I booked with Wine Day Tours because they offer small groups (no more than eight) – private mini van service – visits to two local wineries who promise to take us out to vineyards and truly teach us the process from start to finish – as well as a sampling of their fine products – and a visit to a local farm that makes chevre (goat cheese – my favorite!). This is an all day affair (7:30AM – 7:30PM) and includes breakfast and lunch. I hope to document this unique educational adventure with lots of photographs. I only hope that I am not the only single in the trip and feel like a fifth wheel.
WOW — what a marvelous day with terrific people and a wonderful tour guide!
I had to meet Jean-Bernard at an unfamiliar metro stop this morning at 7:40. He is happy to pick up customers at hotels, but for obvious reasons he can’t be expected to make stops at every apartment. I arrived right on time and he was only about 5 minutes later than expected PERFECT timing!
The van was full – and all of South American decent. There was a couple (probably early thirties) from Brazil and very welcoming; two girlfriends on vacation from Brazil (probably mid thirties) and one was the life of the party – a real delight; and then two guys from San Francisco, probably mid twenties who were very nice but still dealing with jet-lag.
While Jean-Bernard has only been doing this tour a little over a year (he was let go from work about two years ago – spent a year deciding what he really wanted to do – and then started the company) – he is a top of the line professional. He schedules stops every hour – so those who have rather small bladders do not have to suffer. The first stop (just outside of Paris) he included hot coffee a croissants for us to munch on. The next stop was just outside of Pouilly – at a goat cheese farm: Ferme du Port Aubry. Absolutely delightful!!
While I could wax on and on about today’s excursion – I thought I might allow my pictures to do the talking. I took over 350 photos today (with my compact camera – I don’t trust my dslr anymore) and have really only briefly reviewed them. I was very excited to share the day with you, however, so here is quick review.
We were able to watch them make a fresh batch of cheese from the morning milking. The 400 goats are milked twice a day: once in the morning and once in the late afternoon.
After the cheese is properly made it is put in the drying room. How long it dries is dependent on how aged you want the cheese.
We were able to try 4 different agings: the “fresh” cheese which was only 6 days old; then another cheese with a slight bit of mold (we were assured it was “good” mold) that had aged about 3 weeks; another that had aged about 6 weeks; and the last that had aged about 8 months. I thought goat cheese was always soft – but I guess I have never had aged goat cheese. The 8 month old tasted similar to Parmesan to me.
After the tasting we were allowed to look around the shop (they not only had cheese — but fresh creme – fresh butter – dried sausages from another local farm – several different styles of jam – fois gras – etc, etc etc. If I didn’t have to carry it all on the metro – and if I were staying another week, I could bought half the store! We were then allowed to tour the farm a bit and see the goats. They were SO much fun!
From there we went not too far down the road to winery. In this area most of those who live in the villages are somehow connected with the wine business. This particular winery has been in business for hundreds of years – and her house was beautiful. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take many pictures as we were in a hurry to get to lunch. She only makes white wine, however, and we were able to taste all four different whites that are made. It was a very worthwhile tour.
Next we drove across the Loire River (which is VERY shallow — quite surprising to me) to the Sancerre region. We had lunch at a lovely restaurant – where one side is a Michelin Star restaurant – and the other side is a bistro. We ate at the bistro, which suits my taste just fine. As part of the wine tour, we had a three course meal that consisted of a very fresh pasta salad, roasted chicken and potatoes, and fresh fruit with espresso for dessert. Simply perfect.
After lunch we went to the “old” town of Sancerre. We visited the wine museum, which was really quite informative —explaining the difference of terroire and how the same grape grown in the same region can create such different wines. We were then allowed to walk around this quaint section of town for about 40 minutes before we had to board the van and head to the second winery.
As wonderful as the first part of the trip was — the second was hand’s down my favorite. The Wine grower was very personable – obviously passionate about his wine and willing to share any information (and wine) that he could. We spent over an hour in his tasting room – tasting 2 reds – 3 whites – and then he allowed us into the fermentation room to taste “straight from the vat”. What a wonderful experience. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave and all felt as though we had found a new friend in Michel.
And if that wasn’t enough – as we headed out of town Jean-Bernard stopped along the side of the road and allowed us to walk through the vineyard and take a few pictures. OH MY – another truly great experience. In this picture I wanted to try to show what is meant by ‘terroire’ The soil in this region is not so much dirt, but rather limestone and/or flint. Look how rocky it is!
The grapes themselves are still rather small – and green. They should begin to change color in about 15 days. This year the harvest will be very early – probably the first part of September. While I have experienced mild temperatures, it was apparently quite warm in France in March, April, and May which has meant an earlier harvest than usual (it is my understanding that if you take this wine tour during the harvest – you actually get to go into the vineyard and cut your own grapes — how great would that be?!)
As we were loading into the van we noticed that Jean-Bernard made a quick dash to the vineyard one more time. Come to find out he picked a few small berries for us to taste. The skin was still very thick – and the taste quite bitter – but I was amazed how the taste of the flint rock came through the fruit. I guess I did learn something today.
All in all an absolutely fantabulous day — and I am now very excited to see Giverny tomorrow!