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Bordeaux Avec mes Amis — Onze
It was not a long journey to our next appointment. The Saint Emilion ring road was accessed, yet instead of turning right into town, we proceeded ahead on that route which would intersect the rural roadway to Chateau Troplong Mondot just a kilometer or so ahead. We parked at what appeared to be the truck loading zone, off of their wine storage building. With the increased elevation, a portion of the region which constituted St. E became a panoramic view. An embankment of trees on the other side of the roadway initially blocked vistas of the town.
Early again, we decided to eat our lunch in the car, unaware of the picturesque outdoor dining facilities which would have been available to us around the west end of this building. There was a tour bus parked, so we believed the Accuel office was nearby. Lunch was leisurely, and during our meal we were visited by two of the winery’s friendly resident dogs, eager for a handout. When done, pre-tour exploration began. First we found the outdoor stone patio for dining, and then the winery’s full service restaurant became visible, filled with all the tourists from the bus. After being noticed from the restaurant’s windows, our host Myriam came out to let us know she would be with us shortly. I told her not to worry since we were still very early. The countryside views from this patio area were captivating, yet a brisk hill-top wind was blowing which beckoned more clothing.
Feeling Mother Nature’s urge to release the meal’s bottled water, I found the restroom and entered without noticing a gender sign. Comforted by finding urinals around a short wall at the rear, I stood there feeling the relief of the flow. Next a compartment door opened and a woman from the luncheon tour party exited. The half wall was positioned in a way that private parts of those who utilized it were not visible to anyone using the stalls, but as an American it just felt a bit uncomfortable to utter a “howdy-do” to a strange woman with fly wide open in mid-pee. Yet, when in France…
Myriam had the responsibility of tending to the touring party, Americans as well, from Memphis. As they concluded their meal and departed for the bus, she was able to join us. She started by relaying the history of the property. This vineyard dated back to the 17th century when acquired by French noble, Abbé Raymond de Sèze. Later in 1745 his family constructed the chateau as a residence which remains on the property today. In 1850, Raymond Troplong acquired the estate, known as Mondot, and thus its ultimate name was derived out of both. In the early 20th century, the Chateau was acquired by Georges Thienpont who was later forced to sell to another Négociant when making improvements to his Pomerol property known as Vieux Chateau Certan. He sold to Alexander Valette, whose heirs are the current day owners and operators of the vineyard and winery. The property has 33 hectares under vine, on a hillside (100 meters in elevation) which for the most part faces the village of St. Emilion. The facility was completely renovated in 2008, with new storage rooms and winemaking equipment. A Bed and Breakfast (Les Belles Perdrix) was started in 2010, and the full service restaurant opened in 2012.
The tour of their winemaking equipment and barrel storage was impressive, since everything had been so recently renovated. Wines are monolactic fermented in stainless steel tanks and they spend approximately 18 months aging in 85 – 100% new oak barrels. We were offered tastes of the 2006 vintage, which was really sharp and tannic, likely requiring as much as a 20 year hold for the acidity to soften.
Next we followed her out of the winery, across the road, through the embankment of tall trees and into the grounds of the Chateau. The owners still live in this ancient structure, updated and refurbished on numerous occasions since its initial construction. Next door to the residence was the beautiful building which served as the “B & B.” It was much more recently completed, but had features which made it look as if it was an aged sibling to the Chateau, except for its modern glazing. These rooms are all at the very top of the hill and have exquisite views of the village of St. E. It is the kind of scenic spot that even if the ulterior motive is touring surrounding wine country, one’s spouse would not mind tagging along and vacationing there, wine drinker or not.
At the conclusion of our tour, we thanked our host Myriam and had a very short distance to travel for our next visit at Chateau Pavie-Macquin, made possible by my acquaintance with Bordeaux specialist “Bear” Dalton at Spec’s Warehouse Liquors in Houston. The properties are neighbors, with vineyards which border each other, only a rocky dirt roadway apart. Access was not that easy, since the newly remodeled visitor center was down that hill, requiring us to return to the bypass roadway and drive up from the low side of the property. This was navigated without the utilization of our GPS helper. We walked up to the office, and were informed that our host, Cyrille Thienpont (yes related to the owners of Chateau Le Pin and Vieux Chateau Certan) was busy and would not be available until our 4 pm. appointment. We were encouraged to walk the expanse of the vineyards while we waited, which proved a wonderful idea. The panoramic vistas on this crystal-clear day were hypnotic. To the north end of the vineyard was a cluster of trees, marking its extent. This was also the point at which the hillside proceeded westward, offering such a view of the region that it had to be a site for postcard type photography.
