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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Lacoste

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.

Kitchen

Living Room

Bedroom

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

Fountain

 


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,  www.closcantenac.com .  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.

Grapes

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

De-stemming

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?!!

Steve

Rob

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 www.chateau-daugay.com , 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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Vignobles Darriet

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.

Amy talks about the Semillon grape

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.

Pear

100 Year Old Pear Tree

Sémillon grapes

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 mild 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.

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Amy shows us the 100 yr old wine press

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 agedhttps://windaturback.com/2017/09/19/chateau-daugay/ 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.

A couple of old wines


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).

The tasting line-up

 

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.

Cadillac

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.

Our purchases for the day

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Bordeaux Bound

After a seven-hour drive from Honfleur we arrived at our home for the next week near Puisseguin in the Bordeaux region of France, about an hour east of the city Bordeaux.

We will spend the week in a gîte (cottage) at the vineyard Clos Vieux Rochers www.closvieuxrochers.com . Upon arrival we met our hosts Steve and Rob. We also met a cameraman/director for the BBC Four program A New Life in the Sun.  He was spending the day at the property filming for the upcoming Season 3. With our permission he videoed our arrival, check-in, unloading the car, and later briefly interviewed us. Quite a welcome to be sure!

After Steve showed us through our gîte we had a chance to haul in our luggage and get settled in. A short time later Rob took us on a tour of the vineyard and winery. He explained that we were in the Castillon Côte de Bordeaux wine region.  Since purchasing a virtually derelict property two years ago they have done a tremendous job starting the rejuvenation of the vineyard and have started producing some tremendous wine. Their wine is 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.

The vineyard

Rob talking about the vineyard

The Wine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve and Rob have also done an amazing job of renovating the old farmhouse into four guest gîtes. Just opened in April, the accommodation is first class. Our week here is going to be very comfortable.

Our gîte


Dinner in the nearby village of Montagne was another special experience. Besides us in the restaurant, there was a group of 50 for a pre-wedding dinner. Both the service and food was excellent despite the challenges of serving a group of 50 besides us.

Up before dawn to photograph the property at daybreak, I was rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise.

The rest of the day was spent doing some grocery shopping in a nearby village and relaxing in the gîte. Late in the afternoon I drove a short distance to photograph Chateau de Monbadon.

Chateau de Monbadon

Sunday, our second full day, was yet another rainy day. After breakfast the rain let up so I went for a little stroll around the property.

Mid-day we drove to Castillon-la-Bataille.  Being Sunday pretty much everything was closed and the streets were pretty quiet. After strolling the streets for a while we went down to the Dordogne River, which the town borders, where I photographed the bridge and river.

Bridge at Castillon

Dordogne River

I finished off the day with down the road from our rental and around the vineyard. Every time I go for a walk I find new things to photograph.

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