A few weeks ago when touring Graves, a region of greater Bordeaux in southwestern France, we pulled up to a magnificent property called Chateau de Cérons. The chateau is located within the tiny appellation of Cérons, a hidden gem of an appellation often overshadowed by its more famous neighbour Sauternes. It is located 35 km from the city of Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Garonne River.
We came across a wonderful vineyard near Saint-Emilion, in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse called Château Bernateau. Surrounded by beautiful landscapes of rolling vines that have been honoured by the World Heritage designation, this small domaine has been family owned and operated for the past eight generations. We had the pleasure of meeting Karine Lavau, who together with husband, Pierrick, own and operate the vineyard along with its sister domaine Château Tour Peyronneau. The two vineyards are farmed organically, and are classified as Saint-Émilion Grand Cru producing some delicious wines.
We've heard plenty of great things about this wine growing phenomenon called noble rot , and since we are working in the Bordeaux region of France, we decided to head straight for the place where noble rot is arguably most famous: Sauternes, a region 50 km from the city of Bordeaux. The Sauternes wines are made from Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, and Muscadelle grapes. The sleepy village of Sauternes is surrounded by gorgeous vineyards with a terroir like no other. The region has a unique micro-climate that provokes the grapes to shrivel and sweeten into some of the most delicious sweet wines the world has known. We were lucky enough to be right in midst of grape harvest season, a period that is much longer than in most other wine regions, as the grapes shrivel at different rates and are periodically hand picked when ready. This is typically between October and November.
French wine and Champagne is generally more expensive in the UK compared to when purchased in France, and many smaller French producers simply do not export. It’s far more fun to combine a short holiday in France with a wine buying expedition and come back with something wonderfully different to the usual supermarket labels.
For a Champagne adventure, fly or take the Eurostar to Paris and the Champagne towns of Reims and Epernay are under two hours away by train. What could be simpler? When you visit one of the small Champagne houses in the area you will probably be personally greeted by the owners themselves, or at least one of the family, as I was when I visited one such house a few years ago. Actually, to be more precise, I was first greeted by the owners’ dog, who then padded off to find Madame and brought her out to see me.