A Most Excellent Day Touring Bordeaux Wineries

Although we could have driven from one Bordeaux winery to another, we did a tour.  We did this for several reasons.

  • I firmly believe that if you are going to drink, for goodness sake don’t drive.  I didn’t mind driving across France, but would have hated driving around Bordeaux if it meant missing out on this once in a lifetime experience.
  • Bordeaux is massive with thousands of wineries.  It’s hard to know which ones to visit.  We were pleased with both the quality and variety of wineries chosen by our guide in the know.
  • We planned this road trip days in advance.  With such short notice, it would have been difficult to make all the arrangements ourselves.

Jurgen, our guide/ designated driver chose three vastly different wineries for us to visit in Bordeaux.   First, we visited Chateau Laniote in St. Emilion.  It is a family run winery run by a delightful couple.  She’s a oneologist (a wine scientist) and he’s the resident magician and jack of all trades.  Their wine was tasty and a good value.  I’m always interested in how family businesses operate and wish we could have stayed longer to talk with them.   Unfortunately for us, they were busy racking the wine (siphoning it from one container to the next in order to leave the sediment behind).  Fortunately for us, we had other lovely vineyards to visit.  After we left, our guide told us he was a Baron.   I don’t know that I’ve ever met a Baron or Baroness before.  I hope as nice and hard-working as these guys.

Our next visit was to Chateau Gruaud Larose (above).  We had a nice guide who explained some of the unique things about their winery.

  • It is located in the St Julian appellation, which is known for producing full-bodied and elegant wines.
  • They make both a first label (higher quality/more expensive) and second label (which uses grapes from younger vines and other cuvées).   The second label is Sarget du Château Gruaud-Larose.

  • They are state of the art and have embraced technology in their efforts to produce the best wine possible.  They have a weather station that is replete with a machine to break up hail, a hail gun…sort of.  It is in the distance, near the furthest building in the picture above.
  • They have a fancy-schmancy grape sorter.  It uses high-precision cameras to electronically select only perfect, ripe grapes.

We visited the highly praised Château Pontet-Canet.  While Château Gruaud-Larose embraced technology, Château Pontet-Canet returned to traditional methods in their efforts to produce a high quality wine.

  • Bordeaux is notorious for its adherence to rigid classifications laid out in the 1800’s.  Château Pontet-Canet is classified as a Cinquième Crus (fifth growth).  Our guide, Jurgen, echoed the main criticism of this rigidity when he explained to us that it meant that a fifth growth level could be better than a second-growth because of how they operate their vineyard.
  • Even though it is a lowly fifth growth, it is located in the Pauillac area of Bordeaux, across the road from first growth Château Mouton Rothschild Other illustrious neighbors include: Château Lafite and Château Mouton.  Some of the world’s most highly respected and expensive wines.  Even at several hundred dollars a bottle, people still argue that it is underrated and a terrific value.

  • Once-derided, this winery’s quality has steadily risen, particularly after its  conversion to biodynamics.  This 2007 vintage is controversial because it resorted to chemicals to treat oidium and mildew,  a decision they now regret.   That being said, I tasted it and it was pretty darn good.

  • They use horses in the vineyards. Horses compact the soils less, and do not damage the vine’s roots like tractors.

  • They sort grapes by hand, worried that an automated sorter would damage the grapes or crush them unnecessarily early.  After the manual sorting, their grapes drop directly into tanks in the floor below.

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Find Everything From the Everyday To the Eclectic At Geneva’s Plainpalais Flea Market

Historically, Plainpalais was an area outside the densely populated city of Geneva where they brought the sick to avoid contagion and an epidemic.  Located close to the Old Town and a public transportation hub, Plainpalais is now used for special events like festivals, the circus and markets.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a large flea market, marche des puces in French, there.

There are several reasons to love flea markets.  They include:

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love a bargain.
  • Individuality.  Having the same stuff as everyone else is just plain boring.
  • It gives you a chance to buy quality things for a reasonable price.
  • Phenomenal people watching.
  • Sustainability.  Keep something from going into the rubbish bin.  Recycle it.
  • It’s free to go walk around.  It’s a great and convenient place to meet up with some friends to walk around and chat.
  • In expensive Geneva, it is a great place to pick up some cool souvenirs for your friends and family.  When the nicest girl in the world visited, she purchased a Tastevin and some beer steins to take back to her brothers.
  • Where else are you going to buy fossils, a mounted Boar’s head or old Swiss army gear?

Plainpalais flea market is a Geneva institution and has operated since 1848.  It is not as large as those in some larger European cities.  Geneva’s wealth and highly mobile population means that it makes up for it in quality.  As Geneva is home to so many foreigners from all over the world, it has a larger number of unique items from all over the world.

Here are some of the great things you can regularly find at Plainpalais:

  • Old books,
  • CD’s

  • Kitchen gadgets;
  • Dishes and cutlery;
  • Decorative and practical household wares;

  • Furniture;
  • Antiques;
  • Paintings, posters, and other great wall art;

  • Clocks;
  • Fabric, trim, sewing machines and other craft items;
  • Records;

  • Old watches and watch parts,
  • Clothing,
  • Shoes,
  • Toys

  • Suitcases, briefcases and purses;
  • A lot of the things you could find at the dollar store;
  • 1 CHF/2 CHF boxes and 5 CHF tables;

You can also find more unique higher end pieces.  Invariably, there is a constant supply of eccentric, unusual and sometimes slightly freakish pieces (see the mounted Boar’s head above).

People begin setting up as early as 8:00 (perhaps earlier but I’ve never been there earlier than that) and continues through out the day. On days with poor weather and little turnout, vendors tend to close up shop early, as early as noon.

Most items are not marked with a price.  You pick up an item you like, take it to the person that looks like they might have set up the stall and ask “how much”?  Be ready to negotiate and have coins and small bills handy.  When I go, I don’t walk around with a Starbucks cup (at 5-7 CHF/$8-10 a pop, I don’t do that here anyway).  I carry a backpack instead of a nice purse.  Why? I like to negotiate and an expensive handbag screams “quote me a higher price.”  Haggle, negotiate, be prepared to walk away, drive a hard bargain.  Oh yeah, and have fun.

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