Tuesday September 15th
A great night’s sleep but we awoke to rain! Jobs done we headed just a few miles along the road to Chateau Cantenac, a family run chateau producing a St Emilion Grand Cru. We should have booked but went on the off chance they might be able to offer us a tour. The owner came to greet us and was a truly charming lady. She would see what she could do. Suddenly, a young woman appeared with a small group. ‘Aha’ said madame, ‘this is my daughter in law and she is doing a tour in English…you may join!’
The tour was half done, but the guide said she would take us to do the first half at the end!!
It was a brilliant tour and tasting – all free of charge, and we learned a lot, so…
10 things you might like to know about St Emilion wine!
1. It is probably the oldest organised wine growing area in France, and is today still made up of many small family vineyards, all beautifully cared for and centered on small pretty chateaux.
2. It was the first to impose quality controls and labelling.
3. The vines produce their best grapes between 15 and 55 years of age!
4. After the quality of the grapes, the next most important thing is the barrel. Each barrel maker uses different forests and oak from different countries. An expert wine taster can tell you which country the oak is from, and sometimes which forest, just from tasting the wine.
5. Each barrel costs 600 euros new. They are only used for 3 or 4 years then sold to lower grade vineyards or to the whisky industry.
6. Each barrel holds 300 bottles
7. Each Barrel can absorb or ‘drink’ 10 litres in 4 years, making an empty barrel much heavier at the end of it’s life.
8. When the Barrels are made, they are toasted on the inside! The vineyard can specify how much ‘toasting’ they want . It is during the toasting process that flavours like tobacco or coffee are added.
8. To remove the last of the sediment, finings are used. The preferred method is egg white and until quite recently the vineyard would buy 1000 eggs, separate them by hand, whisk the whites and add 2 or 3 to each barrel. As it sank it collected the sediment. Nowadays they can just buy ready whisked pasteurised egg white!
9. To use up the yolks a local recipe of little cakes called Canelés was created. In the interests of research we sampled one. Yummy!
10. On a good bottle of wine it will say ‘Mise en bouteille au proprieté’ , meaning it is bottled at the chateau. Bottling plants are expensive and take up a lot of space, so these days a large lorry arrives, the sides fold out and there is a mini bottling plant inside. All the bottling is done in a few days, and then the truck moves on to the next vineyard.
Despite the fact it was now lunchtime, our guide insisted on giving us the full tour, even taking us into the vineyard to taste the grapes, which were surprisingly sweet. She also told us that Madame has 3 sons. Each year, the vineyard take an intern student studying for their Masters degree in Winemaking at a University in California. In 2004 a young American lady student came. The eldest son fell in love with her and they married. In 2005 a Canadian student came. The second son fell in love with her and they married! Madame contacted the university and said ” From now on, only male interns.” In 2006, a male came, but in 2007, another lady was sent… and she is now married to the 3rd son and was our guide today!
By now the rain had stopped, so we went and booked in at the Yelloh St Emilion campsite. A very well equipped site with excellent facilities including a heated pool and boating lake. Probably very busy in summer but fine now and just 16 euros on the Acsi scheme, although it closes for the winter in late September.
Then off to visit the lovely mediaeval town of St Emilion. Cobbled streets and delightful red tiled roofscapes add to it’s charm, and despite the tourists, it is enchanting to wander around. We wanted some lunch, and stumbled upon a creperie run by a couple from Brittany! We love galettes, so in we went, and had a lovely, if rather unhealthy lunch. We felt rather sacriligeous sitting in St Emilion drinking Breton cider and beer … but it was scrumptious.
Back to our wander. Wine boutiques are everywhere, but tourist information and the Maison du vin were very helpful.
There is so much history here. We climbed the Tour du Roy, built in the 1200’s, possibly by order of King John when the area was under British rule. The views from the top were lovely….vineyards everywhere, dotted with small chateaux in the mellow local yellow sandstone.
The 12th century church was large, but simple and charming. There were remnants of ancient wall paintings, and well preserved cloisters. This town was a centre of pilgrimage so there are also the remains of convents and monasteries from the Augustinian, Dominican and Franciscan orders. The Ursuline convent is apparently remembered most affectionately, as they left the town a legacy. The recipe for some delicious macaroons…which of course we had to sample!
Then back to the campsite where I made use of the excellent laundry with tumble driers and got all the washing done!
A nice relaxing evening playing Ablegi and Diminishing Whist, and using the site wifi to get photos uploaded for the blog.