Tuesday, October 14, 2008



One of the things I wanted to do in France was go to Bordeaux and see the vineyards there. Antonia and I went on a trip together in France in 1973. I particularly wanted to see the Burgundy region because I then liked heavy Burgundy style wine so was interested in seeing the place. I have been really glad since then to have done that. My step father was English but he was a Francophile, liking French wine, cheese and French cooking and his favourite wine was Volnay so Antonia & I went there, booked into a nice little hotel and ordered a bottle of Volnay for supper. I was somewhat disappointed in that bottle of wine – it was a bit watery compared to the South African wines that I usually drank. On another trip with Antonia in 1981 we had a wonderful bottle of Volnay in Cheshire in England. We happened to see it on the way into supper at a fairly fancy hotel we were staying in. From our trip to Burgundy I knew that the vineyards are on the slope of a long steep valley for the Rhone River south of Dijon. (Same Rhone River that flows through Avignon.) The best wine comes from the vineyards at the top or middle of the slope, poorer wine comes from the lowest slope and the poorest comes from the bottom flat lands. I have just looked at Wikipedia and it also says exactly that. .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burgundy_wine . Here in South Africa not a lot of grapes are grown on the flat lands and those that are are usually used as stookwijn (distilling wine = brandy).

My taste in wine has changed since then; I now prefer lighter blended wines with the Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc being the best known though I also like Cabernet/Shiraz blends. I wanted to see the territory particularly as it is pretty flat coastal country which I associate with poor wine.

This is the first vineyard we saw close up on the holiday. That is Gordes from where our walk started on the hill. It looked pretty ordinary to me but I was to find out later that it is highly unusual. Those vines have not been pruned at all it seems. The Vineyards of Bordeaux look completely different.

Soon we were amoungst manicured vineyards like this. Provence is the warmest wine growing region of France. With supper each night we drank the restaurant’s house wine but we carried our picnic lunch with so had to buy bottled wine. I drank red and the women drank rose. The first bottle was a big surprise to me. It was probably one of the cheaper wines and came from the Mediterranean coastal strip which is not a wine growing area I am at all aware of yet the wine was terrific.

Here it is with our typical lunch. I now discover from Google that Marselan is a new cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache created in this area of France which has only become commercially available in the last few years. Checking in Google reveals that it is a woman who makes this wine & she is extremely highly rated. It is organic.

From the label I thought it was a blend between those two grapes (as against a hybrid of them). I don’t know Grenache so was interested and went looking for it.

I found it in Lourmarin. It was 80% Grenache 20% Shiraz (syrah in Europe). This ‘cave’ is under the chateau. A cave is a wine selling cellar; their word for our cave is the familiar to us; grotte – we visited an interesting one of those which I will write about. That wine was also good. Later I looked for another bottle in London & was offered a South African one (don’t remember which) but I wanted European wine. The one I got was poor in comparison to the previous one – watery like the Volnay I spoke about. Surprisingly I now find out that Grenache is the grape used for most Spanish wine & I find much of their wine heavy (over flavoured) yet this was the opposite. Just shows that how the vine & grape is handled makes all the difference. Very little Grenache planted in South Africa. Seems like the London wine shop did not know what Grenache really is as they offered me no Spanish wine.

Close up of vines near Gordes so it may be Grenache or Shiraz as those are the two predominate grapes of the area. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C3%B4tes_du_Luberon_AOC . All neatly hanging at the bottom of these well pruned vines.

This is a grape harvesting machine. One of the very first to come to South Africa was bought by my cousin Teddy Jordan (Jordan Wines, Vlottenburg) http://www.capewine.com/jardin/jardin_profile.pdf with a mis-spelling of their name! He was messed around by the contract grape pickers one year and bought the machine so that he never again would need them. It has GPS so knows exactly where it is in the vineyard & knows, by reading its record from the previous season what the settings must be; like how high to lift the lower side to keep the machine vertically over the vine when the vineyard is on a steep slope and the settings for the shaking mechanism. By the look of the French vineyards I suspect that there is also a vine pruning machine and I found this machine by using Google

Grape harvester. Comes from here: http://www.pellenc.com/en/vine-growing-works.htm

Look at these vines – especially on the skyline. Having found that Pellenc site I find that there are both pruning machines which are used in winter when the vine is dormant and also trimming machines which are used while the vines are growing. Obviously both have been used in this vineyard. Notice the big stone pine which is so familiar to us. This vineyard is in Graves region of the Bordeaux area.

This is a typical Bordeaux scene with the big chateau in view. The wine growing area of Bordeaux is in three main sections. A good description in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bordeaux_wine . A generalisation is that left bank is biased towards Cabernet Sauvignon and the right bank to Merlot. The three areas are, in the order we went through them, left bank upstream is the Graves region with intensely gravelly soil which was shoved in by glaciers during the Ice Age. The downstream left bank on the sea side of Bordeaux is the Medoc region which includes Margeaux; the soil in this region starts similar to that of Graves from the Bordeaux side and progressively becomes more silty clay washed up from the river as you progress downstream. On the right bank is the area marked #25 on the map. This is ‘Entre-Deaux-Mers’ (Between the Seas) and is not a classic Bordeaux region, it produces dry white wine. The third proper Bordeaux region is north of the Dordogne river marked #9 & 11 on the map but also including St Emilion.

