We have returned from France and have had time to reflect on our recent trip. Most of the trip included visiting wineries/vineyards in Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux. The tour was set up by Anglatin Ltd. and in France we encountered Agripass. The disappointment started prior to the trip. I emailed Anglatin a request for a detailed itinerary and never received a response. They had no trouble cashing my check, but they could not respond to my email. We had a general itinerary that said we would visit two chateaus. I was able to assemble a more detailed itinerary for Champagne and Burgundy on our way to Champagne based on our vouchers that were just received a day prior to setting off. Bordeaux, though, was just general. For me the idea of not having a detailed itinerary was troublesome.
The next disappointment was encountered at our first visit. We picked up our local guide. She had no idea of who we were. Neither did the people at our first visit, Champagne Taittinger. Our group consisted of professional winemakers and wine growers, two wine writers and a distributer. I do not believe that we should have received special treatment, but we should have received different treatment. Our guide at Taittinger had no idea that she was talking to wine professionals as she led us through the caves and wine tastings. She explained the process of making champagne as though we had no idea of how it is made, not a good sign. Our second winery visit was G. H. Mumm Champagne. Someone must have tipped off our guide. He did not look happy and must have been pleased after we left. He knew he had a group of professionals and he tried to vary his tour and presentation. At times he did slip into a rehearsed script that we did not need. After the first day there was disappointment that this study tour was not matching up to our needs.
Our second day, we visited two more champagne houses and were able to talk to owners and front office personal. This day was much better than the first. We then said goodbye to Champagne and headed to Burgundy the following day. Kathy and I would have liked to visit more champagne houses. Our tour guide took us past several of them as she pointed them out to us. All we could do was take photos.
We picked up a new local guide in Burgundy that would be with us a few days. She too did not know who we were, thinking that we were tourists and not knowing that we were wine professionals. She caught on quickly. We visited Domaine Clos Saint Louis and met the owner/winemaker. As our group went to the vineyard, the growers broke and went among the vines for an up close look at the vines, trellis system and soil. It was as though the vineyard was a magnet drawing them. The growers did this at every vineyard we visited. They were not the average tourists. The same thing happened in the wineries as the winemakers discovered equipment that may have been different than what they were using. The average tourist doesn’t get excited about optical sorters. Little by little our tour guides we had through our two weeks came to the realization of who we were. By the time we made it to Bordeaux, the tour guide assigned to us on the second day was a winery/vineyard owner.
The schedule planned for us had a few visits to sites that we probably should not have visited. We spent too much time at Chateau du Clos de Vougeot, no longer a winery. All we needed was to visit what use to be their winery to observe wonderful large wood presses and watch the video showing their use. A half hour visit would suffice. Our next stop was a wine store. Why would our tour operator have us visit a wine store rather than a winery? Caveau de Vougeot Pierre Laforet had caves underneath the store and we had a wine tasting in the caves. These were not the first caves we were in on our trip and became very problematic for a wine tasting. The caves were cool, damp and musty smelling. Some in our group thought they picked up on bret. Tasting wines in this environment was difficult. It was dark in the caves which affected the color of the wines, and I could not pick up on aromas because of the interference of the mustiness of the caves. The French wines tasted did not show well. On this day we only visited one winery. Disappointment abounded.
The next day was much better, we visited three wineries/vineyards. This day was a good day and what we expected of the trip. There were far too few days with three winery visits. A problem that caused a small revolt near the end of our trip. The next day we were back to just visiting one winery. The rest of the day included visits to a creamery, that was nice, and a visit to the Hospice of Beaune. The hospice was interesting, but I would rather visit a winery. After the hospice we visited another wine shop that had caves below it. We were given a wide mouth vessel about 3/4 inch deep, made out of metal to taste the wines. We saw these in the Hospice. They may have had a “cool” factor, but they proved to be terrible vessels to taste wine in. Other people in the caves were tasting wines from wine glasses. The Marche Aux Vins was a waste of our time and did not showcase French wine very well. This day was a disappointment.
Our last day in Burgundy was another three winery day. We did have a new guide for the three wineries. During our four days in Burgundy, we visited eight wineries. It would have been nice to visit a few more. We would have five days in Bordeaux and were anxious to visit many wineries there, although we did not have a detailed itinerary.
Our first day in Bordeaux started off with a nice lunch and we met with a wine professional at the Ecole du Vin for a tasting. This turned out to be another wine shop. Bordeaux was hot and our tasting was in a room on the second floor that was quite warm. Our tour guide did the presentation and led us through the wines. Once again it would have been better to visit a winery. No winery visits this day was a disappointment.
Our second day in Bordeaux, we visited two wineries. The schedule for day three had only one winery visit. That is the day eight people on the tour revolted. Rather than spending the day on a walking tour of the city of Bordeaux, this group hired a local wine tour operator that provided a driver and a visit to four wineries. I joined this group while Kathy remained with the others. Our group of do it yourselfers visited two Grand Classé Chateaus in Pessac-Léognan and two in Sauternes. We discovered at Chateau Carbonnieux that Thomas Jefferson visited the winery and tasted the wines. This was by far the best day I experienced while on the tour of French wine regions and it was set up by one of our group members and a local tour company. Anglatin and Agripass just didn’t meet my expectations or needs.
I learned a valuable lesson on this tour of French wine regions. I will never take another tour set up by a tour operator that cannot provide a detailed itinerary in advance. I fully realize that visits will change, but not every winery every day. I also need to pay attention to the number of activities that do not include winery visits. Some are OK, too many are problematic.