pessac-leognan: where this all began.


Feb 20th: Day 1 in Pessac Léognan

It seems Pessac was the most appropriate place to begin. It is often thought to be the birthplace of Bordeaux. It was also home to one of Jefferson’s favorite mid-week quaffers: Haut-Brion. Loaded with history, gravel and variety– from long-lived whites to beautifully perfumed reds, tiny family farms to Grand Cru Classe Chateau–Pessac-Leognan was remarkably varied and intriguing. It had a quiet, meditative quality to it. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we were off to a great start…

Château Rouillac with Jean-Christophe Barron, Technical Director

We began at Château Rouillac, a humble estate off the beaten path with a storied history of various owners. They were a small team. Owner Laurent Cisneros bought the estate in 2010 and brought on Jean-Christophe Barron, the technical director, to execute his vision of an environmentally conscientious estate. Barron showed us the grounds and gave much praise to Eric Boissenot who came on as a consulting oenologist when they began. Some changes they have made is to return to traditional tilling by horse. Though it is only a portion of their vineyards currently (8 ha of the 24ha total), they are investing in one or two more horses so Titan (their employee of the decade) can get a little help out there. To them, the results have been phenomenal for them in creating more health in the soil and ultimately the integrity of the grapes. They have also been practicing organic methods (no synthetic herbicides or pesticides– a sentiment shared at each estate today, really). Rather than the limited and sometimes risky decision to go with Ecocert standards, they have chosen HVE (‘High Environmental Quality’) which acknowledges what they call ‘rational cultivation.’ Another way they implement this is through the use of essential oils (orange citrus on the grapes and leaves deters mildew/oidium) and various salts have shown to be effective in lieu of greater use of Bordeaux copper mixture.


Where many others today did not stress the importance of using press wine (the wine that is pressed off the skin after the free run juice has been extracted), Rouillac emphasized its crucial role in their style. They work off several select lots for the blending process, using press wine to bring structure and strength to the overall expression. They are also very strict about their barrel selection, going to the forest to choose which tree to be cut down and prepared for their use– a favorite forest being Berce (not as commonly seen) for a thinner, tighter grain.


In contrast to others we tasted today, these had the most vinous quality– pyrazines were more apparent but incredibly well-integrated and managed. It was the most economical of the estates we visited, with their top wine for about 25 euro. It is the only property in Pessac with highly regarded Eric Boissenot (known for his consulting efforts at all four 1st growths in the Medoc). Their style is quite elegant and avoids intense forms of extraction during fermentation– pigeage (punch down) only 2-3 times a day during fermentation and minimal remontage (pump-overs) and delestage (rack/return).


Domaine de Chevalier Cru Classé  de Graves with Rémi Edange, Directeur Adjoint  & Château Guiraud 1er Grand Cru Classé  Sauternes with Didier Galhaud, Technical Director

This second visit marked itself first by being one of the few to wear ‘domaine’ for its name. Sixty hectares of a continuous plot, enclosed by a forest and run by owners who live on the property, a few steps from the vines, gives this winery a more intimate personality. Our guide, Remi Endage (directeur adjoint), was full of passion and excitement for the situation of their vineyards, oriented east facing without leaves for full light in the morning and leaf protection towards the west in the afternoon to prevent sunburn.


Their goal is to have minimal human interference with extraction in the winemaking process and to prolong the maceration of healthy grape skins post fermentation (he calls the skin ‘teabags’, where all the aromatic complexity is kept). In an effort to further this gentle extraction, the winery  has been moving towards more temperature controlled concrete eggs and less stainless steel. This allows for more convection, and less pigeage and remontage. Thick concrete walls (in contrast to thin, inox) help to retain freshness in the wine, as he explains, as the skins are not as exhausted by temperature fluctuations. In a healthy vintage, like 2015 and 2016, they will macerate skins as long as 35 days. In a vintage like 2013, only about 12 days. Vintage 2013 saw severe sorting techniques and they spent about 5x what they would normally in a good vintage. But selling or scrapping the fruit in this rainy vintage was not an option. In Bordeaux, he explained, you take pride in making something good from a challenging vintage. It strengthens your brand, and integrity is maintained.


Didier Galhaud, manager of Château Guiraud, joined us for lunch at Les Ailes. We tried his 2015 Château Guiraud Blanc Sec (a category that is booming right now, going from a 30,000 bottles to now 250,000 bottles of production in the past five years). 50% Semillon and 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 70% aged in two year old barrels that once held Sauternes. For him, this gives more depth and texture to otherwise straightforward white blend. 2014 Château Guiraud Sauternes was outstanding– showing lifted acid and promising complexity. His wines aren’t as weighty as some others. He never chapitalizes, as this is the common culprit for excessive bulk on the palate– a less genuine expression of terroir for him. I asked him about his feelings about cryoextraction, a technique where grapes are frozen after picking in order to crystalize moisture and for more concentrated must from the grapes. While he was not a proponent and would not encourage it unless absolutely necessary, it offers a way to still use the essence of the grape (‘suss-subtraction he called it’), where chapitalization is adding something that is not natural to that grape for the mutual desired effect of body or concentration. When finishing our discussion on key markets for Guiraud, they expect China to pass their most important importer–the United States–very soon. There is a larger potential for sweeter wines, plus it is a budding, immense market where they intend to focus more energy and efforts. When asked about what the younger generations were drinking (aside from bubbles, rose, cocktails and craft brew), learned that they had no idea what hipsters were and that there was a particular cult following of Beaujolais, Chenin blanc and Cab Franc natural wines going on in the U.S. They were quite literally shocked about this phenomenon.


Visit 3: Château Haut-Brion 1er Grand Cru Classé  de Graves & La Mission Haut-Brion

“Extracting perfection from the potential.” This is a line that surfaces in the short film they have us watch when we enter the quiet hallways of Haut-Brion. From barrel ageing to stainless steel tanks to clonal research– Haut-Brion has always been a step ahead with innovation. They do three sortings of grapes: First, by those hand harvesting in the field, choosing only the finest bunches. Next, on the sorting table. Finally, after destemming, with an optical sorter. As opposed to some of the wineries earlier in the day, their remontage program is quite extensive– running mechanically every 6 hours for the first fifteen days of fermentation, keeping wine on the skins an additional 7 days. Finally, for maximum control, they have their own cooperage, where 80% of their barrels are made. They partner with Seguin Moreau, select the forests from which they would like their oak, and the wood arrives to the in-house cooper for assembly and toasting (all medium). A ring of woody chestnut protects the oak from parasites.

