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bordeaux avec mes amis — chapitre un

by Jon Rusciano

Returning home from my Bordeaux trip two years ago was almost as eventful as the trip itself.  Eons ago when I first traveled to Europe, it was then still quite a novelty, something that very few folks without a bundle of money and time on their hands ever undertook.  My return home from that epic five week European adventure was met with very much the same envious curiosity as my 2011 Bordeaux adventure.  The reason?  Wine has now become the focal point of conversations of my friends and associates (what else can we talk about anymore, with such passion?) and Bordeaux is the wondrous Mecca of the world of wine.  The allures are its rich history and sublime aromas/flavors. Its mystery… the virtual inaccessibility of numerous centuries-old wineries to the masses of tourists, who overcrowd everywhere else in the world as if highly advertised Disney adventures.


Realizing the significance of my initial adventure (aided to a large extent by my column in Sally’s Place), my traveling wine buddies (Calvin Hunt, Dave Belding and Bob Frank) were immediately chattering about the need for us all to return.  And from their first inference, I could tell this was not one of those lame “yeah, we’ll all have to go together sometime” kinds of discussions.  They conveyed serious lust, and understandably so.   The boys recognized such an adventure’s allure and committed to a synchronized 12 day interruption of their successful small business enterprises for this “bucket list” type opportunity.  So, what could I do?  I had to organize another trip and return with them.  It’s the kind of sacrifice that good friends just make.


Serious planning began in the early fall of 2012.  We met on a somewhat regular schedule of week-night wine dinners at one of our haunts, Lucio’s BYOB Grill, concluding with one hosted by Dave at his home.  Setting the date that far in advance, for April/May of 2013, was a major stride.  Business schedules were analyzed as was the position on the calendar of Mother’s Day (a must for some of us to be at home). After that, I was able to start working on a full-court-press toward fitting the pieces together. 


It was a given that the guys would not wish to suffer through the kind of thrifty lodgings I endured throughout my first trip.  So, trusty VRBO.com was consulted for reasonably priced quarters, where the expressive French would not be keeping everyone awake through paper-thin walls.  I found one which was centrally located to the Right and Left Banks of Bordeaux wine country.  It was called Chateau La Roque, a five bedroom, five baths Chateau, located a few kilometers west of the town of Libourne.  And, what a treasure it was.  The home is a beautiful stone structure (originally built in 1818), tastefully remodeled for guests, also accommodating the sometimes residing Owners (Jane and Michael Keenan Brown) in a private 2 bedroom apartment with separate kitchen and living room.  The pictures tell the story… Wowzer, what a nice place.  


Jane offered (and we accepted) the services of a private French chef (Christophe Rohmer, Chef à domicile, Aux Sens) who would cook our evening meals.  And, considering his talent and the convenience of this service, it was well worth the additional Euros.  Four people participating in the expenses made the costs per person manageable.  Experiencing exquisite meals at this dream getaway Chateau in springtime rural France…  (now what’s that MasterCard word?)


Emailing began to the properties I hoped to visit, early in January, almost 4 months before the trip.  Previous approvals for many of the Chateaux were forwarded with my new request, just so that the person in charge could see that they had indeed sanctioned my visit two years before.  This saved some of the jousting involved.  I attempted for the second time to gain access into the realm of iconic wineries like Cheval Blanc, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux and Montrose, with a bit more success than before.  Montrose and Mouton insisted ongoing remodeling construction would not allow it.  Cheval Blanc finally opened its doors to us after various requested visit times and dates were nixed.  I kept up the vigil, along with emphasizing my awareness that construction was finished on their new facility and that had been the only cited reason for my rejection in 2011.  What else could she do, but relent?  YES!  Chateau Margaux was the most difficult “nut to crack.”  I prevailed upon my friend, Sonia Guerlou of Chateau Latour, to contact her good buddy Marie Guillard (PR Director at Margaux).  Sonia had promised to help me on my next attempt at this First Growth property.  Even with her kind reference, it seemed that Marie created imaginative barricades to toss out every step of the way.  At the time of departure, it was apparent that the path to Chateau Margaux had been successfully blocked.


