….Saint-Émilion or maybe Pomerol or perhaps Pauillac. But that just didn’t happen.
Laroque is in the Côtes-de-Bordeaux appellation (AOC). I did some research on this AOC and found all sorts of contradictory information. So much for a wine lesson from me. Basically here’s what I know. The red wine down in this area is very nice, it pairs well with the food of the region, it can’t be cellared for a long time like the wines in northern Bordeaux. It also is not exported because the producers are small. This wine is far less expensive than the well known wines from Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Pauillac, etc.. In Cadillac, the sweet white wine is quite good. They claim it rivals Sauternes, which coincidentally, isn’t all that far away from where we are staying.
Michel arranged for us to visit the producer of the wine we drank our first night in Laroque, Chateau Peller-Laroque. A small producer who he says produces the best sweet white in the area.
Christine the daughter of the owner of the Chateau would take us on the tour. She explained to us that her father had wanted to raise cows and her grandfather told him, “No cows, grow grapes”. According to their website Chateau Peller-Laroque is a family vineyard that has been in business since 1888 and according to Christine her father and mother purchased the property in the 1950s. They have more hectares today than they did when he purchased it and the acreage that they have today is more valuable than what they originally acquired. They have bought and sold hectares so that more of the vines are planted on the petite hillsides (côteaux) rather than the flat earth. All of their land is adjacent to the chateau. She showed us around the property. It’s simply beautiful. Her mother is originally from the south of France, so much of the vegetation (not the grapes) are representative of Provence and Marseille. She confirmed that a specialty of the region is grilling meet or fish over an open fire perfumed with grapevines. We saw the pit and the equipment that her family uses.
Christine explained to us that before the property was turned into a vineyard, it was a retirement home for monks. The original chapel is in now where they produce the wine. In this part of France, this room is called “le chai” [le “shay”]. It translates as “the cellar” but she explained that “le chai” is where the wine is formulated. “La cave” is where the wine is aged or cellared.
She showed us the huge tractorlike piece of equipment they use to pick the grapes. Her theory is that with automation they are able to optimally pick, all the fruit when it reaches it’s peak flavor. Without automation, some grapes are picked early, some right on time and some late. I also think they use the machines to pick the grapes they sell to other producers. They hand pick the harvest for their signature wines. We also walked to the vineyard, where she showed us the style of pruning that they do to increase the quality of the harvest. We tried a number of their wines in the tasting room set up in “Le Chai”. By far the sweet white known as Cadillac is the best.
We certainly had a personal tour of Christine’s family vineyard. She spent over 90 minutes with us and we could have stayed all night. I’m certain Christine is happy her grand-père said “…grapes, not cows”.
Churches, churches, churches…
To experience as much of the region as possible we used both the car and our feet. We either just walked or drove and walked to the sites. There’s beauty everywhere; it could be an old ruin, or a ruin reclaimed to a new purpose or preserved for future generations or simply beautiful a landscape. On multiple occasions Phil said to me, “Everyone will think we went on a tour of European churches from our pictures”.
La Sauve-Majeure is a Benedictine monastery built between the 11th and 13th centuries. The Romanesque abbey is in ruins, but a number of the capitals on the columns survive and are in very good shape. The self guided walking tour takes about an hour, the site is beautiful, they make it easy for you to follow from point of interest to point of interest and the surrounding area is magnificent. This abbey is on the pilgrimage route to St. James of the Compostela and in 1998 it was made a UNESCO world heritage site.
A Driving Tour: Rions – Loupiac -Ste. Croix-du-Mont – Verdelais – Saint Macaire
Veronique had recommended a driving circuit the other evening and I didn’t write it down and my memory isn’t what it used to be if I’m not totally focused and sipping wine. When Michel came by to check on us and I asked him if he knew the route. He didn’t recall the conversation, but was certain he could give us some good options. We should just drive from town to town, park the car and walk around.
Today is my turn to drive. I’m still not comfortable with the car but Phil’s thinking (besides that he wants to be the passenger sometimes) is that I’ll be more comfortable driving from small town to small town. Lots of 30 km/hr zones for me to get used to the clutch.
When you approach Rions, it looks like something straight out of King Arthur’s court. It’s a medieval city and its around 1000 years old. We walked the entire town. The last population figure I could find was 1,588 inhabitants. The walls of the city are spectacular, it’s obvious the walls fortified the town. There’s a Romanesque church, Saint-Seurin from the 12th century and we found the restaurant we had wanted to tray and saw the movie crew on site.
We parked at the first parking area we found and walked up to the church in Loupiac. It is an impressive building from the outside. It was locked so we have no idea what it looked like inside. There is a memorial to the fallen for both WWI and WWI outside the church and beautiful vineyard surrounding the church.
