Bordeaux, the star of my whole trip.

Deep in the throes of procrastination, I realize it has been three months since the events in this post have taken place. Fortunately I’ve gotten the afternoon off work today due to a nor’easter hitting snowy Wolfville, so it seems like a good time to curl up on the couch inside and write something. Sorry in advance (I am definitely a Canadian!) – I insist this blog follows the stories in chronological order, so I will not talk about my move or new job until the next post. It’s worth the wait, I promise! For the moment, I am rewinding to the middle of December, where the last post left me (slightly warmer) in the Loire Valley.

Immediately after the weekend in the Loire, I head to Bordeaux. There are a few free days before the presentations begin, so of course, this is an opportunity to meet up with old friends and reacquaint ourselves with the wines of Bordeaux. I’m staying at Chateau Carsin, the Finnish-owned chateau in Cadillac, on the Right Bank. Nea greets me with food and drink, and then puts me to work tout de suite, and I would not have it any other way!

Inside at Chateau Carsin, a roaring fire is the best way to greet a waterlogged traveler! In the cellar, a new experment is underway with grapes fermenting in amphorae. And it’s back inside for thesis prep session (complete with wine and cheese!) Below, my arrival at Carsin coincides with heavy fog cover, which lifts on my final morning there to reveal a beautiful sunrise through the vines. We are fortunate enough to have arranged some special chateau visits. during our open days, and our first day’s tours bring us to the Sauternes region. Our first stop is the famed Chateau d’Yquem, responding to an invitation by the cellar master when she gave us a lecture on noble rot last semester.

Left: the old chateau at Yquem, with a little orange truck in front (for scale, you see). An important part of the visit: we discuss the botrytis rot that makes Sauternes wines famous. Right: The cellar at Yquem, and our hostess pours for us in the tasting room. Below, the colours of Sauternes. Centre: our group at Chateau Suduiraut.

We’re not ready to defend quite yet: after a day of sweet, white wine, what better to follow than a day of dry, red wine? Our first stop takes us to Clos du Jaugueyron, a small biodynamic estate in Margaux. Unlike the other estates we are visiting on this trip, this is a relatively new family estate. It’s so small the tasting room is in the owners’ kitchen, which is much more like what my winery will be like when I start it up. By contrast, our afternoon visit brings us to Cos d’Estournel, in Saint-Estèphe, the Haut-Médoc. I have visited this estate once before, two years ago, so it is interesting to compare the two experiences.

A walk through the woods around Clos du Jaugueyron leads us to their kitchen and makeshift tasting room. The tasting room at Cos d’Estournel is much more luxurious by comparison. The outer facade at Cos is equally exotic.

The tour itself is exactly the same, and we even taste the same vintage. What is fascinating is that when I tasted the 2008 in 2015, it was one of my top Bordeaux wine experiences, as captured in my notes, as it was incredible. Two years later, however, the tasting is not nearly as impressive as I remember. In school, I remember learning about the behaviour of wine evolution, which is not actually a simple up-down curve as conventional wisdom might have you believe. There’s actually a ‘dead phase’ or a dip, where it does not taste as great as you might expect, but then the wine continues to improve with age, and reaches its full potential. It’s possible that the wine was past its prime, but it is far more likely that we are tasting the wine during this dip period, and the wine’s full potential is yet some 15 to 20 years away!

I don’t like the chart on the left because it implies that great wines aren’t very good when they are young, and that wines meant to be consumed immediately are comparatively better in their youth. Wines that are meant to age aren’t necessarily terrible tasting in their youth – in my experience they are typically still better tasting than something that has been made to drink right away. As long as we’re drawing nonscientific charts, here’s my version, showing the perceived ‘dip’ in quality as a natural part of wine aging in bottle, with # of years to give you an idea of how it generally works… the numbers are rough. The more the potential the wine has, the longer it takes to reach that full potential, and the longer each phase is: the first peak, the dip, and the climb to the second peak. Even 40 years is not close to the upper limit of a really great wine, but the evolution curve operates the same way, just longer.

The defence itself goes well, and in very short order, I am informed that I have earned my Master’s degree. The graduation ceremony and handing-out of diplomas will not take place until March 2018, around the time of this post, actually. Job done, it’s time to move on.

One of my favourite haunts in any given town is the local church, and many of the places I stopped had beautiful churches, cathedrals and basilicas. They have been given short shrift in these two blog posts, so I am posting the full photo album of my trip here. I say this because my next stop in Lourdes is not wine related at all. This is a sacred site for Catholics, because Mary appeared to a young girl named Bernadette in her grotto in 1858.

Driving through the Pyrenees to on the way to Lourdes. The Basilica is a massive construction, below you can see the small details on the door, and the humble grotto where pilgrims worship well into the night.

It is the cruelest of jokes that, upon taking my leave of Lourdes and driving to Burgundy, I come down with a cold. A nasty cold… not even one of those dainty ones with a few sniffles. We’re talking about a hacking cough, no energy, a fully stuffed up nose which hurts when I blow it… perfect for a visit to one of the world’s greatest wine regions! I’m often convinced that experiences like this are simply the universe’s way telling me to slow down and enjoy the moment. So instead of my flurry of visits, like in Bordeaux, I focus on only one or two visits, and then take my time checking out the scenery. Most of my takeaway from this leg of the trip is visual anyways, so I’ll leave you a few .

The Hospices of Beaune with a light dusting of snow. Above right, you can see the different parcels on the slopes above Volnay. Bottom left: low lying fog over the vines in Romanée-Conti. Finally, the barrel cellar at Domaine Tawse, sister winery to Tawse in Niagara.

An overarching theme of the trip seemed to be the elements in general, but specifically fog, which follows me from Alsace, right up to my final days in Lyon. So it’s no surprise that I’m feeling a little foggy on my return home. It’s partly due to the jetlag and my Burgundian cold (50% fancier than the common cold), but also the thought that I will not be returning to France any time soon, as it is now time to focus on making some moves in the Canadian wine industry. And I will leave you there until my next post, where I will write about the aforementioned moves.

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