…except when it is. The region, that is. I’m about a week behind on posting, so I have TWO weeks to tell you about, plus a teaser about where I am for my week of vacation.

Science, like the internet, is always right.

Science, like the internet, is always right.

Last week brought a whole different kind of school – one focused around the journal club that we’re starting; a class structure that allows each of us to research our own topics and bring our own scientific articles to educate and engage each other in discussion on viticultural issues. Remember that scientific mumbo-jumbo from a few posts back? Yeah, reading articles is tougher than it looks. We start by learning HOW to read articles. The first thing we learn is: don’t believe everything you read.  Sort of.

If you’ve worked with me before, you’ll know that though I am generally decent at parroting and/or using context cleverly enough to sound like I understand technical jargon, I usually have no idea what the terms mean.  I was once involved in a cost-savings project involving an in-depth analysis of the chemical components and formulaic structures (the chassis, if you will) of shampoos and conditioners.  The real feat here was that my eyes didn’t obviously glaze over when I presented our findings to the VP. (That’s me: developing the really useful life skills since 1982.)

This chart looks pretty legit though, I wouldn’t question it too much.

Suffice it to say, I’ve always been fairly trusting of the general concept (halo effect is probably more accurate) of science-based knowledge. And Wikipedia, to be honest. (Researchers everywhere are shuddering as I write this.)  But now, my trust has been broken – can we talk about this? And of all things, by articles on climate change. I can now better appreciate why there is so much debate in the scientific community regarding the effects of climate change. It feels completely empowering to be able to parse these articles (though easily impressed as I am by the sheer presence and number of charts and graphs) – and it is completely indicative of the adroitness of our professor to arm us non-technical folk with tools for enlightenment so quickly.

(Complete) understanding achieved, we select our topics.  Although I’m originally pulling for cold-climate viticulture, my final research topic is organic/biodynamic and sustainable viticulture practices. Aside from shopping at Appellation NYC, which specialized in more natural wines, my experience with tags like organic and sustainable agriculture is largely derived from my work in sourcing and with labelling claims.

From a claims perspective, I don’t have a particularly strong preference for organic over non-organic produce.  I can’t taste a difference and tend to base purchase decisions on some combination of price and visible quality indicators. However, in the short time I’ve been here, I have started to form strong opinions about the sustainability elements of non-organic farming practices, particularly when it comes to long term effects of chemical use on employees and the surrounding community (human and otherwise).

So much to see and do: barrel aging! wine tasting! bottle labeling!

Fortunately the week has a few free days built in, allowing me a breather from my newly discovered soap box, during which time the class organizes some more vineyard visits – this time on the Left Bank. Our first visit is to the Château Planquette, a small organic estate in Haut-Médoc (there is clearly a theme here).  The vigneron, M. Michaud, has a particularly keen set of tastebuds that can recognize which barrel each wine has come from, and I’m tempted to steal him away for the cooperage project we have coming up.

It is the second visit to Domaine du Jaugaret in St-Julien which grabs our attention.  M. Fillastre at Jaugaret may be the last of a family line of 350+ years of making wine on this property.  The cellar looks like something out of a horror show: it is dimly lit, with spiderwebs everywhere.  The spiders protect the moths from destroying the corks, so this is a good thing. The mould on the walls looks like an inch-thick tapestry of black cottonballs.  It is possibly also a good thing (where’s science when I need it???  Apparently I can’t just call on it like a superpower.) – as it seems to support the mini-ecosystem that exists inside this cellar where the barrels and vintage bottles age. We try the 2012, his newest vintage; the 2014 out of the barrel; and a bottle of the 1987.  Each is different, but his wine-making style is distinct.  The tannins in the young wines are not harsh, like many young red wines in this area, but have an elegance about them that seems to evolve into new expressions over time, rather than following the typical rise and fall of a good, or even great Bordeaux.

A humble tasting room; a peek into the vault; spiders and mould rule in this particular cellar; and some great vintages in bottle lurk in the shadows.

There is a particularly good article about Domaine du Jaugaret by wine writer Eric Asimov that appeared in the New York Times in 2010 that I’ll include here for your reading pleasure.  It also has way better pictures than mine because iPhone 5s don’t seem to do so well in low light spaces.  Interestingly enough, both vineyards that we’ve visited are chemical free, and also aren’t permitted to use the local appellation label, which drives home the point that appellations are about tradition: particular tastes, demarcated zones, and often a little bit of local politics – not always about wine quality.

The weekend comes and goes in what is quickly becoming a normal fashion: coffees with friends, shopping at the market and on rue St Catherine (the longest pedestrian street in the world, and full of stores), and – you guessed it – more vineyard visits.  This weekend it is Portes Ouvertes Graves, when many of the châteaus open their doors to the public and put on tours and tastings. Graves contains the sub-appellation of Sauternes – well known for sweet wine, due to consistently yielding botrytis affected grapes. Remember those mouldy grapes from the last post?  If the rot is ‘just right’ (actually called noble rot) it dehydrates the grape a little, concentrating the sugars and flavours, which makes a rich sweet wine, not unlike an icewine.  The Sauternes wines are a refreshing change to the big tannin-heavy Bordeaux we’ve been drinking up until now, variety being the spice of life and all that.

What in the name of cheeses? Stocking up for a picnic in Graves; although apparently Clos Borgelat also offers a cheese fair; and Chateau Gravas likes to mix wine tasting with art

What in the name of cheeses? Stocking up for a picnic in Graves; although apparently Clos Bourgelat has been hiding a cheese fair behind its now open doors; and Château Gravas likes to mix wine tasting with art

We’re back to school on the Monday, and this time around, the entire week is dedicated to a course on Market Research, with some meandering into German wine market territory, as our professor is visiting from a German university with a great wine program. This means we’ll have a Riesling tasting at some point, which is of course exciting for me.  We’re assigned a project, and need to present a few days later, hence no blog post for the week. My group’s project is about what research we should do to successfully launch an ultra-premium label from a historically value-oriented wine brand. Though the wine market is new to me, many of the discussions are similar to conversations on luxury branding I’ve had in previous lifetimes. Of course we are discussing this over a few bottles of wine and a charcuterie and fromage board, so the prep work takes a few more hours than probably efficiency would dictate, but c’est la vie!

We wrap up the week with the German wine tasting, and then are let loose in Bordeaux to enjoy our week of holidays.  Before I leave Bordeaux, a family friend is in town, and we take some time catching up on the bank of the Garonne, planning future forays into French wine country.

Iphone Graves & Edin1 066

We’re all happy with the wines, and with the ensuing holiday.

Iphone Graves & Edin1 117

Just like old times in Pluduno. Have I mentioned that this man is partially responsible for my love of wine?

I’ll leave you there for now – you’ve probably figured out that I’m not in Kansas anymore, Toto.  So I’ll fill you in with the next post (to be shared in a timely fashion, natch) and leave you with this:

Don’t worry, I’m in good company.


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