Today was one of the most important 2012 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise Events. If all goes as planned it will be a true life experience for any wine enthusiast!
It was a beautiful cool and sunny day. The 2012 Bordeaux grape harvest had literally just begun. For this day I invited the Seabourn Pride’s Sommelier, Executive Chef and Hotel Manager to come along as a “thank you” for all they do for me (Goldring Travel). With the ship having a big load-in only Juan, the sommelier, could come for the entire day, but Nick, the hotel manager and Chef Kurt planned to hire a car to meet us at my grand finale for the day: A tour and wine tasting at Chateau Margaux.
Rumors on the Seabourn Pride was that tours to Chateau Margaux had been cancelled, but alas I knew they were not the same tours but rather literally nothing more than a brief glimpse at the Chateau, but with the tractors pulling container after container of grapes from the fields those tour buses would be too much of an inconvenience at such an important time. We, however, were not getting a glimpse, but a very private experience. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
Our day started with a beautiful drive through the Bordeaux countryside passing many beautiful chateaus with the grape pickers already in the fields.
We then arrived at Chateau Lynch-Bages for a very interesting tour of both the present and past wine making facilities as well as a Food & Wine Pairing Course. We were met by a most charming, friendly and animated hostess and guide. She had a great way of making this rather rarified vineyard and the Bordeaux wine-making process very accessible.
The harvest of their small white wine grapes had been completed, but many of the red wine grapes were still on the vine…waiting for just another day or two; unlike the vineyards adjoining this bastion of fine wines. (Some of the newer red wine grape vines had been harvested and were in the process of being transformed into wine, but in Bordeaux the vines must be at least three years old to be included in the best wines.)
As we entered the facility we saw on the right some vats that just had circulated some of the young wine-in-the-making in what is a very simple process: Open the bottom of the large stainless steel vats and let the liquid pour into large plastic tubs with a large hose attached to a pump sucking the liquid up and pouring back into the top of the vat. (Aeration is very important and there is nothing like frothing liquid mixing with air to do that!)
After a brief look at the rest of the modern facilities and computer controls (for some aspects of the wine making process; especially temperature control), which was fascinating, there was a surprised as we moved into the first year aging cellar. A man with a backpack was coming out where our private tour was going in. I was thinking, “Who is this guy let loose in this place?” but quickly came to find that he was the owner…just doing his thing.
As we traveled through the facility we found ourselves in a room filled with old wooden vats that it no longer uses.
Up the stairs was a virtual museum of the old methods of making wine. Our guide gave us a fascinating and enlightening history lesson from how grapes were crushed (yes, by women’s feet) to how the stems and piths were pressed, to the vats were filled…using essentially a railroad-style turntable with huge tubs. She did, however, pause to explain the annually changing art collection and how it is “paired” with the wines of the vineyard…though the labels of Chateau Lynch-Bages never changes.
Our tour passed by the “normal” tourist tasting room to the Cerle Lynch-Bages building in the charming courtyard that is part of the Village of Bages for our private, and very interesting and fun, Food & Wine Paring Course. We entered our modern classroom, set up with desks with four glasses for each “student” appropriately sitting on white paper with a small notebook. Our “teacher” was our guide, so we knew it would be both approachable and fun.
After we were all seated and quiet (sound familiar?) she poured us for wines: a Sauvignon Blanc, a white Chatenauf du Pape, a Merlot and a Chateau Lynch-Bages Bordeaux. With this came a very small plate consisting if a mere taste of a hard cheese, cured ham, dill pickle and bread. It was very interesting not only discussing pairing, but why the pairings work or don’t work. (If you are intrigued, you just might want to take one of the Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruises!)
After our taste buds were alive (and spoiled by the great wines) it was time for our lunch at Café Lavinal. I arranged a fixed menu and wine pairing: Lightly-cooked foie gras, red onion marmalade and balsamic reduction to start, Gilthead bream, wine reduction and sweet spices, cauliflower risotto as our main and Platter of French Cheeses to finish paired with Chateau Sainte Marie 2011 (Entre deux mers) as our white wine and Les Palerins de Lafon Rochet 2006 (St Estephe) as our red. I was so pleased to see Juan, our Seabourn sommelier, step in an discuss the pairings.
It was then a 45 minute ride to Chateau Margaux, but we arrived a bit early as surprisingly there was no traffic during the harvest period.
So as we waited for Emilie Janot who we were so fortunate to elegantly guide us through this pinnacle of wine-making, the Seabourn Pride’s Hotel Manager, Nick, arrived…without Chef Kurt! The Chef, showing his leadership and care for his staff, stayed behind to assist with a four hour delayed shipment that was made incredibly difficult as the lowering tides of the Girande River made use of the ship’s loading doors impossible, so all of the trucks has to be unloaded by hand. I felt so bad for Chef Kurt…who so deserved this experience.
As the harvest was underway we were required to walk down that famous white stone path past the elegant chateau while the family dog ran by and the family scurried inside for we obviously interrupted their time on their veranda. Amazing!
We then entered into 200 year old first year aging cellar. It was filled with hundreds of brand new French oak barrels waiting for use. Emilie explained that Chateau Margaux looks at every possible aspect of the winemaking process to be sure the ultimate in quality is achieved. Everything is considered. For example, the cases used for the grape harvest allow for the depth of only one bunch of hand-harvested grapes so the grapes are not damaged. Similarly, the wine aged after the first year is all combined because those new oak barrels are actually made by six different coopers and each burnishes the inside of their barrels slightly differently, so the character of the new wine will vary slightly.
We walked to the left and a huge wooded door was opened. No steel vats (though a few do exist and are being experimented with at the chateau), but 20 and 60 year old wooden vats for the vinification process. Ironically, I see very modern overhead hoists and stainless steel mini-vats with the newly crushed grapes being lifted into these oak vats.
From there it was to the true aging cellar. It was, honestly, a magical experience that literally sent a chill up my spine. While the 2011 vintage was relatively small, this cellar looks and smell like the ones wineries (dare I call them chateaus?) seek to copy. Wow!
And then it was time: The Tasting. We were brought to a room that had a huge fireplace and old, plush, comfortable chairs with an aged round wooded table in the middle. Beautifully simple and elegant wine glasses (absent any mention of Chateau Margaux) were brought over and then Emilie went into another room and brought out two wines for us to taste: 2008 Pavillion Rouge and 2008 Chateau Margaux.
Tasting these wines in such a setting…with the grape harvest literally being processed just outside the window was incredible.
What a day! But, alas, it was time to return to the Seabourn Pride for our departure. As I boarded her, Chef Kurt came up to me and explained what happened and his disappointment. But, amazingly, he was exhausted, smiling and at peace…because he did what was right for his staff, the Seabourn Pride and its guests. He had to rush off, however, because it was almost time for dinner service! It was yet another life experience that fulfilled my day.
How do I top this day for the 2013 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise? I am not sure I can top it from a wine aspect, but I can and will most certainly make it another extraordinary experience.