We drive just across the way to visit La Mission Haut-Brion, assumed by Haut-Brion in 1983. It is, quite literally, sandwiched between the vineyards of Haut-Brion . They share the same soils, orientation, climate and vast range of soil depth (1m-6m deep). Both are the first to harvest, due to the fact they have a microclimate 2 degrees warmer than the rest of Pessac (even in a later-ripening year like 2016, they began picking reds on Sept 19, when many of their neighbors throughout Pessac began at least a week later). And so what of the difference? Shouldn’t they be similar? Here, our guide explains, they believe in the human element to shape terroir. The choice of rootstock, variety choice, blending, press additions (they occasionally do when the vintage or blend requires it), vineyard spacing, density (HB=8,000 vines/ha, M= 10,000 vines/ha)— all these decisions make a subtle yet profound difference on the wine’s style and personality. Where they have had 6 centuries to shape Haut-Brion, they’ve only had La Mission for 35 years.


In the glass, 2011 Haut-Brion and La Mission shoulder to shoulder, there were pronounced differences. The former was more reserved, structured and tightly wound with intense tannins full of potential. There was a focused red-fruited center with leathery, meaty undertones. A mineral component pulled these moving parts together. For La Mission, it was more perfumed and lifted with alpine raspberry/strawberry notes and red cassis. It was well-integrated on the palate and the tannin had a finer, clay-like texture. It was a real eye-opening comparison to taste these together. A very generous treat indeed.


Château les Carmes Haut-Brion with Guillaume Lardeau, Winemaker  

This was a fascinating visit, as opened my eyes to the interconnected fluidity between tradition and innovation, classic and more modern approaches in the winery. While this winery practices organic philosophies, they actually find Ecocert to be limited. While it might be better than nothing, to Guilliaume it promotes closed-minded thinking and understanding of the botany. What is good for some vines and parcels are not good for others. The health of the soils and quality of grapes needs more than regulations set out by these organizations–and it should be very unique to each producer.


They work off 25 ha and own 3 horses to turn the soil– a detail he feels is one of the most important for maintaining the integrity of the terroir. Most interesting are the vessels they explore for both fermentation as well as aging. The utilize everything from stainless steel to concrete to traditional oak as well as ancient small amphorae. They are curious to experiment and realize there is so much to know. They want to differentiate from others in Bordeaux by taking risks based on some of their greatest inspirations from wineries around the world. In their cellar, in fact, they have a wall of wine–showcasing those from Chave and Petrus to Lafon and Trevallon… These serve to humbly remind them of greatness achieved and of how much there is to understand. They are excited to bring this perspective to such a traditional place as Bordeaux.


His 2013 was wonderfully ripe and talkative– not at all the impression we have been given on a vintage that scarcely found the light of day in my local market. Tannins were supple but stated. There was really little pyrazines– a trait he feels can only be managed in the vineyard by pulling leaves on the early side and lots of hands on management selecting only the best bunches at harvest. It was a balanced combination of Merlot (39%), Cabernet Franc (21%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) that handled 40% new oak with ease and integration. This was a terrific showing for a vintage that has been hammered on a bit much.

euroscribbles: a free day in bordeaux.


I’ve just returned from an truly magnificent trip to Bordeaux. I was the fortunate and ever grateful recipient of a scholarship from the Commanderie de Bordeaux aux États-Unis d’Amérique. Six days, visits with over 30 wineries and touching nearly every appellation you can think of: Pessac Leognan, Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, St. Estephe, Sauternes, Bourg, Blaye, Fronsac, St. Emilion, Pomerol… In retrospect, this was one of the more illuminating wine trips I have been on in my life. Steeped in tradition and prestige, Bordeaux can mean so many things to wine lovers and professionals. For some, it is the pinnacle of complexity and terroir. For others, it is seen as expensive, exclusive and straightlaced, so as not to be included in the hip vernacular and snapshots amongst trade on Instagram with the occurrence of, say, Burgundy, Beaujolais or Loire wines.

Before I came to Bordeaux, I reserved a place for this region as the foundation of my academic pursuit in wine– it was the region I wanted to understand first. I respected its history, its important place amongst the world’s highest quality wines and its distinct commune expressions. What I did not expect, however, and what I am so grateful to have learned, was that within these communes, there is wide variety of techniques growers and winemakers are employing to reach a stylistic or, in some cases, a philosophical goal with their wine. In this way, I was able to see how even despite the traditions that have carried this region for hundreds of years–from variety selection to the use and importance of barrels– this is a region that prides itself of innovation, curiosity and advancement. As a result, I was invited to take a peek and explore these subtle, yet profound, differences.

What follows is the journey, day by day, as we explored the regions of Pessac-Léognan, Margaux, Pauillac, St Estephe, Fronsac, the Côtes de Blaye, Bourg and Sauternes. We quite touched upon nearly every corner we could in six days. While there was tremendous crossover in technique, the nuance of individuality and approach is what I want most to focus on here. Appellation rules dictate so much that needs to remain the same– from yields to varieties, density to ageing requirements. I will touch upon these particulars but want more to tell the story of their deliberate difference– for here we go outside the rules and better understand the role humans can play in terroir.

February 19th: Free sunny Sunday

There is no other feeling than that first night of jetlag lullaby sleep. So sound and complete, I crave it every time. This day, which I will not go on too long, was met with a casual stroll around the neighborhood. My gorgeous (affordable) AirBnB flat overlooks the Jardin Public on the Cours de Verdun. People are sprawled throughout, tummies on towels, reading books. Kids and dogs ran about the lawn. It was an active day with a gentle murmur to it.

I visited La Cite du Vin–a testament of sorts to wine education. This modern structure seemed to erupt from the river with purpose, against a background of industry and bleak surroundings. This was Disneyland for anyone with a passion for learning about wine. There was a polysensorial room, where people can discover the common scent identifiers in wine–not just Bordeaux, but from around the world. A cozy library is stacked with books both historical and contemporary ranging from those focused on degustation, technical winemaking, regional focus and history. Private classrooms were filled with learners taking a course. The museum itself was overflowing with tourism. 


Credit to Arnaud Bertrande,


As I entered the main exhibition, I was given a headset to follow and interact with stations set around the room. From historical trade maps that explained the evolution and globalization of the world’s wine regions to videos with winemakers from New Zealand, Burgundy, Australia, amongst others popping up to explain vineyard technique and their effects on style, this was a great way to better understand the larger purpose and philosophy behind individual regions and estates. There were even separate stations going in depth on winemaking choices, from fermentation vessels, to cooperages, to bottling options. It truly was an imaginative, interactive ode to wine that seemed to be drawing many people off the main streets of Bordeaux to see.

The night ended at Brasserie Bordelaise, where I met my colleague, whom is an Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. This was an affordable, jovial place with great energy and casual feel. The list, while young, was interesting nonetheless. We enjoyed a 2010 Le Clementine from Château Pape Clement (stunning right now with evolved aromas of honey, white florals and a touch of stone fruit) and the 2006 Château DuTertre Margaux– a vintage that is loosening up so nicely, showing the elegance of Bordeaux without the wait. Perhaps not the longest finish, it is such an enjoyable, drinkable vintage right this moment.

a reason to write: a visit with emidio pepe

Biodynamic, Uncategorized

Every now and again, you encounter a moment… a day in your life that you instantly realize will forever be apart of you. Beneath the books, flashcards and tastings that have come to swallow my life in the past couple years, today was a day that caused me to pause and really reflect on why I fell in love with this magical fruit turned wine when it is handled with utmost, unequivocal intention.