This is the same town where we had dinner one night on the main road. But that’s not really where the town is, there’s a reason there’s a “Mont” (mountain) in the name. We had to drive up the small, windy road to get to the real Ste. Croix-du-Mont. I could feel my blood pressure rising. It’s not our car, I’m not used to the clutch and Phil’s with me – I’m not alone. He could see how nervous I was getting and asked me, “When you come home to the condo and take 163 do you get off at Ash Street?” I said, “Yes”. He said, “How do you do that hill?” I said “I just do”. We made it up the hill and parked the car. We explored the town a bit, saw a woman training horses, incredible panoramic views, a 15th century castle, came across a 12th century church and a sign about oysters. Geologically speaking this is a big deal, there is a huge oyster fossil bed in the cliff here. So if you are into geology, like Herb, this excites you and I suspect if you are into wine, like everyone else, I think this impacts the soil here and the taste of the wine, so this excites you. I just can’t confirm that – I could be completely making that up. I tried to do a little investigating; I was even willing to do it in French. But I came up dry.
Next stop Verdelais. Well, it was getting late, we were getting tired, we didn’t see much from the car so we decided to push on to the next town. We probably missed the most amazing thing, but we’ll never know.
We did stop in Saint Macaire. Found a great parking space just outside the town wall. It’s a medieval town that dates back to the 12th century. The town is very picturesque. We did find the church and this time we to go in. There were a number of restaurants here that looked inviting.
We were done for this day. I was still driving and we were relying on the GPS, we tried at least 3 times to get home from St. Macaire…recalculating was the catch phrase for this trip home. We finally didn’t go exactly as she said and it worked out. It had been a long day and we were glad to get home.
Gite Le Coteau des Vignes – Lac Loromet – Chateau Laroque – Monastere due Broussais – Vielle Tour – La Pradiasse- Eglise – Gite
Veronique gave us a walking map for a circuit leaving directly from the gite. The route is only 7 kilometers but it gives you a feel for the area.
We’ve been in this area before but we had never visited the city of Bordeaux. We always went straight for the wine at it’s source. Both Veronique and Michel recommended that we drive up and spend a day in Bordeaux. They told us exactly where to park and recommended that we just walk around the city. We made the 35ish minute drive up to Bordeaux on the D10 a two lane road that went from town to town. The ride was beautiful.
We parked in a public lot (Place Jean Jaures) which is centrally located right by the Place de la Bourse and the Grand Theatre. Parking is subterranean. We came above ground and headed straight to the Garonne River. We were told that the city has gone through major renovations in recent decades. We walked along the river on the Quay. While we typically try to stay away from American Chains in Europe, we stopped at a Starbucks to borrow some Wi-Fi and I felt obligated to have a coffee.
We had lunch at L’Aero Café Brasserie on the Cours du Chapeau Rouge which is right near the Grand Theater and on a street that is lined with grand manor houses from the 18th and 19th centuries – the homes of rich wine merchants. It was a beautiful day and we ate outside.
We both had classic French bistro dishes. Phil ordered one of the specials of the day – Chicken Cordon Bleu with fries and a small green salad. I had one of my absolute favorites salad with chevre chaud. I tasted Phil’s chicken and fries and both were very good. My salad was dressed with a Dijon vinaigrette and the hot cheese was all melty and delicious when I spread it on the bread.
While many around us were opting for wine at lunch (and they weren’t all tourists) I opted for sparkling water and Phil had a beer. We sat outside and just enjoyed being in Bordeaux.
We spent the rest of the day walking around. We knew we couldn’t see everything and the weather was marvelous so we just let our feet take us from place to place. We ended up in the middle of a protest and at the Orange store. We were having some trouble registering the French cell phone and stopped in for an assist. That was a first for us. Fortunately, the Spanish associate who was helping us spoke excellent English. I would have struggled for the right words.
We visited the Cathedrale St-Andre. The cathedral was very impressive both inside and out.
We stopped for a drink at a café on the Place Pey-Berland and could see both the Hotel de ville and the Tour Pey-Berland from our table.
We enjoyed our day in Bordeaux but all I can really say is I’ve been to Bordeaux. We talked about staying in Bordeaux for a few days on a future trip. This visit was just a taste of Bordeaux (pun intended!).
One last thing…
As I was putting this together I realized I omitted something. We drove one day from the gite to a town named Omet and did a rather lengthy walk. I won’t bore you with the details – a bunch of churches, vines, rolling hills, a forest, a chateau…you get the picture. But there is one picture that I absolutely had to share with you.