“It’s possible that I have some control issues…” I begin saying, but my friend’s chuckles cut me off before I can finish the thought …after nine years of being a project manager… Dammit. OK, there’s probably some truth in that, particularly as I’m determined to write about the past week in chronological order, even though the bits at the beginning of the week are suspiciously blurry. After three days in Alsace, stumbling about in a food-and-drink stupor, you’ll understand why I leave you with mostly pictures for this post. Apologies for the brevity of this post (though 1000 words x # pictures… surely counts for something?), but it’s another busy week which I’ll get to in the next post (coming soon, as there was too much to put into one entry).

haut-medoc-zonesTo pick up from the last post, I have visitors from Canada, and we are enjoying the sights around Bordeaux. The week immediately following is the equivalent of February/Spring Break – with one whole week off to gallivant where’er the winds might take us. In the early part of the week, I have the final (for now) parrain visit to the Médoc.

We start at Château Taillan, in the Haut-Médoc. Like the Haut-Rhin in Alsace, the Haut-Médoc is actually at the south end of the Médoc, as the north end has slightly lower altitude, with somewhat inauspicious beginnings as marshland, later drained by the Dutch to create land for vineyards. The Haut-Médoc surrounds many of the more prominent appellations on the left bank that you may already know: St. Julien, Margaux, Pauillac. It is also the single largest appellation in Bordeaux.

Château Taillan's ivy-covered look camouflages centuries-old history: the barrels age in what used to be a monastery, dating back to the 16th century. Classical sculptures dot the lawn, overlooking the vines.

Château Taillan’s ivy-covered look camouflages centuries-old history: the barrels age in what used to be a monastery, dating back to the 16th century. Classical sculptures dot the lawn, overlooking the vines.

We stop for a visit and lunch a little further north in the Haut-Médoc at Château D’Agassac.

A variety of bâtiments, old and new, dot the property at Château d'Agassac. The main office building, the original 12th century château (now a lovely restaurant), modern tanks, the tasting room overlooking the courtyard, the barrel room, and the original dovecote (and sometime tasting room slash Rapunzel's tower)

A variety of bâtiments, old and new, dot the property at Château d’Agassac. The main office building, the original 12th century château (now a lovely restaurant), modern tanks, the tasting room overlooking the courtyard, the barrel room, and the original dovecote (and sometime tasting room slash Rapunzel’s tower)

Finally, we wrap up the day with a visit to Château du Tertre, one of several Dutch-owned properties in Bordeaux, this one in the Margaux appellation.

An appropriately theatrical driveway. Though the château is original, it's been updated for family living, with a picturesque swimming pool and garden walkway. The property also houses a barrel room in the dungeon (?), and chambres d'hôtes for sheepish visitors.

An appropriately theatrical driveway. Though the château is original, it’s been updated for family living and guesthouses, with a picturesque swimming pool and garden walkway. The property also houses a barrel room in the dungeon (probably?), and chambres d’hôtes for sheepish visitors.

First view of Colmar by night.

First view of Colmar by night.

The long-awaited internet connection comes through just in time for me to leave on another adventure – this time to discover the region where I’ll be interning this summer. It’s the weekend just before school starts again, but I’ve convinced a classmate to take a break from Bordeaux reds to dip into the famous white wines of Alsace; Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner and Muscat being the major varietals.

Colmar, where I’m going in the south/Haut-Rhin, is the wine capital of Alsace (Strasbourg being the actual, though evidently far less important, capital of the region). It is a ridiculously picturesque town, with a medieval old town, and is also known for being the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of a particularly famous statue currently overlooking the New York Harbo(u)r.

Though that’s all very handy, I’m here to pay a visit to Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, just west of Colmar where I’ll be completing my stage this summer. We arrive bright and early (ok, not that early, some local wines having been sampled the night before) to the domaine and get a good look at the vineyards. Having just come off of a week on pruning and terroir, we immediately stop to take notes on how these vines differ from what we’re used to seeing in Bordeaux. I’ll spare you all the geek notes, but the difference in vine vigour is really obvious – the canes are much thicker, and there are 8-10 buds on each arm, versus the 3-4 we usually see in the vineyards around the school. Our taxi driver has informed us that this is due to an unusually high water table (and it’s France, so we sort of assume everyone is a wine professional…)

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht seen from the vineyard. Check out the vigour on those canes! The curved shape helps manage even growth of new canes, and slightly resembles reindeer antlers... New vines are surrounded by a cover crop of clover to help them grow. The foudres, or large oak vats, are typical for aging wine in Alsace. Apparently I have to be able to climb into them, so here's hoping I'm not claustrophobic!

