France: 1 December – 15 December 2010
A 13th century press, from Laroche in Burgundy, a testament to the ancient and traditional practice of winemaking in France. Winemaking is thought to have come to France in the Roman times, over 120 years BC!
Finally we had arrived, to the land which gave birth to so many concepts we had heard spoken and praised throughout the wine world before. From the idea of ‘Terroir,’ to the grapes themselves of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and others, France is the birthplace of so many things now globally considered to be central to wine. It probably seems right then that the country is the largest producer of wine in the world. We were lucky to discover and share for charity auction several of the most world renowned wine regions in France, notably Bordeaux, Champagne, and Burgundy. After an atypical winter spell shortened our visits of Bordeaux, we moved on and had the great help of Wink Lorch from WineTravelGuides throughout most of Champagne and Burgundy. After our trip, we received many more beautiful wine donations from Chateaus in Bordeaux, and wine houses in Champagne and Rhône who joined us in our cause, but whom we unfortunately were unable to visit.
And so we entered one of the most expensive and prestigious wine regions of the world, which many places in the world would often draw comparisons to. ‘Bordeaux’ though is not as simple as that, and has 60 different appellations within it. It has become so famous due to its great ‘terroir’ for producing wine, with well drained gravel, sandy stone, and clay soils around the Gironde river. That might be why the Romans where thought to have started viticulture here, in as early as 48 AD. The popularity of Bordeaux wine though is arguably thanks to the British, who after a marriage in the 12th century gained control of the area as an English territory, with most wine then being exported (the English control ended though in the 15th century after the 100 years war). Today Bordeaux has definitely become an icon in the world of wine, a place not unlikely to soon be taken away!
Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste: Located in the Pauillac appellation of Bordeaux, the winery came under its present owner, the family of Emiline with whom we are pictured above, in 1979. Emiline had just happened to have also performed a wine course involving visiting wineries of the world, so we were in good company reminiscing on her past travels and the course of our trip!
Chateau Beychevelle: A beautiful Chateau located in the St.Julien appellation of Bordeaux, Beychevelle started in 1855. Like most grande-chateau of Bordeaux they sell their wines before bottling, while they are still in barrel, and on opening day they sell about 95% of their wines in the first 1 hour! (the wines though are delivered to the buyer after bottling and cellar aging, so it’s a great system for the buyers, called ‘en Primeur’. Luckily they have some reserves and were able to donate to the auction too!
Chateau Branaire-Ducru: Also in the St. Julien appellation of Bordeaux, Branaire-Ducru came under its present owner in 1988. We had a great tasting, and learned that something quite unusual was happening in the wines this year, as they seemed to have almost 15% alcohol! Usually Bordeaux wines are between 12 and 13%, and the 15% is only seen coming from Californian and Australian sun-drenched landscapes.
Chateau Mendoce: With the oldest tower dating back to the 15th century, Chateau Mendoce is a beautiful representation of a historic French domain. 14 hectares of microclimate well drained soils are perfect for their production which focuses on Merlot. We are very happy to feature a unique one-of-a-kind hand-painted bottle from the winery! Thank you!
More Chateaux of Bordeaux: We have had the great fortune to be able to showcase much more of the best of Bordeaux at the auction, and have acquired wines from the following wineries to accompany the auction as well: Chateau Haut-Brion (Pessac Leognan), Grand Vin de Chateau Latour (Pauillac), Chateau Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac), Chateau Carbonnieux (Pessac-Leognan), Château Fontenil (Fronsac), Château Le Bon Pasteur (Pomerol), Chateau Bertineau St Vincent (Pomerol), Chateau Rolland-Maillet (Saint Emilion), Chateau La Grande Clotte (Lussac Saint Emilion), Chateau les Ormes Sorbet (Medoc). Please view our wine list for details on all donations! Thank you!
