Chateau Vignelaure

Morning Sun

The highlight of our last full day in Provence was a tour of the last winery that I had arranged a tour of with the assistance of the Opimian Society.  This came after a tour of a different Chateau.  And the day was capped off by a visit with James Dean and the Marquis de Sade … well, sort of …

Daybreak provide a beautiful golden glow in the valley as we prepared for the day ahead.

Our first stop was the Chateau de Lourmarin.  We had briefly toured the grounds a few days earlier but returned to tour the Chateau itself.  Said to be the first chateau built in the Renaissance style in Provence, it was built in several stages over many years.  The main wing of the chateau, including the tower, are open for a self-guided tour.  The chateau itself had fallen into complete disrepair by the 1920’s but was saved from being auctioned off to haul the stone away  to other locations. by Robert Laurent-Vibert.  His extensive, and expensive, restoration is well worth the visit.

Following lunch in the village of Lourmarin we continued our journey south to the Aix-en-Provence region and Chateau Vignelaure.



Sitting on 60 hectares, the winery was certainly the largest one that we visited on this trip.  General Manager and Winemaker Phillipe Bru met us and took us on a tour of this magnificent property.  We arrived on the last day of their harvest so we started our tour where the grapes were being unloaded.  From there we continued into the winery itself to see the large stainless steel vats where the wine is made and starts its aging.  From there it is aged in French Oak barrels.  Their barrel room was quite impressive by its size.

Philippe Bru

One wonderful feature of Ch. Vignelaure is its art collection, which does seem to be a natural companion to fine wine.  In the art gallery I was particularly excited to see a couple of original, signed, Henri Cartier Bresson-Bresson prints.  In addition to the art gallery and the art on display in several rooms in the winery, the surrounding grounds contained a number of sculptures as well.  All of which adds to the absolute beauty of this Chateau.

Chateau de Vignelaure

We finished off our visit with, naturally, a tasting of some of their very fine wines.  After tasting the 2010, 2006 and 2004 Chateau Vignelaure, I can’t wait to taste the 2009 which I have had aging in my basement for several years!

Our thanks to Phillipe Bru for making time in a very busy schedule to take us on a tour of this amazing place.

During our trip to France we have visited five different wineries, staying at one of them.  The wineries varied in size, their approach to harvesting grapes, and to making wine, but the one thing that the people we met at each winery all shared was a passion for what they do.  We often don’t think about how the wine came into being when we pop the cork.  Visiting wineries gives you a whole different perspective.  Dealing with elements beyond their control (i.e. weather), choosing the ideal time to harvest (picking too early or too late can have serious consequences on the quality of the wine that year), each winemaker has to apply his or her skill and expertise to produce a wine that we will end up enjoying.

By late afternoon we were back in Lacoste where a couple more surprises awaited.

Shortly after arriving back at the apartment I heard Finn calling down to me to grab my camera and we would go for a drive the see the James Dean Wall and a couple of other things.

The Final Curtain

Created by Japanese sculptor Yasuo Mizui, the monument to the actor James Dean was sculpted out of blocks of stone so that it could be dismantled and moved to the USA.  A dispute with the owners of the land where it was to be relocated resulted in the sculpture remaining in France.  One side of the sculpture depicts stage curtains closing and is called “The Final Curtain”.  The other side incorporates a bust of James Dean and is called the “Wall of Hope”.  It is a beautiful piece that seems destined to remain in the woods near Lacoste where you can pretty much only find it with the help of a local.

Finn studying the Wall of Hope

“James Dean” aka Finn in a Mini

Marquis de Sade

The next stop was the Chateau de Lacoste where Finn provided some information about the building, now owned by Pierre Cardin who has done extensive renovations.  A sculpture depicts a bust of the Marquis de Sade, who spent many years in prison where he did much of his writing, surrounded by iron bars but open on the top.  The bars represent prison but the open top reflects that they could imprison his body but not his mind.  Upon being asked about the sculpture by a passer-by, Finn launched into an impromptu and very interesting tutorial on the life of the Marquis de Sade.