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht as seen from the vineyard; the family’s winemaking history goes back over 400 years, but the building is a little newer than that. Check out the vigour on those canes! The curved shape helps promote even growth of new canes, and slightly resembles reindeer antlers… New vines are protected by plastic and surrounded by a cover crop of clover to help them grow. The foudres, or large oak vats, are typical for aging wine in Alsace. Apparently I have to be able to climb into them, so here’s hoping I’m not claustrophobic!

One of my favourite discoveries about the Haut-Rhin of Alsace is that many of the villages, and certainly the wineries, are walking distance from each other. So, we spend the rest of the day wandering through the little towns nearby.

Top to bottom, left to right: paths cut through the vineyards to get from the domaine to Wintzenheim, which also contains an old Jewish cemetery and blooming almond trees. Alsatian-style buildings are brightly coloured and half-timbred. The entrance to Domaine Josmeyer beckons. Highways are cut into the hillsides so they don't ruin the view. The river runs just outside the 14th century Gate of France leading to Old Town Turckheim. The same river runs in front of this house in Ingersheim, one of the intern lodgings.

Top to bottom, left to right: paths cut through the vineyards to get from the domaine to Wintzenheim, which also contains an old Jewish cemetery and blooming almond trees. Alsatian-style buildings are brightly coloured and half-timbred. The entrance to Domaine Josmeyer beckons. Highways are cut into the hillsides so they don’t ruin the view. The river runs just outside the 14th century Gate of France leading to Old Town Turckheim. The same river runs in front of this house in Ingersheim, one of the possible logements for my stage.

After gathering some details about my stage at Zind-Humbrecht, we wander over to visit Domaine Josmeyer in Winztenheim (a biodynamic winery which also avails us of somewhat-less-than-legal Marc de Gewurztraminer made by the grandfather of the family. shhh!), and François Baur in Turckheim (also biodynamic. Noticing a trend yet?). For day two, we decide to tackle the villages just north of Colmar, starting with Domaine Jean Becker in Zellenberg. I’m sort of celebrating an anniversary during this trip – exactly one year ago I was in London enjoying an Alsatian dinner (for which I was tricked into doing most of the cooking. Tricked, I tell you!) to pair with a flight of Becker wines (that’s probably how I was tricked, let’s be honest), and returned to New York a few days later to hand in my notice. Fast forward one year, and here I am, a pilgrim to the motherland.

(The Original???) Lady Liberty stands guard over Colmar. The vines at Zellenberg have a pretty good view. Domaine Jean Becker is warm and welcoming from the outside, and the wine list sits above the fireplace. Sobering monuments to the dead: the German monument now sits by the side of the road, removed from its place of honour; the French conscripts to the German cause have more prominence in Riquewihr. A more inebriating monument: one of the Zind-Humbrecht Grand Cru vineyards. There's just no getting around the view: bike- and walking paths connect the whole region together.

(The Original???) Lady Liberty stands guard over Colmar. The vines at Zellenberg have a pretty good view. Domaine Jean Becker is warm and welcoming from the outside, and the wine list sits above the fireplace. (How many treasures CAN one caveau hold?) Sobering monuments to the dead: the German memorial now sits by the side of the road, removed from its place of honour; the memorial for French conscripts to the German cause have more prominence in Riquewihr. A more inebriating monument: one of the Zind-Humbrecht Grand Cru vineyards. There’s just no getting around the view on the Route du Vin approaching Hunawihr: bike- and walking paths connect the whole region together.

I’ll be seeing much more of the Beckers between now and the end of summer, so I’ll come back to their wines in a later post. Suffice it to say that we are fortunate enough to sample about a third of the range, and then spend the rest of the day walking it off: hiking the walking paths from Zellenberg to Riquewihr (siège of Hugel & Fils) to Hunawihr (Domaine Sipp-Mack) and finally to Ribeauvillé (the Trimbach estate). We haven’t the intestinal fortitude to tackle more tastings, the Beckers having filled us up to the brim, so the afternoon is full of great views, good Alsatian food, and eventually a return to Colmar for the evening to prepare for the trip home via Strasbourg, and the return to the classroom.

Clockwise from bottom left: Little Venice (a be-canaled section of the Colmar Old Town); a few views of the Colmar Cathedral. The Strasbourg Cathedral takes us to new heights; toe-tapping music in its shadow outside, and inside the cathedral it's the astronomical clock keeping us in good measure.

Clockwise from bottom left: Little Venice (a be-canaled section of the Colmar Old Town); a few views of the Colmar Cathedral. The Strasbourg Cathedral takes us to new heights; toe-tapping music in its shadow outside, and inside the cathedral it’s the astronomical clock keeping us in good measure.

Truly, the weekend has been a teaser: I can’t wait to come back for my first vineyard experience this summer!

 

 

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