Before we went to France in 2019, we were in Kentucky, and I made The Engineer stop at a Liquor Barn, kind of like a supermarket of alcoholic beverages. We were inside wandering the aisles of the wine department when a salesman approached, volunteering that he knew a lot about wine and asking what we were looking for. I told him we were interested in trying some French wine before our trip, and he pulled a few bottles from the shelves saying they’d be a good start.
The only one I remember is Chateau La Freynelle Bordeaux Blanc. We like that wine, like it a lot. Surprisingly, because I’m not an oenophile, the critics seem to agree. Wine Enthusiast gave the 2018 vintage an 87 and “The Reverse Wine Snob” called it “A juicy French Bordeaux blend that is a great alternative to boring whites.”
Still, our 2019 trip was already jam packed, with no room left for any extra stops. It also hadn’t occurred to me we might actually be able to visit the actual Chateau where they make such deliciousness!
That particular lightbulb didn’t go on until much later when I spoke to the wine specialists at the grocery store where I work. One told me the store might be able to arrange visits to some vineyards, and the other mentioned La Cite’ du Vin, a new(ish) museum of wine in Bordeaux.
Pulling out my big map of France, I saw Bordeaux was only about two hours from each of The Engineer’s aunties, who we planned to visit again.
And that’s how we ended up in Bordeaux a few short weeks ago.
The drive there was dreary, under an atmospheric sky.
When we stopped for fuel, I took a picture of how much it cost to fill the tank of our compact rental car. Fuel, which is sold by the litre, is a lot more expensive than here in the US. However, public transport is a much better, and most cars get many more miles to the gallon than the ones driven in America. I saw very few of the huge trucks and SUVs so common here, and there are charging stations for electric cars in the cities.
The morning after arriving in Bordeaux, we took the tram to La Cite’ du Vin. It was cheap, easy to use, and riding it gave us a 44-minute tour of the area.
As for the museum, I liked it, and The Engineer was bored.
The exhibits are interactive but in a techy kind of way. Upon entering, each visitor receives a pair of (uncomfortable) headphones attached to what lookes like an iPhone. You sort of point your “phone” at each display, then select the topic you want to explore.
The audio and video sync so you see and hear about the subject in whichever of the eight languages you selected when you bought your ticket. Some of the subjects were more physically interactive, exploring the smells used to describe wines and selecting wines to pair with different foods.
The virtual sommelier gave mixed reviews on my choices. For one, he said, “Why not?” and talked about my unexpected, but interesting, pairing. On another, he said, “You’ll never be a sommelier if you make choices like that!” His response made me giggle.
To end the tour, visitors take the elevator to an upper floor for a glass of wine.
I liked the ceiling.
The view was nice, but the glass of wine was small, so we headed out to see a little more of the city of Bordeaux.
We ate at a small cafe across from the river Garonne, on which Bordeaux is situated. The server didn’t speak English, so we got out the phrasebook to figure out what to order. A minute or so later, she appeared with the chef, who asked in a stiff Scottish brogue, “Can I help you?” After telling him we wanted to order lunch, he said, “What do you want?” (Sadly, I can’t capture the sound of his speech in writing, so you’ll just have to imagine it.)
He asked what we’d like in it and how we’d like it done — something neither of us had ever been asked before in regard to an omelette. We settled on some ingredients, omelette well-cooked, and I asked for a “pain du chocolat,” which he corrected to something else.
A few minutes later, we received a huge omelette, with a beautiful salad, and my chocolate pastry.
It was wonderful, a small incident of travel magic.
Because we’d had such a nice lunch, and dinner options were limited around our hotel, we did a little shopping at the local Aldi, which was similar enough to our local ones at home that I could navigate with no problem.
Cans of beer were 44c, and the baguette we bought was under a euro; if I recall correctly, it was under 50c. We bought a big hunk of cheese, a baguette, four cans of beer, a bottle of wine, a bag of crisps, a large bar of chocolate, some fruit, and a package of about fifteen mini squares of chocolate. I may have forgotten a few items, but the bill was only 18 euro, far less than a meal out.
It was even less than the 34 euro it would have cost to eat breakfast at the hotel, and since we had the bread and cheese and fruit for both dinner that night and breakfast the following morning, I think we did well. And it was delicious. We only finished the hunk of cheese at Auntie #2’s house on the last night before we left to return to Paris for our flight home!
But before we left Bordeaux to visit those aunties, we were off to the vineyard.
I had emailed Chateau La Freynelle when I was planning our trip, asking if we might arrange a tour and tasting, and gotten a reply a few days later from Veronique Barthe saying they would be delighted to welcome us. I was thrilled!
Veronique is the first female head of her family’s vineyard/chateau, taking the reins in 1990 after it had passed from father to son for seven generations since the French Revolution, so she’s a bit of a trailblazer.
Chateau La Freynelle was established in 1789 by Jean Barthe using gold he received from Napoleon for marrying on the same day, and is now one of several chateaus owned by the family.
As seems to happen whenever we look for anything in France, we spent some time trying to find the vineyard, despite having GPS and an address. There are vines everywhere and many, many chateaus, but eventually we found the right road and saw a small sign for La Freynelle.
We were met by Jade, who had arranged the logistics of our visit, and as she greeted us, she remarked on the condition of our car, saying it had caught the sand from the Sahara too. Although we’d noticed the dust on our hotel window and car that morning (how could you not?), we hadn’t known where it had come from. It was interesting to learn the explanation.
Jade was pursuing a Masters Degree, with a focus on marketing wine, and was interning at La Freynelle. She couldn’t have been nicer as she showed us around.
I can’t describe how welcome Jade made us feel — as if we were celebrities instead of just a couple of people from Ohio who like to drink wine. We’ve been to some tastings here at home, and although they have been fine, we’ve never been treated as we were at Chateau La Freynelle, like honored guests instead of a couple of novices come to sample wines.
Jade told us about each wine, providing just enough detail for our level of knowledge. We also talked about climate change, and the steps they were taking to deal with, mostly experimenting with new grape varietals if I remember correctly.
The changing temperature is a great concern because the rules for watering vines in France are very strict. In fact, according to Jade, irrigation is not allowed in the Bordeaux appellation. From what I’ve read that’s because watered vines can grow bigger grapes, but those grapes make a poorer quality wine.
It’s certainly a challenging time to be a winemaker.
Tasting so many good wines made it difficult to decide what kind to buy, even though I’d previously received a price list via email and been amazed at the price difference between a bottle at the Chateau and one at an Ohio grocery store.
I’d also already hatched a plan to buy several cartons to take as host/hostess gifts to The Engineer’s Aunties (and Uncles) and bought a couple of reusable wine bags for travel at La Cite’ du Vin so we could take some home.
Eventually, I came to a conclusion, and Jade packed up the bottles.
Of course, I promptly forgot who was meant to get what, and had to figure it all out again when we arrived at Auntie #1’s!
Before going outside, I took one final picture of the building.
As we said goodbye, The Engineer asked if we could picnic under a tree in the parking area, which was fine as long as we watched out for boars.
Fortunately, we planned to stay in the car anyway because it was chilly, and we were able to enjoy our lunch — more bread and cheese 🙂 — before hitting the road for Auntie #1’s house.
Travel Magic and Mayhem score: 100% Magic thanks to Jade and Chateu La Freynelle.