Finn the Storyteller

Our last stop was a viewing of the house where Aristide has been squatting for years.  I opted not to photograph the premises, preferring to have his face in the photographs I took of him tell his story rather than photos of the conditions, mostly self-imposed, under which he lives.

Finn’s tour was a perfect wrap-up of our week in Lacoste and the surrounding area known as the Luberon.  It is a village and a region that I will long remember for its beauty and for the interesting individuals I met.

Evening view towards Bonnieux

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Menerbes, Lavender and Gordes

Our next couple of days in Lacoste were fairly relaxed with visiting some neighbouring villages and a lavender museum; visiting a bit more with our host Finn; and meeting, visiting with, and photographing a very unique local individual.

Lacoste early morning

Roses in Lacoste

Fall Colours


View towards the market

Tuesdays in Lacoste is market day.  The market is very small with only a few tables.  After buying some tomatoes we continued to climb up towards the Chateau.  While checking out the SCAD store where they sell items that students have made, Finn caught up with us and offered to show us one of the private gardens in town that he looks after.  Naturally we jumped at the offer. Finn originally designed the gardens for the previous owner, an author and playwright. They were absolutely beautiful with an amazing view out over the valley and, upwards to the Chateau.

After leaving Finn we continued up the hill to the Chateau.

Heading back down the hill, I picked up our car, drove back up to the Chateau to pick up Susan, and it was off to Menerbes  to explore and have lunch.

That evening we enjoyed another local event … the Pizza Truck. Actually a trailer, the mobile pizza maker comes to town every Tuesday evening. I am happy to report that the pizza was excellent!

Mobile Pizza Restaurant

The next morning, while enjoying a coffee on the terrace after taking some early morning photos, Finn called down to me “Grab your camera and come meet Aristide”.

We had seen Aristide around the village a few times over the past few days and he certainly seemed harmless enough. Most people, and we were no exception, would form certain generalizations, based on first impressions, about Aristide. Some would be true, some would be completely false. Finn had formed a special bond with Aristide, in part due to Finn having shared similar kinds of experiences at various times in his life. Most mornings he makes coffee for Aristide and in general looks out for him.

Aristide turned out to be a fascinating and very likeable fellow. I quickly discovered that he loves having his photo taken. An alcoholic, he truly lives day to day. He asks nothing of anybody and takes no government assistance. What little money he lives on he earns by doing odd jobs for people around town. He has squatted for 14 years in a house left vacant due to legal wrangling in an inheritance dispute. Finn told me that he has never seen Aristide have a down day, even on days he is hungry with no food or no money. He is a free spirit who lives a life of his choosing and, as I mentioned earlier, asks for no handouts from anyone.

I also discovered that he has quite a sense of humour, at one point he and Finn launched into a verse of one of his favourite songs, “Money, Money, Money” from Mama Mia. “Money is good” he said with a grin, then burst out laughing. Finn told me that Aristide has been in a couple of short films Finn has made. In one of them Aristide plays the part of a famous tree surgeon from Montreal who assists with a heart transplant in a table … yes, a table. I have seen the “patient” and it is “alive” and doing well in Finn’s house with its new heart. Finn later sent me a link to the video and it is quite hilarious.  If you are interested in watching it, the link is Heart Transplant




Aristide is truly one of the most interesting and complex individuals I have met. There is a lot about his life he has told Finn, there is a lot that he has not divulged. While his eyes twinkle, his face tells the story of a very hard life.

Later that morning we toured a nearby Musée de la Lavande where we learned about growing, harvesting and distilling lavender into an essential oil. When you learn how many kilograms of lavender it takes to distill one litre of oil it gives a better understanding as to why the oil is so expensive.

After our visit to the museum we drove to Gordes to explore the village and to have lunch. Built on a hillside it is yet another beautiful medieval French village.

In the afternoon we continued on to Apt where we enjoyed a coffee at a very good coffee house/street cafe before doing a bit of grocery shopping.

