We cross the Garonne in Cérons: what a view! The difference between the landscapes on either bank is simply extraordinary: the rolling and hilly Entre-Deux-Mers on one side and the flatter Graves and Sauternes on the other. I interrupt Noémie’s deep meditation with: “ What do you fancy?”. I know she likes experiencing different settings so she loves a bit of diversity but, to annoy me, she answers that what she wants most of all is silence… a hilarious, if harsh, comeback.
We reach Château Gravas mid-afternoon. Noémie absolutely had to stop here to visit the exhibition about Paul Flickinger, a multi-facetted Lorraine artist. We’re met by Florence, the vine grower and château owner. She tells us that it’s been in the family for decades: the family even takes care of visitors. As she explains the subtleties of Sauternes and Barsac sweet wine, we step into the wine cellar enhanced by the artist’s pieces: what an atmosphere! “There’s always been a powerful bond between the worlds of wine (especially in Bordeaux) and art. We’ve always had a passion for contemporary art so it felt natural to bring some art into our cellars”.
Everything comes together to create a tasting we’ll never forget, surrounded by barrels and sculptures, the smell of the cellar and gleam of the artwork, we’re completely spellbound… Noémie can’t take her eyes off the art as she sniffs and swills her wine (I don’t dare tell her that that’s not how you do it and there’s absolutely no point manhandling it!), it’s a winner.
Today we’re visiting Château Guiraud, the top Sauternes Grand Cru Classé no less! There’s a kitchen garden in front of us, the château on the left and the restaurant in a former chapel on the right. The winery’s guide tells us how Sauternes gets its unique flavour. What do you think it is? Mushrooms? Mould? As I mouth “yuk” and pull a face at Noémie, she gives me a dirty and disapproving look. And she’s right because, dear people of Gironde, I dared to joke about the great Sauternes secret. I promise it will never happen again (no matter what…) and I know that you don’t mess with mushrooms here.
Basically, BOTRYTIS CINEREA is the lovely name of the little fungus that grows here due to the area’s topography. The Ciron is a cold river that runs deep in the valley which, when it meets the warmer Garonne in autumn, creates a microclimate and mist that encourages the fungus to grow. The fungus creates “noble rot” which I think has to be the loveliest oxymoron ever… Well, let’s get back to our mushrooms, as all this takes the water out of the grape and only leaves sugar behind. “The grapes are hand-picked, one cluster and one berry at a time.” Plus the château’s been organically farmed for 20 years, impressive.
After the tour, La Chapelle restaurant’s menu makes my tummy rumble. Garden salad and bay oysters washed down by the winery’s own dry white. What else!
We’re intrigued by what we’ve heard about the Ciron and want to find out more, especially since we can canoe down it. Plus we said it would be a sporty getaway and we love adventure… well, Noémie does, so it’s everything we were looking for.
So we’re off to Bommes water sports centre. We get the canoe package with a Domaine de Carbonnieu tour: no pain, no gain. “Are you cycling? If you like, I can drop your bikes and luggage off at your arrival point, that way you can get straight back on your way,” the guide suggests. Great, I have to admit that bit of good news lifted my spirits as I thought I’d have to do A LOT more exercise than my recommended quota.
Without a second thought, we let the river carry us along in the shade of the trees and vines. Mmmmmm… you can’t imagine how refreshing it feels, surrounded by the countryside and nature…. There are a few rapids to scramble over but overall it’s pretty calm and it’s more about enjoying the peace and quiet than thrills and spills. Noémie makes the most of it to take snaps and chuckle at my worried face paddling over the rapids… What? You should always stay focused you know.
Alexis greets us at Domaine de Carbonnieu: he’s the owner and Sauternes winemaker alongside his father and brother. We taste the wine as he tells us about the Ciron’s magical mist and how important it is for the vines. I’m pleasantly surprised by the rich aromas and completely spellbound by the story that makes this area a mystery in itself.
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