In short, this special man and his wine will cause a girl to write…

Emidio Pepe got his start in the 60’s, back when most were leaving the agriculture in search for industrial work in the northern cities of Italy. Even before he could conceive of it, harsh chemicals or even oak were not in his plan. He named the winery Aurora– meaning the birth of something new in Italian. And while many scoffed, going so far as calling his vision a house of cards (to which he responded with a cellar designed in such a fashion to challenge the skeptics), he chose instead to follow his instinct.

Walking with his granddaughter Chiara today through the pergola vines, an ancient training system no one has the time, patience or economy to wish to maintain, we learned of the ‘why’ that ran beneath the roots. The soil is the most fundamental part of the entire process. Keep it healthy, the rest will follow. Looking out into the fields, there was an energy no one could really deny– a vibration that resonated in rhythm to the nature surrounding the spaces between.

Pepe is steadfast in his principles: no herbicides, no pesticides, minimal or no added sulphur and not a lick of oak. He with is daughters, Sophia and Daniela who have take over the estate representing the fourth generation, will hold these wines until they have come to a place for understanding. For the Trebbiano, this often means a few years. For the Montepulciano, 2008 is only just coming to market after 8 years of coming into its own. Their credo insists they collect healthy grapes, otherwise, they simply will not make wine. Never will they compromise principle and ultimately quality. Though they sent for analysis of the juice to a lab to get an idea for harvest times, it is Emidio’s instinct that best determines where is best to pick and when. Much comes down to his prophetic, omniscient gut. He was even planting, pruning and harvesting according to the moon before Biodynamic viticulture was a thing just because it felt… right.

Perhaps you have envisioned the age old image of women stomping on the grapes and drinking wine through harvest– a delicious fantasy to conceive. Here… it is a reality. Pepe takes tradition to another level. Whites (Trebbiano and Pecorino) are brought in, crushed by foot (3 or 4 people with boots) for about 45 minutes. The juice that seeps through the barrel is then pumped into tank for fermentation. The Trebbiano particularly is often bottled in the spring before the weather warms up so it can finish malolactic fermentation in the bottle–acting as a preservative from bacterial development and allowing them to avoid the addition of sulphur. For red grapes, there are hand grated through a wire rack that help the grapes to fall down whole into the receiving bucket without the stem which harvest bitter tannins. Montepulciano has enough on its own. It is then hand fed into a vat where it will ferment long and cool for up to 25 days using only spontaneous yeast for its development. This is a crucial characteristic to their wine.

As if that were not enough, after they age in tank for a couple years followed by a slumber in the cellar for another few more years (or decades), there comes time to get it to market. Pepe does not believe in filtering. In fact, he tries to avoid even rackings (transfers of one from one vessel to another) at all cost, keeping the action to only a couple moments in the lifetime of a wine, as anything left behind in the tank is a removal of the wine’s soul. And so, come time to bottle, grandma Pepe hand disgorges each individual bottle. No funnel, no hose. Bottle to bottle, she allows a tiny bit of air to see the wine. She can also check each wine for imperfections at this point. Each wine receives a new cork (so a 2007 might have a 2016 cork). She then hand capsules and labels each bottle herself.


Not only that, she made one of the most memorable meals I will never forget. From local egg crepes with parmesan and chicken broth to homemade spaghetti with duck marinara and finally to a homemade roast chicken with some kind of lovely fat braised potatoes. I have never been so happy to gain 5 pounds as I have this past week. I highly recommend it to everyone.

We enjoyed 04, 09, and 12 Trebbiano. Then 13 and 14 Pecorino. Finally, for the reds we had 84, 00, 02, 07, and 10. We were even fortunate to celebrate two birthdays from the family, so an exception of 70 and 93 were brought to the table. Of the whites, the 04 Trebbiano was sublime, it changed its mood at least 10 times in the course of 7 hours. From quite and shy, to honeyed and nutty, to salty and savory. The reds ranged from high toned, delicate cool vintages (84 and 70) to more engaged and talkative 00 and 07. There was such promise for the entirely too young 2010. Honestly, this evening with regards to the reds, the 08 had my heart. A gorgeous wine I am only too eager to try again when it arrives to Colorado in a couple months. But really, who am I kidding. Each had a personality that begged for you to drink them in isolation. Spoiled we were to taste them all side by side and decide which the fit the weather, mood and food tonight. Tomorrow, it would likely be another. That’s the thing about consuming the energy of a year’s harvest.

I am honored to represent these wines. And I thank the Pepe family for welcoming us into their home as they did for food, drink and a place to sleep. They have impressed upon me such an image of generosity and sincerity, a sense of family and tradition. They have inspired me to follow my instinct and do what feels… right.

2004 Trebbiano: Deep golden hue and developing with hints of almond skins, wet hay and a beeswax. Gains momentum in the glass and becomes a bit brinier with a few hours to breath.

2009 Trebbiano: Nuanced on the nose with nuance nettles, chamomile and wildflower honey. Softer acid and welcoming.

2012 Trebbiano: A bottle of complex energy waiting to work through a whole lot of lovely. As though each time you bring to the rim, there is a different story to be told. This is a wine that is incredibly young but so promising and compact. A phenolic texture really advances the palate and lingers on the finish.

2013 Pecorino: Incredibly chatty on the nose with bright, youthful aromas of white flower and orange peel. The warmth of the vintage snuggles on the palate and works to balance the natural acid of this grape.

2014 Pecorino: So young, delightful and honest. This wine demands to make itself a little more interesting each vintage it sits in Pepe soil. I am all too anxious to watch this wine develop in the next couple years. Right now it is shy and humble.

1970 Montepulciano: Wet leaves and shitakes, this is a wine that needs autumn, a fire and perhaps a long discussion on Russian literature.

1984 Montepulciano: The coolness of the vintage does not try to hide. What begins in a very high toned fashion of dried citrus peels, apricot, mint and balsam fir developed over time into a gorgeous collage of dried rose petals and leather bound books from grandpa’s library. Overlooked…

1993 Montepulciano: Wearing impressive concentration and smelling displaying a spicier expression. This has a smokier, dustier personality of cured meats and pepper. A beauty that no doubt is hardly mid-stride in its life.

2000 Montepulciano: One of Pepe’s favorite vintages, and I can easily see why. There is so much intensity of black cherry fruit, violets and secondary aromas combined with such structure and length. This wine is a baby, just beginning to show its development.

2007 Montepulciano: Forte– this is a strong, rich red that reflects the warmth of the vintage. Dried fruit, cocoa and forest floral form a wonderfully competitive bouquet that is sure to resolve itself in time, once they learn to play nicely. This is a wine that is wound up tight and certainly could use a little time.