Above us, at the highest elevation of this vineyard we witnessed horse-assisted weed plowing at Troplong, with the same kind of equipment and rigging as once used in the days before the tractor was invented. It was amusing to watch as we studied the walk-behind operators’ talents in keeping the horses pulling steadily and the plows at the proper sub-surface elevation, so as not to waiver side-to-side or gouge deeply into the rocky soil causing the process to halt. One of the two was skilled, and the other likely an apprentice in an earlier stage of learning. It seemed like the time flew by as we noticed Cyrille walking up the hillside to greet us.
He talked about the vineyard and its soil composition. We walked with him between several rows as he explained their theories of vineyard care. Even within the Thienpont family, viewpoints differed. He explained that the winery had been acquired in the 18th century by a man named Albert Macquin, a student of viticulture at the Ecole d'Agriculture. His was one of the first in all of France to be replanted with American root stock during the Phylloxera outbreak in the late 1880’s. Macquin was instrumental in convincing all of his stubborn neighbors in St. Emilion to adopt this unconventional method to combat the pestilence. Descendants of Macquin still own the vineyard, which is now managed by Nicolas Thienpont and his son Cyrille.
Instead of proceeding to the Visitor’s Center, we followed him up the hill to the winery and barrel storage facility. After viewing the concrete fermentation vats (wines fermented by lots in separately named containment cubes, similar in style to Gazin and L’Evangile), we proceeded into the barrel storage area where he took a “wine-thief” and allowed us to sample the yet-to-be-bottled 2012 vintage. We tasted wines from three different “blocks” or sections of the vineyard. Blending took place after fermentation and aging. Each sample had its own noticeable youthful characteristics. The winery would produce approximately 50 thousand bottles with the juice in barrel that day.
At the conclusion of these samples, we held tight to our glasses, proceeding to a location where sample bottles were stored. He was kind enough to uncork a half-bottle of their 2005 Pavie-Macquin, an RP-98 rated vintage. What a treat! The nose was of caramel, dark berries and licorice. The flavor, a divine and intense combination of those elements. That puppy was rip-roaring-ready to consume, and yes we did.
We thanked Cyrille and I congratulated him on his new son, insider news that Bear shared with me before my departure to France. The sun was starting to set as we departed, yielding a golden glow on this beautiful vineyard and the one we had also visited directly up the hill. We decided to make a final stop in the village of St. Emilion looking for more wine buying opportunities before our departure home. Dave purchased a case of one of the wines we had enjoyed during our stay. It was to be express-air-shipped to his office. Suffice it to say that did not happen, causing the wine to become exposed to the summer heat of various U.S. cities on its long, long ground-shipped journey to his office. Dave would suggest being wary of any such guarantee from small wine shop owners throughout this region. Once back home, there is scant recourse.
We returned to the Chateau before dark, with our Chef and Bob (now feeling somewhat better from the rest) chatting while our meal was being prepared. No one expounded too much on the day’s adventures, not wanting to make him feel that badly for having missed out. Yet, upon reading my two accounts of this glorious day, how could he not? Sorry Bobby, I just cannot misrepresent the facts.
The next day found us on an early flight back to Paris. Dave met his wife at CDG airport and continued another week’s worth of vacation in Normandy and the surrounding communities. Calvin, Bob and I opted for a few more days in Paris. And considering the beauty to behold in that my favorite municipality on earth, it offered few disappointments. We have not discussed another equally-elaborate journey for the future, but it is doubtful that this upscale Chateau residenced, personal-chef repasted wine adventure will ever be bested. All of us were incredibly thankful for the opportunities we experienced, still so very exclusive to most of the world’s travelers.
Chateau Troplong Mondot
Les Belles Perdrix
Spec’s Warehouse Liquors