An Epic France Adventure

May 28, 2019

My trip to France began in Paris. We stayed in the super-cool right bank neighborhood of Le Marais where there are so many cafés, bistros and natural wine bars tucked in the narrow cobble-stoned streets. Our first stop was a natural wine bar called Glou. It’s been 11 years since my last Paris trip, and I noticed more Bio signs denoting organic at restaurants and markets. We started off with sparkling Gamay, and white Savoie wine, paired with charcuterie and cheese, helping us to ease into a French frame-of-mind. We spent the next two days exploring Paris and eating many croissants, pastries and drinking multitudes of cafés au lait. 

 

 

 

 

LOIRE VALLEY

We took the TGV to Angers, in the Loire Valley which only took a little over an hour. So close! Angers is significant to me, as my Tessier lineage was documented back to here in the 1600s. It indeed is an old town with lots of history. Most towns in this region have a castle. The Château d’Angers was founded in the 9th century!

Because the Loire is a sprawling and unique wine region, and the wineries were not accessible by train, we opted to rent a car. The next day we were on the road to South Anjou for a visit to Château de Passavant, an organic and biodynamic winery with a woman winemaker (yay), Lucie Chéné. We saw many vines on the way with a little bit of green poking out, as they are in bud break. 

Lucie gave us a tour of the winery and then onto tasting the wines. We tasted the Anjou white wines, all Chenin Blanc, and then the Anjou red, a Cabernet Franc that was soft and smelled of violets. Their 2018 Grolleau Noir was light and lively and begged for a lovely afternoon picnic (which we did just that- alongside the canal in Paris!). We finished the tasting with two sparkling wines, made with Méthode Ancestrale with no dosage of sugar. The wines are made using no filtration and low amounts of SO2. It was really great to meet Lucie and connect even though I speak very little French, we got by with the aid of google translate and hand gestures.

Next, we were off to lunch in Doué-la-Fontaine, where we sampled the local cuisine of lamb and vegetables, including white asparagus. The next appointment was at Domaine Hautes des Ouches where they farm sustainably. Celine Lopez, their enologist, started us off with Sauvignon Blanc from 2018 that was done in a ripe style, as it was a warm year. The wine had tropical flavors of star fruit, gooseberry and passion fruit.

There were two Chardonnays, one which was a cross with Muscadet giving kiwi and floral aromatics, and then the other regular with 100% new oak, which included some American oak. Next, we tasted their Anjou reds, 100% Cabernet Franc which ranged from tank, large format and 100% new French oak. We ended with their rosé of Grolleau, and 4 ranges of sweet wines.

Tipsy on Loire wines and the equally intoxicating scenery, we walked around Angers. There, we hit a cool natural wine bar and then explored the Château d’Angers. Luckily for us, the days this time of year are long, with the sun setting around 9:30pm. We were able to have action-packed days the entire trip.

The next day, we had an appointment in Saumur, about an hour away, at Domaine Arnaud Lambert. We tasted with Arnaud’s wife, Geraldine, who was lovely and spoke impeccable English.  Arnaud was busy out in the vineyard, as the weather was quite windy with a prediction of more rain. Their vines are farmed organically and they are initiating biodynamic practices. The tasting began with Chenin Blanc. First, we tried the 2018 Brézé which was Chenin Blanc grown in chalky soil. It was approachable, round and fleshy, not surprising as we’d learned that 2018 was a warm year for Loire. That was followed by a 2015 Coulée de Saint-Cyr, Saumur. The soil in Saint-Cyr is sandy and chalk based, the wine was fermented in neutral French oak. This to me, was the style of Chenin Blanc that I love: wet wool, pear and spice. The 2015 Clos de la Rue which is grown on limestone and sand, barrel fermented and aged for 24 months was delightful as well.

