Friday, 16 February 2007

Onwards to Bordeaux, Biarritz & Beyond...

The early morning skyline of Bordeaux looks like it's going to be another fine day.

A day of exploring coastline and beaches, long dogs walks and finally a perfect sunset over the beautiful bay of Biarritz.

St Jean de Luz – now officially our second next best place be to next to La Grande Maison and the Loire Valley. A beautiful fishing village with sandy bays at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains.
We stayed a The Madison - now our all time favourite cranky hotel, a room with the sun shining in from two sides and a view over the square below, a little lift that fits only two at a time and an art deco salon. They have a great pets gratuit policy which meant that Humble and Willow were happily accepted. It's always fun taking two lively springers on holiday they don't go for the cultural highlights or the eating out - it's beaches, swimming in the sea and chasing around in rockpools that they love - so we do that too!They weren't even especially impressed with the large puppy we took them to see outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

The Guggenheim Museum a surreal experience of titanium, steam and rain.....
......and yet more dog walks.
TO BE CONTINUED...........

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Off to Spain and back again.....

It was raining today, a torrential downpour with no sign of ever ending. So as we have always wanted to visit the Guggenheim in Bilbao we threw some clothes in a bag, packed the pups in the car and set off into the sodden beyond to Spain. First stop Royan at the furthest most tip of the Gironde, north of Bordeaux. A hidden seaside resort town with beautiful beachside properties. Houses from the Belle Epoque line the beach intermingled with contemporary dwellings straight out of Architectural Digest. Onwards to Pauillac on the “BAC” a sort of roll on slide off type of ferry that crosses the Gironde in high winds and removes the parting from your hair. Mission to taste the “enchantillon” (work in progress) vintage 2005 at Chateau Mouton Rothschild a 1er Grand Cru Classe.

Stunningly clear blue skies and Bacchus ready to greet us at the entrance.

At Chateau Mouton Rothschild and a peak at the Baroness’es Private Cellars – of which there are several. One for every bottle of Mouton Rothschild produced since 1859. This vinoteque contains, for each year of growth, 24 bottles, 6 magnums and 3 jeroboams – never to be drunk but kept as a historical record forever! The second cellar contains 60,000 bottles of 1er Grand Cru Bordeaux the oldest being an 1897 Haut Brion. The final cellar contains 30,000 bottles of wines from all over the world. The Museum- an astounding private collection in a hidden gallery underneath the winery. You are greeted by an enormous tapestry depicting the friendship between Queen Victoria and Napoleon (The Treaty of Commerce – A further proof of our friendship it states). Certainly helped the Bordeaux wine trade grow with the UK. It is here that the original Picasso is also housed. Painted on 22/12/59 to be precise it was used on the 1973 label which was also the year of Picasso’s death. No photo of this one as it is INTERDIT!

The Labels – now it here that the love of art and wine truly mingles. I won’t list all the artists and the stories behind each label here but if you come to La Grande Maison ask and we will show you our own collection! The first label in 1924 sadly failed to sell the wine as it was far too controversial and too futuristic for its time. So from then on until 1945 the estate used a very traditional sit up straight type of label until 1945 when the first artist was commissioned. Prince Charle’s is the most recent artist to be selected for the 2004 (just released!) but in between artists such as Miro, Dali, Warhol, Picasso, Klee have graced the bottles each contributing their work in exchange for a few cases of their vintage. The Tasting – if you want to know exactly what is meant by structure and complexity in a wine then go no further. We tasted three of the 2005 sample vintages still in the barrel. I was prepared to be impressed but not to have my socks blown off at this early stage in it’s production!
The Chateau d’Armailhac 2005 is to be bottled in April. Harvested between late September – early October, dry harvest giving good concentration. A blend of 60% cabernet sauvignon, 29% merlot, 10% cabernet franc and 1% petit verdot. Powerful nose red fruits, spicy and peppery, soft and elegant smooth tanins and good length. Can be drunk in 5–6 years or kept for 15 years. Already delicious.

The Chateau Clerc Milon 2005 is to be bottled in May. A blend of 48% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot, 10% cabernet franc and 1% petit verdot, 1% carmenere. Nose still closed tobacco on the palate from the barrels. Good length chewy tanins black fruits, ruby red. Can be drunk in 7 – 8 years or kept for 25 years. Big structure, long legs and high alcohol. One to keep a while.

The Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2005 is to be bottled in June. A blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot, 1% cabernet franc and produced in 94% new french oak. Open fresh nose of blackfruits and black pepper, tobacoo and licquoirce. Deep ruby red, soft tannins, powerful and spicy. Can be drunk in 15 years or kept for 40 years. 13% alcohol with great length. The yield 45 hectolitres per hectare. WOW – need I say more.