On the way back to Lacoste we stopped at Pont Julien. Built by the ancient Romans around 300 BC, it was in the main road from Rome through France. Aside from the three main arches it also has two smaller openings designed to reduce the risk of damage from floods. Obviously the design and construction worked well for 2000 years as the bridge was in use until 2005 when it was replaced by a newer bridge!

Pont Julien

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Bonnieux, Lourmarin, and Vaugines

On the Monday of our week in Provence we set off to explore Bonnieux, the village we had been looking across at all weekend, along with Lourmarin and Vaugines.

Bonnieux was a short 6 km drive through the valley and up the hill. The village itself is spread out down the hillside. We parked the car and spent a bit of time strolling along the streets checking out the sights. (Click any photo to open Gallery)

Road to Lourmarin

Then it was back in the car and off to Lourmarin. The first part of the drive was down windy mountain roads before emerging onto a wide open plain. Probably the most prominent features of Lourmarin, which is often called one of the prettiest villages in France, is the Chateau de Lourmarin. Our visit started here with a walk around the grounds to find a statue that Finn had told us about.

After checking out the grounds (we returned later in the week to tour the Chateau) we walked into town to check it out. We found a nice little cafe in a square for lunch. There were lots of people strolling through the square so we were able to people-watch as we ate lunch.

(Click any photo to open Gallery)

Our final stop was Vaugines. This village doesn’t attract the numbers of tourists the previous two locations do, so I was able to spend a very pleasant hour photographing a lot of beautiful buildings.


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Apt Market

One of the first things we needed to do upon our arrival in Lacoste is buy some groceries. Our landlord/host for the week, Finn, recommended the market in Apt which takes place every Saturday. With our arrival on Friday, this worked perfectly into our plans.

The next morning we made the 20 minute drive to check out the market. You can pretty much buy anything from scarves to spaghetti, socks to squash, wallets to … well you get the drift.

It was fun wandering around then stopping for an espresso at a sidewalk cafe.

Here’s a few images from our visit:

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Situated in the Luberon National Park area of Provence, the medieval village sits on a hillside overlooking Bonnieux across the valley. Crowning the village at the top of the hill, is the Chateau de Lacoste, one of three former residences of the Marquis de Sade.

By the end of the Second World War the village was pretty much deserted. In 1970, American painter and art professor, Bernard Pfriem recognized what had drawn artists to Lacoste for centuries and established the Lacoste School of Arts, and in doing so started the rejuvenation of Lacoste. The school was ultimately taken over by the Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) in 2002.  The majority of buildings in Lacoste are now owned by SCAD.

Another sizeable portion of buildings, including the Chateau, are owned by Pierre Cardin. Much of the rebuilding and refurbishing of Lacoste, would not have happened without the interest and significant monetary investment of Cardin.

Our apartment is the lower level of this house (with the two umbrellas)

With only a small number of full time residents, most businesses in Lacoste have not survived. There are two cafes but not much else. For the traveller, that adds to the charm of Lacoste. It is like time has stood still. Many of the surrounding towns bustle with cafes and trendy shops designed to attract tourists. In Lacoste, when the stream of tourists visiting during the day ends, the streets are virtually deserted at night. If you want a place full of nightlife, Lacoste is not for you. But if you want a quiet retreat at the end of a day visiting towns and cities in Provence, you could not find a better spot than Lacoste. Marseilles, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence are all within an hour and a half drive.  Towns like Bonnieux, Lourmarin and Gordes are within a 10 to 30 minute drive.

Rather than babble on endlessly about Lacoste, I will let you view the village through the lens of my camera.  This series of shots were taken in my first couple of days in Lacoste. Just click on any photo to open the gallery in an enlarged format.

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Memories of Clos Vieux Rochers

One of the things I enjoyed most about our stay at Clos Vieux Rochers was being able to just wander about the property with my camera. So I thought I would put together a little gallery of some of my favourite shots. Some of these have appeared in my blog posts over the past week, some are new.