From Bordeaux we traveled North-East to another region associated with prestige, Champagne. We had the great support of Wink Lorch from Wine Travel Guides during this time, our companion and organizer of most of the visits. We also owe a special debt of gratitude to Philippe Wibrotte from the CIVC, the organization representing and overseeing all Champagne houses, as he helped us with visits and the bottle logistics (see photo above of Wink, Philipe, and us).
Popular culture says that the Benedictine Monk, Dom Perignon (see his statue below), invented the Champagne we know of today. Research on the subject though says that the first reported sparkling wine originated by other Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire in 1531, over a century before Dom Perignon. It is also claimed that an English scientist and physician, Christopher Merret, documented adding sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, or sparkling wine, 40 years before Dom Perignon had. Nonetheless, Dom Perignon made many advances towards creating the modern day Champagne which we know of, including adding the wire to the cork to avoid random bottle firings!
Subsequently, in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries royalty from throughout Europe would ask for the unique wine for ceremonies and special events, which would add to the association of Champagne with prestige, luxury, and power. Since then and into the 19th and 20th centuries, Champagne production and demand would increase significantly, and today the same ideas of festivities are associated with the drink!
Krug: Mylene Soulas took us through one of the most prestigious Champagne houses in existence, and we are pictured above with Mr. Olivier Krug! Founded in 1843 by a man named Joseph Krug from Germany, their famous Grand Cuvee label, accounting for 85% of the production, is left to age 6 years before being released. This extra care and the use of the best vineyards (which Olivier is showing to us above) has made Krug a legend in premium Champagne since Joseph’s founding of the Champagne-house!
Taittinger: A world class Champagne house, where with no exceptions all riddling occurs by hand, ensuring quality will uphold its name. Bottles are stored to age in cellars such as the one pictured above, which during World War I served as a hospital for the injured!
Vilmart: We are pictured above with M. Laurent Champs, the 5th generation of the family business! Putting much manual energy into ensuring quality, 100% of riddling is done by hand (riddling is the process, which when done by hand takes months, of slowly accumulating the yeast sediments in a Champagne bottle to the top, for freezing and removal, the ‘traditional method’). An extra special feature though of Vilmart is that 45-50 year old vines form 50% of the total volume produced!
J. Dumangin Fils: Also in the 5th generation of the family, we met with Gilles Dumangin, pictured above. Only the 1st and 2nd volumes coming from the pressing of the grapes is used, an extra precaution taken to uphold the highest standards. Gilles is very involved in new social media, so follow his site too!
Bollinger: We had a tour of the Champagne house with Sonia, pictured above. The champagne house has 5km of cellars underground to facilitate their champagne aging! Bollinger uses barrels for their Champagne production, something not as common in the region and which gives the wine a more unique twist. The barrels used are always old (about 5 years old, from Burgundy), to ensure no oak taste comes into to the wine.
Chassenay d’Arce: The castle of Chassenay has been an Icon in the Arce valley since the 11th century, and it’s in this very monument that the Chassenay d’Arce Champagne house began, in 1956! A past globe-trotter who completed a world wine charity tour in 2004 now works as export manager, ErwanThill, and though we were unfortunately unable to visitdue to time constraints, has donated a beautiful 3L bottle. Luckily though for people interested in more about this Champagne house, Erwan will be present at VINEXPO in Bordeaux this coming June! He will be looking forward to giving you a nice crisp tasting of Chassenay d’Arce, so be sure to visit and learn more about this wonderful Champagne house and their export potential!
Moet and Chandon: Another past wine-collecting-charity-organizer from 2004 now works here, Stanislas. Moet and Chandon has been associated with prestige since its start, with Napoleon and the Russian Tsars being fans alongside Stanislas, and things have continued since then. The name came to be when the daughter of a Moet married a Chandon, which solidified the family partnership. 28km of tunnels in 3 levels going 30 meters deep ensures enough room for their production!
