VinoTripping Blog

St. Emilion and the Right Bank of Bordeaux

overlooking petrus

St. Emilion – We drove by the cutest city, all up a hill of limestone.  The ancient city still stands and it is laced with cobblestone streets and little shops and cafes.  The city is built on this limestone hill.  The area was once underneath a great sea, and so the soil is limestone with shells and fossils.  We learned the inhabitants of the region came here to follow Saint Emilion, who was rumored to have performed miracles by changing bread into wood and by healing people.  He fled from Paris and became a hermit living in a cave near the top of the hill that is St. Emilion.  Followers came and stayed and a city grew up around his cave.  The inhabitants cut limestone from underneath the hill, leaving the external city and hill intact, and leaving vast sanctuaries, tunnels and caves cut beneath the city.  Wineries over the years have utilized the natural cooling and humidity to age and preserve their wines.

We passed by the city and arrived at our chateau where we would be staying for the next three evenings, Chateau La Petit Maison.  This is a small guest house outside of the main city, surrounded by vineyards.  The hostess Veronique graciously greeted us. 

Review for lodging :  We had a great stay here. We wanted to stay close by St Emilion, in a comfortable room and found everything we were looking for.  The home is in the middle of vineyards and we were welcomed to walk through the vineyards. The views were outstanding.  The room was fine and the other guests were mostly repeat visitors.  The best part was the hostess.  Veronique is well traveled and speaks English very well.  She greeted us with warmth, took care of every need and made sure we had any information, resources we needed.  She even did our laundry as she didn’t want us to miss any of our vacation to have it done.  Because she has traveled so much she anticipates what vacationers need.

Once checked in, we decided to drive to Pomerol, as it was only 10 minutes away, is a top wine region in the world and Veronique helped us to make reservations at a restaurant there.  We drove over to Pomerol, through beautiful vineyards and vistas, and stopped as we were passing Petrus ($1000+ Merlot driven blends) and a Grand Cru.  We took pictures there, felt the soil and also walked around LeFleur Petrus, two brothers own the two exclusive wineries.  We were fortunate to find that between the two wineries, was a small plot of vineyards and that Chateau La Fleur Saint-Jean had just recently opened a tasting room and were holding open tastings (not very common in France). 

We walked in and were greeted by their representative.  He gave us a quick tour of the facilities and then showed us up to the roof deck.  This was much more “user friendly” and what we were used to in touring in the US. The deck had glorious views and we took pictures on all sides of the deck as we overlooked the world famous vineyards.  Our guide pointed out the historical views and all of the famous wine regions and then we tasted his selection of fantastic wines.  Both Michelle and I LOVED each and every one of these wines that we tasted. The 2016’s were impressive and even the 2017, which was a tough year, was really good.

We bid our guide goodbye and drove around the small town of Pomerol and then headed to the restaurant where we had a reservation.

Veronique had made us a reservation at LaLonde and we arrived to a modern building that was created to be a work of art.  We made our way upstairs to the rooftop restaurant and were quickly seated to join the other visitors who had come to view the reputed sunset.  There is a “pool” of red glass stones on the deck.  It was a stunning view.  I ordered oysters and a white wine and we enjoyed the experience immensely.

The sun doesn’t set until about 10:30pm during the summer there, so as we returned to our chateau, we went for a walk in the vineyards, facetiming the family as we watched the sun set over St Emilion.  It was a perfect day!

The next morning, we went for a run in the vineyards, over looking the rising fog from the cool of the night before. We had booked a tour for the day with Veronique’s husband, Thor.  We figured he would have connections, since they lived there, but we didn’t realize that Thor had worked in the wine industry.  He took us first to his friends’ small vineyard, Bernatau, where we were able to tour a very small winery, and one of the guides for tours was the winemaker himself. 

After touring Cht. Bernatau, we were dropped off in town for a little shopping.  We then met up with Thor and he dropped us off just outside the small city, on top of the highest altitude in St. Emilion, at Chateau Gaubert, for one of the best experiences we had on the entire trip.

We were greeted by the winemaker, Juliette.  She was friendly, introduced us to her two young daughters and niece, her mom came out and said hello as well, and then she took us in to her vineyards to share her story with us.  Her grandfather had bought this plot of land in the 1950’s.  He made wine until his son, her father, took it over.  Her parents had four daughters, and one of her sisters is a winemaker elsewhere in France, but Juliette wanted to take over her father’s operation. Her vineyards are at the highest elevation in France. Even in tough years when her neighbors had frost and lost their crops, her vineyards remained unaffected as they get more wind because of the elevation.  Her soil is limestone, true to most of Saint Emillion. Many of the surrounding properties have sold for millions but Juliette wants to make wine.

