This is the 4th part in my series of blog posts about my trip to France.
Monday morning. 7AM. I wake up refreshed. Not an ounce of jet lag. No, really. I don’t get that at all. But then again, I have a weird body clock. I’m lucky to sleep more than 5 hours at a time. This time I think I slept 6 hours. Yes, I set an alarm, but it wasn’t like I felt like I needed to hit snooze 20 times.
I get cleaned up. The shower is barely big enough for me. I go to the lobby of the hotel to grab breakfast. The exact same guy is there that checked me in 9 hours earlier. I ask him if he ever sleeps. He just smiles back. He shows me the area where I can get breakfast. I know I took a picture of it, but I don’t really remember what I had. Probably some cereal and a croissant. Oh and Nutella. This stuff is amazing. Yeah, I know. How can I be Italian and have never had it. Well I just fixed that.
I gather my luggage and walk to the rental car building. It’s open! All the companies share the same little temporary classroom building. You know, those buildings that they use when the school has too many students? Never seen them? Not missing anything. Same thing as a construction temporary building.
I get there and hope they still have my car. Remember, I’m concerned about it being automatic. I know they’ll have a car for me. I just want that car. Yes, they do. The car is pre-paid anyway. Of course I don’t get any money off for not picking it up the day before. Again I have to walk to where they have their garage. I haven’t done this much walking since living in Chicago!
Finally get to my car. It’s pimp. HUD, full roof sunroof, bluetooth, GPS, etc. The only thing it won’t do is play my music from my iPhone. Ain’t no thang. I get myself oriented with the car and enter in my hotel in Pauillac. I exit the garage on my way.
While the GPS is great and all, I do get a bit lost. Luckily I can set the language to English. Very helpful for turn-by-turn. In trying to get to the main road I do run a stop sign by accident and get a bit turned around. See, that’s why I didn’t want stick shift.
I eventually find some kind of radio station to listen to, have the sun roof open all the way. By the way, a sun roof is not the same thing as a moon roof. A sun roof is a glass roof, where a moon roof is the same, but the actual glass roof retracts. No matter, this is pretty cool. I have this thing open every time I’m in the car. I head to Pauillac.
The drive is cool. I’m probably about 30 minutes north of Bordeaux itself when it finally hits me. I’m in fucking Bordeaux. France. About to spend the next few days in some of the best wine country in the world. The World. I’m smiling. The drive is pretty good. Traffic circles all over the place. It’s kind of funny, because the GPS will say something like, “take the 2nd exit and continue on…” I did travel around an entire traffic circle or two during my stay there.
I finally arrive in Pauillac. I had called the hotel the day before to explain I was running late. But I had expected to get there before Midnight the night before. When I realized I wasn’t going to get there till Monday I called them back. They were very accommodating. I get the the hotel. I’m staying in the more modern wing. It’s nicer with bigger rooms. The room is basically the same size as an American hotel room which is nice. I unpack and get settled.
I check my calendar to see where my 1st appointment of the day is. Somehow I thought I had two appointments in the afternoon. Nope, I had already missed my first one in the morning. I quickly e-mail the first appointment to apologize and briefly explain what happened. I get a reply later that day and they were super cool about it. They let me know what other days and times they could see me. Unfortunately those all conflicted with my other appointments. And Monday was the only day I would be in the area anyway. This was Chateau Pichon-Longueville, a 2nd Growth chateau. Grrr. I was going to miss this.
Once I figured this out, I had lunch at the hotel. I had a beef dish that was really nice. But it was kind of funny. When I was ordering my meat, I really was at a loss on how to order it. Over time I’ve gone from ordering meat medium well to medium rare. And I actually like it medium rare plus. So I’m trying to order my steak medium rare but I”m not sure exactly how to tell my server how I want it. Do they use the same terms in Europe? I wing it. It comes out and I’ve never seen a steak cut this way. It was a triangle of beef.
At first it seemed like it was cooked perfectly, but that was the edge. The server came by to ask how everything was, and I did ask for the steak to be cooked a little bit longer. It came out shortly just right.. I then headed to my actual afternoon appointment with Philippe Blanc of Chateau Beychevelle in St. Julien. It’s literally only a couple miles from the hotel. I think it was a 10 minute drive.
I arrive and they are in the middle of harvest. September can be a really bad month to visit Bordeaux or a really great month to visit. It’s harvest time. Some places won’t see anyone not named Robert Parker. Others are able to accommodate tourists. I’m not a tourist so I fall in a kind of in between category. I’m asking to meet the owner or winemaker for a private tour and tasting. Depending on the property, they can or cannot do this. All of the First Growths declined. Amazingly 3 or 4 of them were “under construction” and weren’t taking any visitors. The other one or two just flat out said they cannot see me because of harvest. I stopped by a couple of these First Growths to take some pictures. They really had construction going on.
Anyway, I arrive at Beychevelle. They have a visitor center and I introduce myself to the person there. He contacts Philippe and I’m told he’ll be with me shortly. I maybe wait about 10 minutes. During that time I’m looking at the information in the visitor center. A couple comes in and they are waiting for a tourist tour. Yeah, I’ll admit, I felt a bit special because I was waiting on the winemaker for a private tour and tasting.
Philippe takes me through the the Chateau. By the way, this thing is huge. I don’t see the entire thing, just the winemaking part. We start where the grapes arrive from the vineyard and got through the entire line.
Destemming machine (they were testing two different ones), the conveyor for manual inspection, the crusher, the vats for fermentation, the barrel room, and finally a tasting room.
I took pictures at every step. They have stainless steel and concrete tanks for fermentation.
One of the things I learned is that each of the concrete tanks has a different capacity. It’s not like a stainless steel tank where every tank is uniform.
On the wall where they ferment the wine in concrete tanks there is a old fermentation barrel. this thing is huge and has their logo on it.
We get to the tasting area and I set up. There’s a lot of echo in the room as it’s all marble and tile. I’m a bit worried about the sound since I’m only using the camera’s microphone. I haven’t gotten all sophisticated yet. Now it would be different.
We do our tasting. Before I went to Bordeaux I did a decent amount of research. One of the people I reached out to was a gentleman named John C. Dvorak. He is a technology writer that I’ve followed on TechTV, Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech (TWiT) podcast, and also No Agenda. John is a wine expert that I’d love to interview sometime. Hell, I want to drink some wine with him and be on TWiT! My show is inspired by both Gary Vaynerchuck (obviously) and Leo Laporte. One big piece of advice John gave me was to make sure I spit during these visits. The Bordelais would be very insulted if I didn’t spit. Well that’s just fine by me since I didn’t want to be diving in France drunk. While we didn’t have a spit bucket for our tasting, we did have a sink behind us. And we actually discussed spitting prior to starting the interview.
The wines were really great. Honestly, every wine I had the entire trip, especially at the Chateaux, where amazing. We had a great time going though the wines and talking about the Chateau. Click here for that episode.
The grounds are immaculate. It’s what Americans think of when they think about a French Chateau. Check out a few of the pics I took.
With the tour and tasting over, it was time to head back to the hotel. I unloaded my stuff and relaxed for a bit. Then it was time for dinner. I walked about a half block to one of the restaurants on the same street as the hotel. Had a simple pasta dish and of course wine.
One thing about France was the ease at which you can get half bottles of wine. Almost every restaurant had at least a couple selections of half bottles. When I go out here in the States, if I can get a half bottle I do. It’s good on the wallet and you don’t have to worry about getting a DUI/DWI. If not I get a full bottle and drink half there and the rest later.
Once I was done with dinner I headed back to my room. I was a bit tired and ready to relax. Exploring Pauillac will have to wait another day.