Monday, January 26, 2015

Last Night in Paris and a Video Highlighting Our Adventures

Our Group in Paris
(May 23 & 24, 2014) The next morning we boarded the bus for the 3.5 hour drive from Beaune to Paris, stopping once along the way at another large French gas station to grabs some snacks.  We arrived back at the Mercure in Paris around 1pm, and everyone was happy to be back in a modern hotel with working wifi.
The afternoon was free time, so some people opted to take a nap, whereas others took the metro to Versailles, the Louvre, and many other Paris locals.  It was our last night in Paris, and everyone made the most of it.  Some people chose to stay up all night, reasoning that they could always sleep on the plane ride home.
The bus departed for the airport at 7am the next morning, and after managing the hurdles of checking in at CDG, we all managed to make our 10:40am non-stop flight home to San Francisco.  We arrived rather bleary-eyed at 1pm PCT the same day, tired by happy to be home.
One nice aspect of international travel is, no matter how much fun you have when you are traveling, there is nothing better than coming home to California!
Our Video on the Highlights of Champagne, the Loire & Burgundy
When we arrived home, many people sent some of their favorite photos of the trip.  These were compiled into a 7 minute inspirational video.  Please watch it here.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Visiting Romanee Conti and La Tache Vineyards With a Stop at Clos de Vougeot Wine Museum

Clos de Vougeot
(May 22, 2014) – Our last appointment of the day was at 4:30 at Clos de Vougeot, the ancient wine farm of the Cistercian monks who studied the soils of Burgundy and recognized the unique terroirs that could be found just a few meters apart.  It was their early work that helped to determine the Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards of the area.
The sky was darkening with threatening rain clouds as we approached, making the medieval structure look even more forbidding. We entered and toured the old cellars and everyone was amazed at the three ancient wooden wine presses that were each as big as a house. Next we saw a film which described how the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin acquired the Château in 1945, and turned it into the seat of the Order.
At La Tache Vineyard
At La Tache Vineyard
On the way back to Beaune, we turned off at the small village of Vosne-Romanee, home of the famous DRC – Domaine Romanee Conti, which produces the most expensive wines in the world. Our goal was to visit the world-famous vineyards of Romanee Conti and La Tache, but the bus couldn’t make it down the narrow streets.  Therefore, it deposited us in the central square and we walked about 5 minutes until we saw the famous cross of Romanee Conti.  Fortunately the rain held off so we could take some photos.
Worshipping at the Romanee Conti Vineyard
Worshipping at the Romanee Conti Vineyard
Next we walked through the vineyards with their graceful rock walls until we found the small stone plaque that read La Tache.  Here we paused for more photos, marveling at how each of the small vines in the vineyard could produce a bottle of wine that averaged more than $3,000 per bottle.
Back on the bus, we drove about 20 minutes until we were back at our hotel. Everyone dressed for our last group dinner that was taking place in the Le Panorama restaurant overlooking the vineyards. Though we had heard many positive reviews about the restaurant, our experience was rather disappointing in that the multiple choice menu we were promised did not appear, and instead of being served the pinot noir of the domaine, they served us a flabby pinot from Vin de Pays d’Oc in the Languedoc region, but with a label from a local Burgundian producer. When we complained, they brought us a cheap regional Bourgogne that was thin and acidic.
Magnum We Shared at Bar du Square
Magnum We Shared at Bar du Square
Therefore, abandoning the dessert of floating islands that most people disliked, we congregated in the lobby to share a toast of cremant in which each person described a highlight of the trip. Then most of us deserted the disappointing restaurant and headed into Beaune for a last night on the town and a very fun time at the Bar du Square.  This spot is where most of the local winemakers go, and it became a favorite haunt for many in our group all three nights we spent in Beaune.