The map of the whole of France has all the major wine growing areas marked in yellow with the Bordeaux area in almost black. The yellow region on the lower left is where we started and which I knew nothing about – interestingly looking at ‘French Wine' in Wikipedia it shows a much smaller area there. The Burgandy region is the longer thin strip north of Provence area. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Cartes_des_vins_de_france.png for a very clear map of the wine regions of France with a short description of each.

We started from Langon (shown on map), on the Garonne river firstly going through the Graves region (34 on the map). The picture with the chateau is that area though it shows white grapes. This part of Bordeaux is regarded as the birthplace of Claret but white wine is also grown particularly in # 36 & #37 (Barsac & Sauternes) where they grow sweet desert wine because they get ‘noble rot’ (Botrytis cinerea) fungal attack. You will see that these areas are on the Ciron river which gives a long lasting mist in autumn which promotes the fungus. That is just what we experienced when we were there but could not photo there & that photo was taken in the main #34 Graves area. Noble rot wines are made in the Cape occasionally when the fungus strikes – intensely sweet, good with deserts.

This is a close up of the vines in the photo of the Graves region chateau. Notice the gravelly soil that it is renowned for. White gravel because this is limestone.

Red grapes in the Graves area. Notice how they all hang down below the vine & how many there are.

A fancy big chateau built with the proceeds of wine no doubt. Château Pichon Longueville Baron


This is now the other side of Bordeaux in the Medoc region. Note the forest in the background. All to the south along the whole left bank area is forest, mainly pine forest though not in this picture. We had lots of driving to do & we did not pass through a good high point for me to take a decent photo of this flat landscape of vineyards. Because of the gravelly soil in Graves the vines grow well (well drained around the roots) and here in Medoc where the soil is heavier there is more wind which dries the soil somewhat. So they can grow good grapes down here. I was interested in this because in the Cape good grapes are really only grown on sloping ground except for parts around Robertson where it is really hot and the soil is gravelly from the Breede river system.. The Medoc grapes do best in a dry summer, in a wet summer they suffer from too much water.

This is on the other bank of the river and upstream of Bordeaux in the ‘Between the Seas’ white wine region. This is hillier than the Graves region which, in turn, is hillier than the flat Medoc region.

Although this is close to the previous photo it represents what Graves looks like.

Now we enter the final of the three Bordeaux wine regions. Notice the plants decorating the lamp post; this was to be seen everywhere in France. Note also the road number above the name. When you leave town this was very useful (similar sign on way out except red line diagonally through the name) for checking you were on the correct road.

I wanted to see a bit of this town as St Emilion is a name that I have long known. Quite a small town yet a famous wine name.

But it does have a nice defensive wall.

Scene close to St Emilion. The vineyards come right up to the villages and towns.

This is typical of the landscape in Graves but in fact it is just past the Libournais (St Emilion) region. It is in fact in Cognac so these are grapes for what we would call brandy seeing we may no longer use the term Cognac.

Cognac grapes.

Later on this day we crossed the Loir river which is the next wine growing region but I took no photos of vineyards that looked quite typical of what we had seen.

This is all the way back in Provence. The town is called Roussillion with the famous red ochre cliffs. From the entry in Wikipedia I have just learned that that town name is very confusing in wine terms because the biggest wine growing area in France is the one on the Mediterranean coast near Spain called Languedoc (also a South African wine farm name) inland but Roussillon along the coast yet the town in the photo is away in Provence. Confusing. Here is what Wikipedia says about the region

Languedoc-Roussillon, by far the largest region in terms of vineyard surface, and the region in which much of France's cheap bulk wines have been produced. While still the source of much of France's and Europe's overproduction, the so-called "wine lake", Languedoc-Roussillon is also the home of some of France's most innovative producers. They try to combine traditional French wine and international styles and do not hesitate to take lessons from the New World. Much Languedoc-Roussillon wine is sold as Vin de Pays d'Oc.

This photo was taken later on the walk out of Roussillion but these are table grapes which have to be picked by hand. According to what I read on the web that first bottle of Marselan I had is organically grown and handpicked. Surprising it was not more expensive.

I am very pleased to have looked at the Bordeaux wine growing area. At night we drank the ‘house wine’ of the restaurant we were in and all of them were good. I had no poor wine in France yet we always chose the cheaper wines available.


To give some context to this post here is my wine storage set up.

That is the refrigerated cupboard I made. It is in our storage room which is also my office. The height was fixed at 2,8m because that is the length of a sheet of chipboard. There is 40mm of polystyrene insulating foam between the inner and outer chipboard so the inside is insulted everywhere, top, bottom, sides, front and back. There are 22 racks each side; each rack can hold 12 bottles so I could store 528 bottles if it was completely filled. I went to a commercial refrigeration company when I was designing the cupboard and they calculated what size of refrigeration unit I would need. It keeps the cupboard between 14 & 15 degrees Celsius with the humidity at 75% but I can change the temperature on the thermostat if I wish.

Each shelf is made of galvanized steel – I did the bending and welding myself. The shelves slide on plastic rails. I wanted the shelves to be loose so I can move the wine around. The oldest wine is at the bottom left side and it gets younger as you go around clockwise from there. When I empty a shelf I can simply slide it out and move the others to fill the gap. I store everyday drinking wine in the right side as well as a little white wine. Although I mainly have blended wine the ones in the picture are not. Those are labels I print stuck to the shelves.

Here is the compressor which lives in my workshop behind my office.


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