Just a bit south from Champagne we came to our final region of our visits of France, Burgundy. Pictured above we are with Wink Lorch, who also helped us throughout Burgundy as our guide, and François Desperriers, from ‘Burgundy Live’ who covered our project with an interview. We are pictured above at the ‘Hospices de Beaune,’ founded in 1443 as a charitable hospital. The original building is now a museum, but wines coming from vineyards belonging to the charity-hospital are auctioned in November of each year while still in barrel, and funds raised go to buying equipment and serving the sick at the local hospitals. Wineries which buy the barrels can label their wine for that year as coming from the Hospice’s prized vineyards, something which is highly regarded.
Burgundy wines are generally made of Pinot Noir if red, and Chardonnay if white, but a variety of other grapes are sometimes used, such as Gamay and Aligoté. Burgundy has the largest number of appellations in France, and a very extensive system of classification, with even single vineyards being delineated as a region, a practice going back to medieval times when monasteries played a large role in developing the Burgundy wine industry. The climate is continental, which means very cold winters and hot summers, and with unpredictable rains which make vintages highly variable. This year seemed to be a good one though, and we owe special thanks to the wineries which participated!:
Domaine de la Vougeraie: Located in the Nuits St Georges appellation of Burgundy, one of the most famous, Domaine de la Vougeraie is a fully biodynamic winery. We had a tour and tasting with Blondine, pictured above, who explained this philosophy of the harmonizing with nature, which has been present since the start of the Domaine.
Daniel-Etienne Defaix: Started in 1610, we arrived in the year of its celebration of 400 years of existence, and 13 generations of descendants present to care after the land! Located in Chablis (Milly), we learned how the Monks were most concerned with the land that is now considered the Premier Cru, as it produced higher acidity in the wines which resulted in a longer aging potential.
Laroche: Located in Chablis, we are pictured above with owners Gwenaël and Michel Laroche who invited us into their home for a delicious and traditional lunch. A leader in the region and pushing the industry forward in many respects, Laroche had become highly respected for their quality and ingenuity in the field. In 2001 they were the first in France to use screw caps, a monumental and epic feat for the traditionalist country, resulting in considerably fewer corked wines.
Simmonet Febvre: Located in Chablis, this winery was started in 1840 and is now owned by the famous Beaune négociant Louis Latour. A modernization of the winery is the intended future plan, all while keeping its old tradition! We had a great tour and tasting with Emanuella, pictured above between Wink Lorch and Georges.
Chateau de Meursault: Part of Patriarche (see below), we arrived just in time for the pruning which takes place every year. The house is of the 16th century, and the wines are very strong internationally, with still a 75% domestic market presence.
Patriarche: Located in Beaune, we had a great tour and lunch with Julien, pictured above with the monk symbol of the winery. In 1940 the concept of the winery changed along with the owner, with a new mission to provide high quality wine not just for the rich and elite of France, but for everyone. This new and belevolent owner was a great devotee of the Hospice de Beaune auction (see above), and so in 2010 Patriarche bought a barrel in his memory!
Louis Jadot: Also in the Beaune appellation of Burgundy, we had a tour from Marc Dupin who described many processes to us on the cellar floor. The winery is biodynamic, and only uses one barrel cooper to ensure a proper taste-visualization of the differences in terroir!
Maison Deux Montille: Located in the Volnay appellation of Burgundy, we had a tasting with Alix, the daughter of this family-owned and charming winery. Started with passion in 1947 by her father, Alix is responsible for the white wines while her brother makes the reds! Fully organic with biodynamic vineyards as well, Maison Deux Montille is a great culmination of the representation of terroir and experience!
Though we visited arguably three of the most famous regions in France, there are (nearly) countless more, all producing great and distinct wines. Our auction will also feature a donated wine coming from Rhône, a 6 L bottle of Louis Bernard fromthe Chateauneuf-du Pape region! The Rhône is generally known to produce Syrah in the north, and Viognier in the south, though an array of other grapes are also sometimes used. We are especially happy to have this large format wine representing the region!
~Anja and Georges, signing off with Champagne’s celebration of 2010! What a year!