Châteauneuf-du-Pape and environs

Enjoy these photos from a recent visit to the south of France: the southern Rhône, Avignon and some of the gorgeous hill towns of Provence.


The Papal Palace in Avignon


View from Les Baux-de-Provence




The Vineyards and Scenery as seen from the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape




The eponymous Châteauneuf… du-Pape.


Châteuneuf-du-Pape vineyards, with the characteristic river stones, known as “galets”.



The Ancient Theater of Orange, still used for shows today.



An Urban Approach to Terroir


Château Haut-Brion, unique amongst the Bordeaux giants categorized as Premier Grand Cru Classé for its proximity to the city, has built its centuries old tradition around its urbanity.  Located smack in the middle of the commune of Talence, effectively a suburb of Bordeaux, the vineyards of Château Haut-Brion (and its second label Château le Mission Haut-Brion) cover around 50 hectares of land.


As a consequence of its urban location, the possibilities for expansion are extremely limited, even nonexistent.  Historically, they managed to expand the vineyard through the acquisition of a neighboring estate.  They demolished the chateau, but given that the foundation had existed for centuries, the soil underneath was not desirable for planting a vineyard.  Instead, they dug up the foundation as well as a neighboring section of road (under which, apparently, the soil had been significantly less impacted), and they exchanged the soil from the two.  This type of modification must certainly have impacted the pedology of the site, as the replacement of a mansion’s foundation would alter the soil profile to a considerable depth.  Haut-Brion is, however, very conscious of their terroir, having carried out extensive pedological studies to classify the different soils present on the property.  Their goals in doing so, however, we much more in line with what is a stereotypically “new world” vision of terroir than that of many French vignerons who adopt a more “traditional” description.  Haut-Brion used the results of these studies to help decide which varietals, clones, and rootstocks to plant where, and they work each year to harvest accordingly, in ‘lots’ more or less homogenous in terms of soil type, varietal, rootstock, and vine age.  But the viticulturalist’s goal here is not to harvest lots with diffferent “goûts de terroir” {taste of place”}, which he asserts does not exist. Rather, he suggests, the terroir participates (in concert with the other elements such as the varietal and rootstock) to determine only the maturity of the grapes, and it is the differing degrees of maturity at harvest that ultimately distinguish the wines.  He maintains that at Haut-Brion they are unable to differentiate amongst their various terroirs if all of the grapes are harvested at the same level of maturity, and thus it is on the mastery of ripening that they focus their energy.


Such an approach, cut-and-dried, “scientific” in nature, seems to reflect their urban identity.  But perhaps also a commitment to consistency in their wines, so highly valued in a product in this pricerange.  The vignerons who subscribe to the concept of “goût de terroir” are those who value a bit of surprise and mystery in their wines, something that is seen as risky rather than virtuous in a luxury wine.  But then again, there are always exceptions to such generalizations..


Tiempo libre

Here’s a quick peek at some of the things I’ve been up to lately while not at the winery…


(descubando – okay this was at the winery, but not something I do regularly)

(llama on the beach – Pichilemu, Chile)

(Fresh fish for about US$4 per kilo, sold directly from the boat that was towed ashore by a pair of tractors)


(Punta de lobos, Pichilemu)



(football match – equipo O’Higgins de Rancagua)

Christchurch: A Reminder of Nature’s Power

In September 2010 and February 2011, earthquakes devastated the Christchurch area.  Much of the city center was destroyed by damage from the shaking itself, and some of the suburbs were impacted most heavily by what is known as soil liquefaction.  Aftershocks continue to be felt, and the city is only just beginning to reopen, let alone recover.  Still, there is much evidence of solidarity and a commitment to move forward throughout the city.

The heart of the city center is inaccessible, blocked off by chain link fences.  Here you can see the recently deconsecrated Christchurch Cathedral, slated for partial demolition after irreparable damage from the February quake.

Repairs underway at the Christchurch Arts Centre are expected to take years to complete.

Many of the city’s streets remain blocked off, detours and alternative bus routes remain in use.

A festive piece in the “Road Cone Art Exhibition” at the Botanical Gardens, a series of road cone themed works in honor of the 60,000 road cones set up on Christchurch streets today.

More damage in the city center.

Hearts on display at the Canterbury Museum as part of the Hearts for Christchurch project initiated by Napier’s Evie Harris to show support and solidarity for those affected by the quake.  The more than 4,000 hearts on display come from all over the world.

Photos of what has become known as “Container City.”  A few stores in one of the city’s main shopping districts have recently reopened inside temporary “buildings” made from shipping containers.  The area is now bustling with residents eager to return to life as usual, but sits just on the edge of the still-closed city center, in acknowledgment of the reality that still faces the recovering city.

A damaged house on the cliffs of Sumner, one of the beach suburbs of Christchurch.

Just across the road from the photo above.  It is incredibly humbling to be reminded of the strength of nature, especially when also surrounded by its beauty.

Jet Lag 101

After a 28 hour flight and 12 hour time change with a stop in Dubai (where I saw a $12,500 bottle of 1947 Petrus in one of their incredibly abundant Duty Free shops), I have arrived in New Zealand!  I stayed in Auckland for a couple of days which allowed me to have my first taste of Kiwi wine at Stonyridge Vineyard on stunning Waiheke Island, just a short ferry ride away.


(View from ferry to Waiheke Island)

(Wine tasting at the gorgeous Stonyridge Vineyard)