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.

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