Bordeaux!! History, design and biodynamic wines. Oh, and the chance to appall the locals with our remedial high school French.
This post comes with a warning label – not about risk of electrical shock or sharp objects or toddler choking hazards, but instead concerning the (equally frightening) French you will see infused throughout. It’s bush league at best. Amateur, if we want to stick with the theme and go with a more French-sounding descriptor. Just plain mal if we want to go with what the French would call it. I took 4 years of high school French. I did not excel. So while you’ll see a phrase or deux woven throughout, don’t be fooled, Je ne suis pas si bon (I’m not that good).
This past September, Josh and I escaped to Bordeaux with a group of friends, adding a few just-us days at Les Sources de Caudalie before meeting up with the rest of the crew (watch the beautiful intro video!). Tucked away in the heart of the vineyards of Château Smith Haut Lafittea, it’s the kind of place you go when you feel like doing a disproportionate amount of nothing. Well, not nothing-nothing, but things like day spa-ing and in-bed breakfasting.
The room had me at hand-painted yellow wall covering (whoa, whoa, whoaaaa, Qu’est-ce que c’est?). It further endeared itself to me with a bottle of wine and plateful of canelés. (Again, Qu’est-ce que c’est?) Hooooo-ly tiny-cake divine-ness. How/why have I not heard of these local Bordeaux delicacies?! (Good news: The Google assures me they are find-able at multiple Chicago area bakeries. A sampler day may be in order. Ahh, if only said bakeries were surrounded by vineyards. And people on old-school bikes. Wearing berets. On their way to play pétanque in the park.)
What exactly are these sugary little mini-cakes on display by the dozen in every Bordeaux bakery? We defer to our trusty pastry-splainer, food.com, which describes them far better than I could, even in my native English:
Canelés de Bordeaux, also know as cannelé Bordelais, are magical French bakery confections, little fluted cakes with a rich rum and vanilla interior enclosed by a thin caramelized shell. Glossy and dark brown almost black at first sight, bittersweet at first bite, the crunchy burnt sugar canelé-shell makes an exquisite contrast to the smooth, sweet filling, fragrant with vanilla and rum.
Let’s talk about the breakfast in bed situation. To call it très bien feels like a borderline-insulting understatement. So I’ll add some color commentary en anglais. Each morning, a resplendent picnic basket appeared overflowing with breakfast bounty – a hot pot of coffee, steamed milk, fluffy egg dish, variety of fresh French breads in a burlap bag, and jam, jam, jam – apricot, raspberry, you name it. If a fruit could be jammed and jarred, it was in there. The perfect start to the the kind of day you wish you could have every day. Manger.
While we’re on the cuisine theme, we’ll cover off on dinner as well. Short version: we ate. A lot. There were three (all unbelievably delish) dining establishments on the premises: La Grand‘Vigne, with its well-deserved Michelin rating, La Table Du Lavoir, serving more informal but still elevated fare, and our personal favorite and easiest to pronounce, Rouge – a wine bar and delicatessen with outdoor seating, illuminated shelves of local wines, and a group of exceptionally knowledgeable (as it seems all French are) young servers.
Our first night, dragging a bit from travel and our (sadly typical) frantic last-minute packing panic, we decided to keep it cashz, nabbed some comfy leather wine bar seats and ordered it up. Fresh oysters! Charcuterie! And wine! Wine! Wine! Then we sat back and people watched while waging a mental war against jet lag. (It will not win. It will not win. It will not…) It won. Smacked us so hard we wondered if we could make it back to the room. Would crawling be weird? Soooo fatiguée!
We meandered through the next few days busying ourselves with blissfully relaxing non-events like leisurely paced (read: medium-slow) runs in the early autumn sun, a bit of poolside lounging, boujee spa treatments and an onsite wine tour at Smith Haut Lafittea. We left with our belts readjusted to the outer-limits vacay notch and minds cleared of all those everyday at-home have-to’s. We felt fully restaure.
We met up with our friends on the east side of the Garonne River, for a week at Chateau Mathereau. In a markedly un-Stormlike move, we had very little planned for the week and I have to admit, I liked it [audible gasp from anyone who knows me]. We spent our days exploring Bordeaux, visiting vineyards, tasting wine, tasting other wine, tasting more wine – oh, and hanging in cafés, shopping and eating crème puffs. I mention the creme puff bit because it happened so often. Dunes Blanches Chez Pascal, I am your self-designated new spokeswoman, happy to accept payment in the form of small powdered sugar dusted, creme filled pastries.
