Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pretty in Pink

So, it's Friday and it's the last day of our wine's hard to believe. It's been such a great week filled with so many wonderful experiences...we are all excited for the day ahead, but beginning to be a little sad that it is drawing to an end.
Our destination for the morning is Chateau D'esclans, a relatively new venture for Sasha Lichine, a larger-than-life figure whose family (his father was Russian immigrant Alexis Lichine) is very important in the recent history of French wines. At Chateau D'esclans, Sasha and his team are working to elevate rose above the status of a relatively simple wine only suited for sipping on the porch in summer. What we saw, heard and tasted on our visit there certainly converted all of us into die-hard believers and rose supporters.
Like everything about Chateau D'esclans, the grounds are stunning, opulent, and immaculately kept.

We started our tour in the cave, getting an up-close-and-personal view of the equipment and processes. From the very first we were impressed with the precision and unique blend of art, craftsmanship and technology they were using to ensure the highest quality and impart depth and richness to their rose wines. From the sorting of the grapes to the destemming to the pressing to the monitoring/controlling of temperature of juice through the entire process, the team at Chateau D'esclans is diligent (almost militant, you might say) about producing a repeatable but unique and elevated wine. After learning about the different steps and processes, we had a special treat...a barrel tasting in the cave. One of our hosts extracted samples of wine directly from different barrels with a pipette, then poured it directly into our glasses...he discussed the intricacies of the different samples (one was the first press, another was the second, anther had been aged longer than the first) and allowed us to was fun, interesting and oh-so-delicious!
We then moved on to a more traditional tasting, enjoying samples of their complete line of D'esclans rose...all a beautiful pink color with an amazing aroma...without a doubt, these were rose wines like no other.

The processes and techniques at Chateau Desclans were highly controlled and technologically advanced. Their diligence pays off...their rose wines are a beautiful pink color and taste amazing!

Next we headed into the Chateau for a lunch, hosted by Sasha Lichine himself...what an incredible afternoon. Sasha was a big man...full of life, stories and charisma. His home was gorgeous and full of the rich and colorful history of Sasha's family and their dealings in the French and American wine industry. We were also quite taken by Sasha's friendly European Golden Retrievers who joined us for lunch and flirted shamelessly with us all. I know I've said it on every posting, but it's true...this was just an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. This kind of personal and intimate view of the winemaker and the vineyard rarely happens....and it was such a treat. We all left totally enamored with the Chateau D'esclans rose wines and also with a little bit of a crush on Sasha.

Our lunch with Sasha (top pic, light pink linen shirt) was glorious...beautiful wine, delicious food and amazing stories!

We were all quite taken with our host Sasha...but we were especially smitten with his two beautiful European Golden Retrievers.

We reluctantly left Chateau D'esclans and headed out for our final outing...a trip to the small coastal town of Cassis where we were scheduled for a boat trip and dinner for our last evening together.
We climbed into a small boat, just the eight of us with our bus driver Francis. Our local boat driver/tour guide was personable and knowledgeable, giving us lots of history and colorful descriptions of Cassis and the Calanques, steep-walled cliffs of limestone that surround the Mediterranean in this area. We spent an hour touring the coast, reveling in the sun and the scenery. We finished our evening, enjoying aperitifs and dinner (local seafood, of course) sitting at an outside cafe.
We spent our final evening of the trip enjoying a boat trip off the small town of Cassis, followed by dinner sitting along the pier.

So, it's Saturday morning and we are all preparing to go our own ways, some of us on to more holidays and some headed home. It's been an amazing trip, with a lovely group of friends...once again, The Trip of a Lifetime!!
Rosie takes a final picture of our group in the out yard of Villa Glanum, our hotel in St Remy de Provence. We've had a great week!

The Family business

On Thursday Francis took us back on the road to the Southern Rhone to visit two smaller, family-run, but very impressive wineries. The first was Domaine Saint Damien, in the Gigondas Region.
We pulled in and were greeted by Amie, the wife and more animated half of the husband-wife pair who owned and ran the entire operation. The cave was attached to their home, a lovely building surrounded by a colorful and lovingly-tended garden and courtyard. When we asked Amie, who kept the gardens, she told us she did, and commented "it's a lot of work, true, but this is where we work and live, so we want it to be beautiful". We could tell as we went on with our visit that she and her husband Joel took this same approach with their wine...they took care with very step of the process and lovingly ensured that they produced only the best.

The courtyard of Saint Damien was beautiful and welcoming, just like our hosts.

Amie led us into the small and tidy cave, where she and Joel proudly described the history of their business. Joel's family has been in the wine business for four generations, committed to the land in the Gigondas. Joel and Amie had been a fairly small operation, producing wines in bulk for local consumption only for years. They started to put some in bottles and sold to local restaurants and the wine began to be noticed for its' quality and superior taste. At about this time they also started to put more effort into tracking the production from specific parcels of their land within the Gigondas region, and from that came the birth of their three different labels. Since then they have continued to receive ever-increasing reviews, get more and more noticed and their business has grown. Soon their son, who is finishing his oenology studies and currently doing an internship at a local vineyard, will join them and help them as they continue to grow.
Once we tasted their wine (9 in total that morning!! Whew!!) it was clear to us that their commitment to the land, their craftsmanship and attention to detail was indeed paying off..their wines were amazing. They were all red wines, since that is all that is allowed within the Gigondas appelation by AOC law, but there was a wide variety in taste based on which specific parcel the grapes had come from and the way the wines had been crafted.
While Amie had done most of the talking during the tour, Joel was clearly in his element talking about the wines, so he provided us with a detailed description of the different labels and vintages while pouring (with translations by Jennifer and his wife). Amie had prepared a small snack for us to enjoy with our we drank amazing red wine and sampled local cheese all right in their cave, in the midst of vats, cases of wine, crates of bottles and a small labeling machine. It was a great up-close and personal introduction to a lovely French couple who were dedicated to producing the best wine they could.

We reluctantly bid farewell to our lovely hosts from Saint Damien and headed for lunch at a nearby restaurant they had recommended. It was another perfect meal...we sat outside on a terrace overlooking the vineyards and indulged in local cuisine and wine while soaking up the sun.

Our tasting for the afternoon was at Chateau de la Gardine, in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region. Our guide for the tour was Marie, one half of the brother-sister combo that ran this very-well regarded vineyard that has been in her family for generations. As she took us through the vineyards and the cave, Marie gave us some insight into the demands of running a winery. She also gave us a very detailed tour of the processing, giving us access to some parts of the process that we'd never seen before, even in our many tours (see pics below of group peering into stainless steel vat from top!).
Like our visit earlier with Saint Damien, it was clear that this family was committed to preserving the quality of their wines and the honor of their family label...regardless of how hard the work. We had a great tour, followed, of course, by a tasting of some of their best wines.

The vineyards and grounds of Chateau de la Gardine were lovely, and our tour with the owner was fascinating.

Before we took off for dinner, we took a minute to snap the annual picture of Don and Jennifer in front of our tour bus.

We ended the day with dinner at a restaurant right at the foot of the walls of the ruins of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We sat out on the terrace, enjoying the lovely food and some wine that our hostess from Chateau de la Gardine had arranged for us to have with our meal. Of course, the view of the Rhone River and the vineyards was spectacular as the sun set. This is the life!