After a fairly easy drive for an hour then several kilometres of narrow one-lane roadways, the GPS told us we had arrived at out destination. The only problem was that nothing around us showed the name Vignobles Darriet, the winery with which we had an appointment for a tour and tasting. There was one sizeable property which showed the name Chateau Dauphiné Rondillon. In the back of my mind was a thought that it was one of the six Chateaus owned by the Darriets. We pulled in, parked and I went into the office to check if we were in the right place. The two ladies in the office assured me it was and in fact one was Amy, my contact.
In Canada we are members of a country-wide wine club, the Opimian Society. The society is essentially a wine-buying co-op which through nearly monthly offerings makes wine from all over the world available to its members. As well, most of the local chapters hold various wine-tasting events throughout the year. Another benefit of membership is that when you travel to wine-producing regions they will put you in touch with some of the wineries who supply wines to the Society. Vignobles Darriet, www.vignoblesdarriet.fr , was the first of three visits we had arranged in the Bordeaux region.
My contact Amy turned out to also be the guide for our visit. A delightful young lady, she was also very knowledgeable about the wine-making operation. Our tour naturally started at the vineyard. Amy explained that the Darriet family have owned the winery for over 200 years. Currently the operation is run by a brother and sister, the eighth generation to do so. Amongst their children they hope that there will be a ninth generation of wine-makers.
Over the years the family has acquired 6 Chateaus scattered around the region. At this particular property the Sémillon grape is grown for the making of sweet wine. Amy explained that the vines we were looking at were 100 years old which was very unusual. Vines generally have out-lived their useful lifespan long before 100 years. However, with these vines being such an important part of the family history, they are being babied along so as to produce grapes as long as they possibly can. She also pointed out a 100-year old pear tree in the middle of the vines. Ordinarily it would have been cut down to make it easier to machine-harvest the grapes. Again, because they hand-pick these grapes and the tree is “part of the family”, it continues to grow and produce pears.
Amy explained that from this vineyard they produce sweet wine and outlined the process by which it is made. Essentially it depends on the grapes becoming covered with a mold called botrytis. Three conditions are required for the development of botrytis: wind, fog, and sun. The fog provides moisture, the wind dries the grapes and the sun provides heat. With the right conditions the botrytis develops and causes the skins of the grapes to become very thin. The moisture in the grapes can then more easily evaporate and as the grapes shrivel the sugars in the grape become very concentrated. Basically it is from these shrivelled mold-covered sugar-intense grapes that the beautiful Semillon wine is produced. Occasionally a year occurs where the right conditions don’t happen, the botrytis doesn’t develop and they can’t produce their sweet wine.
Our next stop was the barrel room and adjacent room that contained a 100 year-old wine press that is still being used for their highest quality wine. Other historical artifacts are scattered through the two rooms including some very old bottles of wine. One very interesting item was a menu of wines served at a lunch many years ago in honor of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. One of the wines served was a 1937 Chateau Dauphiné Rondillon!
The sweet wine, Amy explained, is aged in tanks for a year then ages for two years in new French Oak barrels. Other wines are barrel-aged in 2 or three year old barrels for different times, depending on the requirements of the particular type of wine.
Our next stop, and some might argue the best stop, was of course the tasting! And what a wonderful tasting it was! We started with a white, then a rose, followed by several reds and finishing up with two sweet wines. We ended selecting several to purchase as “souvenirs” of our visit (OK they will be consumed long before we leave France).
Our thanks to Amy for the warm hospitality she extended to us on behalf of Vignobles Darriet!
From Chateau Dauphiné Rondillon we drove a few kilometres into Cadillac for lunch. Following lunch I wandered around a walled-in part of the town then visited Chateau Cadillac.
The Chateau dates back to the early 1600’s originally built for the Duke of Epernon. The building was acquired by the State in 1818 and became a women’s prison. As a prison it ended up holding the record of the highest mortality rate and for the worst treatment of prisoners in France! The prison was closed in 1890 then became a remand centre for girls until 1952. Today the Chateau houses quite a collection of old tapestries and rooms restored to their original look.
During the day the weather continuously improved to the point that when we returned to Clos Vieux Rochers we spent some time sitting in the sun enjoying some white wine.