Just click any photo to see an enlarged version.

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On to Provence

Once again dawn broke with mist shrouding the vineyard and the valley below.

It was a day of great excitement at Clos Vieux Rochers. Grape harvest!  Shortly before 8:00 am several cars arrived with people to help with the harvest along with a camerawoman from BBC Four to film it for the upcoming season of A  New Life in the Sun. 

Wine really is a living thing. Yeast, which is a living organism, ferments grape juice into wine. As the wine ages in casks and in the bottle it continues to become more complex in flavour and aroma. So perhaps some of the excitement about the harvest is that it is the birth of a new vintage. The grower has no control over the weather. But the choice of the optimum day for harvesting the grapes can have an effect on the wine. No one knows at this stage how the wine will turn out. Only time will tell.

Grape harvesting

I could hear the sound of the harvesting machine coming down the road. Clos Vieux Rochers machine-picks their grapes. The harvesting machine straddles the row of grapes and, as it moves along the row, vacuums the grapes off the vine. The ripe grapes come away very easily. A laser in the harvester checks the grapes and selects only the round ones, the rest are ejected. The grapes coming out of the harvester are ready for the wine press.

Waiting for the grapes

Buckets of grapes

The Harvest

The Harvester

The harvester really does sound like a giant vacuum cleaner as it starts its work in the vineyard. I watched the machine go up and down a few rows before I had to return to the gîte to load up the car. We had a long drive ahead of us.

Before we left we were again interviewed for BBC Four about our experiences during the week and our impressions about the gîte, the winery, and the harvest that was taking place. Fortunately we could, with all honesty, report that we had absolutely loved our week at Clos Vieux Rochers. Steve and Rob had been incredibly warm and accommodating hosts. The gîte was extremely comfortable and the wine had been delicious!  We would have absolutely no hesitation at all in recommending Clos Vieux Rochers to anyone looking for a place to stay when visiting the Bordeaux region of France.

Then it was into the car and a short drive up the lane to where the harvest was taking place to say our farewells to Steve and Rob. We were sad to leave yet at the same time looking forward to the next stop in our adventure, Lacoste in the Provence region.

With stops for fuel and lunch along with very slow traffic when driving through Avignon, it took us nearly 7 hours to reach the tiny village of Lacoste. We met our host, Finn, and were shown our apartment.  A former stable below the house, the apartment is very comfortable  and absolutely charming. From the terrace there is a tremendous view across the valley to the village of Bonnieux.


Living Room


Our view across the valley to Bonnieux

A short walk around town quickly showed that I had come to a photographer’s dream. Everywhere I walked there were endless photographic opportunities.

Lacoste is a tiny medieval village on the side of a hill. Atop the hill, overlooking the village, are the ruins of an old castle – one of the Marquis de Sade’s chateaus. Most of the homes in the town are now owned by the Savannah College of Art and Design which uses the buildings to house their classes and students. Another segment of the homes is owned by Pierre Cardin. During the winter the village is pretty quiet with only a small number of full time residents. Unfortunately that means that most of the shops and cafes are closed, unable to make a living. There still are two cafes though, and we went to one of them for dinner.

From our apartment, about a block down the street in one direction is Cafe France. About a block and a half in the other direction is La Dolce Vita, our choice for dinner that night. A very nicely appointed cafe, we were shown to a room in the back. The room was lined with old photos of actors and actresses and an old black and white movie was being projected on the wall. Given the name of the cafe it was only appropriate that it was the movie by the same name!

Dinner was excellent and a perfect welcome to Provence!

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Last Day in Bordeaux 

I awoke as it was getting light. Checking the time I realized that I had about 10 minutes before sunrise. Grabbing my camera I rushed out to the vineyard to get set up. After capturing a few sunrise shots I wandered about the vineyard for some further early morning shots.

After breakfast I drove to Montagne, a village about 15 minutes away. After parking the car I wandered the streets to get some photos before the sun got too high and the light too harsh.