I now also know why the wine is so expensive. So much care and attention is given to the prodution. All grapes are hand picked and sorted. New French oak barrels are used from a range of tonneliers (barrel makers) each giving it’s own special characteristic to the wine which are then blended together adding complexity and depth to the wine. Each barrel is fined using 4 fresh egg whites and fining is still done by holding a sample glass of wine up to a candlelight to check for it’s clarity.

We didn’t want to leave but our travels beckoned and the pups needed a good walk.


Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Salon des Vins de Loire 2007

Met up with Sarah Amhed - Wine Writer and Journalist at the Salon des Vins in Angers today and introduced her to our neighbouring winemakers in Le Puy Notre Dame. Here we are tasting the stunning whites of Fosse Seche with our good friend Guillaume, the winemaker.

We also tasted wines from La Tour Grise and Domaine de la Paleine who won four medals at the show which included a gold for the 2005 Domaine Paleine Rouge. Thanks go to Francoise Gourdon who was very helpful in explaining the history of the new appellation Saumur - Le Puy Notre Dame which they have been battling for 30 years to obtain. From June 2007 they will have the right to use this AOC name against their red wines.

Over to Saumur Champigny and we were pleased to see that Chateau du Hureau one of our regular visits on the wine tours was receiving the accolades it deserves with five stars from Decanter Magazine for it Lisagathe 2005.

Lucky enough to taste the early releases from Roche Neuves too. The Marginale red and the Insolite white are the wines to look out for here.

Other tastings also included the fabulous sparkling from Baumard made by the Methode Ancestral. Domaine de Sauvete with it's Sauvignon Blancs and Gamays from Touraine region and a re-visit to taste Catherine & Pierre Bretons biodynamic wines from Bourgeuil - the Nuits d'Ivresse - produced naturally without the use of any sulphur is one of our favourites.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

A Wine Renaissance in Angers

Our friends Francoise and Phillipe Gourdon at La Tour Grise invited us to an exceptional wine tasting today. We made new friends, discovered new winemakers and tasted some early release 2006 wines (still too young to review).

Held at the Grenier St Jean in Angers the “Renaissance des AOC” are a group of winemakers from all over France that adhere to a chart of quality that controls the method of agriculture. They don’t claim (as a group) to be organic or biodynamic but no pesticides are used, only organic composts, all products used are natural and there is no use of chemicals.

That is only stage one however. To progress to stage two you must also harvest by hand, have a natural fermentation i.e. use no chemicals in the fermentation and manually select future vines and respect the biodiversity. The results are evident in the clarity and natural nature of all the wines we tasted.
I’ll only mention a few of note here that we got excited about:

La Ferme de la Sansonniere – Marc Angeli Anjou

2005 Coteaux de Houet – Wow ! Amber in colour. Partially fermented with the grapes dried out by over maturation i.e no botrytis (raisins passerillage) . Luscious but with a good acidity.

Domaine Jo Pithon – Anjou

Tasted 4 of his 2005 Anjou whites, 2 coteaux du layon and a quart du chaume. All exceptional and definately a vineyard we’ll be spending more time at this year. Especially loved the gravelly minerality of the anjou whites and the marmalade sugar of the sweets. The 2005 Les Bonnes Blanche is to die for.

Chateau de Coulaine – Etienne & Pascale de Bonaventure Chinon

Oh goodness we’ve found a deliciously fruity chinon in the 2005 Cuvee Bonavenutre – black fuits and liquorice and not too high in alcohol at 12.5%

All the Chinon reds we tasted here were exceptional and will definitely be on en-route to Bourgueil.

Sebastien David – St Nicoals de Bourgueil

2005 Vin de Patrimoine – tons of blackcurrant fruit, high in alcohol and great length

Friday, 2 February 2007

Knock on wood...

Wood delivery today and as you can see this involves a bit more than just nipping to the local petrol station to pick up an overpriced bag of kindling. Should keep us going until next winter though. The wood is ordered here in a cordes and steres, three steres make up a corde an a corde is equal to 3 square metres of wood.

The wood is literally dumped in the driveway, we avoided having it dropped over the caves this year because of the vibrations. Then comes the task of re-filling the empty wood store.

Some hours later a beautifully re-filled woodstore and two happy dogs that have spent the enitre day sniffing each piece of wood as it made its way onto the stack!

Sunday, 28 January 2007

The Confrerie of Chinon Winemakers

Sunday in Chinon and the perfect day for a parade. Now the French are good at parading at the best of times but there are none better than the Confrerie des Vignerons i.e. the Brotherhood of Winemakers. In order to qualify you need the following:

1. A Vineyard
2. Some wine
3. A red hat
4. A red cape
5. A carved wooden walking stick
6. The latter generally carved with a wine symbol e.g. some grapes, a bottle or in this instance the winemaker himself.

Take all members of the Conferie, add assorted banners, more capes and much jovial laughter and you have a parade. Heading in the direction of the Salle des Fetes and inevitably a large sunday lunch and plenty of Chinon wine.

