Today was one of the most important 2012
Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise Events.
If all goes as planned it will be a true life experience for any wine
It was a beautiful cool and sunny
day. The 2012 Bordeaux grape harvest had
literally just begun. For this day I
invited the Seabourn Pride’s Sommelier, Executive Chef and Hotel Manager to come along as
a “thank you” for all they do for me (Goldring Travel).
With the ship having a big load-in only Juan, the sommelier, could come
for the entire day, but Nick, the hotel manager and Chef Kurt planned to hire a car
to meet us at my grand finale for the day:
A tour and wine tasting at Chateau Margaux.
Rumors on the Seabourn Pride was that tours
to Chateau Margaux had been cancelled, but alas I knew they were not the same
tours but rather literally nothing more than a brief glimpse at the Chateau,
but with the tractors pulling container after container of grapes from the
fields those tour buses would be too much of an inconvenience at such an
important time. We, however, were not
getting a glimpse, but a very private experience. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
Our day started with a beautiful drive
through the Bordeaux countryside passing many beautiful chateaus with the grape
pickers already in the fields.
arrived at Chateau Lynch-Bages for a very interesting tour of both the
present and past wine making facilities as well as a Food & Wine Pairing
Course. We were met by a most charming, friendly and animated hostess and guide. She had a great way of making this rather rarified vineyard and the Bordeaux wine-making process very accessible.
The harvest of their small white wine
grapes had been completed, but many of the red wine grapes were still on the
vine…waiting for just another day or two; unlike the vineyards adjoining this
bastion of fine wines. (Some of the
newer red wine grape vines had been harvested and were in the process of being
transformed into wine, but in Bordeaux the vines must be at least three years
old to be included in the best wines.)
we entered the facility we saw on the right some vats that just had circulated some of the young wine-in-the-making in what is a very simple process: Open the bottom of the large stainless steel
vats and let the liquid pour into large plastic tubs with a large hose attached
to a pump sucking the liquid up and pouring back into the top of the vat. (Aeration is very important and there is
nothing like frothing liquid mixing with air to do that!)
After a brief look at the rest of the modern
facilities and computer controls (for some aspects of the wine making process;
especially temperature control), which was fascinating, there was a surprised as
we moved into the first year aging cellar.
A man with a backpack was coming out where our private tour was going
in. I was thinking, “Who is this guy let
loose in this place?” but quickly came to find that he was the owner…just doing
As we traveled through the facility we
found ourselves in a room filled with old wooden vats that it no longer
Up the stairs was a virtual museum
of the old methods of making wine. Our
guide gave us a fascinating and enlightening history lesson from how grapes
were crushed (yes, by women’s feet) to how the stems and piths were pressed, to
the vats were filled…using essentially a railroad-style turntable with huge
tubs. She did, however, pause to explain
the annually changing art collection and how it is “paired” with the wines of
the vineyard…though the labels of Chateau Lynch-Bages never changes.
Our tour passed by the “normal” tourist
tasting room to the Cerle Lynch-Bages building in the charming courtyard that
is part of the Village of Bages for our private, and very interesting and fun, Food
& Wine Paring Course. We entered our
modern classroom, set up with desks with four glasses for each “student”
appropriately sitting on white paper with a small notebook. Our “teacher” was our guide, so we knew it
would be both approachable and fun.
After we were all seated and quiet
(sound familiar?) she poured us for wines:
a Sauvignon Blanc, a white Chatenauf du Pape, a Merlot and a Chateau
Lynch-Bages Bordeaux. With this came a
very small plate consisting if a mere taste of a hard cheese, cured ham, dill
pickle and bread. It was very
interesting not only discussing pairing, but why the pairings work or don’t
work. (If you are intrigued, you just might want to take one of the Goldring
Travel Food & Wine Cruises!)
After our taste buds were alive (and
spoiled by the great wines) it was time for our lunch at Café Lavinal. I arranged a fixed menu and wine
pairing: Lightly-cooked foie gras, red
onion marmalade and balsamic reduction to start, Gilthead bream, wine reduction
and sweet spices, cauliflower risotto as our main and Platter of French Cheeses
to finish paired with Chateau Sainte Marie 2011 (Entre deux mers) as our white
wine and Les Palerins de Lafon Rochet 2006 (St Estephe) as our red. I was so pleased to see Juan, our Seabourn sommelier,
step in an discuss the pairings.
It was then a 45 minute ride to Chateau
Margaux, but we arrived a bit early as surprisingly there was no traffic during
the harvest period.
So as we waited for Emilie
Janot who we were so fortunate to elegantly guide us through this pinnacle of
wine-making, the Seabourn Pride’s Hotel Manager, Nick, arrived…without Chef
Kurt! The Chef, showing his leadership
and care for his staff, stayed behind to assist with a four hour delayed
shipment that was made incredibly difficult as the lowering tides of the
Girande River made use of the ship’s loading doors impossible, so all of the
trucks has to be unloaded by hand. I
felt so bad for Chef Kurt…who so deserved this experience.
As the harvest was underway we were
required to walk down that famous white stone path past the elegant chateau
while the family dog ran by and the family scurried inside for we obviously
interrupted their time on their veranda.
We then entered into 200 year old first year
aging cellar. It was filled with
hundreds of brand new French oak barrels waiting for use. Emilie explained that Chateau Margaux looks
at every possible aspect of the winemaking process to be sure the ultimate in
quality is achieved. Everything is considered.
For example, the cases used for the grape harvest allow for the depth of only
one bunch of hand-harvested grapes so the grapes are not damaged. Similarly, the wine aged after the first year
is all combined because those new oak barrels are actually made by six
different coopers and each burnishes the inside of their barrels slightly
differently, so the character of the new wine will vary slightly.
We walked to the left and a huge wooded
door was opened. No steel vats (though a
few do exist and are being experimented with at the chateau), but 20 and 60
year old wooden vats for the vinification process. Ironically, I see very modern overhead hoists
and stainless steel mini-vats with the newly crushed grapes being lifted into
these oak vats.
From there it was to the true aging
cellar. It was, honestly, a magical
experience that literally sent a chill up my spine. While the 2011 vintage was relatively small,
this cellar looks and smell like the ones wineries (dare I call them chateaus?)
seek to copy. Wow!
And then it was time: The Tasting.
We were brought to a room that had a huge fireplace and old, plush,
comfortable chairs with an aged round wooded table in the middle. Beautifully
simple and elegant wine glasses (absent any mention of Chateau Margaux) were
brought over and then Emilie went into another room and brought out two wines
for us to taste: 2008 Pavillion Rouge and 2008 Chateau Margaux.
Tasting these wines in such a
setting…with the grape harvest literally being processed just outside the
window was incredible.
What a day! But, alas, it was time to
return to the Seabourn Pride for our departure.
As I boarded her, Chef Kurt came up to me and explained what happened
and his disappointment. But, amazingly,
he was exhausted, smiling and at peace…because he did what was right for his
staff, the Seabourn Pride and its guests.
He had to rush off, however, because it was almost time for dinner
service! It was yet another life
experience that fulfilled my day.
How do I top this day for the 2013
Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise?
I am not sure I can top it from a wine aspect, but I can and will most
certainly make it another extraordinary experience.