2008 Montepulciano: A gem in its youth. This wine is incredibly well integrated and delicate. Speaking in hushed tones, there is a little bit of everything one could want (and even a little sediment, as the winery waits until 10 years to disgorge!). Harmonious so soon, it seems one that would be a delight to cellar several and watch evolve starting now…

2010 Montepulciano: Compared to the famously regarded 2001, the 2010 packs a punch and has every intention to be as good as everyone believes it will be. There was so much depth and intensity to this wine. Though it is hardly in a place to truly understand its story just yet, it really is a remarkably well built wine that no doubt will be a star performer at the 100 year anniversary in 50 more years, according to Mr. Pepe.

If you care to view a fantastic video of their estate, go to:

euro scribbles: a gay ol’ time in gordes, provence.


The last few days, I put the pen down and decided to just take everything in… Provence will do that to a person, insisting upon one to slow down, feel the sun, savor a glass of rose dripping with dew and just… be.

We ascended into the town of Gordes late at night just a few days ago. Our hotel was perched in the side of a hill, beaming proudly with white lights and activity. It had the feel of Tuscany with its Roman influence and tall Cyprus trees everywhere. The Bastide des Gordes with a 12th century hotel that was just renovated recently. It was ‘tres chic’ and extremely unexpected. Multiple levels of terrace invited us to join the evening right away. We dropped off our bags, slipped into something comfortable and enjoyed a glass of wine to ring in midnight.

Our time here was punctuated by sleeping in, lazy breakfasts, long walks, bike rides, fresh light meals and reading by one of the more relaxing pools that also seemed to reflect an heir of calm— like it also knew that it was only too fortunate to spend its days overlooking the valley of Ventoux. I was actually jealous of that pool’s lot in life for a brief, ridiculous second and returned to feeling fortunate for my own lot. Minutes trickled by, falling into hours and then days, expecting nothing from us. Every time I come to this area of the Rhone & Provence, it’s like continuing an aimless conversation mid-sentence… one whose language feels right on the tongue— natural and homelike. It is returning to a part of myself I don’t get to know unless I am here. The cicadas are loud this time of year. The dry, summer heat livening up their lyrics, reenforcing their ritual.

We had lunch one day outside town with one of the winemakers I represent—Rodolphe des Pins of Chateau du Montfaucon in Lirac. He and his wife suggested a restaurant his friend’s owned called Chateau la Roche. This husband wife team were about as salt of the earth as it gets, and their food reflected that purity and appreciation. It was among the most memorable meals of the trip, honestly one of the better ever in France. These two were aesthetes, taking the produce from the land and giving it the best possible expression on the plate by allowing it to be itself. Nothing overdone or manipulated, the dishes were an assembly of whole foods pick at the perfect moment to deliver heightened flavor, color and character. We enjoyed a tomato salad, followed by fish with julienned vegetables, some local cheese, then a twice backed apricot with lavender honey, creamy fromage blanc and crushed hazelnuts. This recommendation was exquisite and though lunch was an exception they made for Rudi, they do offer dinner. Don’t miss this special experience.

Rudi poured us his latest release Gardettes rose, without a doubt one of the best values around this summer ($10 retail)— it was refreshing, balanced and uncomplicated, a no brainer buy when it’s too hot to overthink it. The 140 year old Clairette vines made up his next unforgettable selection. Pure Clairette is hard to find, especially one that has never seen a grafted vines due to the fact that it was protected from phylloxera at the turn of the last century. This wine has a breadth about her—floral and waxy, opulent yet somehow delicate, like a bull who is hellbent to prove it can run a china shop like a boss.

We tried a new offering that is coming out to market this Fall— a Lirac that, unlike Baron Louis, sees no oak and only three grapes versus a good five or six: Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. It has gorgeous lifted violet aromatics, a ripe sun-soaked cherry profile and noted but well-integrated white pepper on the finish.

He then generously shared the 2001 Cotes du Rhone. I love when he reaches for the library wines. Never ceases to amaze me how age worthy these ‘simple’ CdRs can be (and available for about $13)! This one came from a really great vintage for Rudi— he recalls how well the harvest went— great weather, good fruit set, little in the way of hail or other hazards, enough precipitation. A bit fatigued from a more vigorous 2000, his vines produced slightly less in 01, giving a little more concentration and character to his grapes. No oak necessary, this red has watched 14 years pass by with ease. It is in a really great place right now, as it gracefully lets go of its youthful fruit and settles into a tertiary temperament— wet leaves, black tea and a hint of black truffle. This was superb with a post-meal cheese plate.

We ate at the hotel one evening as well as another place 5 minutes outside of Gordes called Le Mas Tourteron. The setting was possibly everything you could want in Provence, complete with a rickety antique iron bike planted with flowers, chalkboard easel menus and random summer straw hats hanging on the storylike trees. White lights and candles cast a warm, delicate light on both servers and diners alike. The cicadas filled the background with their song. There was a grand table in the middle filled with homemade desserts, luring each guest eventually to select their final treats. Our waiter was young, entertaining and hoping to be a sommelier himself, eager to discuss his dreams and passions. The food was decent, nothing to inspire prose (though the split pea amuse bouche deserves a quick shout out), still it was a magical, fantastically make believe place that was perfectly placed off an unassuming side road in Provence. I highly recommend a meal at this restaurant.

euro scribbles: a quaint encounter with conques.


Well, I’ve been utterly enchanted by this medieval village… despite the fact that I never saw one monk. Last night saw a simple dinner of sausage, salad and aligot (basically the best mashed potatoes with cheese you will ever eat) at the Hotel Saint Foy in the center village. It was a warm, balmy evening, begging for a chilled rose and a large bottle of bubbly water. We had a selection from Marcillac, which again had a remarkable resemblance to Cabernet Franc– lifted herbal aromatics, tomato leaf and fresh raspberries. It was an ideal duo with spread.

We wandered over to the cathedral to listen to an organist. As we drew near, I swore ‘House of the Rising Sun’ was seeping through the stone walls. Jonathan was quick to roll his eyes with amusement at my excitement, doubting I was correct. Upon entering the grand establishment, there was no doubt these Middle Age pipes were paying homage to the Animals. Disconcerting as it was, I couldn’t help but exact some small pleasure from this paradox. I could have stayed to listen all evening (I love me some organ), but our travel partner was rather creeped out by cathedrals. I didn’t ask too many questions… Alas, we headed down the hill.

The evening dwindled down by the river, listening to the frogs poke at one another–ebbing and flowing, vying with volume as they competed to see who could out-ribbit one another every few minutes or so.

In the morning, I ventured back up the hill to further explore the village of Conques. Though I am only here a couple days, I think I have a few good tips for those planning a trip down the road. And if you decided to backpack this area, there are so many who travel though on the pilgrim route. It is well mapped out and a fantastic way to see southwest france. More details here:

Mind the suggestions that follow if you want to get the most out of two or three days in this town.