Friday, January 9, 2015

In Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir in Cote de Nuits at Dufouleur, Vougeraie& Trapet-Rochelandet

Tasting in the Cellars of Dufouleur
(May 22, 2014) – As the day before was devoted to chardonnay, it was only fitting that our third and last day in Burgundy was devoted to pinot noir. Therefore, we headed north of Beaune to the famous Cote de Nuits where the largest percentages of Grand Cru pinot noir vineyards are located.
First stop, at 9am, was Domaine Dufouleur in Nuits St. Georges, where we met with the charming Maximilien, Export Sales Manager. Established in 1848, Dufouleur is both a negotiant and an estate. They farm only 25 hectares, but produce over 1 million bottles per year with their negotiant role. An interesting fact about their cellars, which were originally built in the 17th century, is that there is documentation that Napoleon actually visited there.
Therefore, when Max led us down the stairs to the dark cellar lit by candlelight where we had the winetasting, everyone glanced around wondering where Napoleon had stood.  To commemorate this special piece of history, Dufouleur has named their entry level pinot noir, Cuvee Napoleon.  It was only fitting that we started with this wine and a toast to the self-proclaimed emperor who always believe that the Cote de Nuits created the best wine in the world.
We ended up tasting a total of 9 wines, starting with 4 pinots noirs, then moving onto 4 chardonnays, and ending with a Cremant de Bourgogne.  A favorite of the crowd was the 2011 Gevry-Chambertin with dark cherry and complex notes of tobacco and spice.
Biodynamic Herb Garden at  Domaine de la Vougeraie
Biodynamic Herb Garden at
Domaine de la Vougeraie
Our 10:30 appointment was at Domaine de la Vougeraie, where we met with the Estate Manager Pierre and Benjamin, Assistant winemaker. Benjamin immediately took us to the biodynamic gardens in the back of the estate and we were very impressed to learn that all of the herbs growing there went into making the teas used in the biodynamic preps that are sprayed on the vineyards.  Vougeraie has 40 hectares of vineyards, and is the sole owner (monopole) of a rare section of chardonnay in the Clos de Vougeot grand cru vineyard.
Next was a tour of the cellars where we learned how they craft both the chardonnay and pinot noir. At Vougeraie they do often includes some stems in the pinot noir fermentation, which is conducted in large wooden foudres with both pigeage and pump-overs.  Natural yeast is used, and total maceration usually takes 15 days.  They use a large basket press, and then age in small oak barrels (30% -60% new), that they make themselves, for 15 – 18 months.
We tasted three wines:  2007 Vougeot Premier Cru Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot, 2009 Nuits St. Georges Les Damodes and 2004 Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot. Many in our group took the opportunity to purchase the final wine, which had a perfumed nose of black cherry and great structure.  It seemed to be a good deal at $53 euros per bottle.
After lunch in Nuits St. Georges, we drove to the charming village of Gevry-Chambertin for our 2:30 appointment at the small winery of Domaine Trapet-Rochelandet.  Here winemaker and co-owner, Marie Cecile, explained the winemaking process and allowed us to taste her excellent wines.  As she only spoke French, Francy jumped in to translate for us.
The domaine owns 7 hectares of vines, primarily pinot noir, but also some aligote – the other white grape of Burgundy.  In addition to enjoying the lovely Gevry-Chambertin’s she made, everyone was excited to try their first Aligote wine at Trapet-Rochelandet.
Domaine Trapet-Rochelandet
Domaine Trapet-Rochelandet

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Celebrating Chardonnay in Cote de Beaune - Meursault, Montrachet & Santenany

Our Group in Meursault at Caves Ropiteau Freres
(Wed., May 21, 2014) The remainder of the day was dedicated to exploring the homeland of Chardonnay, so we headed south out of Beaune to the famous villages of Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Chassange Montrachet. The first stop was lunch in Meursault where everyone came to realize that you can’t rush a meal in France. So though we were a little late for our next appointment, we managed to make up time later.
After lunch we had an appointment at Caves Ropiteau Frères at 2pm where we met with winemaker, Nicholas, who provided a quick tour of the cellars and explained the fermentation process for their chardonnays. He described the battonage process of stirring the lees in the oak barrels, and then we had a chance to taste 3 wines in the visitor’s center:  2010 Meursault, 2011 Chassagne Montrachet, and a 2009 Volnay.
Enjoying the Grand Cru Vineyards of Burgundy
Enjoying the Grand Cru Vineyards of Burgundy
Next we drove through the tiny village of Puligny Montrachet and turned right to follow the small paved road that led through some of the most famous vineyards in the world. We stopped at three Grand Cru vineyards to take photos:Le Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet,and Batard-Montrachet.  It was thrilling to gaze out over the incredibly lovely view of thousands of chardonnay vines with the small villages in the background. One of the nice aspects of Burgundy is that most of the famous vineyards have rock walls around them and signs or pillars announcing the name of the Grand Cru vineyard.
We continued south through Chassange Montrachet and a few minutes later arrived in Santenay.  Everyone was amazed at how small and how close all of these famous villages really are. In Santenay we met with John Capuano, owner of Domaine Capuano Ferreri. He was tall, charming, and only spoke French, but fortunately Brielle was able to translate for us.
John explained that the domaine was quite small with only 12 hectares and producing 6500 cases per year, of which they export 35%. They are a relatively new winery in Burgundy, having only been established for 50 years, whereas most of the others we had visited were at least 200 years old or more.

