(Obligatory Eiffel Tour photo)

(Bookshopping in le Quartier Latin led me to find this perfectly appropriate title, which will hopefully also help me to continue working on my French)



(The rotating exhibit is currently one of contemporary furniture placed alongside furniture from Versailles in its heyday, and I had to include this tapestry that depicts cloning because, though unrelated to wine, it is certainly an interesting marriage of art and science – also along these lines, I learned that the theme of both the King and Queen’s antechambers was chosen to be a depiction of the god Mercury, protector of the sciences, spreading his influence over the arts – perhaps the Romans were on to something there… Something I plan to explore more!)

(the perfect sign that it is time for me to move on to my next destination!)



Reims Cathedral

Reims is home to a spectacular cathedral, that was historically the site of the coronation of the French monarch.

Dijon – home of mustard, pinot noir, and a very famous owl

As part of my whirlwind tour of France before I head to the home of the rugby world champions, I stayed for two nights in Dijon (my first couchsurfing experience – so far, I am a HUGE fan! Had a great time with my incredible host!).  Specialties of Dijon include Dijon mustard (of course), pain d’épices (gingerbread), boeuf bourgignon (made famous in the US by Julia Child –  and which I had the pleasure of eating on my first night in Dijon) and Crème de Cassis (liqueur made from blackcurrants and often mixed with white wine as an apertif).  I came, of course, because Dijon, along with Beaune, are the two cities that are part of the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region, famous for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.  As an Oregon native, Pinot is one of my very favorite varietals, and since it is arguably the most important red grape in New Zealand as well, it was imperative for me to visit its homeland in order to have a basis for comparison.  Well New Zealand, the bar has been set very high – I fell (even deeper) in love with Pinot after tasting just a few wines on the Route de Vin (also known as La Route Touristique des Grands Crus de Bourgogne).

(typical street in Dijon)

(one of the cathedrals in Dijon, this one with a toit bourguignon, the tile roof typical of this region)

(la chouette, or owl on the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Dijon – this owl is a good luck symbol that one is supposed to touch, hence the reason she no longer resembles an owl of any kind)

(gorgeous fall day in the vineyards of Bourgogne!)

Remontage, Foie Gras, and Stag-watching – Staples of the Season

Nearly six weeks after it began, harvest is nearly complete.  The last grapes are scheduled to be picked next Wednesday, though the weather keeps surprising us (with sun and warmth, happily!), so this projection remains subject to change.  In the winery, the end of harvest translates into “remontage, remontage, remontage.”  Red wine is made by loading the red grapes directly into a fermentation tank (without pressing), and inoculating the whole lot – skins and seeds included – with yeast.  As it ferments, the marc, or layer of grape skins, floats to the top of the tank.  Remontage, or pumping-over in English, entails pumping the juice from the bottom of the tank over the top of the marc in order to keep it moist and extract fragrant and colored compounds into the must (fermenting juice).  When done by hand, this is a very labor-intensive endeavor (I know because I did it the first day), as it requires perching atop the tank holding the hose in order to spray must in all directions atop the marc.  This is made significantly more challenging by the fact that carbon dioxide gas is being constantly emitted from the tank, in quantities sufficient to asphyxiate you (or at least cause you to pass out and fall off the tank – choose your poison), so you have to maneuver breathing fresh air while still throughouly spraying all over the inside of the tank.  Fortunately, we have special devices that can be attached to the hose inside the top of the tank that have a little spinning rudder that evenly sprays the top of the tank without requiring human intervention.  It is much more effective than remontage-by-hand, and frees up a lot of time to be spent giving TLC to the wine in other ways.  For instance, nutrients can be added to keep the yeast happy, or tannins (specifically, catechin) can be added in order to fix the color compounds in the wine.  Catechin reacts with anthocyanins (the red-colored molecules in grapes and red berries) to form a stable complex that can give the wine a more desirable, richer color.  The anthocyanins don’t need any help to become affixed to your hands though:

  Hand after one day of working with red wine.  Fortunately we are not finished with the white wines, as white wine helps to remove some of the staining, so my hands have not become exponentially blacker than this over time.

Despite there being plenty of work to keep us all busy in the winery, I have gotten away a bit as well.  Last week Sandrine, who works in the office, took me to her house for a night, where I became acquainted with her parents’ pigs,


And all of the products that they make from them, as well as from anything else that they can grow or find on their property.

