We didn’t have much of a summer in Copenhagen this year. There were a few brief weeks in June with gorgeous sunny days, warm enough to spend some lazy afternoons grilling on Amager Beach. I spent one lovely evening sailing around the Copenhagen harbor.

Then the weather turned cold, windy, and rainy.

I’d planned on sticking around Copenhagen during the summer, especially since I’d been promised that summer is the best time to be here. But after weeks of wearing a coat in July, I was ready to escape to a warmer climate. A friend of mine invited me on a cycling and wine-tasting trip to Bordeaux that he had organized. Beautiful countryside, wine, and 30-degree weather? I couldn’t resist.

The trip was a bit complex logistically, with a total of 11 people joining from Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Aberdeen, London, and Paris, all arriving and leaving at different times. I flew down early Thursday morning and back on Sunday evening. Despite my love of biking around Copenhagen, I’d never been on a road bike before, and I didn’t think a 60- to 80-kilometer ride was a great way to test it out. So I decided to rent a car and a townie bike, and keep the bike in the trunk in case I wanted to take a shorter ride.

As the trip got closer, my friends and I saw with dismay that the forecast in Bordeaux for our trip was cold and rainy. Southern France was having a little cold spell of their own, after weeks of 30+ degrees and sunshine. Disappointing, but part of my goal this year is to adjust my expectations and enjoy things even when they’re not perfect. So I vowed not to complain about the weather, and packed some sweaters.

Thursday: Bordeaux to Puisseguin

I arrived at the Bordeaux airport around 11 am, grabbed a sandwich, picked up my rental car, and got my bike, delivered to me at the airport by 02cycles. The weather looked promising, and I was excited about the first stop: the Château Canon La Gafflière winery in Saint-Émilion. Alex had booked us a tour and tasting of some Grand Cru wines, and I would meet him and the other three cyclists there. I couldn’t wait to see the gorgeous vineyards and taste some delicious French reds.

I was less excited about the idea of driving in France. This was my first time driving in Europe and I was extremely nervous about the narrow roads and French road signs. But thanks to Google maps and very little traffic on the road, driving was a breeze.

I arrived a little earlier than the cyclists and took advantage of the gorgeous sunshine—yes, sunshine!—to sit out in the winery’s garden. Sitting among the flowers and lemon trees, I soaked up the peaceful moment, disturbed only by the languid buzzing of bees.

The cyclists showed up shortly, sweaty and oil-stained from changing a flat tire. They raved about the lovely ride they’d had; smooth, flat paths along railroad tracks and through fields. I couldn’t help but feel a bit envious.

Next time, I promised myself.

The château’s vineyard

Our private tour began, led by an elegant French woman from the château. We started in the vineyards, where she explained how this region of France is known for their merlot and cabernet blends, and how to recognize the different varieties of grapes. Canon-La-Gafflière is one of five Bordeaux wine estates owned by the Counts von Neipperg. The vines are 45 years old on average, and the grapes are grown in extremely limited quantities in order to keep the quality very high. The winery has been granted the St-Émilion Grand Cru distinction (honestly, I’m still not sure exactly what that means, but our guide seemed very proud of it).

We also learned that Canon-La-Gafflière, like many others in the region, has been implementing organic and natural methods of grape-growing and pest control over the past few decades in order to lower pesticide use.

Our next stop was the room where the wine is fermented in wooden, temperature controlled vats. The grapes are all picked and sorted by hand in order to avoid any crushing or bruising. Listening to our guide, I was impressed with the level of care that goes into each bottle.

Even more impressive was the aging room, a temperature-controlled cellar full of gorgeous wooden barrels. Each barrel has been hand-made and has a distinctive brand on one end from the barrel-maker. They are only used a couple of times before they are either passed along to whiskey distilleries or recycled.

Educational part over, we finished our tour in the tasting room, a long, elegant hall with stone floors and a gigantic fireplace. The bottles are placed on a massive table at one end, almost like an offering. Nice touch.

The dramatic tasting roo

We tasted four wines; one from the Canon-La-Gafflière, and three from the other family estates (Chateau d’Aiguilhe, Clos de l’Oratoire, and La Mondotte). They were full-bodied, smooth, and also quite pricey.

At the tasting room, we were joined by three other friends who were driving—they’d been delayed and missed the tour, but were just in time for the tasting. Finally all together and feeling happy from the wine and sunshine, we moved on to what turned out to be the highlight of the day: Château Lucas.

Although Canon-La-Gafflière was lovely and impressive, the experience at Château Lucas felt more authentic. We drove up the dirt driveway and were met by the viticulturist Frédéric, who kindly waited for us to wolf down a few snacks before we started the tasting. Our “tasting room” was outdoors. There was no stone fireplace or long table; the furniture consisted of a few wine barrels under an old tree next to a workroom. Across the driveway stood a stone house covered in vines.

We immediately felt at ease, laughing and chattering away. Frédéric poured generously and didn’t seem to mind having a large group of Aussies, Brits, and other expats taking over his driveway. Then again, maybe the fact that we bought a few cases of wine helped win him over.

At this point we were all pretty damn tipsy, so we were in a good mood on our way home. I couldn’t pass up the chance to bike in the setting sun along the vineyards, so I left my car at Château Lucas in order to bike the few kilometers to our hotel (this was unfortunately the only time I was able to ride my bike during the entire trip).

That night, we stayed at a gem of a place called the Château Fleur de Roques. The rooms were decorated with antiques, and we had a splendid view of the nearby vineyards.

View from our room at Château Fleur de Roques

We enjoyed an elegant yet cozy meal at the hotel’s restaurant, La Table de Margot, underneath vaulted stone ceilings. Tipsy and pleasantly tired from dinner and all of the wine, it seemed an appropriate way to end our first day in Bordeaux.

We stumbled off to bed, blissfully unaware of the challenges that we would encounter over the next few days.

Read part 2 of this story


Originally published on Medium.

 

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