With their red wines, 2018 Terres Rouge from Saumur Champigny was 50% whole cluster and aged in stainless steel. This was full of aromas of lilacs, violets, cinnamon and pleasantly decomposing leaves with a soft texture and very little tannin. 2017 Montée des Roches from the same area was tank fermented and aged 8 months in neutral French oak. This one had more vegetal notes of pasilla pepper, jalapeño along with violets, earth and cinnamon. 2014 Clos de l’Étoile from Saumur was aged 24 months in barrel with 50% new French oak. The oak softened the tannins and imparted vanilla and brioche along with the other classic Cabernet Franc characteristics. We concluded with sparkling wine, the 2015 Crémant de Loire, a blend of chenin blanc and chardonnay with no dosage (added sugar), had pretty notes of lemon curd, wet wool and white flowers. However, I really fell in love with 2015 Crémant de Loire Rosé, 100% Cabernet Franc, which smelled of strawberry, cotton candy and had a luxuriously creamy finish. Yasss! Geraldine recommended we check out Château de Brézé and told us all about the sick caves underneath the castle, which is like another city! It did not disappoint! Castles are so cool.

After Château de Brézé, we went to check out Château Saumur on the Loire river. Vines are planted outside the castle wall as wine was always part of the culture. In order to admire the Saumur castle even more, we drove across the river and hung out there for some time skipping rocks in the fast-moving Loire river, enjoying the view, smelling the chestnut flowers and feeling the tranquility of all things Saumur. What a gorgeous town!

 

 

 

BURGUNDY

To travel to Burgundy, the third leg of our trip, we traversed much of the Loire Valley from west to east. The Loire Valley is very green and flat with lots of wetlands, streams and ponds. It reminded me of my home-state; Michigan’s landscape. As we got closer to Burgundy, however, the terrain became hilly with loads of trees.

SIDE NOTE: En route, at a rest area/café, we picked up a sandwich and chips. We happened upon a great selection of chips. As you know, some chips are losers and some are winners. If you have the chance, check out Bret’s brand of chips, made with French potatoes. The Au Fromage du Jura Chips, an incredible indescribable cheesy flavor, and is my jamalama.

Finally, we arrived in Corcelles-les-Arts, a very tiny village south of Beaune. It was so peaceful that you could hear the birds chirping and the bees buzzing. The next day, we were up early and Dijon-bound to visit Tonnellerie Rousseau’s barrel-making facility. We met Frederic Rousseau at the door, headed in to start with an espresso and then observed the toasting of the barrels outside. He walked us through the barrel making process, which is all hand-crafted and high-quality. An interesting thing to note is that there were no woman making barrels at this tonnellerie. It’s a physically demanding job but there are some badass ladies out there that could do it.

Next, we headed to meet Isabelle Collette, who has taken over the winemaking from her father at Domaine Collotte in Marsannay, where they practice sustainable farming. In her cellar, we tasted 2018 Biovin Marsannay in a 2017 Allegro Rousseau barrel (which I use for my Santa Cruz Mountains Saveria Vineyard Pinot Noir). I find that Pinot Noir from Burgundy is always much more powerful, dark in color with more tannins than California Pinot Noir. These vines were planted by her grandfather, so the age of the vines is one of the factors. This wine had dark fruit, good mid-palate and nice tannin structure, but it was still a baby. We tasted Marsanny “Le Clos de Jeu” in the 2018 Allegro barrel. That vineyard has more limestone and the wine yielded intense dark fruit, wet stone and a new paper aroma from the barrel, which I find typical from an Allegro barrel. The aromas of the 2018 Fixin “Les Crais de Chêne" in a 2018 Allegro barrel, were wild strawberry, alpine and tar. Lastly, Chambolle-Musigny in the 2017 Allegro which was lighter in color and intensity lending itself to lilacs and plum skins.

It was such a pleasure to taste Burgundian Pinot Noirs in the same barrels that I use in California and meet a young, female winemaker taking the reins from her family. Yay! We headed to Marsannay for lunch with some local Chardonnay and Fixin Pinot Noir followed by more espresso.

From there we went to the large-format assembly building for Tonnellerie Rousseau. These are even more challenging to craft, harder to maneuver, and made-to-order with their longer and larger pieces of wood. Such a great tour, and it was clear to see their commitment to quality and a family business that really cares.

