Sunday, April 26, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015 - St. Emilion

Clark's bucket list includes the town of St. Emilion, so he's planned a day there for us today. It's a long trip - not far in distance (116 km), but more than 2 hours in time. The day is cool and grey and threatening rain, so the drive isn't as pretty as it would otherwise be.
St. Emilion's cobblestone streets. Looking out toward vineyards in the distance.

This clearly is wine country and it isn't until we see the vineyards covering every slope and wine estates dotting the hillsides that we realize just how agricultural our area around Bézenac really is. We're never farther than an hour away from good wines, but St. Emilion has an established wealth and looks the part of a premier wine-growing region.
A Grand Cru Classé vineyard right in town 

We find a place near the center of town and park on the street, paying the "herodateur" (parking pay station) to get the little slip of paper to put in the windshield making us legal. We walk up the hill - some things never change - St. Emilion is built on a steep hill - to the tourist office.
Buildings are more gray here.

There are 4 really steep streets called "tertre"s 

This part of St. Emilion is pedestrian only and sports new paving. It's a grey day, which makes the grey stucco of the buildings look sadder and more run down than they really are. Here the buildings are all covered in white (grey with age) stucco, a large contrast to the warm yellow limestone in our region. We also note that the streets in the center of town are all cobblestone.
gray stucco buildings with tile roofs fill the center of St Emilion.

The church spire sits atop the main square of the pedestrian zone.
We didn't have time to explore this church that has a sanctuary carved out of  rock.

The tourist bureau is large and equipped with lots of space and information. It's also attached to the cloister of the church. With map in hand and information on wine-tasting, we head directly for the "toilette" just past the church. It's another one of those self-contained, self-cleaning ones, and it costs 50 cents per person to use it, Sigh. We stop at the church and cloister on the way back into the pedestrian zone,
Collegial Church and Cloister - Romanesque. Houses the Maison de Vin at the red doorway.

window glass give a greenish tint to the nave,



Our map shows a picnic site over by the "Tour de Roi". Not the nicest weather, but still a good view.
Our lunch view. I'm not sure why I look so grumpy. It really wasn't unpleasant at all.

This winery, build on the site of a former convent, was behind us when eating our picnic lunch

At lunch, we phone a wine producer listed by the tourist office as a "vigneron du jour" (wine-maker of the day). He says we can come visit in a half hour, but he only speaks French, I assure him that's ok. So, off we go to Château Tonneret.

When we arrive, our host and vineyard owner comes out to greet us. His vineyard starts right where we've parked the car (in his driveway) so we start by looking at his vines as he explains how they work the vines.
vineyard of Chateau Tonneret

Lynn trying to translate wine growing stuff to Judy, Janis, Clark and Dave.
It's not vocabulary you learn in teaching high school French.

We learn a lot: their production is limited by law to a certain number of bottles per hectare (about 2.5 acres), so they pick off some of the bunches of grapes, leaving only the best and strongest. They also cut off the leaves on the sunny side of the vines in late summer so the grapes better ripen. A grape is "un raison" and a bunch of grapes is "une grappe".

Needless to say, the translator for the group wasn't always totally accurate. Lots of times I'd have to ask our "producteur" to re-explain something, which he always did with utter patience.
The vines have just leafed out with the good weather
this week and already the bunches of grapes have set

This vineyard is a one man operation of 3 hectares (7.5 acres) and our host is the grandson of the most recent family to own this terroir.  Inside his cellars he shows us how the wine is pressed, then pumped into vats for fermentation. The wine is mixed by pumping it out the bottom and replacing it on the top so that all the fermenting juice comes in contact with the skins and seeds at the bottom of the tank.

When it's finished, the wine is moved to a holding tank, the must (skins and seeds) are removed, pressed further to get all juice possible out, and the tank is cleaned. Then the wine is put back into the tank. At this point, the 4 wines required by a St. Emilion, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec are mixed according to taste with a rule that the primary grape cannot be more than 60%. The must is given (can't be sold) to a distillery who uses it to create industrial and pharmaceutical alcohols.
The fermentation tanks and Lynn trying to translate how the process works.

Finally, the wine is put into casks for a year before bottling.
Our producer, Jacky Gresta. He's a one man operation. His son helps sometimes,
but he's not sure whether his son will follow his path.

He doesn't do his own bottling, but has a person who comes with the equipment to fill, cork, and label the bottles. Some wine he sells directly in bulk to a "negociant" (distributer) who may blend, age and bottle it himself, adding his own label. Thus, you can only get the wine created by the producer directly from him. And you wouldn't know what vineyard a distributer's wine actually came from. Confusing....
Janis, Lynn, Jacky, Judy & Lynn
I love that we taste right in his cellar. 

We tasted several of his wines and bought several of his wines, then headed back to St. Emilion where there's a "Maison du Vin" and free tasting.

Well, there's certainly a maison du vin and it sells lots of Grand Cru and Grand Cru Classé wines. The tasting, not so much. One producer is giving tastes of his wine. Still, Clark gets his wish to buy a Grand Cru Classé and we head for home after a bit more wandering around the town.
Dave and Clark in Maison des Vins in St. Emilion heaven.

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