Singing to the Chardonnay Vines
We tasted 5 wines here, and John delighted us by pulling some 2013 wine from barrel as he was completely sold out of the 2012 with the exception of one chardonnay. The highlight was tasting a 2013 Santenay Chardonnay that was lean with honey and spice notes, and then comparing it was a 2013 Premier Cru Chassange Montrachet vineyard that was only a few meters away from the Santenay village vineyard.  The difference was amazing, because the Chassange Montrachet was more full bodied, with apple and oatmeal notes. However John said the same winemaking techniques were used, and the only difference was the terroir. A truly eye-opening experience about Burgundy and how a few meters apart can make a huge difference in taste and quality of appellation.
Tasting at Domaine Capuano Ferreri
Tasting at Domaine Capuano Ferreri
That evening was another free night in Beaune, and most everyone wandered into town to check out restaurants, bars, and the beautiful architecture of the ancient walled city.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Warm Welcome to Burgundy by the BIVB and Domaine du Clos Frantin

Hospice de Beaune in Burgundy
(May 21, 2014) – We awoke to a warm day in the low 80’s with partially cloudy skies, and were made to feel very welcome in Burgundy by a presentation provided by the BIVB.  They actually came to our hotel and provided an excellent slide show describing the special terroir and AOC’s of the region.
Wine Tasting with Christophe at Domaine du Clos Frantin
Wine Tasting with Christophe at Domaine du Clos Frantin
Next we boarded the bus and drove to Nuits St. George for a cellar tour and tasting at the Domaine du Clos Frantin.This is one of several estates owned by Maison Albert Bichot.  We were greeted by the estate manager, Christophe, who provided an overview of the organic vineyards and then toured us through the cellars.  He said it took 10 years to prepare the vineyards to be organic, and they have now been officially organic for the past 2 years.
Christophe is primarily a red wine maker, so he provided a fascinating overview of how they farm their 35 hectares of pinot noir. After sorting in the vineyard and again at the winery, the grapes are destemmed but not crushed because he likes them to have a bit of carbonic maceration within the individual berries. He said he rarely uses whole cluster, and destems 99% of the grapes.
We tasted 5 excellent wines here, including two village wines:  Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Murots” and Nuits-Saint-Georges, as well as Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru “Les Malconsorts and Richebourg Grand Cru.
At the end of the tasting when we presented Christophe with our SSU gift, he reciprocated by teaching all of us how to do the traditional song of Burgundy wine lovers, from the Chevaliers du Tastevin.  It is a simple and fun song using the words “La, La, La, La,” with lots of clapping and hand waving.  After watching Christophe perform it perfectly, we all practiced it again, and everyone felt energized and happy from the chant.  See an example at:
Wine Tasting at Domaine du Clos Frantin
Wine Tasting at Domaine du Clos Frantin

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wine Tasting at Chateau Chenonceau and Chablisenne

