Oh, Bordeaux! (Day 2)

Harvesters in the Medoc

Harvesters in the Medoc

We just got back from another great visit to the North Fork of Long Island’s wine country, and I have some great experiences to talk about. We had to cut the trip a day short due to a little hurricane named Sandy that just rolled through with a vengeance, but I think Saturday was a fantastic day all around, and I am happy to have gotten home easily and safely and well stocked on great wine for the storm. I will recap next week, but first I wanted to talk about the rest of my Bordeaux trip.
We woke up the next morning (god I love French continental breakfasts) and got right on the bus. On the way to our tour of St. Emilion, we made a small detour and drove past the one and only Petrus and Cheval Blanc where harvesters were busy out in the vines.

St. Emilion

St. Emilion

Our wonderful trip organizer didn’t miss a single detail. Oh what I saw. We then made our way to the small ‘train’ car that would guide us through the beautiful medieval town of St. Emilion. A recording played over the intercom walking us through the history of the town and its wine. But really the scenery was what this was all about. Stunning, and I mean stunning views of rolling hills, castles, cathedrals and cellars were around every postcard-like turn. The limestone cellars pretty much ran the full perimeter of the town underground many wineries and vineyards and the cathedral in the center of town has an even older one from the early middle ages below it, carved out of the limestone to around 90 ft deep. We took a walk through the village afterwards to pick up this and that and get more photos. Then it was on to the left bank and the Medoc.
Our drive took us over the much larger Gironde and past downtown Bordeaux, actually the 5th largest city and financial center of France, and the airport. We then made our way up into the Medoc, passing countless large Châteaux in Margaux, St. Julien, and then Pauillac. You could clearly see the gravel in the vineyard beds and these were much larger in size, upwards of 60 hectares each.  Harvesters were out in numbers here too.

Château Pichon-Longueville

Château Pichon-Longueville

We arrived at our destination, Chateau Pichon-Longueville, formerly “Baron” before it was acquired by its current owner AXA insurance, who also restored it shortly thereafter. It was built in 1851 in a style that was a tribute to the famous Loire Chateau Azay-le-Rideau. It was a small castle right out of a fairy tale with a shallow square lake in front.  The original owner (Pierre de Rauzan) also owned the land and vineyards across the road and split the two between his sons and daughters, this being the Château the sons were in charge of until selling to AXA.  The daughters’ Château, Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is also fully operational still.

Our visit started with meeting the head winemaker, property manager, an AXA representitive and their negociant, or the person who arranges the sales of their wines to buyers and vice versa. They gave us a brief overview and then we sat down to a gourment harvest lunch with them and their staff, which included several of their top vintage reds and some whites they make under the label Château Suduiraut. There was a typical (but of high quality) white Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon and Semillon, and then an outstanding Sauternes made of the same varietals, that just blew me away. I couldn’t get enough.  These bottles are all upwards of 100 euros a piece, and were flowing freely about the table.  We then went on a short vineyard tour where we were told of the history of both Châteaux and their purchase and upgrades by AXA. Incidently there are a few other Châteaux in the region owned by large companies, another being Chanel.

Barrel Cellar, Pichon-Longueville

Barrel Cellar, Pichon-Longueville

We then started our tour and tasting. As we reached the vineyards they told us about how they harvest each year. This vineyard alone is 73 hectares and most of the vines are 30 year-old Cabernet and Merlot, with some Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. We then went to the large barrel room underneath the square lake, full of room after room of hundreds of barrels of this and last years vintages. These were all bought en-primeur already, hundreds of millions of euros worth! This is definitely a larger operation than its right bank competitors. We made our way next into the vinification rooms, with 40 large steel tanks fermenting and pumping over large batches of wine, and even got to walk along the upper metal walkway to view the wine pumping over the caps in the tops of the tanks.

Pichon tasting

Pichon tasting

We completed the tour by going to the tasting room and trying about 6 different vintages of their incredible red wines. While I didn’t bring any home, I know where I can order some and will be picking up a few for special occasions.

On the way out we took a quick detour through St. Estephe and by Lafite, which was a nice final treat. Then it was back to the airport for our return to the UK and then home. What an amazing experience. More than a few times some of us wanted to offer to stay and help harvest, being paid in wine and food just like their workers! Maybe one day…

Should you want to visit yourself…

www.pichonlongueville.com

D2  33250 Pauillac, France

05 56 73 17 17

Oh, Bordeaux! (Day 1)

Merlot in Castillon

Merlot in Castillon

Where to begin on this one? How about a little background on how I got here, writing a wine blog. My company started and is headquartered in the U.K, as the founder is British and spent his university summers helping tend to vineyards and washing bottles in Castillon. These vineyards were later to be entrusted to him to carry on their legacy and begin making his own wine. Soon after, his first business importing fine French wines back to Britain was born. They now have another Châteaux and a winery in Côtes de Castillon, with yet another newly acquired. After many years of success, they  were able to start operations in the USA, and about 2 years ago I luckily applied for a job in this company, knowing little about wine other than what I would now call very poor stuff. Sorry, mom. Since then I’ve had the privilege of learning massive amounts of wine knowledge not only from marketing it and being surrounded by wine culture and writers 45 hours a week, but from the WSET classes they provide all employees for free. My eyes have been opened to the world of fine wine and a lot of tastings and two courses later, I am fully addicted to the history, making of, and enjoyment of wine. Writing about it helps me learn more, retain what I’ve learned, and hopefully make some new friends along the way. And here we are.

