Bad-Assed Cows and Hairy Grapes
We started the day on a high note: Château La Mission Haut-Brion. It's located next to sister property, Château Haut-Brion, which was the only wine outside of Médoc to be classified as a First Growth of Bordeaux. Château Haut-Brion has been closed two years for renovations. Château La Mission Haut-Brion sparkles now after renovations of its own. The vat room has been modernized and turned into a 'wine cathedral' dedicated to the Peres Lazaristes, who operated the domaine through the 17th and 18th centuries. The Lazaristes were a group of missionaries founded by Saint-Vincent de Paul who had great knowledge and love of wine. They raised the quality and awareness of the estate's wine. Marchal Richelieu is quoted as saying "If God forbade drinking, why would he make such good wine?" The revolution came and the Lazaristes were out.
In 1821 the Chiapellas, a ship owning family from New Orleans, took over from the wine-making priests and developed markets for the wine throughout the Americas. In 1983, C Douglas Dillon, whose father had purchased Château Haut-Brion in 1935, acquired Château La Mission Haut-Brion and the family runs it still. The gardens and buildings, some of which date to the 16th and 17th centuries, are lovely. If you're in the area, do try to visit. The wine tasting was great too. Barbara, our guide, poured the 2007 vintage of both La Mission and Château Haut-Brion.
Although we've been haunted by forecasts featuring lots of rain, the weather has been beautiful. Today we had temperatures in the 70s, mostly sunny with some clouds, and a breeze-a perfect day for picnicking along the Garonne River at Barsac Harbor. We stocked up for our feast on the way, including rose, red and white wines. Even Bruno, our seasoned picnic guide, was impressed.
The afternoon still shone bright as we wandered through the fields and vineyards of the Sauterne region of the Graves district. Bruno gave us a tutorial on the growing and harvesting methods of the region. Some of us were distracted by the Bazas cows and walked over to check them out. They are placid, curious animals and surely don't deserve the name we gave them-bad-ass cows. Those cows reside in a very special place - home to the French sweet wine Sauternes. Sauternes is usually made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that are infected with the Botrytis cinerea or noble rot. Harvesting these grapes is very labor intensive as the pickers meticulously select only the infected, raisin-like grapes, not the entire bunch. Picker will pass through the vines from five to eleven times to get each grape at its peak.We hiked through the vineyards to the Château Raymond-Lafon where owner Jean-Pierre Meslier described his production, gave us a tour of his gardens and pond, home to black swans and two peacocks, and provided a tasting of his 2005 Sauternes. Jean-Pierre's family chateau sits across the street from the famous Sauternes producer, Château d'Yquem and shares the same terrior and climate but, as Jean-Pierre said, at a fraction of the price. Regardless of the cost, the wine was superb. Jean-Pierre's father, Pierre, was the manager of Yquem for almost 30 years. Sauternes pairs well with savory foods including Chinese and Indian dishes and Roquefort cheese, and light meats such as chicken - but the ultimate taste combination is with foie gras.
For dinner, we took Bruno's suggestion and tried Belle Epoque, at 2 Allées Orléans, a lovely bistro on the river. Appetizers included foie gras, langoustines, and duck carpaccio, and main courses were chateaubriand, rack of lamb, veal, and fish. We paired these dishes with a Chateaux Ferrande, Graves 2008 and the white was a bottle of Clos des Orfeuilles. Bordeaux was hopping as we strolled back to the apartment.