Where to Stay:

Moulin de Cambelong: If you are looking to stay just a ten minute walk outside the town, where you can hear the sounds of river frogs at night, this might be for you. I very much enjoyed it–quirks and all. Still, there were moments a night in the centre ville was appealing, especially if you want to do the night tours of the cathedral and listen to the organ.

Hotel Saint Foy: A really nice, simple, historic hotel in the very center of it all.

Gites: There are several! This one looked especially appealing, run by Alice & Charles, for a mere 60-70 euro per night.

Where to Eat: 

Herve Busset: This Michelin-rated restaurant at the Moulin de Cambelong is an unexpected treat. Their creative interpretations of Southwest cuisine manages to perfectly balance tradition with innovation. Some of the best bites I have had all year. And the wine list is quite extensive– not only of this area but all of France (though I highly recommend you take advantage to discover this area’s gems). Pricey but worth it.

Hotel Saint Foy Brasserie: At the hotel, this terraced, casual brasserie is the perfect place to enjoy a warm summer evening in Conques. Food is simple, fresh and reflective of local taste. Don’t miss the small crocks of Aligot (mashed potatoes and Cantal cheese) and a refreshing bottle of something a few miles up the road. The foie is unsurprisingly delicious. Not too expensive here either!

Auberge du Peyral: Hankering massive fresh salads atop a village with sensational panoramic views of the Valle du Lot? Drive just 15k away from Conques and come to find a gorgeous terraced local restaurant that gives you the option of just about anything you could possibly desire atop a bed of fresh picked greens. Delicious pommes frites aren’t a bad side either.

What to do?

Sport: If you are adventurous and are here on a hot summer day like today (100 degrees), we wished we had thought to canoe/kayak down the river. More details can be found at:

This is where some of the world’s best hiking exists. If you are not up for a multi-day trek as the Pilgrim’s did it, don’t fret. There are remarkable day trips within 25 minutes from here. A few sites to consider:

Art: Of course, if you are into architecture, you can’t help but admire the well preserved Romanesque structures of this time, not to mention the phenomenal, unique stained glass art that make up 104 of the pieces that pepper the abbey in town. There is even a little shop where you can purchase fantastic pieces from this artist.

There are also several small handcrafted artisan shops throughout this small village–perhaps more of these than an other kind.

As for your own art, numerous photographers, sketchers, writers and painters have been drawn to this region. The light, history and character of this region inspires the imaginations of those who seek to capture its effect on the senses.

Shop: This is truly a place where you purchase handmade goods and small souvenirs. If you aren’t up for a day trip to Laguiole (about an hour away), you can purchase some of these classic knives here.

Wine:  Here, you are surrounded by some of the oldest vineyards in the world, arguably thanks to monks from Burgundy who came down this way over 1000 years ago. Take a day to explore areas like Gaillac, Marcillac, Buzet… Even Cahors and Fronton if you’ve time. A really great guide with terrific winery suggestions can be foun dhere:

Bonne Journee! I swear, next time a selfie with a monk will happen. Maybe we will even be drinking Chartreuse (#bucketlist).

euro scribbles: a taste of southwest france.


To be honest. I could breathe a bit better upon leaving Tarbes. I am not certain what, but that place had a creepy hand on my shoulder during my stay. I never was quite settled (aside from that one moment in the church of St. Jean Baptiste). A three hour journey to Conques was well-received by all in the car–especially after a day in the Tour that was, well… less than joyful.

We were to stay at Moulin de Cambelong on the edge of town. Rolling in at midnight, it seemed as promising on the outside as it had on the website. A vocal river teeming with frogs and cicadas filled the soundtrack of our entrance. A sky as dark as molasses was freckled with radiant stars, which helped to light our way up the stony path to this restored wind mill. The reception, the lobby and the walk to our room felt as though they hired hobbits for the renovation. It was warm, cozy and full of endearing patches of uneven textures of wood, stone and brick.

And then they opened the door to our room.

Florescent light cracked the mood. A strong, distracting odor of paint or some kind of funky chemical invasion talked over the light. Black tar rubber mats were our carpet. Cold and hollow. Funny little details, like the fact that they chose to only paint half the shower when mid-stroke they decided to break for lunch… and not come back to finish the job. These were just a few of this room’s idiosyncrasies (not to mention the random stencil of a lamp with bedazzled rhinestones…just because. Or, blank canvas boards with no art on them that didn’t quite have what I hoped was their intent for deep thinking.). We opened the patio doors to air out the smell, upon which hundreds of critters came to join us for the evening on our ceiling. When one must choose between bugs and chemicals to sleep with, paying for lodging over a campsite suddenly felt absurd. Bugs and all, I pretended I was glamping, reveled in the sounds of the great outdoors and slept like a rock.

I learned quickly though, after an outstanding lunch today, that this was one of those rare little gems– the hotel that you go to for a memorable meal, sensational wine and multiple reasons to venture outside one’s room. The hiking is top notch and the you are sure to get a belly ache if you consume much of its history. Sorry hotel snobs, this is not for you. But traveling gourmand? You found it. Michelin-rated Herve Busset is the chef here, and it’s more than worth the drive (usually a couple hours from, well, everywhere–Toulouse, Bordeaux, Rhone).

Suddenly those little quirky details are somehow now, well, charming. But a room that smells like a paint can. Come on people. Don’t ruin the mood.

The ancient town of Conques is heavy with stories, buried deep and far in the hills of the central Massif. We walked into town, up its steep cobbled steps to find a crammed little village surrounding an active monastery. We plan to go tonight to hear their nightly chants.

Today, though, we took a side trip to Marcillac. I was curious to get better acquainted with the Mansois or Fer Servadou varietal (‘fer’ meaning iron which is thought to be named for its iron clad roots but possibly the reddish iron soils of the area said to impart such flavor in its wine–all up for grabs if you care to debate). We chose to see Domaine du Cros, one of the better known winemakers of the area. Here, they carry on a tradition for 5 generations, though really the most recent generations (since 1982) have greatly expanded their production as well as their reputation.

This winery encompasses 200 hectares of gorgeous, steeply terraced land– an amphitheater sorts sucking up copious amounts of southern-oriented sunlight. Fat, solid vines burrow themselves in red clay ‘rougieres’ soils (for which, one of his wines is named so), peppered with calcareous limestone and schist in some areas. He is not fully organic but only because he does not believe in using Bordeaux copper mixture to control & prevent fungus. This method is one of the only ways to effectively fight disease while remaining ‘organic’, but it’s long term effects on the soils are debatable. He does not think it is the healthiest choice for vine, land or wine. Though the rows can be mechanically managed, the harvesting is not. All is done by hand and not one ill-looking berry will make the cut. Ruthless grape sorting is a main focus for controlling quality here.