Sunday is also the day for the riverside brocantes (antique fairs). Not to be missed especially for those with an eye for a bargain. You can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the river and then pop into the Cafe des Arts for a hand warming hot chocolate.

Back home but not before stopping off at the market in Montsoreau to buy cheeses.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

The World's First Vine Twig Snowman

This morning and all was calm. The sun was shining, well almost and the day looked good for working outside. It's now 4pm and the garden is under thick snow. Six inches seem to have fallen in a matter of minutes and all hints of spring are now behind us.
Time to build the world's first online vine twig snowman.

Friday, 12 January 2007

No Time to Hibernate

We are often asked what do you do all winter? Well apart from building 21 foot scaffolding and sticking my head through the odd roof we have a well earned rest, go on holiday and visit friends and family in the UK. There is never a dull moment.....

This year following on from the re-roofing of The Gate House we have the guttering project in action. As always loyally assisted by Humble and Willow. 8 metres of zinc guttering and it is fiddlier than it looks - just choosing the right parts at the diy store is a challenge. Well this one is up with another 10 metres to be added to The Vine Room next.

Still with a spritely dog walk at the end of the day and an incredible sunset over the vineyard (it's 6pm in January) life is good....

....and Willow seems to think so too.!

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

A Trip to Angers for Haircuts!

Ok so this does not look like a hairdressers but then Xavier the owner is not your normal hairdresser either. He has entirely restored this old wooden fronted building in Angers and renovated all the detailed wooden carvings at Salon Baert. Xavier is a philosopher and keen fly fisherman too. Keeping a conversation going in French about fly fishing is tricky at the best of times. I won't mention the haricut!?!

With a feeling of Spring in the air in January the beautiful florists shops display daffodil and hyacinth bulbs already.

The Fountain of Communication and Discussion in Angers. I wonder if this is where Xavier gets all his ideas? The city of Angers has a wealth of art and sculpture galleries and is also home to the Apocolypse Tapestry at the magnificent Chateau. You can also visit the Cointreau Museum. The shops are also fantastic. Although with so much to see and do who wants to go shopping?

Monday, 8 January 2007

A Surprise Present from Fronton

Willow alerted me to the arrival of the post this morning with a loud bark and a let me get to the gate urgency. The post lady was standing with a large box on the other side of the gate. A present from our friends Sarah and Angus who took over this vineyard Chateau la Crabiere
in 2004 The rose and red 2005 are from their first production and the wines come from the Fronton area of France a lot further south from here near Toulouse. Salut! Sarah and Angus - we can't wait to try them.

A bottle of Chateau Yvonne

Mmm! We treated ourselves to a bottle of Chateau Yvonne this evening a 2003 Saumur Champigny. So this means it is red and produced with the Cabernet France grape. It was well worth the wait - well I had to open it a few hours before to let it breathe. It was delicious, well rounded with hints of liqorice and ainseed. Yum! I think we will definately be paying a few more visits there this year on our Wine Tour schedule.

Thursday, 4 January 2007

A Little Light Pruning

For those of you who might be interested in the intricacies of viticulture then here are a few photos showing the vines in their pruned state. Here last year's growth has been cut from the vine. The pruners are highly skilled and know exactly what to cut and they can work very quickly using pruners that operate with compressed air - less wrist ache apparently!

After the last year's canes have been pulled out the vines now looked as if they are stripped bare. One cane and one spur is left. The cane that is left will be used to tie down on the fruiting wire and it is here that the buds with appear to produce this years harvest.

The old canes are not wasted they are put in between the rows ready for mulching. For us they also make very good firewood and are great on the BBQ for kindling.

The tractor has been along and mulched all the old canes. All they need to do now is the tying down and after tightening up the wires sit back and wait for bud burst! If only it was all that easy.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Flooding in Vertou en-route to Nantes

Stopped off in Vertou (muscadet region) to walk the dogs yesterday on the way to Nantes. You can usually walk across the causeway to the pretty restaurants in the background. The river is in high flood and this was as far as I could get.

Perhaps I'll take the boat.....

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

New Year Drinks at the Tresor Belge

New Years Night 1st January 2007. Last night Marc and Andre invited us for aperitifs at their beautiful restaurant the Tresor Belge in Pouancay. Everyone was there including the Mayor and his wife. The champagne flowed and the canapes were delicious.

Outside and everyone looks skyward for the firework display -wooooh! aaaah! woosh!

Monday, 1 January 2007

Happy New Year 2007 from La Grande Maison

1st January 2007 and the first hint of spring in the air. So mild we even spend the day out in the garden tidying up and cutting down the Christmas tree that we put up outside the house.

Sue and Willow build a new bird feeder out of a wine crate and a bottle!!

A couple more shots of the garden in it's winter coat.
Plenty more cutting back to do.
At least the tower is still standing after the New Year's Eve gales we had last night.