As we prepare to bid farewell to the Loire, we will turn from the idyllic country villages towards the major commercial centre of Bordeaux. We leave a piece of our hearts behind, I feel that everyone who travels to this part of the world falls in love with these tiny villages, small stone homes packed between tiny but immaculate streets, beautiful gardens tucked behind discrete gates and stone walls, boutique shopfronts sometimes sporting unlikely combinations, like this one (photo below) that doubles as a wine merchant and a bicycle hire.
The counterpoint to these quaint towns are the enormous and palatial chateaux. We conclude our visit to the Loire with a visit to Chambord, the most famous of the bunch, essentially a summer hunting lodge built by King Francis I in the 1500s. That he only visited it a handful of times, and for only 3 days at a time speaks of the immense wealth and extravagance of the royalty and elite. The Chateau is of course a combination of stunning beauty and ingenious design, with the famous double-helix staircase rumoured to be designed by Leonardo Davinci.
With a speedy 4 hour drive on the Autoroute, we zoom through the countryside of gently rolling hillsides, with fields of wheat, wild flowers, woods and grassy plains. Notably absent are the herds of cows and sheep that adorn the NZ highways.
And then we arrive in the heart of Bordeaux. Immediately one realises the pace of the city is different, an efficient tramway system alleviating a portion of the terrible traffic in a city clearly not built for cars. Bordeaux is growing fast, and spreading outwards as it does. The city boasts the second highest number of historic buildings in France (behind Paris) and the sense of history and commercial success is impressive.
We quickly make our way to the countryside to visit Chateau Crabitey and Chateau Trebiac in the Graves region. This is a wine 'appellation' to the south of the Bordeaux city, and we are greeted by Arnaud de Butler the proprietor of the estate. His family has owned the property for a relatively short time by French standards, having been a orphanage run by nuns for some 150 years beforehand. Arnaud completed a thorough renovation of the vineyards and recently built a brand new winery. He proudly treats us to a tasting of several vintages of his wines, including the bold 2015 vintage just bottled, and a velvety 2001 vintage over lunch as a dramatic counterpoint.
The vines are a very advanced state of growth compared to the Loire, the heat has brought on a swift maturity. It is hot this year, and getting hotter. 30 degrees today with a scorching 37 degrees forecast for Monday and the vineyard at Trebiac is already 2 weeks ahead of schedule. Not all of Bordeaux has enjoyed the season so far, and I will explain why in the next blog. This is some of the best soils in Graves, note the stony soils that go some 35 meters deep and the healthy looking berries tucked behind the protective canopy of summer growth.
Next we travel to Margaux, with a different tale to tell of the vintage so far.