The winemaker, Phillipe Teulier, is proud to introduce us to his home and to this unique grape, thought to be indigenous to the Southwest area of France. As we taste through his selections, it’s no wonder this grape is thought to have relatives in Cabernet. There is a peppery, herbaceous quality that is more than reminiscent to a soft-spoken, fruity Chinon–rustic yet vibrant with raspberries, fennel and pink peppercorn. There is an underlying note of cassis that beats in the background with humble discretion, like a anonymous metronome pacing a piano piece. While his higher end Vielle Vigne and Rougieres reds were absolutely lovely, it was his entry level Lo Sang del Pais that impressed me most, and possibly he as well, as he laughed when he explaining that while this wine was a reflection of his hard work and the flavor of the land, the others (well, namely Rougieres) required a suit and tie to consume. Oak can get in the way of the expression if what you are seeking is the purity of fruit, as he further discussed.

Lo Sang de Pais is a name which loosely refers to this table wine being the ‘blood of the land’– the source and sustenance of this local economy… an economy that has seen a slow recovery since the world wars and phylloxera, when a thriving mining industry dissipated, vineyards were destroyed and the general sentiment was to move into urban areas for better opportunities. According to Charles Neal, who writes a fantastic piece about Southwest wines on the Somm Guild website, “Many locals moved north to Paris where, it is said, more café owners have roots in the Aveyron than in the capital itself.” The latter half of the 20th century saw much change in this area. Now, there are a several solid growers looking to get areas like Marcillac, Gaillac, Buzet, Cahors and others back on the map with the help of such importers like Wine Traditions, Kermit Lynch and Charles Neal.

I really do want to take a moment to give a shout out to the white and rose he makes at this domaine as well. The white is of 20% Muscat Blancs a Petits Grains blended with 80% Semillon. A delicate nose of underripe stone fruit (peach, apricot) and white florals on the nose led to a much deeper, thought-provoking palate, motioning towards marmalade and lime blossoms. It was tense, dry and awkwardly waxy in texture, but not in a bad way. It was like that first kiss. You aren’t sure if it’s right, wrong, thrilling or lacking… So you need to try again. Upon practice, you confirm that this was just a new experience with a new personality. And actually…quite delicious.

The rose, a saignee of Mansois, while simple, was quick to let the world know it was not yet another pink wine to be quaffed with little to know thought execution on the consumer’s part. No, this was a rose of substance, slight tannin and purpose, meant to be enjoyed with salty, savory snacks. While this wine rolls its eyes at us porch pounders of the world, forgive her. She just takes life a little more seriously than we typically expect.

Lunch, as mentioned, back at the hotel was nothing short of exemplary. Spongy lichen-looking cakes followed by an oversized pierogi with swiss chard, cream and trout, concluding with the tenderest pork tenderloin ever to exist–all executed with flawless precision. A true work of art. We continued our exploration of local wines starting with a Method Ancestrale Mauzac Brut from Domaine du Moulin, an elegant, finely tuned sparkling with a string quartet of green apples, lemon curd, fennel and gardenias playing the melody. We then enjoyed a simple but refreshing blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Mauzac and Chenin by Vignerons du Vallons in nearby Marcillac, composed of 38 vignerons who comprise 55% of this small region’s production. Grapefruit and lemon zest were the takeaways here… and its effortless affinity towards salty sheep’s milk cheese. Finally, we tried a red from Michel Issaly at Domaine de la Ramaye in Gaillac, also made of Fer Servadou. It was considerably denser than those of Domaine du Cros, more extraction, deeper berry fruit and less elegance. While enjoyable, it lacked the finesse I discovered in du Cros just hours earlier.

And so, that’s it for today. Off to find out more about monks. Basically, I think monks are the best. More on that in the next blog.

euro scribbles: a mystical, hardcore woman in man-town.


Perhaps it had to do with Jesus, but today–a bright, gorgeous Monday morning– certainly wore a more flattering hue as I gave the streets of Tarbes another try. I began with a run through the Jardin Massey among well curated flower gardens and manicured trails. After a quick rinse, I made the wise decision to go the other direction from where I explored yesterday. Here, there were numerous shops, patisseries and town squares with fountains. It was cheerful and busy with tourists and locals alike. Fresh pastries filled the air from a place called Simply the Food and a chocolate cafe called Nectar seemed to produce happy customers. The Tour de France is most certainly in town, getting themselves ready for the sendoff tomorrow near the old railway station, which stands tall and full of pride, as though nostalgic for another time a hundred years ago.

But something is still a little off. Scanning the scene, one thing remains consistent whether Sunday, Monday, day or night. The men. They are everywhere! So skewed is the sex ratio, Jonathan and I have begun to call it: Man-Town. And not just any kind of man. They travel in pods–two to six at a time. They can be seen bumbling around all day, leaning against walls and sitting on benches a few feet apart from one another, not making eye contact, but clearly talking business out the sides of their mouths. Holding their cigarettes between their thumb and forefinger, they seemingly work out sketchy deals with other equally questionable men. Scanning the streets, every other man fits this profile– middle to late age, the contours of a growing pot belly, button down oversized shirt and a listless expression painted on their faces. Every time I thought to sit on a park bench, I realized I was one female among a herd of men. So I took To Kill a Mockingbird back to my hotel for some leisure reading. At this point I realized that perhaps this was an element to the harshness, the grit to this town. They need more women. And bakeries. And cute, babbling French kids. Instead, I got to witness a greasy, lanky guy (yet not without a bourgeoning pot belly), obliviously farmer blow his runny nose a few feet from me in the public square. Even in France, that’s pretty unappetizing.

Across the road from this display of refined behavior, an incredibly old church caught my eye. I was instantly intrigued. There. That was it. Grounded with resilience over years of destruction, territorial battles and recreation, this church had seen so much. And its eyes seemed… sore. It was weathered but wise. This massive stone structure was quick to sound the noon bell, but reserved when it came to unearthing its identity. I spent a good ten minutes trying to find a name, much in vain. I looked at street names and a local cafe to whisper a hint: St. Terese of Avila. I had no idea just who this woman was until now.

St. Terese seemed born to give her life to God. So dedicated to the cause, she tried to run away at age seven to begin living a life of martyrdom (thankfully, her uncle caught her outside the city walls and shepherded her back in to resume a few more years of normative, nuclear childhood development). Upon the death of her mother, though, she was out of there. Mary mother of Jesus became her spiritual mother to guide her moving forward. She joined a Catholic Carmelite convent, learned the lingo and began her lifelong marriage to God. Thing is, that same little girl who was ready to kick dust to honor her calling at age seven had only gotten more stubborn with age (as we do). Quickly, she learned that she had to create a an offshoot of the Carmelite convent–one that wasn’t so laid back and ineffective. Also, one that worked to renew their intentions and entailed a certain amount of pain. In suffering, there was truth… for her, at least. I might argue that a bottle of DRC could get you to truth with a little less pain. They became known as the Discalced Carmelites, marked by bare feet.