The Loire River
We spent the night in the small town of Amboise with its ancient castle, pedestrian walkways, rose covered houses, and colorful cafes all nestled along side the Loire River.
The next day we drove the short distance to Chateau Chenonceau, the famous castle that spans the River Cher and was the home of both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici.  We had 1.5 hours to tour the castle and magnificent gardens, and though it was raining a bit, it was still an enchanted place.
Chateau Chenonceau
Chateau Chenonceau
At 10:30 we all met in the wine cellar for a private tasting.  Called La Cave de Domes, it is in the AOC of Chenonceau and was started in the 15th century when Diane de Poitiers was living in the castle.  They have 12 hectares of vineyards in front of the estate and produce around 6,000 cases, which they sell 100% direct to castle visitors.  We tasted a sauvignon blanc, a rose of grolleau and a cabernet franc.  All were well-made, and served with delightful appetizers of goat cheese, pork pate, and brie.
Toasting with Rose Wine at Chenonceau Wine Cellars
Tasting Rose in the Cellars of Chenonceau
After the tasting, we climbed aboard the bus and drove 3 hours to the small town of Chablis in Burgundy.  We stopped halfway so everyone could experience how fancy the French gas stations are along the freeways – very large with multiple stalls of clean bathrooms, and small grocery stores and restaurants.
Visiting La Chablisenne Coop in Chablis, Burgundy
We arrived in Chablis just in time for our 3:30 appointment at La Chablisenne, one of the largest and most famous cooperatives in France.  We were welcomed by the winemaker, Vincent, who described the wine-making process and led us through a tasting of 6 wines.
Everyone was fascinated to learn about the special Kimmeridgian soil of Chablis, which is a combination of limestone and ancient shellfish.  He showed us a large sample of the soil and pointed out to small seashells imbedded in the slightly yellow rocky substance (see photo).
Chablis Winemaker with Kimmeridgian Rock
Chablis Winemaker with Kimmeridgian Rock
Chablisenne was started in 1923, and today they have 250 winegrowers who sell their chardonnay must (harvested, destemmed and crushed in advance) to the coop.  Altogether they farm 1300 hectares and produce around 9 million bottles of Chablis per year.
We left Chablis around 5pm and arrived in Beaune around 6:30 to check into our hotel, the Le Panorama situated in the vineyards about a 20 minute walk from the center of the walled town.  After quickly unpacking most of us headed back into town to eat in the many scrumptious restaurants of Beaune.We  proceeded to taste through these areas starting with a 2012 Petite Chablis which was delightfully crisp, fresh and lemony.  Next was a 2012 Chablis with high acid and salty minerality.  The 2011 Mont de Milliuer Premier Cru that followed had seen 25% oak and was more complex, but the two 2010 Grand Cru’s which followed were both amazing, with layers of complexity, mineral, lemon, and a very long elegant finish.  They were the 2010 Gran Cru Blanchot and Chateau Grenouile Grant Cru.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Antique Chenin Blanc Vines in the Loire Valley at Plou & Fils Winery

80 year old chenin blanc vine
(Monday, May 19, 2014) Our next stop was a small family winery called Plou & Fils that was located in the Amboise AOC. Started in 1508, the vineyard and winery had been passed down the generations to the current general manager and enologist, Matua. He was tall, energetic, in his early 30’s, and with a great sense of humor.
He beckoned for all 31 of us to follow him up a small dirt trail to the top of a hill where their vineyards were situated. As we were walking towards an amazing vineyard of ancient gnarled vines, he told us to be careful of snakes in the grass. Everyone with sandals on jumped and several people screamed.
Arriving at the vineyard we were all mesmerized at our first sight of an 80 year old Chenin Blanc vines. They were on small goblet trellis system with spur-pruning, but the trunks were huge and twisted. Matua said they were not producing that much anymore and that he would probably pull them out in 2 or 3 years. We asked him not to, and Dan suggested that he craft a special vineyard designate wine from the plot.
Cellars of Plou & Fils
Cellars of Plou & Fils
Next we visited a younger malbec vineyard and saw the small “sexual confusion” orange plastic traps that are used to prevent moths from breeding and destroying the vineyard. Everyone was surprised at the name of the trap. Matua pointed out other vineyard plots in the distance, including chardonnay, cabernet franc, grolleau, gamay and sauvignon blanc. All together he has 88 hectares of vines.
Next Matua led us through the most comprehensive tasting of our trip, in which we tasted over 15 different wines. He started with the reds, and I found several cab franc/malbec blends that I enjoyed and purchased. Then we moved onto other varieties. One of the highlights of the tasting was a rose called Milady made from the grolleau grape. His chardonnay was also exquisite, along with all of the sparkling Chenin blancs. Again the prices were very reasonable, so everyone purchases several bottles at prices of only $5 to 8 euros per bottle.

Wine Tasting at Plou Vineyards in the Loire
Wine Tasting at Plou Vineyards in the Loire
As we were departing we asked Matua about his marketing and sales strategy. Amazingly, though he produces 360,000 bottles (30,000 cases), he sells 50% direct to consumer from his tasting room, and the other 50% direct to trade via trade shows and wine competitions. He’s obviously doing very well!