Visions of warm sunny days, leisurely two hour lunches drawn out with conversation, an aproned waiter pouring bubbles into your champagne glass and soft music beckon us back to the Old Country. If you’re like most wine lovers from the United States, it is a dream to visit the birthplace of wine making, Europe. France, Italy and Spain are the most sought after destinations, followed by Germany, Portugal and Greece.
Thomas Jefferson was just so inspired during his travels to France, thus beginning the New World efforts of cultivating grapes to make wine. He started his vines on the slopes of Monticello, his mountain top home, overlooking Charlottesville, Virginia. Richard Leahy has written a wonderful book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, about the history of this endeavor and the more recent explosion of vineyards in Virginia. I especially like the praise offered by John Hagarty, www.Hagarty-on-Wine.com, “Richard Leahy has woven a rich tapestry of Virginia’s wineries and winemakers. If Jefferson could peruse this book a satisfied smile would surely grace his countenance because his dream of quality Virginia wine has been fulfilled. This volume will be referenced often for those seeking to better understand the Old Dominion’s wine ascendency. A riveting and rewarding read.”
Recently, I travelled “across the pond” in the company of my mother, to visit my sister currently living in Provence. The movie, A Good Year, with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard, , is one of my favorite movies and the film location of Bonnieux, Vaucluse, France was just a little southeast of Carpentras, where we made our home base. Maison Trevier, the delightful maison we stayed in, is within the walled village of Carpentras, around the corner from a wonderful fromagerie, La Fromagerie du Comtat. Grab a baguette, some home made fig preserves, olives and truffles from the market and you are in heaven. As I walked into the jardin of Gina Trevier, owner of Maison Trevier, I could almost hear the music from the soundtrack from A Good Year :-)
Maison Trevier & Bebe Chat
Ah, I drift….so this was the beginning of our visit to the romantic south of France, Chateauneuf du Pape, Avignon, Isle sur la Sorgue, Pernes les Fontaines, Gigondas and Le Barroux. The influence of Rome and Catholicism permeated the terroir, walled villages, monasteries and small churches and olive trees used for olive wood carvings.
11th Century St. Catherine’s in Gigondas
I was accustomed to our lovely tasting rooms at the wineries in Virginia. Many of which supplement the costly production of wine on the east coast by building fabulous event sites for weddings and celebrations. Not all are like Pippin Hill Farm, Veritas, King Family Vineyards or Early Mountain Vineyards with their beautifully appointed celebration halls (which are quite gorgeous!) many are smaller, more intimate and not quite as opulent. Afton Mountain Vineyards has a wonderful outdoor covered space, complete with blankets and space heaters to enjoy the view even when it’s cold. They have a perfect spot with a contemporary arbor for weddings plus one of the coziest tasting rooms. See my post http://cvilleuncorked.com/2011/10/15/afton-mountain-vineyards-revisited/ for more about Afton Mountain.
Each winery around the Charlottesville area has it’s own personality. Some are dog friendly like Keswick with it’s Yappy Hours on Sundays but also known for fabulous weddings with a plantation feel that Scarlett O’Hara would have loved. Some are tropical and create gourmet chocolates like Glass House Winery and seating under the glass conservatory jungle of banana trees. Pollak Vineyards sits below the mountain overlooking a pond and has offered fly fishing lessons in the past. Mountfair does weddings on a smaller scale and many of the wineries offer live music on weekends. Veritas has their Starry Nights, outdoor fire pits and a bandstand. King Family Vineyards hosts Polo matches and an annual benefit for breast cancer, the Pink Ribbon Polo Classic coming up on June 20th, 2014. None of this takes away from the fact that Virginia is producing award winning wines that rival the wines of the Old Country. Southern hospitality abounds and you won’t be disappointed in visiting a tasting room in Virginia.
Glass House Winery
By contrast, the wineries and tasting rooms we visited in France were small, most do not charge a tasting fee and can limit you to three tastings, unlike Barboursville Winery (with it’s 5 Star Dining at Palladio) or Horton Vineyards where you taste quite a large selection. Not to be outdone by the ruins at Chateauneuf du Pape, Barboursville has their own ruins of Governor Barbours home, designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. In Chateauneuf, you can taste in a Cave, a small room under ground where you may taste from several different wineries or in the main tasting room for Chateauneuf du Pape that even sells souvenirs. The French term for tasting is “degustation” so look for a sign that includes the term. ‘En vente directe‘ indicates that they have direct sales and “vin a’ emporter” means they sell wine that you can take with you.
Ruins of Chateauneuf du Pape
Ruins at Barboursville Vineyards
In Gigondas, my favorite village of the trip, we visited a more contemporary tasting room with very small bottles in a test tube style presentation, where you may taste many vintages and some world class wines. It was a bit like stepping up to the counter in a store than tasting at a bar, but they had an amazing selection of wines.
Gigondas Tasting Room
The smallest winery we visited was Clos de Trias in Le Barroux and the winemaker’s home really did remind you of A Good Year, family owned and operated, this winery is one of the few 100% organic, biodynamic wineries in the world. With the family Great Dane, Tauro, sneaking in to watch us barrel taste, it was the best wine tasting on our trip. The wines were excellent and we had a wonderful tour by Paige Carnwath and my sister, both who’ve bottled, pumped, picked and tasted for the wine maker, Evan Bakke.
Steel Tanks at Clos de Trias
Tasting at Clos de Trias
Clos de Trias “Tauro”
If you want to taste wine and make an effort to converse about your tasting in France, explore this link for French wine tasting terms. It’s like the old adage, when in Rome…
Whether you venture out to wineries in France or Virginia, the wine community is a big family, facing the same obstacles of weather, and uniting to support each other. Both countries appreciate wine from bud break or bud burst to the final product, so go, enjoy and savor the experience wherever grapes are grown.