The morning after this day was a Monday. That's relevent, as we learned, since many things are closed on Sunday. I think I had been taking for granted how most things are open in my area on a Sunday.
On Monday, we were able to take some visits of local businesses. Our first stop was the tourist information centre in Montagne. I believe Montagne it considered to be a satellite region of St. Emilion. Since St. Emilion is a recognizable brand/name, the surrounding regions are connected to it.
I don't think we could have figured out any of our day without them. R and I told the woman there, I believe her name is Celine, that we would like to go on a winery tour and maybe to a store that sold local products. The nearest local product store was further than what we wanted to travel, but Celine came up with a great alternative: visiting a foie gras farm.
Just before taking off to pick up some supplies for the day, we checked out the wine museum attached the tourist information centre. I found it interesting, although a bit of overload. It basically explained the history of wine-making in the region along with all of the tools used. It was in French, with a couple of bilingual (French-English) signs.
Here's some of what we saw during the tour.
There are four types of grapes grown in the region:
I also learned that it is best to wait about 4-5 years to drink Cabernet Sauvignon, but this wait time can be reduced by adding Merlot. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it has to do with the tannin in the Cabernet Sauvignon being too strong if consumed within 4-5 years of being bottled, but mellowed by Merlot.
Although, I'm confused whether this only applies in France, where there is less taste for full-bodied wines. I'm new to this whole "Parkerized" issue.
Another tidbit of information is the names used for different bottle sizes. The names are relatively similar in English:
The names in the top picture correspond with the bottle sizes in the bottom picture.
The picture below is of a old-fasioned machine called "un pressoir". It was used to press the grape skins for its flavour and colour. I didn't know that all of the colour of red wine came from the skin of the grape.
It's probably insensitive of me, but I had to laugh at this portion of the exhibit:
It appears to depict how sad a farmer would look when standing over dead vines.
Behind the wine museum, there is a nice picnic area with many varieties of flowers and a great view of a vinyard:
There were also some stable-like rooms nearby showing other tools and the typical family home at that time.
After the museum, we picked up on supplies for the day. One priority was picking up peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter. R would happily eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches every day.
Next, we made our way to a winery in Lussac, another town in the area:
One of the owners took us on a tour of their winery. Michel and his family (brother-in-law, father-in-law) run a 8 acre winery together. Michel's father-in-law, an immigrant from Algeria, moved to France and bought this land. In an area where tradition and generations of wine-makers predominate, Michel was quite candid when I asked about his relationship with his neighbours. He didn't have the exact words to describe it, but basically said that they were somewhat suspicious of his family. If there are any neighbourly alliances, they seems to be more utilitarian than that of a close-knit community.
At this point, the grapes still have a way to go until harvest:
Following harvest time, Michel would be travelling for the next four months to secure contracts for upcoming years' production.
I asked Michel when he has time for a vacation. He said he would take time with his family to go walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of St James), a pilgrimage that crosses Spain and some surrounding areas. He said they did it for the experience, not for religious reasons. I also asked if he liked to spend time relaxing by a pool and he assured me that he did this too.
In some, but not all vineyards, you'll notice a bush of roses, which Michel explained used to be used to detect Oidium, as flowers would show signs of the disease earlier than the vines. Today, they have people who come around to test the levels of the soil and the roses are kept more for show and tradition.
Clos Les Hauts Martins annually produces a classique and prestige selection of wines. The prestige is kept in an oak barrel for a year prior to being sold.
We bought two bottles, which Michel had to put a label and red cap before selling the bottles:
Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out any legal ways to bring more than 1.5L of alcohol (each) back to Canada.
R, always the business-guy, wanted to know about the labelling for the bottles. How did they pick their design? Michel said that they wanted a simple design, and added their father-in-law's signature for something appealing to the eye. From what I could tell, the bottle names and labels in the region are pretty neutral. Feel free to show me otherwise, but I would be highly suprised if you found any wine names like Fat Bastard or Fat Cat coming out of the Bordealais region.
Given the importance of tradition when it comes to wine production in the region, I'm sure people are happy with the more conservative bottle design. It's what inside that counts, right? However, with the growth in wine production internationally combined with reduced rates of wine consumption in France, the wine producers outside of St. Emilion proper are feeling the crunch.
Overall, a great experience. Michel was a really nice man, without a pretentious bone in his body. Toward the end of the tour, Michel received a call from Celine at the tourist office confirming that the owner of the fois gras farm was available to give us a tour.
We headed over to Emmanuel Provin's farm. Only problem is, the tour was in French. Odd thing - when I listen to people talk in French, I spend so much of my energy understanding what they're saying, that the information doesn't actually get encoded into long term memory. Let's see what I can remember...
Emmanuel relocated to his current location from the Champagne region of France. He was very friendly as well. He explained that all of his ducks are a mixed breed and male, as female ducks tend to have more veiny livers.
The ducks have free reign of the land, but being that it was a sunny day, the ducks pretty much stuck together in the shade. I asked if the ducks had water to swim in and Emmanuel explained that it would noy be healthy as ducks that swim and drink in the same water are prone to disease.
Here is some more information on foie gras. There is some controversy around the practice involved in making foie gras. Essentially, the goose or duck is force fed corn to enlarge the liver.
Here is the machine Emmanuel uses. I suppose he sits in the seat and holds the duck while the bottom of the funnel shaped object is used to force-feed the duck. Actually, I just saw an episode of Ricardo and Friends that shows the process.
Emmanuel explained that, contrary to belief, the size of the enlarged liver can be reversed if the duck is fed normally for a few days.
He also explained how the duck is slaughtered. They are first put into this funnel like bin and given a quick electrical shock. This puts them to sleep.
This machine is then used to pluck the feathers from the duck.
I tried to keep an open mind about the whole process. As Emmanuel and many others in the food world have said, it's easy to disassociate the animal from the food you're eating. So, it's probably good to visit farms to gain an appreciation of the process that goes into putting food on our plates.
Here are the products sold at the farm. We're not big foie gras eaters (read: never tried it before this trip), so we went with two jars.
And here is the man himself. I thought it was cute that when I asked for his picture he fluffed his hair up and stood up straight. Very nice man.
After a full day of touring, we retreated to our B&B and had a simple baguette sandwich for dinner.