She was a bonafide badass. She fought for what she felt was correct, was a prolific author of her time, swayed powerful men in both church and state to bend an ear, persuaded the wealthy to support the many convents she erected throughout Spain (and now parts of southwest France) and ultimately died feeling she had done her best. She was also known to levitate at mass, which is kind of cool. Only in 1970, did the Pope Paul IV honor her as a Doctor of the Church– making her one of only two women at that time to receive such distinction.

And so, as I look at this 800 year old church today in all its paradox– at once uninviting yet fascinating nonetheless– I understand now that it should be none other than this if in her honor. She was simple, focused, pious and severe. She stripped away at life’s excess the older she became and didn’t waver in her priorities.

Because I couldn’t peer into that church, I wandered into another. It just felt right. Nearby, St. Jean Baptise was quite the opposite. Its doors were wide open, lit with candles and playing choir music overhead. It was just me in there, and for the first time in weeks, I felt like I could exhale. I’m not overly religious, but today I felt something. So I savored it. I was where I needed to be at that exact moment.

The food scene, my friends, has been falling short. To be fair, last night was very satisfying, as we ate some gambas (large shrimp) and a large local specialty salade du chevre chaude (warm goat cheese salade) at L’Authentique streetside with a bottle of Tariquette Colombard/Sauvignon– simple and perfect for a warm summer evening. Lunch today was not so satisfying at L’Epicerie. There were few options, so I went with the Salade du Gasconne– otherwise known as duck salad. Duck everything– from foie to… well, I don’t actually know, but certainly varied organs. Not a huge duck (or organ) fan, I picked at my lettuce, drank my out of condition rose from last year’s vintage and just chalked it up to a fail.

Tonight, we try again at a recommended spot. More on that and the Tour tomorrow… Go Cannondale-Garmin!

euro scribbles: tumbling into tarbes.


There is a startling frankness, a raw brutality that is engendered in human nature when one’s personal space is threatened. Possibly no better a place to observe this phenomenon than Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris. Here, like trout frantically moving upstream to spawn, we fight to get past one another, oblivious of age, ability or size– limbs, eyes and bags get clipped with little to no remorse. It’s primal… a need to get where one needs to be, even if it relatively wouldn’t make much difference to do so in a more civilized way, perhaps giving up one spot in line in the process. I watched a 3 year old get stepped on today like an ant, an elderly woman in a wheelchair get flipped off (for slowly strolling along and continuously chirping ‘excusez-moi’) and I can personally attest to some couscous all over the ground after getting smacked around mid-bite. Even so, I cleared my throat and adapted. Darwin would approve. Harkening back to my days living in New York, I slipped into that old familiar battle stance, threw on a little elbow grease and began to get to where I needed to be. And if they couldn’t hear my meager excusez-moi, they would feel it.

Finally touching down in Pau, I was happy at first to learn I was staying outside the city in a small village called Tarbes–a new spot I was unfamiliar with to this point. Perhaps not just outside, though… 45 minutes and 130 euro later, I chided myself for being such poor planning. But the journey was a great entrance into the Pyrenees countryside. The driver had the whispy evidence of Catalan on his native French tongue. Rolling hills and a patchwork quilt of greens and browns painted the landscape, corn growing high and sunflowers humbly bowing their heads as we passed them.

Upon arrival in this village, the quaint fuzzy feeling wore off. A short walk around the square, and I was pining for Pau. A few sad restaurants seemed to wear the regret of the night before. Conversations seemed forced or nonexistent. The streets were eerily quiet, excepting a few stray dogs who needed to relieve themselves. And I was searching for… something. A sliver of aesthetic relief. A sweet kid babbling in French, a vignette of young lovers, a young thoughtful man perhaps writing by the fountain. (I know, I’m pathetic. It’s no wonder my bubble burst here. Can we say unrealistic expectations?)

In short, it felt lacking. Still, I am determined to find its appeal in the next couple days. There’s a subterraneous layer to this town. Today is Sunday. We must forgive them for having a little crust beneath their eyelids. I went back to my hotel, which is quite nice actually: The Rex Hotel, and I devised a little plan. I did a little research on restaurants, site seeing, architecture, classic walks and the history of this town. Set where it is, not far from the Atlantic and a haven for trade items, it was fought over and upon so many times– the Romans, barbarians and Vikings on down to being a hostile site during the War of the Religions in the 1500s. The 1700s saw reconstruction and a dedication to establishing an identity with its local merchants, artisans, craftsman and industry. It is a town that has persevered. And it is that aspect I wish to find. I am hoping to write of realized potential over the next post on this little town in the Midi-Pyrenees within Gascogne.

Forgive me, but I rarely have the luxury anymore to write! I feel like I have been given my first meal in days (though really months), and so I cannot help myself. Words taste so good when you’ve gone so long.

And so, hang in there. I will get to the food and wine, once I actually get to the food and wine. And thank you for humoring me.

euro scribbles: a resurfacing of old writings on southwest france


As I searched my old posts for a short entry on food in Pau, I was adamant that I had written one, alas I could not find it. Turns out, it was never posted. Here is a short snippet from last year’s journey to Pau, where I will find myself again in a few short hours from now. There’s even another entry that follows this one on my brief stint in the right bank. Nothing too technical here, but hopefully it is of some use to you should you plan a little journey there yourself…


We had been in southwest France for a few days, when Jonathan realized he hadn’t had foie or confit in his basic daily food groups for mealtime. This was a problem. We searched high and low, wondering whatever became of the restaurant Chez Coin Coin (yep– ‘quack, quack’), when we found out it closed. Before we could sob, we learned of its reincarnation: Le Canard Royale. That would do.

It was the perfect way to close our time in Pau. We walked along the perimeter of town and went back towards the Chateau de Pau. Ignore the fact that it seems to be the ‘touristy’ part of town. If you want cassoulet in the dead hot summer like me, you need not look further. Sadly we weren’t seated outside, but at least we were moved from the bright, florescent buzz of the back light. We relocated to a cozier, more mood lit section towards the front. There were some odd design choices they made for this place– for example, the cheap retro wood paneling that seemed like a Madmen on a budget contrasted to lovely cave rock walls… with white plaster to cover most of it. The ambience, otherwise, was actually quite nice. I actually found it endearing. Jonathan, not so much.

We began with a splash of local Juranson Sec from Chateau Lasserre. It was really hitting the spot on this warm, humid evening. It smelled of honeyed apples and the magnolias we kept seeing all over town. It invited thoughts of an Indian summer in a couple of months with its juxtaposed presentation of whimsy and wisdom. It went beautifully with the warm chevre salad on my starter plate.

