France April 2018 Road Scholar Tour: Bordeaux Wines and Vines

Twenty four Road Scholars and our leader, Sandrine, gather on a Friday afternoon to meet and find out a bit about each other. There were couples and singles traveling together and a few singles traveling alone. Most of us had been on a previous RS tour and some had been on many. I would guess that all but one were over 60 in age and retired. Most of us were from the States, two were from Canada, one a New Zealander and one an Italian living and working in the US. All of us were interested in travel and history. One was most interested in seeing the caves in the Perigord. Four spoke French. Sandrine went over the schedule for the week and answered questions, then we were free to rest until it was time to walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

At the top, in front of our hotel entrance, it’s good for Sandrine to see how we navigate on the uneven cobblestone surface. Sandrine, is at the lower right in the lower photo.It looks like we have tried the wine and are ready to fill up again. The bread is always present in baskets and always chewy and delicious. No butter was ever on the table except for breakfast. When out in a group, we wear our Road Scholar ID badges that hang around the neck. There are pockets in this hanging badge for pens and small tablets or our phones if we don’t want to carry a purse or have no pockets in our clothing. Sandrine always counts us to make sure we are all present.

Back to the hotel and bed. We will take a walking tour of the city in the morning.

The day dawns grey and rain is in the forecast but we are prepared with jackets, hats and umbrellas.

This is a map of the city center, north is at the top. Our hotel is located with an X.

The Girondists monument is first. Sandrine tells us that the horse’s hooves are represented with claws because the river is muddy and they have to claw their way to make a stand on the riverbank.

A big mall in the round has been built where a crumbling convent once stood. Sandrine is going to purchase cannelles for us to eat with lunch. Dave is taking a picture of the arrays of cannelles and other pastries. There is a grocery store on the lower level of this shopping center. This place is circled on the map and called Grands Hommes.

In the top photo, Sandrine is telling us about the history of the city as she leads us to our next stop. She is speaking into a microphone. Each of us has a device called a “Quiet Vox” that is an audio receiver with an earphone that fits over our ear. She doesn’t have to shout and we don’t have to crowd around her to hear. The bottom two photos are of the Cathedral St. André. Beautiful stained glass, vaulted ceilings and impressive pipe organ. Below is a photo of the grand cathedral.

The building in this part of the city are constructed of a creamy stone with intricate carving.

Lunch and wine tasting and fresh cannelles. There was more salty meat on these charcuterie boards than most of us could eat. The cheese was great, a soft, medium and a hard cheese and always good bread. Beautiful vin rouge.

A visit to the Museum of Aquitaine and lecture on the history of the Bordeaux region then a walk down to the river to the water mirror and public buildings.

A small piece of a Roman wall tucked into a courtyard of a public housing building.

Another city gate near the river. This is Porte Cailhau.

A band busking in the rain near our hotel. Our first day is finished.

Up and on the motorcoach early, today we will visit the chateaux and vineyards of the Medoc region. While aboard we hear a lecture on Bordeaux wines, their history and their economic impact on the region.

Before leaving town, the bus stops in the harbor where Sandrine points out a relic from WWII. This concrete monstrosity was a Nazi U Boat base with twelve bays. It is a UNESCO heritage site today to commemorate the war. The city has plans to convert it into something useful. This area was the only part of the city that was bombed by the allies.

Now the harbor is home to houseboats and sailboats.

Sandrine points out a new wine museum and soccer stadium as we leave town.

We pass many impressive wineries and vineyards.

This is part of the huge Chateaux Margaux winery which we will visit today. Sandrine is explaining viniculture methods as we look around. As you can see, the vines have been trimmed back severely to encourage good growth and a better grape. Back to the bus to visit a small family winery where the owner shows us around and we have lunch.

The owner explains their operation And shows us the barrels of wine stacked in a thick walled old shed and coddled until the wine is ready to bottle.

Stainless steel vats where the pressed grapes are coddled into wine then decanted into vats for finishing. The remaining grape residue is sold for other purposes such as compost.

On to Chateau Margaux, a beautiful house that is used for events but not lived in. Our guide shows us the interior.

This is a cross section of the soil throughout the area showing how it drains and why this is good for the grapes that are grown here in the flat part of the Garonne valley.

The oak casks can be used three years then are repurposed but not used for aging wine. Large winery or small, the process is the same. However this winery has an automated grape sorting machine that uses the latest technology for choosing the perfect grape.

Two of the wines we tasted at Margaux.

The red wine changes color slightly as it ages taking on a more orang-y cast. The wines that are produced here are aged at least a year and the grand cru varieties are sold to collectors and could be kept for many years or decades.

Sheep are used on this working estate to keep the grass clipped. A few lambs were just born causing us to say, “A-h-h-h.” We were lucky that this tour was on the shoulder of the busy season so we didn’t have to compete with lots of other bus tours and tourists in the towns. Back to Bordeaux and dinner at a local restaurant. Tomorrow a trip to Saint- Émilion. That will be in the next blog post!


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