A Study in Contrasts

Recently my parents came to France for a weeklong visit. After a rather chaotic departure (on both sides of the Atlantic) we spent a rather interesting weekend in Paris before heading south to Bordeaux. And of course no visit to Bordeaux would be complete without a little wine tasting.

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To properly preface this post I have to provide a little background information. My father, who was an influential facilitator in my early wine discoveries, does not “like” French wine. Granted he was born and raised in California to an Italian winemaking family. I can understand an initial slight resistance to French wine. My mother however, is a long standing fan of French wine and was another influential facilitator. She was quite eager to further get to know Bordeaux and French wines while I was located here in Bordeaux.

Last year when my parents came to visit it wasn’t at the same time. With my dad we had the time to rent a car and journey out to Saint Emilion for a bit of unplanned wine tasting. Maybe not the best choice, as my father isn’t a huge Merlot fan, but there is much more to see in the picturesque medieval village than there is in the Medoc. While my mom was visiting, we stayed carless in the city and did our tastings at the CIVB bar.

DSC_0028But back to the most recent visit. This was also supposed to be her visit. So she got to choose the location of our visits. And of course listening to what I had to say about opportunities for lunch, things to do and things to see, she chose Saint Emilion. My dad wasn’t so pleased but he eventually capitulated (albeit reluctantly) and I got down to the planning. Being much more familiar with the local area and having much more advanced notice of this visit I was able to plan a much better itinerary than the prior year.

So we rented a car and drove out to Saint Emilion. Our morning started at Chateau Figeac where we had an amazing visit and an equally nice tasting. We then spent a bit of time in the city visiting some of the wine shops and exploring the tourist areas before heading out to La Terrace Rouge for lunch and a visit at Chateau La Dominique. Overall it was an amazing day but it also way an interesting study in contrasts.

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The aptly named La Terrace Rouge

At both estates we had the lucky chance to be on the estate at the same time as the estate manager and the owner. At Chateau Figeac we spent a very pleasant couple of minutes in conversation with Madame Manoncourt and the Joint-Managing Director Jean-Valmy Nicholas. They were supremely pleased to hear that we had enjoyed the wine and were excited to learn that my parents had travelled from California for the visit. It was a warm and welcoming reception. Then at Chateau La Dominique the elderly owner, Monsieur Fayat, was being toured around the estate in his wheelchair by his Managing Director. Despite crossing paths multiple times during our visits and having the owner pointed out to us, we were not introduced or for that matter even acknowledged. A surprising oversight in an estate that surprises itself on hospitality and on its tourism.

DSC_0023Then there were the tastings themselves. While we only tasted one wine at Chateau Figeac and two at Chateau La Dominique, we did get to enjoy the group’s third wine during lunch; there was again a marked difference. At Figeac we were left to enjoy the wine at our own pace and in a quietly peaceful room with an attentive staff member. At La Dominique we were asked to pay 12 euros for our tasting and to be honest I felt more like they were doing us a difficult favor.

That was in addition to our slightly off-putting experience at lunch. The very modern La Terrace Rouge at La Dominique was much lauded not only for its food but for its experience. While the restaurant is clearly very popular it is also very clearly a place where the local wine business comes to conduct a meeting over lunch. As international tourists struggling with the difficult menu (yes even my French fails at times) we weren’t accorded a lot of patience or assistance. The food was fantastic, no doubt about that. But the slow service left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

All in all it was a good day of wine tasting and one of the better experiences I’ve had in Saint Emilion. But it was also an eye open experience in how far the Bordeaux wine industry still has to come in terms of tourism. And despite my complaints about the experience at La Dominique we enjoyed the Chateau Fayat Pomerol offering enough to follow up on the purchase of a case of half bottles.

More to detail to follow about both Chateau Figeac and Chateau La Dominique.

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