Where the Grapes Are

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The Romans brought the vine to Bordeaux around 60 BC. The terroir (soil and climate for growing grapes) here is a perfect storm of geographic location, soil composition and temperate, oceanic climate.

We spent a couple of days this week traveling out of the historic city center to where the grapes are. We visited areas on both the left and right banks of the Gironde Estuary, formed by the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.

On Tuesday, John and I hopped a train and traveled up the left side to Pauillac, a small town in the heart of the Haut-Médoc area, to have a look.

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Vineyard on the Rive Gauche.

To visit the châteaux in this area requires a car or participation in a tour group. Tour participation runs about $175 per person from Bordeaux. If you go it alone by car, you need to call in advance to make appointments at the château of your choice for a tour and tasting. To visit the world famous Château Mouton Rothschild, for example, requires an email inquiry months in advance of your visit.

After a failed attempt at renting a reasonably priced car (didn’t want to tour a vineyard or two bad enough to pay $200 for a car rental or $350 for a group tour), we opted to check out St. Émilion on the rive droite approximately 25 miles east of downtown Bordeaux.

Bingo! A bus from Bordeaux’s St. Jean train station to Libourne, then a brief 8-minute tram ride from Libourne to St. Émilion put us right in the middle of where the grapes (mostly merlot to be exact) grow.

The 1km walk from the train station to the center of St. Émilion sees you surrounded by châteaux and their vineyards. It’s truly picture-postcard-perfect!

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St. Émilion is a picturesque medieval town. Our first activity wasn’t to drink wine, but to climb to the top of the King’s Castle Keep to see what we could see.

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King's Castle Keep

The views overlooking St. Émilion and its environs were amazing.

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From the keep, we meandered through the narrow, cobblestone streets to lunch on the terrace at Les Giron’dines.

I started with a delicious crab and guacamole dish, while John chose a salad.

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Appetizers.

Our main course was a shoulder of roast lamb for me and a roasted skewer of duck with figs and prunes for John.

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Entrees.

We washed it all down with a carafe of the red stuff and eagerly awaited dessert. John chose the creme brulé and I wallowed in a chocolate and whipped cream confection. Needless to say, it was delicious!

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Dessert

We walked off some of our luncheon feast strolling through the streets of St. Émilion.
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A moat surrounded the medieval St. Émilion.

We caught a small tourist train to travel a 35-minute loop around the town and through several of the surrounding vineyards. The scenery speaks for itself.

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After a week in the City That Wine Built, I can confirm that where the grapes are in Bordeaux is just about everywhere! It’s an exquisite city in the heart of 8,000 châteaux and 284,165 acres of vineyards.

I regret leaving it. In addition to its physical beauty, there’s something comforting about the making of wine in Bordeaux. Life here among the grapes goes on as it has since the Romans planted the first vine over 2,000 years ago. The continuity is reassuring.

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