St. Emilion – French Wine Country

June 2, 2018 – June 3, 2018

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A romantic weekend trip to wine country, what could be better?

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For my better half’s birthday, we decided to spend a relaxing weekend in St. Emilion, about a 40 minute drive from Bordeaux. The early morning flight to Bordeaux put us in St. Emilion around 10am, after first renting a car and driving through the beautiful back country vineyards.

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Our B&B said that there was parking available nearby, but little did we know you can’t actually drive in the city streets, so parking was literally just outside the gates on the side of the road through the vineyards.

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After dropping our bags at the B&B we went in search of coffee before our lunch reservations at a vineyard outside of town. Everything in France seems to be delicious, even the coffee.

We were hoping to rent bikes to go to the vineyard which was only a few kilometers away, but unfortunately the tourism center was out of bikes for the day and the bike shop was closed because the owner was sick. Gotta love small towns. So we ended up driving to the vineyard. The views on the way to and at the vineyard were just incredible. Grape vines as far as the eye could see and lots of ornate chateaus.

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For lunch, we did a wine tasting with our food while enjoying the ambiance and surroundings. Despite the fact that there were screaming kids running around everywhere, it was great. Who knew wineries were so family friendly?

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It was nice to drive a little ways out of the town because the rest of our trip was spent within the walls of St. Emilion.

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Post lunch, we wandered around the town looking for kitties from shop to shop, finally settling in at Le Cloitre des Cordeliers for some bubbles. Les Cordeliers is a 12th century monolithic church with a big grassy area out back to chill in.

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After some bubbles, we were ready again for red wine. Our second wine tasting of the day was at Chateau Villemaurine. There we learned the reason for planting rose bushes in front of the grapevines. On our way into St. Emilion I had noticed that most vineyards had an array of flowers planted at the start of the vines. There are a few reasons for this. Apparently roses show illness before grapes, so if the roses get sick, then the winemaker knows they have about 2 weeks to treat the vines for sickness. Also the roses attract bees which is good for the pollination of the vines. Lastly, there are many workers who harvest the grapes during the winemaking process, so the different vineyards plant different colored flowers to distinguish which vines belong to who. So really, the question is why would you NOT plant roses in front of your vines?

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We also toured the cellar here and tasted a few of the wines, learning that the good years for St. Emilion were 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, and 2015. In the underground cellar we watched a movie of how the town was founded, when Saint Emilion was out in the woods after being banished. One day he started a church in a hole in the rocks and the rest is history.

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Because we had some time to kill before dinner and also an amazing balcony overlooking the city, we grabbed a nice bottle of red (2005 St. Emilion) and headed back to the B&B to chill.

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See that balcony up there? That was all ours

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Kitty spotting from the balcony

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Our gourmet dinner was at the Hostellerie de Plaisance. Happy birthday to Tyler. The views from the balcony where we enjoyed an aperitif were magical.

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The food also wasn’t too shabby, except for the second dish… which had barnacles… from the sea… that were super chewy… and kind of made me want to vom. The highlights of the dinner for me were the delicious cheese cart with so many choices, and the tea cart again with so many choices. For cheese we went with some sheep, some local goat, and one cow. For tea, we went with the relaxing blend of chamomile and licorice root. Splendid.

As fancy dinners tend to do, this one lasted for about 4 hours. At some point during the night, the air conditioning in the restaurant went out. By about course 4 we were sweating. Several patrons cut their dinners short and escaped the heat, but we were in it for the long haul. I think this was probably part of the reason that I would not give this 2 Michelin star restaurant a 5 rating.

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Sunday morning started off with a quick breakfast at the Maison de la Commanderie with freshly squeezed orange juice and homemade croissants and jam. We scheduled a 10am wine tour that I was considering cancelling since we had been up late the night before, but this wine tour ended up being the highlight of my trip.

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Chateau Guadet is a family owned winery located right in the city center of St. Emilion that was started in the late 1800s. You wouldn’t know it from the outside of the building that looks just like all the other buildings in the town, but on the inside there’s a magical courtyard with trees and flowers, a shed with huge storage vats, a room full of barrels, a bottling room, and an underground cave full of old vintages.

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The owner (and founder’s great grandson), Victor, was our guide for the morning on our tour that ended up being private. He told us the history of the wine and showed us where the magic happens. He mentioned that he’s lived in several different wine regions including Napa, Australia, Chile, and Spain and all of his research has led him to trust his gut when it comes to making wine. Sure he could make something that would appeal to the Wine Raters and get his product on more shelves, but he was more interested in making something he was proud of. We need more people in the world like Victor.

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Victor’s wine barrels

In addition to being true to himself, he also runs the winery as a bio dynamic vineyard, a holistic approach to wine making. Basically, he does not use pesticides on the wine and pays attention to what the leaves need. If it looks like they need a little extra boost, he gives them the Vitamin C version for plants, nettle. Using all natural ingredients in the process means that he cannot even add artificial yeast into the wine during fermentation, everything has to be from the earth. There’s also some focus on moon cycles and when to plant and when to pick, but he just lets the grapes tell him. Like last year, they lost a big percentage of grapes to a freeze and the quality wasn’t that great, so he did what he had to do and made a sparkling wine instead.

My favorite part of the tour (besides tasting the wine) was exploring the underground cellar. It was massive. He had the standard vintage years that I listed above that are available to purchase, but then had a private cellar of many bottles dating back to even 1900. It takes a lot of restraint to have bottles from the early 1900s still in the family wine cellar. But you have to wonder if they would even be any good? Nonetheless, it was a very impressive wine cellar, and he inspired me to become a wine maker. Now, I just need to figure out a way to move to St. Emilion and be his apprentice for a number of years.

The second favorite part of the tour was of course the tasting. Although Tyler and I have done many a wine tasting, it’s still a good refresher to be taught how to taste.

  1. Smelling the wine for specific scents and flavors.
  2. Swirling the wine to incorporate oxygen and release more flavor before smelling again.
  3. Hold the wine up to something white to see what color it actually is (for example, Ruby)
  4. Swirl the wine once again to examine the legs (the part that drips down the side of the glass – this can tell you how much alcohol is in the wine)
  5. Put the wine in your mouth. Here is where you can also kind of swirl it around and take in some more oxygen, but I usually just like to swallow.

And that’s how you do it, according to my amazing memory! We enjoyed the wine from this winery so much that we ordered a few bottles to be shipped to the NL. As instructed, we will not save the wines for a special occasion, but we will make a regular night special by opening up a bottle.

Since we had a late flight, after the impressive tour, we walked a bit around the city. Apparently, you can get the keys to the bell tower at the Tourism Office, but we were 0/2 with these guys and all of the keys were rented out. Instead, we walked the 200 stairs to the top of La Tour du Chateau du Roy, which I think maybe even had better views because then you have the church in the background. It was amazing to see the town from above and all of the surrounding countryside. We could even see our B&B from the top of the tower.

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Lunch before heading to the airport was in a cute little garden restaurant. The food was not the greatest, but the ambiance was on point (minus the lizards).

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We were flying EasyJet for the trip so I was expecting a delay on the way home and almost got one. We boarded the plane in time for takeoff, but the pilot announced that there was about to be a bad thunderstorm so we would likely have to wait an hour to takeoff. Then all of the sudden we were moving down the runway and taking off. I guess he somehow persuaded air traffic control that we were ready to go and didn’t want to wait. Probably so far my best experience with EasyJet, but I’m still skeptical to book future flights.

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Travel in June and July is pretty slow because of our work schedules, but looking forward to the next trip as always 🙂

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