Harvesting holiday in Bordeaux wine country

In a white skirt and sandals, a young American, secateurs in hand, is busy in the vine rows of Bordeaux’s Chateau Paloumey.

Working in the vineyards at harvest time is just one of a new range of options that wine tourists, or “oeneotourists” as they are known locally, can indulge in.

For the first days of the 2007 harvest, a mixed group of nationalities has arrived at Paloumey, in the left bank Medoc region.

Among them is the 1,9m tall Henry Van Dyck, from Washington, who is at once named as porter, with the task of carrying the grapes back to the sorting tables. The 26 others with him are variously French, American, Australian, Turkish and Canadian.

To hear them talk, the “harvest workshop” organised by the Bordeaux Tourist Office, is the answer to their dreams of picking red wine in Bordeaux.

“Take the grapes at the base, try not to take the leaves, and mind your fingers,” explains chateau owner Martine Cazeneuve, about cutting procedures. Her words are translated into English and then the harvesters for a day launch themselves into a plot of merlot grapes.

Ezgi Gulmez and Eylem Tuncer, two Turkish friends, are excited at the prospect.
“We wanted to know how wine is made,” said Gulmez, cutters in one hand, camera in the other. “I know the theory well, but here, this is the practical part.”

A few rows over, Edwige Cocher, originally from Paris but who is retired and living in Bordeaux, is savouring the moment. “I was not expecting to find the grapes so heavy and dense. And they are wonderfully sweet,” she said.

At the end of the vines, a stint at the sorting table—where good grapes are kept and bad ones tossed aside—awaits. After that there is a tour of the wine-making cellar, and then the dining room for a lunch washed down with local Bordeaux wines. Finally, they visit the storage tank area for an initiation into the vinification—the turning of juice into wine—process.

The workshop, which was made available for the first time last year, has turned out to have pluses for both participants and chateaux owners. For the visitors it is a chance to go deeper into the matter of wine appreciation for the relatively affordable price of â,¬70.

“People don’t want to just taste wine, they want to go to the source of things,” explained Brigitte Bourjade, the tourist office guide. “It is a new product that answers a major demand,” she said.

Joseph Dallon, a New Jersey horticulturalist of about 60, has, for example, enrolled himself in the workshop with a particular end in mind—to improve the wine he makes from grapes he buys from California mixed with others he grows on a dozen muscadine vines he has in his garden. “It’s only for personal consumption, though,” he said happily.

For the local chateaux owners, as well as providing a few workers, it is seen as a long-term communications operation, said Cazeneuve.

As of this year, the Bordeaux tourist office now offers about a dozen different “oeneotourism” activities, and they saw visitor numbers jump by 19% during the July to August period this year, over the same period in 2006.

Others, who might not want to risk losing a finger, might prefer another new tour—the Margaux Gourmet Day.

It focuses on food and wine pairing, covering four key themes, one at each chateaux—classification system at Chateau Prieure-Lichine, terroir at Chateau Rauzan-Gassies, blending of different grape varieties at Chateau La Tour de Bessan and the Bordeaux wine sales structure at Chateau Kirwan.

The talks are accompanied by tastings of each chateaux’s wine paired with local gourmet delicacies such as duck pâté and sturgeon terrine.

Thanks to the increasing importance of wine tourism, the four chateaux owners decided a more personal, in-depth approach was necessary.

“We decided to take a more coordinated approach to the tour of the Margaux appellation,” said Nathalie Schyler, owner of Chateau Kirwan. “You can visit four chateaux in one day in Bordeaux, no problem, but you will probably cover the same topics in each one,” Schyler said.

“The difference here is that visitors can learn more, and get more personal attention, as well as a better understanding of how important it is in France to have food and wine together,” she said.—AFP

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