I no doubt scared the servers when I ordered cassoulet. Three people came to tell me it was ‘gros’– large (though, maybe for once they were speaking English…).  I assured them, I was a dedicated eater. Nothing would convince me away from their house specialty. Not weather or weight of dish. When it arrived, it didn’t look terribly huge. The confit leg of duck was delicious, the sausage a perfect array of spices and texture, the white beans very good (though I prefer them to be more in tact versus mashed) and the grilled foie absolutely melt away magnificent. And I really dislike foie on most occasions. About five bites later, I comprehended the look I was given upon ordering. This dish was dense. A hearty dose of duck fat was holding it all together. Thankfully, Jonathan brought an appetite and was left a little underwhelmed by his foie dish. Though he gave it his best, we hardly made a dent. I would say we ate about half between the two of us. I couldn’t believe it. I pride myself on this kind of ability. Oh well. C’est la vie. It, nevertheless, was a terrific meal, complete with local Armagnac– a 1988 Domaine de Pouteou, a friend of the barman. I certainly recommend this place if you have a taste for duck. But take my advice: split a starter, split the cassoulet and get out of there for less than 50 euro for two people.


Missing Entry Part Deux:


Just a few days left, and I beginning to hit a wall with my French. I am exhausted converting every word I hear, every sign I see into English if French, French if English. I have always a bit of an overeater of words. I recall as a first grader reading each and every poster again and again in my classes, dividing up the words into smaller words, parts of words, scrambled words, etc. I had to read every shampoo bottle– often the same one– each time I took a shower. Unfortunately, this addiction to letters has me très fatigué at this point in the trip.

I have continued with the team to Bergerac or thereabouts for the last stop before Paris. At this point, everyone was rather neutral in mood– just getting through it really, with no stage wins or major victories to get them through. I was amazed, watching these young cyclists get up each and every day, eat their buckwheat pancakes with coconut oil and maple syrup, get back on the bike and ride for  hundreds of kilometers, just to return to their hotels (some not so wonderful) to eat their gluten free suppers, get massages, go to sleep and have the motivation to start all over again the net day… for weeks. I mean, sure, it’s their job. But with their lead guy out of the race (Talansky) and a couple close calls but no wins, I really respected their tenacity. I wanted so badly for them to get a win, and with only 3 stages left of over twenty… that was beginning to look grim. Still, I had faith…

When Ramunus crossed the line yesterday with a pelaton just seconds behind him, I couldn’t be more thrilled! Everyone was screaming– the soigniers, the mechanics, the directors… everyone. The team came off the bus hours later, and many hugs and kisses were exchanged. To translate the emotion of that moment– the pure joy and relief everyone felt…. it was magic. It was so well-deserved. That night we clinked some glasses of 2004 Dom Perignon and every last one of us had a smile that would not dare to drop. We were staying in a mass of vineyards at the nicest hotel to date– an old 17th century Chateau staring out over a pond to a pink sunset. It couldn’t have been more perfect. More timely. Those boys worked their asses off for weeks, and they were finally given rest to celebrate. No win that I have witnessed seemed to taste so sweet as that one. The joy was palpable.

The next day, I had several hours to spend as I wished. I wasn’t but 43k from St. Emilion, and I admit, I have never seen it. I have researched it so many times, even been to the left bank once. But never had I been to the charmed vineyards of the right bank. And charming they were– a perfect description of this historic village perched high about the Grand Cru that surrounded them. I only had a couple hours, so I hardly am an authoritative voice on the topic of traveling. That said, if you only have a short time to visit, I suggest you do as I did. Climb atop the tower, see the old church, pop into a few wine shops and salivate over some old vintages, sit on a ledge and people watch while eating a gelato, take in some breathtaking panoramic views and eat at any number of adorable restaurants. My meal was a simple salad with some fresh apple and a local warmed goat cheese on top with a glass of rose. I don’t even recollect where I was! Just a basic pizzeria. If you have time to do a little research ahead and want an unforgettable experience, I have been told the Hostelliere des Plaisance (of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux properties) is the place to stay. The restaurant is Michelin-rated and apparently unforgettable. Shoot me an email as well, and I will set you up with a few of my favorite wineries nearby. You are minutes from Pomerol, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Cotes de Castillon and Cotes des Bordeaux.

Time to wrap it up. As I understand, we are to land this small jet in Paris in minutes. If anything like the takeoff, I hardly trust you will ever read this. Still, the view is pretty, and I suppose there are worse ways to go than being scattered over one of the best cities on earth. If I do walk away unscathed, I should have good memories to come, as tomorrow is the finish on the Champs-Elysees. I will be joined by a colleague in the business as well as our friend Jeremy from Dujac as well. It is sure to be a very jolly atmosphere, raising glasses with a team of young men with admirable patience, diligence and a sense of true collaboration.

euro scribbles: new sites, sounds and stories to unfold in france…


For the first time in years, I find myself in France without my (full) focus on wine. This go around, as I follow the Tour this coming week, I hope to discover segments of its soul that are as old as wine itself in this country through pieces of architecture and culture that were sculpted alongside the first vineyards. For all the grapes that I have touched (that’s i’ve consumed!) and contemplated for its arguably unmatchable talent for terroir, I wish to better understand the stony walls that once held so many stories… so many secrets, to be sure.

I will begin in Pau later today, an old stomping ground now, as it is a crucial hub for the epic climbs of the Tour. Here, a future king was to be born–one that would tirelessly fight to end the relentless war of religions: none other than Henry IV. A unique city, once capitol of Bearn, it is a mere 50 km from Spain, and you no doubt feel the pulse of its proximity in this culturally blended town– in its cuisine, its people and its customs. It is heavy with thought, this town. And you feel it surround you with each step on the well trodden cobbles of the old town near the famed Chateau de Pau castle in particular. Though I won’t spend a lot of time writing this town, you can turn back to my old writings should you plan a trip to this profound area here. And I just realized there is an entry from last year I never posted on Pau with a little restaurant info… You can find that mistake in the next posting to follow this one!

I then plan to peel back the covers on Conques– a Medieval gem that was actually kept in tact despite the battle wounded buildings in so many other French villages that wear the mark many hundreds of years of brutality, intolerance and cultural upheaval. It is a protected UNESCO world heritage site and marks the route the pilgrims once passed upon to get to Santiago de Compostela. The appeal of Conques for them was to honor the remains of St. Foy, a female martyr from the 4th century, poked with a fiery stick for her Christian beliefs. I am a sucker for badass women, so I hope to learn more about this steadfast individual.

A couple days watching the Tour will certainly be on the menu, but I plan to move it down to the area of Vaucluse (or the Luberon Valley), not terribly far from Provence, in the village of Gordes. Sadly, war was not kind to this village. In fact, there was an outpouring of artisan help to restore this village after World War II. It should be interesting to walk both areas of Conques and Gordes… to sense if there is a shift or some kind of imprint of character that settles upon one.

Of course, I am not actually capable of visiting any place–even Nebraska– without a nod to my unwavering interest in food and wine. In France, you are never far from incredible viticulture and so your meal is not either. Whether Marcillac, Luberon, Madiran, Provence or just some random gems, you will get the full report. These are sleepier towns with little online should you go. Hopefully I can pool together a few insider tips for you to plan a couple side trips next time you are in France. Stay tuned! A bientot…