Because I just can’t not, I also fully immersed myself in plumbing and décor showrooms, popping in and out to grab a quick photo or get a closer look at any interesting new-ness, without slowing down the crowd too much. Until [drumroll, suspense music – needs something here], a certain alluring home store caught my full attention with the(!) most(!) amazing(!) wall covering. Coincidentally, it was the same brand of wall covering that I was coveting behind our headboard at Sources Des Caudalie. So, naturally, I purchased enough rolls to do a 12 x 12 wall and schlepped them around all day, elbows out to keep them from getting bumped, protecting them like a normal person would do with a new designer handbag or small, well-groomed terrier. My intent is to install it in a client’s home, buuuut if it ends up on a wall at the humble Chateau Storm, well – couldn’t be helped.
Bordeaux is not overly huge, so we toured the city on bike, catching up on 2,000+ years of history we fear we may have slept through in school, as none of it sounded familiar. We stopped for a winemaking class and tasting, then continued on our bikes, a little wobblier and a lot more of a threat to local pedestrians.
Back at Chateau Mathereau, the owners whipped up an impressive French feast for us, accompanied by various wines – a couple from surrounding vineyards, and one or two from vines just outside our door. A few courses in, our hosts poured a full-bodied red, unanimously loved by all at the table, 100% Malbec from her vineyard. Ooh la la, c‘est bon.
Part of the table décor was this giant wine glass. Some of us tried it as a chapeau.
(Je ne sais pas pourquoi.)
A day trip to St. Émilion, proved to be a crowd favorite. Steep winding roads, picnic table pizza, frites and charcuterie (when dodging the rain), the hunt for a navy raincoat, goose liver pâté, cognac tasting and plentiful architecture admiring, not to mention some surprisingly delicious Vietnamese food. In list form, that sounds like more than a day’s worth of activities, but we have photo-proof that we crammed it all in.
Toward the end of our trip, we hopped a boat and took a li’l cruise down the Garonne. A jaunt down the river in any city reveals its hidden side – in this case old boats from WW2(!) perched on the banks of the river, quiet neighborhoods, parts of the city we wouldn’t have happened upon by foot or bike, and a multitude of fishing houses. Admittedly, la meilleure partie was when the captain served us wine, cheese and potato tortillas – he even set the table for us. Voila. While his driving methods were a bit, umm, unconventional(?), he had some gold-star hosting skills.
Back to the Malbec. Once the owners of the Chateau de Chelivette got word they had some groupies nearby, they extended an invitation for brunch and a tour of the vineyard responsible for our self-proclaimed New All-Time Favorite Wine. We met the owners, a lovely couple who left the finance industry in London in pursuit of a new adventure. They bought an old castle and vineyard, the adjacent property and the aforementioned Chateau, as so many people do. No. Wait. Stop. Who does that?!
They quickly became enamored with the emerging biodynamic winemaking process and plunged into the deep end. Like the way-over-your-head end, not just tending vines, but ambitiously planting trees to block wind, raising farm animals to encourage insect habitats – even building a pigeon house in order to use their waste as fertilizer. They had to essentially create the perfect ecosystem for the vines to flourish – which is not for the faint of timeframe. It’s winemaking the kind-to-the-earth way. The hard way. The very, very slow way.
Some autre info, in case you’re unfamiliar (as we were) with the history and process:
Biodynamic winemaking is a farming method that dates back nearly a century, uses natural fertilization methods like burying cow horns filled with compost (huhhhh?), and is based on some specific astronomic calendar juju as well. Each day aligns with one of the elements: earth, fire, air and water. And days are categorized by fruit days (grape harvesting), root days (vine pruning), leaf days (watering) and flower days (aka nap days), where the vineyard is left untouched.
Excited to share our new wine find once we got home, we opened the Binny’s app only to realize these are wines you can’t just Add to Cart. Exporting is costly, and quantities are limited. But happily, as enthusiastic members of the (un)official CMFC (Chateau Mathereau Fan Club), we were able to get our hands on some which we plan on sipping with bons amis who love us no matter how purple our teeth get.
Though we’ve been caught pretend-focusing on an inventory spreadsheet while secretly daydreaming about an imaginary French life as vintners-slash-innkeepers (busssstedddd), we know our true calling is here. Right where we are. Creating homes our clients aiment. Not just because our French is abysmal. But because we do indeed truly aimons what we do.
That said, if we consume enough Malbec, we start seeing some interesting parallels between wine and design (apart from the lucky rhyming thing). We want the end result to be full of intriguing details (complexity), well-considered and thoughtfully designed (balance), and well-executed (finish). Fear thee not, there will be no planting of compost-filled cow horns in the yard – but we will make strategic, intentional decisions before and during construction so you’ll be thrilled with the results come “harvest” time. Not sure that puts us on exactly the same level as biodynamic wine makers (we will not be collecting pigeon droppings), but surely it’s close, as we do share the same level of commitment to our craft. It’s just less farm-y.
Best wishes to you and yours as you celebrate the most joyous of all seasons!
Merci, Joyeux Noel, Joyeuses Fêtes, Bonne Année