Next, we were off to Beaune. We explored the famous Hospice du Beaune with its colorful tile and important history, and checked out the massive farmer’s market; Les Halles. Most importantly, we ate some delicious éclairs. We also purchased some fresh ingredients for a salad and breakfast along with some exceptional dried fruit.

 

 

JURA

Sunday, we were off to Arbois in the Jura about 1.5 hours away from Burgundy. Of course, we packed the Jura chips! Lot of cows, country roads and rolling hills until we started seeing some vines. Arbois is such a cool, old brick and cobblestone town with a rushing river running in the middle. Beautiful flowers were in bloom everywhere and off a beaten path I found some lily-of-the-valley flowers that always remind me of my grandmother’s house in the spring. That scent brought me back!

Because it was a Sunday, most places were closed, but Domaine de la Pinte was open!  Their vines are organic, and biodynamically-farmed, and we tasted their Savagnin, Chardonnay, Poulsard, Vin Juane and Crémant. The wines were great, but I was running out of room in my wine box. Sadly, I left only with a Trousseau to bring back and a Crémant to drink in France.

While exploring Arbois, I learned that the man, the myth, the legend, Louis Pasteur (whose quote I have on my wine labels!) was born in a nearby town of Dole but lived and had a laboratory/home in Arbois. There’s a museum, but it was closed. Tant pis!

 

 

BEAUJOLAIS

Monday meant Beaujolais! Our first stop was in Marchampt with Nicolas Chemarin. What a winding, hilly drive with cool hillside vineyards planted everywhere! We walked the Gamay Noir vineyard that his grandfather planted. He farms organically and it’s very steep so everything is done by hand. His winemaking style is minimalistic.

In the cellar, we tasted barrel samples of the 2018 Chardonnay, that wasn’t through ML yet so was a bit effervescent, but tasted delicious with star-fruit, wet stone and lemon curd. He pulled another 2018 chardonnay with 30-day skin-contact, an orange wine that smelled of white flowers, apricot, chamomile, chalk and had some tannins.

Then we moved onto wine already in bottles. The 2018 Beaujolais was 100% carbonic maceration, 14% alcohol (remember…warm year) giving a generous amount of black cherry, licorice, fennel, hay and some grippy tannins. 2017 Beaujolais, with all of his parcels together, 50% barrel and 50% cement, 13% alcohol, very floral nose of violets, venison, black cherry, good tannins and balanced acidity. 2017 Régnié, 13% alcohol, sandy and clay soil where the others were more sand and granite. I loved this wine, it had really good body, licorice and violet notes along with black cherry fruit and red apple skins. 2016 Morgon MC2 blend, 12.5% alcohol, 80% barrel and 20% tank. Red cherry, candied strawberry, violets, tangerine, vanilla, and dusty.

We concluded the tasting with 2017 Chardonnay that spent seven days on the skins. This was his first experiment with skin-contact, and I really enjoyed this wine! Orange blossom on the nose, along with chamomile, ginger and hay, good acidity...so complex. It was so rewarding to meet Nicolas and talk wine techniques of Gamay Noir and skin contact white wines.

Afterwards, we stopped in Macon for a delicious traditional regional meal of gratin Lyonnais, escargot and mousse au chocolat.

As we returned to Paris via train from Dijon, my head was filled with the different wine regions, farming practices, winemaking techniques and personalities of the winemakers that I had visited. The winemakers I visited possessed such authenticity, independence, resilience and passion. It refreshed and invigorated me! I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned to my Tessier wines.

What an epic trip through France!  I appreciate the people, the dedication to quality, the beauty and hospitality. Much thanks to my friend, boyfriend, photographer, bag master, laundry expert, pâtisserie-loving, road-guide and patient partner-in-crime. The wine bag was very heavy throughout our journey, and yet, you pressed on. Merci!

 

Au revoir, France!  Until next time…

 

 

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