Tasting from the barrel

Tasting from the barrel

Another perk of the company is that every year they send employees from the USA and the U.K. offices to their Châteaux in Bordeaux to meet the winemakers, and see where all of our own wines are grown and made, as well as touring other fine Châteaux we have relationships with. Our trip from the USA started with a trip to the U.K. for a visit to our headquarters and some of our shops in the greater London area. I thought I might mention, they have over 700 vines of Chardonnay in a vineyard just outside this U.K. office, and they seem to be doing quite well. If they had any outside my office, I’m afraid I’d be way too distracted, so probably better that they don’t. We then made our way to Bordeaux.

The first morning we made a visit to our first Châteaux. What seemed like an unassuming cow barn, opened to reveal several steel tanks, and a winding limestone staircase down to a large cellar, holding about 200 barrels of 2010 and 2011 Merlot and Cab. We got to use the extractors to remove the wines from the barrel and taste them directly from the source. Amazing experience #1 – check. Under these vineyards and wineries all over Bordeaux are cellars carved out of the abundant limestone. Next we went to the founder’s son’s winery, where they were already harvesting. I got to get up on an overturned bin and shovel grapes from the bin on the forklift directly into the de-stemmer, and then help at the sorting tables to remove remaining pips or bad fruit. Amazing experience #2 – check. Afterwards we briefly visited a winery that they had just bought and were going to begin upgrading, and went for a great lunch at a nearby restaurant. They served many of the wines in our range while we all made friends of each other and spoke of our various functions in the business, from store owner to website designer to winemaker.

Shoveling grapes into the de-stemmer

Shoveling grapes into the de-stemmer

Next, we headed to our winery that sits alongside the Dordogne river, and listened to our head winemakers while they educated us on their craft, let us try wines in various states of completion, and then had us break off into teams for the blending experiment. Each group made their own blend from three of our wines and then had to name it, create a label, and a pitch. Each group presented their finished product to the other groups and the winemakers and these were to be judged here at dinner.  After a brief rest at the hotel we returned to the winery for a barbecue dinner, our tables surrounded by barrels and candlelight. While my team did NOT win, the experience was invaluable. Amazing experience #3 – check. I have just made my first wine – well, sort of. It was then back to the hotel and to bed to prepare for another long, wonderful day of drinking incredible wines.

Brooklyn Oenology 2011 Cabernet Franc Rosé

Brooklyn Oenology Winery and tasting room

Brooklyn Oenology Winery and tasting room

Over the weekend I was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for another event when I walked right past the Brooklyn Oenology Winery and School. Nothing like having an unexpected tasting on your way to do something else! My friend patiently waited while I did a flight. There were two flights that they offered, and one of them had a Paumanok and a Sparkling Pointe, much to my delight. But I am going back to the North Fork this weekend for a special occasion, and rumor has it they may even still be harvesting! So I will have lots more to say next week.

The flight I did had several nice wines made from grapes from either the North Fork of Long Island or the Finger Lakes up north. While they don’t have their own vineyards, everything is fermented and vinted in Brooklyn. The wines in the flight included a steel-fermented Chardonnay, an orange Pinot Gris, a Merlot, a “Motley Cru” (Rhône style red) and this wonderful dry Provence-style 2011 Rosé, made from Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc. This is the wine I bought and am enjoying right now. This is my favorite type of rosé and the first one I’ve had from a local winery this season. Its color is a pale orange, and on the nose were crisp citrus, watermelon, strawberry and floral notes. The palate was full of dried berries and blood orange, with medium acidity and body and refreshing minerality that made it very well-balanced and satisfying. The label features the painting ‘The Secret Life of the Forest (In The Moist Wood)’, by artist Rene Lynch. All of their labels feature the work of local artists, a trend in winemaking I love, as a former art major! I have had one other very nice Provence-style dry rosé from Brooklyn, from Red Hook Winery.

BOE 2011 Cabernet Franc Rosé

BOE 2011 Cabernet Franc Rosé

I paired it with a fresh quiche and salad from a farmer’s market in another part of Brooklyn I visited the next day. I also visited a local New York (Hudson Valley) winery who was operating a stand at the market and bought two wines and a half gallon of pure juice from their grapes. I will be taking that juice and making it into my first homemade wine, and I can’t wait to share that learning experience with you. I have to order some supplies so that will be an upcoming story, if not several.