By late March of 2013, I had secured most of our visits all over the region.  The guys were enthused with my accomplishments, yet my task was not done.  I prevailed upon two contacts of mine and Dave’s in the world of wine to assist with the final two Chateaux we hoped to visit.  David Jones of Berry Bros. & Rudd was reached in Japan and asked to help us visit the virtually inaccessible fortress of a Second Growth property, known as Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou.  David’s friendship with the Owner of Ducru opened the door for us.  Next, I prevailed upon the professor of a wine course Bob and I recently took at Rice University (Charles “Bear” Dalton of Spec’s Warehouse Liquors in Houston) to contact the proprietor of Chateau Pavie Macquin, securing a visit to that quaint property for which my attempts had been ignored.  He succeeded with the approval just days before our departure.


Thus with help, I had successfully arranged for visits to 19 premier wineries in Bordeaux, over a five business-day week, which included a mid-week “Labor Day” holiday, observed by many in the area.  The stage was set for our epic adventure.


For some reason, we all arranged different flights which arrived in CDG Paris airport on the morning of April 27.  I had pre-purchased discount tickets on Air France to Bordeaux, for early that afternoon.  Of course we would not be departing out of the same arriving terminal, requiring utilization of the slow shuttle bus system to the home of domestic flights, 2F.  I was the last to land in Paris, but first to appear at the gate of our departure.  My mind started imagining awful scenarios, since I was the only one who had offered dialing instructions to my Mobal World Phone, and had yet to receive a call.   Fifteen minutes before boarding time, I recognized Calvin and Bob heading to the gate, and relief melted my fears.


We landed in Bordeaux Merignac Airport, and the fun began.  Our rental car did not fit all of the luggage as advertised.  The SIXT Car Rental company representatives were very accommodating and upgraded us to the next size vehicle, without charge.  Then Ms. Garmin, after receiving a March downloaded update of the roadway information for France, decided to “act-up,” becoming overly sensitive to my fingers typing data on the screen.  This would not be her only evil act, but she awaited the appropriate critical timing on our first travel morning to completely “sprout her horns.”  After the GPS coordinates to our home, Chateau La Roque, were finally accepted, we proceeded. 


The drive was around the outer loop of the City of Bordeaux, and into what is referred to as the Right Bank (right hand side of the Gironde Estuary, facing eastward toward the Atlantic).  We could hardly believe our eyes as we drove up the graveled path to the top of the hill where our residence awaited.  It was breathtaking. Jane was there to greet us with keys and instructions for every component of the beautiful stone dwelling.  After her instructions we decided to drive to the Carrefour store (similar to a Super-Target) for breakfast and lunch provisions to last throughout the coming week.  What a circus that was.  Each of us had our own baskets and we looked through rows of marked aisles (we could not read) for products which looked like what we wanted.  Fruits and vegetables were easy, except Dave could never find onions for his tuna salad.  Deli-meats, cheese, milk, juices and packaged products, not so simple.  The bill was 185 Euros, and yes we made a spectacle of ourselves at check-out.  Interesting enough, France has progressed to the eco-friendly point where bags for groceries are not provided free.  You must purchase reusable bags or bring them in with you.


Returning home, we had forgotten to bring along the guide book of GPS coordinates I had created, and thus left town utilizing the wrong bridge across La Dordogne River, adjacent to Libourne.  Yes, we were lost.  Yes, I cursed.  We back-tracked and then realized there were two bridges.  The second one had to lead home… right??  Upon entering the driveway, Ms. G was programmed with the “home” button, so this problem would not reoccur.


The first night our Chef could not cook for us, so we walked virtually down the driveway and across the highway (D670) to a restaurant called Chez Carles.  It was spacious, and positioned along the north bank of a scenic man-made lake.  Jane had made reservations for us, but we of course blew the timing, finding our way back home from the store.  They were very accommodating, even though our waiter’s English was about as sketchy as our French.  Most of us picked a complete meal package, based on the type of meat offered in it.  I swore not to be a picky eater on this trip.  Thus, I consumed everything in front of me, whatever it was.  The rest followed suit.


With full stomachs, and a bit of wine to induce slumber, we were “whipped puppies” and ready for bed.  We had decided to designate the next day as time for “decompression.”  None of the wineries would be opened on Sunday, and thus we could take the time to catch up on sleep and get prepared for what was scheduled, beginning early Monday morning.  Once the shutters were all secured (as Jane had requested) and the lights turned out, we were goners until daybreak.


Lucio’s BYOB Grill

Vacation Rentals by Owner

Chateau La Roque

Christophe Rohmer

Berry Bros. & Rudd

Spec’s Warehouse Liquors

SIXT Car Rentals

Carrefour Markets

Chez Carles Restaurant

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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