She prepared a meal extremely traditional for this region (the Perigord), of foie gras with Montbazillac (a sweet white wine) to start, duck confit with cepes and potatoes and a St. Emillion, and Banyuls, a naturally sweet red wine (aged for many years – this one had been for 15 – in wooden casks outdoors where the wine is subject to oxidataion) from the south of France.  We finished the evening with the slightly less traditional activity of Wii Bowling…

I also visited the city of Bergerac, of key importance as I am in the middle of Bergerac wine country here.  When I saw this statue I finally realized why the name had sounded so familiar ever since I arrived…

Just as St. Emillion was riddled with wine shops, Bergerac is teeming with shops such as these:

While there I also tasted a wine with brettanomyces for the first time (smells and tastes like farm animals had a little party in your glass – I knew it was a smell I recognized but, thankfully, couldn’t place it, so politely described it as “interesting,” not knowing what it was until Marine told me later).

Monday evening I was invited to go (attempt to) see – and hear – stags calling for their mates.  We drove to a spot where they are known to show up, and waited for them to appear (with beers in hand, as I believe that in France it is considered sacrilege to sit and wait somewhere in the evening without an apertif).  It turned into quite the social occasion when about 15 others showed up (including someone that I work with), but the stags apparently did not feel obliged to attend the event, as none had appeared by the time night fell.  As someone said on the way home, “Well, at least we had a beer.”

La Vie en France, part 1

On Friday I arrived in Bordeaux after a 12 hour train journey (with 6 transfers—and everything was on time!  European trains are amazing!).  I spent one night there to get settled and explore the city a bit before heading out to Chateau Laurelie in the Bergerac AOC (AOC = appellation d’origine contrôlée – the French equivalent of DOQ).  I am staying in le pigeonier – the old pigeon house – that has been beautifully renovated.  Vignobles Dubard is a large family operation with many different components, so though I will be staying and working in the cellar here at Chateau Laurelie, I spent Saturday and today at Chateau Nardou helping cut grapes (Merlot and Malbec) for the Rosé Cremant de Bordeaux (incidentally the wine that I purchased from Michael at Fremont Wines when he told me about the Dubard family and suggested that I contact them!).  These grapes have to be cut by hand in order to meet the requirements for the Cremant classification, but much of the harvest is done here by machine (something that would be impossible in the Priorat!).  It is hard work but punctuated with incredible lunches that last for a couple of hours, allowing your back to recover enough to finish out the day.  Tomorrow will be my first real day of work in the cellar (as of now I’ve just been observing here and there), so I’m looking forward to that as well!

La Bisbal, Tarragona, i Festa Major

Friday:  Visit to La Bisbal (Rachel’s husband Gerard’s home village) to visit  Àvia (grandma) and Avi (grandpa), and have lunch with the Priest!  He was probably about 25 years old and I never would have known he was the Priest if I hadn’t been told (and he took us to the church to show us the stained glass windows that Rachel did for them).

Saturday:  Jo and I took a day trip to Tarragona – the small city with World Heritage status for its Roman ruins (which I failed to take any photos of… sorry – you can see some here.  We spent the morning wandering around, had a lovely lunch, and spent the afternoon at the beach.

Sunday/Monday:  Falset’s Festa Major begins! The social event of the year.  Kicked off with a major parade (complete with fire-bearing “devils” and dancing Giants), and then the next morning another parade featuring children sprinkling lavender on the streets (traditionally to as odor control after the previous day’s festivities).

Videos from the Festa:

Devils, Parade, etc. (sorry the cinematography is a little nauseating…hadn’t quite figured it out yet)

Giants dancing

Horse dance

Mas de Barcelona

Yesterday in Barcelona I gave up trying to fit in for a bit and donned my tourist garb (Keanes and my camera bag) to head up to Montjuïc – a huge park on a  hill overlooking Barcelona and its harbor.  It is also home to the stadium from the 1992 Olympics, the Palau Nacional, which now houses the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, and several other museums and gardens.

View of Barcelona from Montjuïc.

Port  from Montjuïc.

Palau Nacional

Man playing Spanish guitar on the steps of the Palau Nacional.

Olympic Stadium

Cacti in the Montjuïc gardens.

Street behind the Barcelona Cathedral.

Today I left Barcelona for the nearby wine region of Priorat.  Though Barcelona was great, I am happy to be out of the bustling city in exchange for the slower pace and muted sounds of the country.  But most importantly, I’m ready to dive into the wine culture! I’m staying with wine tour guide Rachel Ritchie and her family.  She knows everyone in the business around here and is going to be introducing me to a buch of people.  More on that to come!