Ben in Bordeaux : Cap Ferret & Entre-Deux-Mers

In April of this year, Ben was given the opportunity to work for the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux) as one of “le wine buffs,” providing education and promotion of Bordeaux wine at events across California. Every year, the CIVB puts together a bloggers trip to Bordeaux, France. Being both a blogger and in their employ made Ben a perfect candidate to attend this 5-day immersion into the wine landscape that is Bordeaux. He was joined by 5 other bloggers/wine professionals including Bill Eyer (@cuvee_corner), Nannette Eaton (@wineharlots), Tamara Gibb, Grace Hoffman (@cellarmistress), and Christophe Smith (@corkdork). The below is a reflection on the first two days.

The first stop on our tour of Bordeaux was the picturesque town of Cap Ferret near the Atlantic coast on the Bassin D’Arcachon. It is not at all known for its wines as no wine is produced there. So, Ben, why would we want to go all the way to Bordeaux to not be near wine?  Well, this and other tiny towns around the huge bay – or “Bassin” – are where the majority of oysters are farmed in France. While there, we took an incredible boat ride around the bay with our brilliant tour guide, Maxine Colas, who explained all there was to know about oyster farming and so much more.

At the end of our boat tour, we pulled up to a dock to visit Eric Larrarté’s for an oyster tasting in a charming waterfront house overlooking the entire bay. As we sat in the afternoon sun, indulging in an arrangement of perfectly briny oysters, fresh bread and a white Bordeaux by Chateau Tariquet, I couldn’t help but think, “Life. Is. Hard.”

Why we were brought to this place, 60 km away from the city of Bordeaux was no real mystery to me.  This side trip was meant to show us the breadth of activities one can partake in while on vacation in the broader region of Bordeaux.  This corner of the world isn’t just about wine.  It’s about the way food, wine, culture and most importantly the people of Bordeaux make it one of the most important and spectacular wine regions in the world.

The second day started at 9:30 in the morning for a 2-hour session of Bordeaux wine school & an introductory tasting taught by our incomparable guide Maxine. That’s right; we started with booze at 9:30 am. Whether this means we are professionals or just have a problem has yet to be determined. Around 11:30, we gathered up the gang and left for the Entre Deux Mers region of Bordeaux. This region, which literally means between two seas, is mostly known for inexpensive white wines made up of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle.  We would soon discover more. A quick 20-minute bus ride out of Bordeaux city provided us with scenic views of ancient villages and beautiful hillside vineyards as we drove into the heart of the stunning Entre Deux Mers.

Our first winery visit was Chateau Biac, one of the most pristine properties I saw during my entire trip to Bordeaux.  The natural form of the vineyard is in an amphitheater shape with a view over the Garonne River. Chateau Biac is over 600 years old. Like most 600 year old things, it has known many owners.  For now, Tony and Youmna Asseily along with their children have taken over the estate and its wine producing operations.

Youmne’s daughter Yasmina showed us around the vineyard, the grounds, the winery and finally the family’s home. This is a gem of a house, nestled in the middle of their vineyard. The vineyard of Chateau Biac is unique in that it is planted on several kinds of soil rather than one contiguous soil type. The upper portion of the sloped vineyard consists of gravelly sediment which is perfectly suited to grow their Cabernet Sauvignon and the lower slope is on a clay-limestone soil that suits the Cabernet Franc planted there. Other parts of the vineyard include silt and sand which make for very good growing conditions for their Merlot grapes.  Overall the diversity in soil types and the excellent drainage that comes with the slope of the vineyard add to the complexity of the wines made from the fruit grown there.

We first tasted their as of yet unreleased Sauvignon Blanc. It had great minerality and refreshing notes of citrus and white flowers.  As we sat down to lunch on their beautiful terrace, we were poured a fairly viscous wine to accompany the customary foix gras entrée.  Unbeknownst to us, Chateau Biac makes a balanced and extremely pleasant sweet wine, similar to the iconic wines of the Sauternes region of southern Bordeaux.  We sat and ate lunch, while Youmna and Yasmina explained how they came to own Chateau Biac. The red wines came out and had a terroir that I couldn’t place as I’ve never had wines of such high caliber from this region of Bordeaux.  My blogger compatriots and I were very sad to leave this veritable Eden of a vineyard but we had to make our way to our next destination. 

Next on the itinerary was Chateau De Fontenille, first established in the 6th century. Vines have been growing here since at least 1290 where the gravel soil has been nursing them for centuries.  Unfortunately the winery owner Stephane Defraine was sick but Chantal Defraine was more than happy to give us a tour of the grounds and the winery itself.  We ended up in an old building where fermentation tanks were kept, to taste the wines that they had for us.  This building had been erected in the 15th century and was still in remarkable condition.  We tasted three wines: A white blend of Sauv Blanc, Sauv Gris, Semillon and Muscadelle, a red blend of mostly Merlot, and a small part Cab and what they call a Clairet. Not a Claret, which is what the English used to call Bordeaux blends, but a Clairet. It is produced somewhat like a rose but is more akin to a very light red wine that is served chilled.  This wine is made up of 100% Cabernet Franc and was perfect considering it was about 85 degrees outside.  All of Chateau De Fontenille’s wines were very affordable yet had a great presence about them. They were interesting wines expressing character and depth while remaining approachable to any wine drinker, novice to expert.

The easy lesson here is that really good Bordeaux wine doesn’t have to cost you a mortgage payment.  There are so many great little wineries in untapped smaller regions that should be explored by any and all consumers of wine.

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