I am looking forward to digging into more of what this place has to offer, from classes to a tasting event, and trying more of their wines. You can buy their wines online, in their store, or in over 150 stores all over NYC.  They also sell local craft brews and ciders, and have their own wine club. What a lucky find!

Brooklyn Oenology
209 Wythe Avenue  Brooklyn, NY 11211
http://www.brooklynoenology.com

Land of Nod Winery, East Canaan, CT

Land of Nod Winery

Land of Nod Farm and Winery

While I sort through and reflect on my amazing trip to Bordeaux last week, I wanted to tell you about a nice winery I visited just a few days before I left for Europe. I have passed the sign to this winery countless times in my life, usually on the way up north to ski the Berkshires or Green Mountains, and this is right off the path on Route 7 in northwestern Connecticut. My wife and I were on a quick overnight getaway to the Historic Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Berkshires are especially beautiful this time of year, and a favorite place to visit. This time was no exception — the leaves were in full transition, and the inn had all the history and charm I’ve expected all those times I drove by.

We decided on the way up that we would stop on the way back the next morning, having frequented enough wineries in the tri-state area to know that most are open for tastings in the late morning.

Land of Nod vineyard

Land of Nod vineyard in the distance

We passed a quarry that was truly massive in scale just down the road from the winery. Turns out, it was a limestone quarry, natch.  Well, the owner of the vineyard later informed us this quarry has been around for about 250 years and also the source of stone for the famous landmark on the wineglasses and their logo, the Beckley Furnace. This is a 40 foot high limestone blast furnace that made ‘pig iron’ from 1832-1923. It has been preserved and remains at the site as a local tourist attraction thanks to local supporters raising funds to maintain it.

Land of Nod is a farm winery, and the tasting room is situated in an old red barn, surrounded by tractors and typical farm machinery. The fruit for their non-grape based wines is also grown on site. This farm and outlying homes have been in the Adam family for as long as the furnace, and their relatives are among the original owners. There is true history here. The winery itself opened in 1998, having planted vines for the first time 4 years earlier. They take their name from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is the northernmost winery in the state (as our host jokingly said, the ‘top’ winery) and on the Connecticut wine trail.

We tasted 7 wines that morning for a mere $4. We of course walked out with no less than three bottles, one of each of our favorites.

The first on the tasting sheet was a Bianca dry white. It is made from Malvasia Bianca grapes grown elsewhere, but vinted and bottled here. You know how I feel about that – I think a winemaker can add plenty of their own style without having grown their own grapes. It was very pleasant with light acidity and pear notes, and I could enjoy this with a light chicken dish or a salad.

Land of Nod 2010 Rosê

Land of Nod 2010 Rosê

Next up was the 2010 Rosé. It too was vinted and bottled, but not grown here. It was dark-berry colored, with more berry on the nose and Reminded me of one of the high quality North Fork Rosés I had in March. It had some slight floral notes to it and overall it was a great wine. We bought one of these.

Their 2010 Ironmaster Reserve, the name inspired by the furnace and local history, was actually aged in local Connecticut oak. I don’t believe anyone else in the state is doing this. From what I’ve been able to find online, the blend is St. Croix, Marquette and Corot Noir. It had the complexity, currant, cherry and pepper of a fine European wine, and I brought one of these home too. I may add to these notes when I open my own full bottle, and have fully experienced it, perhaps with food. The tannins were soft and it was a very smooth red.

The first of the all-fruit wines we tasted, the Raspberry Wine was obviously loaded with concentrated raspberry fruit, and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, you’re in luck. I don’t drink too much sweeter wine (although I had a 2005 Sauternes this past week in Bordeaux that knocked me out!) as the sugar eventually gets to me, and I also don’t have much of a sweet tooth. But I could easily enjoy a glass with an apple or mixed berry tart and be content. Note it was not overly sweet. They also made a Blueberry-raspberry medley along the same lines with of course, some blueberry. It too was semi-sweet.

Land of Nod Chocolate Raspberry Wine and Ironmaster Reserve

Land of Nod Chocolate Raspberry Wine and Ironmaster Reserve

Their locally-famous Chocolate Raspberry dessert wine was next. We tried this with chocolate-covered coffee beans, and it was beyond delicious. High acidity, and full-bodied, and almost like a port — a definite winner. There was no question about buying this one, and I did.

Last but not least, the Peach Wine was 100% peach like its blueberry and raspberry counterparts but as peachy as you can imagine, even the fuzz.

Visit them here
Land of Nod Winery

99 Lower East Canaan Rd. Canaan, CT. 06024

http://www.landofnodwinery.com