After touring the fields, she took us into her tank room and showed us the process she uses to make wine.  She has decided to follow her father’s traditional methods.  She rarely oaks, because she wants the fruit to tell their own story.  If she ever uses oak, she will use small staves and only for a short time.  This was one of the few times in France I had heard of red wine, Merlot or Cab, not on oak, and for that I was very skeptical.  She ferments her wine and then puts it right into the bottle for aging, no need for a large barrel room.  I have to tell you, her wine was pure and outstanding and we LOVED it! (I can still taste the velvet and dark fruits in when I think about our trip there these many months later).

We went down to her cellar, which had been her grandfathers.  There we found 50 and 60 year old wines.  She shared a story of how, when they recently cleaned the room out, they found their neighbors wine from the 1960’s, and she happened to be going to dinner at their house so she brought it and it remained outstanding in her cellar.

She poured us tastings of her wines and I could not believe the quality and the purity.  They were stunning and vibrant and so good.  We tasted her 2015 that she made in collaboration with her father, her 2016, the first she had made on her own, and we tasted a concoction she was working on right out of the barrel.  It is a 2017 she was just getting ready to bottle.  I can’t wait to figure out a way to import Juliet’s wine.  It’s definitely a winner!  (I did bring back a bottle and recently tried it and it was as good, if not better, than I remembered)

Thor picked us up outside Cht Gaubert and we headed back into town for our late day tour of Chateau Villemaurine, an historic winery found right at the top of the limestone hill that is the city of St. Emilion.  This was a much bigger operation, more commercialized than the others we had visited that day. The guide, Sarah, took us on a tour of their facilities and wine caves under the city.  It was impressive to see the vineyards at the top of the city hill and to view the displays of the incredible history of the region down below the city in the caves.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of years of incredible history, ghosts that have hidden in these caves through the many wars this region has encountered and the tales of liberation and safety these caves have provided. We then tasted the various blends at Villemaurine and headed to the city of Saint Emillion to walk around, shop and have dinner. 

There are incredible views throughout the medieval city, with a deep history.  The ancient church rises up from the hill, hiding the secrets of the caves below.  We found many keepsakes to take home in the cute shops and delightful snacks, jewelry, sneakers… anything you can dream up, and then, of course, we headed into a local wine shop for a tasting.

Buying wine from the wine merchants in Bordeaux is a bit like buying a used car in the US, actually the process is very similar.  You definitely need to be prepared to buy wine and you need to know what you are talking about.  You also should plan to walk out of the shop feeling a little bit dirty. Fortunately our wine merchant, Masur had worked at the neighboring shop, and had mastered how to deal with Americans.  He was delightful and didn’t push, though he had several wines he introduced us to that I shipped home and they have been amazing to taste, even if we may have paid a little more for them than we should have.  Masur does a lot of business in the US and ships here all the time.  I highly recommend ordering from him if you don’t care as much about the price as the tastes of the wine.

We left Mazur and headed out in town for a lovely courtyard garden dinner and then headed home, still sunlight, though it was 10pm.  A stunning end to a lovely day.

The next day we toured the old church and Saint Emilion’s original cave, which would have been more interesting if the tour was in English rather than French, and then we hopped into our car for our next adventure – Burgundy!

About Author

After graduating from Brandeis University, Alison worked as a teacher at two of the top high schools in the country and spent her summers traveling the world. On one of her adventures, she visited Stellenbosch and Paarl in South Africa, which ignited a lifelong passion for learning about wine. In 2004, she worked as a Wine Consultant for the Traveling Vineyard and began to study wine more intensively. While working as a high tech recruiter, she completed her Advanced Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in the UK in 2018. Her wine travels have taken her to the wine growing regions of the US, Europe, Africa and Australia. Alison is a member of the Boston Sommelier Society, a member of the Guild of Master Sommeliers and is a Wine, Travel and Lifestyle Media Influencer. Currently, after leaving her recruiting career, Alison is running her business, Artisan Wine Group, teaching wine courses, running private and corporate wine events and organizing wine tours.

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