We weren’t expecting fireworks or any other sort of celebration of American Independence Day. So rather than plan the day around a BBQ or baseball game we rented a scooter and bumped along back county roads outside of Bordeaux, France. Miles and miles of vineyards passed us, the view occasionally obstructed by enormous chateaus and estate houses. Despite leaving Bordeaux with sunny skies and the promise of a nice day the weather started turning. As the dark – almost black – clouds rolled in, we scooted along searching for shelter. I’m not sure who saw it first but the 40 foot silver rooster perched on a small hill to our right seemed to call to us. Cock-a-doodle-doo he said, come in out of the rain and drink my wine.
We turned into the chateau’s long driveway; the ominous clouds seemed so heavy with rain I don’t know how they managed to stay in the sky. Please, please let there be someone available to give us shelter, we both silently prayed. The end of the driveway dropped us in front of a reception building. Immediately to our left was a large estate house that boasted a sign declaring it a bed and breakfast. How amazing would it be to stay in a bed and breakfast on a vineyard?
No one was in the reception area but the door to the nearby barn was slightly ajar and soon enough a woman pushed through, pulling a massive trolley piled high with cases of wine. In some manner of broken French I asked if it was possible to do a tour. She, in French, said yes but to give her a minute to finish with the cases. Many of the chateaus require reservations for tours and tastings, but we had luckily discovered that our haven from the rain allowed random pop-ins.
The woman was nice and switched to English when I asked her to. She showed us around the wine vats and the machinery that squishes grapes into magic. My favorite part was seeing the large cellar where the oak barrels were kept. The mustiness of barn that mingled with oak and wine smelled rich and sweet.
And then came the tasting. By this time the rain had passed and the clouds were a much perkier gray color. Brian was the scooter operator so he didn’t have much more than a sample of each glass, but I indulged. Where else would it be so acceptable to day drink? With a purchased bottle in hand we set off again on our scooter – heading back to the city.
Brian had somehow managed to talk our way into a wine expedition for that evening through Bordovino tours. Usually one must book several days or weeks in advance but because France was playing a World Cup match that evening this tour had still some room. We met the driver/wine expert outside the tourist offices in downtown. Along with a mother daughter couple from South Africa and a couple from London, we set of to the Medoc region for a tasting and dinner.
The chateau was beautiful and the view from the front swept across acres and acres of grapes. We took turns taking pictures as we enjoyed a rosÃ© on the terrace. This particular chateau is still inhabited by a woman and her daughter, and has been in their family for 5 generations. Many chateaus operate as businesses or bed and breakfasts, like the one from earlier. However the family run vineyards have a special vibe. Those that work there aren’t doing it for a paycheck but rather because of tradition and passion. And the wine seems to reflect the difference.
Dinner was a plate of different cheeses and meats with a pile of bread and vine-ripened tomatoes, accompanied by a delicious red wine. I could eat like this everyday. That’s not an exaggeration, the next day I recreated it at home. After dinner we toured the grounds and saw the oldest cellar in Bordeaux. Monks started making wine there 400 years prior and when I squinted into the dusty corners of the room I could almost imagine them hard at work.
Once we were well lubricated the tour ended in the vineyard’s store. We moderately purchased one bottle of that amazing red we had with dinner. The couple from London bought half a case! I might have done the same except I was afraid that too much of a good thing might make it lose that special quality. As it is, we are saving the bottle for my birthday celebration in 2 weeks.
While we were sitting around dinner, Brian made the observation that on this Fourth of July we were seated with our allies, the French, and at the opposite table were the English. But as he voiced this, we all raised our glasses to toast to American Independence. It was a truly unifying moment and one I’ll not forget…. as long as I don’t drink too much wine!
See all the photos from Bordeaux here.