Unloading hand-picked grapes from back of carrier

Red Squirrel

Old Church



My last stop before returning to the car was a great little bakery where I purchased a two apricot tarts and a couple of lemon tarts.

Back at the gîte we enjoyed a late morning coffee and the apricot tarts in the sun. We spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying our remaining time at Clos Vieux Rochers.

We returned to Les Marronniers in Montagne for our “farewell to Bordeaux” dinner. Whereas our dinner there on our first night in Bordeaux had been a somewhat boisterous affair with us and a wedding party of 50, tonight there was only the two of us.  The food, wine, and service were all first rate. It was a fitting conclusion to our week.

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Clos Cantenac

Early morning fog made for some very interesting photo opportunities.  Unfortunately I had to cut my “fun” short as we had an appointment for a tour and tasting with a third Opimian supplier and I had to get ready to go. 

It was a beautiful, sunny morning for our drive to Clos Cantenac, .  Unlike the past two mornings where we were initially a wee bit uncertain if we were at the right place, this morning there was no doubt. A big sign confirmed our arrival. 

The winery owner, Martin Krajewski, has a history with Opimian dating back many years.  In fact we had attended a winetasting dinner in Edmonton a number of years ago where Martin was the guest of honour and told us about the winery he owned at the time, Chateau de Sours.  I recall Martin being both entertaining and very interesting to listen to. Over the years I have bought a number of Chateau de Sours wines. He bought Clos Cantenac in 2007 and has built it up from 1.6 hectares to 6 hectares.

Catherine, our host

We met Catherine, my contact for arranging the visit, who took us on a tour. Catherine outlined how, since Martin purchased Clos Cantenac, he has not only increased the number of hectares, but has done much to improve the vineyard, modernized the buildings and equipment, and added new buildings. The result is a very modern winery that produces tremendous wines.
The grapes are all hand-picked. We were lucky to have arrived on a day when they were harvesting grapes. Part way through our tour Martin’s daughter Charlotte arrived. Charlotte lives in New Zealand but has been coming over each year for the harvest. The plan seems to be that she will soon move to France to take an active roll in a winery they have recently purchased in Pomerol. She told us that the grapes would be arriving shortly and if we wanted to stick around we could see the initial process of winemaking.

In the meantime we finished off our tour with a look at their barrel room and a small laboratory.  Then it was off to the tasting room to sample some wines. On the way, Martin Krajewski arrived so we had a chance to meet him and visit for a few minutes.


Catherine explains operation of sorting machine

Barrel Room

In the tasting room, we started off with a rose – L’exuberance.  The bottle itself is a work of art and the wine is delicious. It would be a perfect wine to enjoy on the patio. We then moved on to the Petit Cantenac which is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  We finished off with the Clos Cantenac which is 100% Merlot. The Petit Cantenac was a little lighter and fruitier while the Clos Cantenac was more full bodied and bolder. Both were excellent!

Even the bottle is a thing of beauty.

Petit Cantenac

Back at the winery the grapes had started to arrive. Catherine and Charlotte together explained the process to us. Because these grapes were destined to be a rose, there was only one sorting table. Normally, for a red, there would be a second sorting table after the destemming. Today the grapes went from the sorting table to the destemming machine then into the press. The juice is pumped into a stainless steel tank which cools it overnight and the process of turning grape juice into wine begins. In all the years that we have toured wineries this is only the second time that we have seen this part of the process so it was very exciting.

Sorting Table


Grapes on conveyor to press

Charlotte explaining process to Susan


L-R Susan, Martin, Charlotte, Catherine


After bidding farewell to the very fine folks at Clos Cantenac, it was off to Puisseguin for lunch at Bistro de la Gare. We had the three course fixed menu which was wonderful. It was a beautiful day for sitting in the patio, eating fine food, drinking a bit of local wine, and enjoying the sunshine which has been missing from most of our time in France so far.

