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Route des Grands Crus!

October 09, 2006

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Ooooh, we are looooving Burgundy and we had one of our best days yet following the famous Route des Grands Crus on undulating small roads thru scarlet & golden colored, vine covered country side and beautiful quaint ancient towns. Sometimes it was like being in a sea of perfectly manicured, endless rows of Pinot Noir as far as the eye could see. Since we started our own small Pinot Noir vineyard from scratch in the French style, it was really exciting for all three of us to see so much of it and be where the story all began. DaVinci said more than once,“This is for me”.

Mozart loooves vineyards because she has been playing in them, helping and learning about them since she was born. I have pictures of her at five and six months old, standing in the vineyard with her dad, “helping” him. Actually even younger pictures show her on him in a sling as a newborn asleep, while he worked on the vineyard. Running through vineyard rows and picking the fruit when it is ripe has been her normal play all her life. Pinot Noir was one of her early words. DaVinci has passed on his passion for grapes to everyone in the family and part of it started with him because he grew up amongst vineyards the first five years of his life and it runs in his genes.

It was soooo much fun to be on small country roads today. A little scary at first because they are quite small and one is never sure what is ahead, but early on we ran into a friendly older French farmer who looked like he could have come out of a painting, who assured us our vehicle was not too big. We are just the size of a van since we are on a van chassis, it just feels much bigger because we are so heavy and because of the high top and overhead. It is also so noisy that I think that adds in making one feel like a gigantic truck. It gave us more confidence as we maneuvered thru the tight spaces in tiny hamlets and found places to park and walk about.

It was thrilling to be out and about and surrounded by grapes and vines. We have just missed much of the picking as we talked to someone who just picked on October fifth, but we are hoping to get lucky and run into some picking maybe. The girl we met in Dijon said she had been invited to Beaune this weekend to watch some picking, so we hope to spot some there too.

We have an old  book called “The wine roads of Europe” which has been very handy and educational. We also asked the waitress last night for recommendations as to which tasting rooms to  check out. It was exciting to go past the vineyard of the wine we drank last night. One fun fact we learned was that the Clos de Vougeot vines that we saw have been so famous and so loved that for generations passing regiments of the French Army have been ordered to stop and salute the vines themselves!

We have often toured Napa and other California vineyards and this was a very different experience. Napa is much more trendy and ostentatous, but this is clearly a way of life here connected to the land and centuries old traditions. Burgundy is timeless.

We have never seen so much Pinot Noir. Every available piece of land is jealously planted with precious vines  and pampered. We planted in this same close manner with just a single cordon too, but they cut the tops off like hedges quite low. All of it is very low to the ground. They have these special tractors that look like they are out of star wars that go over top of the vines.

DaVinci loved getting close to observe the technique and style and there were endless places to walk thru them. The fruit was very ripe and sweet. We know how much work it is to put in a small vineyard and harvest it, so it was simply breath taking to see so much of it. They only plant Pinot or Chardonnay in this area, but we only saw Pinot up close.

Two chateaus that we stopped at have had a sixth generation family member running it. One was begun in the 12th century with the actual wine press from that time (which his grandfather last used in 1959). Just getting a chance to sample these wines in such old cellars was quite the experience.

We especially loved the one in the lead picture and the charming Joliet family who owned it, Domaine
de la Perriere. The beauty of the place touched us the moment we saw it from a distance and only grew stronger the closer we came. Mozart had a grand time running around the vineyard with their eight year old daughter. We joined a group of about four  French couples who arrived shortly after us in  a rental van, as we tasted and leaned about the fascinating history in the cellar including seeing that impressive press that was made in 1142.

Both Philippe Joliet and his wife spoke perfect English so we did not miss anything. The wine was superb and we bought half a case of the 2002, but would have bought more if we had more space. It has a wonderful reputation and was recommended by our host at the restaurant as well the book. We liked that they did everything the old fashioned way including making their wine solely from the grapes grown and picked in the Clos.

The Cote d’Or  (which means the golden slope) consists of two rival sections. The first  starts just south of Dijon and is called the Cote de Nuits and we saw most of that along with part of the second which is called Cote de Beaune. We passed thru such famous wine towns as Gevrey-Chambertin, Vogeot, Nuits-St-Georges and ended up in Beaume, one of the premier wine towns in the world.

All the people we are meeting are exceptionally helpful and friendly in France (minus one crabby taxi
driver and one curmudgeon camp night watchman). The young Georgia girl we met in Dijon said she didn’t understand the talk of unfriendly French as she had the opposite impression as everyone had been so warm and gracious. That has been our experience as well. We parked right next to a little beauty salon in one of the small towns early on our wine road day,(Fixin..pronounced fiseeen) so popped in to see if we could get Mozart’s bangs trimmed. They did not speak English and were quite busy, but were very helpful and welcoming and she took her in right away and cut them for free!

She did such a good job, that we decided to let DaVinci get his hair cut there too. It was a perfect example of having an adventure by doing something ordinary in an extraordinary place and a fun way to connect with the every day life of this famous region. The bicycle someone rode to the shop and view just outside was like something out of a picture postcard. Just across the street was a de Vignes en caves visite & digustation (tasting room) where we wondered thru an enchanting ancient small personal vineyard with old espaliered fruit trees and roses that reminded us of our own or at least what it was based on.

The only minus on this perfect day is we were having such a sterling time that we lost track of time and thus got into our popular campsite in Beaune much too late after dark and found it booked up full, so had
to find a second choice. And even that turned out perfect as we just went down the rode to Meursault and woke up to amazing, expansive vineyard views and having the whole campsite to ourselves. There was only one other camper when we got there and they were from Belgium on their way home from Spain where
they said the weather was much warmer. They left very early. After breakfast with this fabulous,timeless vineyard view, we will mosey our way back to Beaune and explore that famous wine town.

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Ian and Wendy Sewell

Sold! :) We agree - many of the wineries in Napa are very ostentatious. Have you had a chance to explore some of the smaller wineries in Sonoma County? Ok, we're biased since it's our home base, but they're much more intimate and less touristy. Often it's a mom and pop operation. We loved wine tasting in New Zealand for the same reason.

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