Every trip seems to have a “hump day,” that has too much crammed into it but just has to be done in order to get to all the things you want to see. This was that day.
We began with a visit to Uni Medoc about twenty minutes from our hotel in Begadan. Uni Medoc is a huge cooperative that makes wine on a mass scale. This is the opposite end of the spectrum from Thomas, Pierre-Emmanuel, Chateau Bourseau and Patrick. Here they make millions of bottles of wine every year. It is here also, that several years ago we found Le Grand Art and Clement St Jean Reserve. Next year we will introduce you to another wine from this Co-op that is also fantastic. So while I love the winemakers from small, boutique, garage wines, the wines at Uni Medoc also fit into what I’m looking for because they are great wines that are not available in the US.
Over the last couple of years I have gotten to know Marie-Dominique – the export manager – and Laurent – the wine maker at Uni Medoc – and I like them both very much. They agreed to give us a tour of their operation and we got to see how a big production is able to make quality wines by focusing on the individual farmers who grow the grapes and proudly put their names on the labels. Their barrel room is massive as each wine of the Co-op is stored separately and shown the care and concern it deserves. We saw the production line as they filled bottles and corked them and it was an amazing tour. We ended with a tasting of several vintages of Grand Art and Clement St Jean and it was a pleasure to taste what a great winemaker can do with the grapes from different growers.
Marie-Dominique and Laurent agreed to join us for lunch and it was another beautiful afternoon sitting under an arbor of trees enjoying a long lunch with these two pro’s from the industry and four of their wines. The wines changed as they opened up and were absolutely delightful with lunch. We have put several in the blind tasting and we’ll see how they do, but I am thrilled with the quality of wines they are producing and delighted to work with these great people.
We said our good-byes and took off for two more wine stops. First to Chateau Haut Barrel – a wine that we picked last year at Vinexpo – to meet another winemaker whom I had not met before. We stopped by and had a great tasting and chat with the young vigneron who is still working with his father as one generation passes the wisdom of age to another. They have great terroir and are doing some super work. We took two of his wines for the blind tasting and I think he is a winemaker I will want to return to in the future. He made a great wine in the difficult 2012 vintage and I bet he makes a stunning wine in the really great vintages. We’ll find out when we taste his 2015 next year.
Our work wasn’t over for the day. One more stop, at Cave St Brice to pick up a bottle of Grand St Brice and a bottle of Chateau La Collonne for our blind tasting. St Brice was my first “puppy love” in Bordeaux. I discovered it in 1999 and the 1996 vintage is still one of my favorite wines of all time. It is the wine that inspired the wine club and I always make my way to this tiny co-op to taste and buy some wine. It is always, shall we say an interesting experience. The woman who sits behind the counter pours the tastings and sells the wine would probably make a great postal employee; in Russia! Nonetheless, I love the wine and while it is the only place I have to pay for the wine, I do it every year because I love the wine. On this particular day we tasted the St Brice and the La Callonne, but the St Brice was so oxidized I couldn’t get a sense of how good or bad it was. I had been open for three days! I didn’t bother mentioning it to her, I just smiled, paid my money, got my bottle and left. We would taste it again at the blind tasting. All in a days work.
I was spent. It was only Wednesday and I was crashing. A couple of people in our group wanted to see the Ocean so I gave them the van and I went to my room and tried to take a nap but was awakened by client calls and didn’t get much rest. I knew what was coming for the evening and I wanted to be fresh for it, so even a little bit of shut eye was good.
Around 8:00 we walked about one hundred yards down the narrow lane next to the hotel passing small homes and vineyards for as far as the eye can see, to Chateau Le Reysse. I had originally stayed at Hotel Roland de By last year for a couple of nights because I wanted a peaceful place in the middle of nowhere to do some writing, and it seemed to fit the bill. On the first night I took a walk and as I was passing a house along the way I heard my name. It was a very strange feeling to hear my name in the middle of nowhere in France and I was a little startled. I turned and saw my friend Stefan, the owner of Chateau Le Reysse calling me. I had no idea when I booked Hotel Roland de By that it was this close to Chateau Le Reysse but now I was thrilled it was. He invited me to join him for wine and cheese and he opened some great wine as we talked until very late in the evening. He invited me to come again the next night for dinner with his family and I immediately agreed. I had a wonderful time with them that night and I really enjoyed getting to know his family. He also makes a great wine!
I was hoping our group would be able to have a similar experience so I had arranged for us to have dinner with Stefan and Hilde, sitting on their patio in the middle of the vineyard relaxing over dinner and wine. Stefan is German, and he moved his family to Bordeaux after he was able to cash out of a big job in Brussels. It hasn’t been easy – although he would never complain – but he has worked extremely hard and is making some killer wines. He graciously welcomed our group and gave us the tour of the place showing off some of the new technology that he is very proud of. After the tour we were joined by his wife Hilde as she prepared a huge spread of meats, cheeses and bread for us to go along with some of Stefan’s wines and everyone loved them. After a while he went to his cellar and pulled out a bottle of 1990 Ducru-Beaucaillou and a bottle of 1990 Razan Segla. I was blown away. I mean these are amazing wines in a fantastic vintage and he opened them for us! The wines were absolutely stunning and showed what great Bordeaux can become as it ages. I think Stefan is making the kind of wine that will someday be as good as these two mega hits were and it’s fun to be in on the front end with him. It was the kind of evening we wanted to last all night, but I knew how gracious Stefan and Hilde had been and I knew they had to get some sleep.
Stefan was in the middle of bottling his 2014 vintage and would begin very early the next day. We left around 11:00, said our “thank you’s” and walked back to the hotel. Once there we sat under the trees, opened the Cognac and reflected on the incredible day we just had. I thought about the amazing relationships I have here in France and the wonderful people I have gotten to know over the years. I am thrilled to share these relationships with our group and even more gratified that they enjoy these wonderful people as much as I do.
The best news is that I now have some awesome Left Bank wines for our blind tasting: Haut Barrial, Le Branne, Le Grand Art, Clement St Jean Reserve, St Brice, La Callonne, and Le Reysse – all wonderful wines that could all be in the club.
Tomorrow was going to be another long day.