We were back at our gîte by mid-afternoon where we had a chance to relax and catch up on some photo editing. Later in the afternoon we enjoyed some of the warm sunshine as we had a great visit with Steve and Rob along with a couple from another one of the gîtes, Ed and Maria from the Netherlands.  Shall I say we went through several bottles of rose?!!



Maria, Ed, and Rob

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Chateau Daugay

Up before dawn, I drove down the hill in hopes of getting a shot of Chateau de Monbadon in the golden light of early morning. I had guessed that the sun would be at the right angle from a vantage spot on the road that goes around behind the Chateau. Not everything goes as planned. The building side that faced me was angled too far away from the sun to catch the golden light. Ah well, you can’t win them all.

Back to the gîte for breakfast then off to today’s winery tour. Today we would be visiting Chateau Daugay , another Opimian supplier.

Chateau Daugay

After GPS took us on another series of twists and turns we arrived at a house that looked like the one pictured on the website. It turned out to be the right location and we met up with M. Jean-Bernard Grenie, my contact and an instantly likeable gentleman. When we advised we were from Alberta he exclaimed that he had been in Alberta in June, at a wine summit at Lake Louise!

M. Grenie started off giving us a bit of the history of Ch. Daugay. The beautiful home on the property dates back 200 years to the time of Napolean. His wife (Mme. Helene de Bouard-Grenie) is the current owner who took over the winery from her parents.

Descending the steps in front of the house took us into the vineyard. On vines averaging 40 years old, the vineyard is comprised of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. M. Grenie picked several of the Merlot grapes for us to taste. They were extremely sweet. They were not quite ready to pick though, we were told. They aren’t ready until the seeds just crack when you bite down on them. While they do get the grapes tested regularly to determine when they are best harvested, M. Grenie also relies on his own experience, instinct and “seed cracking” test to confirm the optimum time to harvest. The grapes are then hand-picked.

When the grapes are hauled to the winery they are destemmed, sorted, then go through a Mistral sorting machine, which blows away remaining bits of stems and leaves, before the final sorting table. The wine is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel vats and aged in oak barrels.

Winery with canopy set up to cover sorting tables

We had the unique opportunity to taste, along with M. Grenie, 5 day-old Merlot juice. It was very sweet as it really hadn’t yet started turning into wine. M. Grenie described it as having great potential!

Fermentation Tanks

The next stop was the tasting room where we sampled the 2015 vintage. At first taste the wine from the freshly opened bottle was quite fruity with a definite taste of blackberry or cherry. It was quite amazing over the next 10 or 15 minutes to experience how the taste of the wine changed. As it had a chance to breathe the flavours opened up and the wine became a little more mellow. One can easily see how after a few more years aging in the bottle this wine will be outstanding.

I look forward to ordering some Chateau Daugay wine when next they are offered by Opimian. M. Grenie is obviously a master at his craft and takes great pride in producing very fine wine.

As we were walking back to the car we mentioned that we were heading into St. Emilion for lunch. We have a restaurant in town, M. Grenie told us. The chef is a one-star Michelin chef and you can buy Ch. Daugay by the glass. It sounded like a perfect choice to us, so with the directions to Logis de la Cadène we set off for St. Emilion.

The town was very full of tourists but we managed to find a parking stall which, as it turned out, wasn’t too far a walk from the restaurant. Logis de la Cadene is located partway down a very steep cobblestone walkway. While not inexpensive, lunch was extremely good and the presentation first rate!  And of course we each enjoyed a glass of the 2011 Chateau Daugay.

Logis de la Cadène


After lunch it was back to Clos Vieux Rochers to relax for the remainder of the afternoon. I did have to make a few stops on the way back to take some photos.

Back “home” had a delightful time sitting in the sun chatting with Rob and Steve over a bottle of wine.

Around 6:30 I set off for a location that offered yet a different view of Chateau de Monbadon, to capture it in the late afternoon sun. This time it turned out to be a good location with some nice late-day sunlight.

Chateau de Monbadon

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