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The vineyards of Saint Emilion’s Chateau Franc Mayne

  SAINT EMILION, France – Even for those with little detailed knowledge of Bordeaux wines many have probably heard of Saint Emilion, the small village on a hill of limestone known for its beautiful Merlot-driven wines.

Francophiles with a taste for Bordeaux will know it for its elegant and silky wines that have been around for centuries.

Our Friday was shared with a Brit and a couple of German bloggers for a visit to Chateau Franc Mayne and the village. This is not unusual. We were joined by Chinese bloggers, another story or blog late, at dinner last night. Tomorrow morning French and Belgian bloggers will join our small U.S. group.

Our tour guide for the day was Mary Dardenne of Decanter Tours. Mary has more than a dozen years leading tours in the Bordeaux region and started her own agency, Decanter Tours, just three years ago.

On the ride out to Saint Emilion, Mary gave us great background on all of Bordeaux, some history of the region, of the wine growing, soils, and of the wine classifications of Saint Emilion. Mary was Texas born but has been in France for many years though she still maintains a Brewster, MA., address as well.

We spent a good portion of our time asking Mary questions about wine tourism in Bordeaux. For many, the area has always seemed unapproachable but that is changing. You still can’t drive up to wineries and taste their wines but French Chateau owners are beginning to embrace tourism as a new revenue stream. I also did a video interview with Mary about tourism that I’ll use for a future story.

James Capon of Chateau Franc Mayne pouring two wines.

We were met at Chateau Franc Mayne by native Brit James Capon who works in exporting for the winery. James gave us a walking tour of the winery and a look at the beautiful accommodations of the Chateau. They have a handful of rooms at the Chateau just a few miles outside Saint Emilion. It is a boutique experience staying at Franc Mayne but looks worth the 200E-380E price. There are beautiful views of the surrounding village, a natural swimming pool, beautiful grounds, and we had a fabulous lunch.

Unquestionable, one of the day’s highlights was a tour of Franc Mayne’s underground quarries. They have nearly two hectares, or about four acres, of underground quarries that provided limestone for the iconic buildings of Bordeaux. Franc Mayne’s Belgian owners also understand tourism. They have built a light and animatied tour throughout a portion of the quarries for future visitors. They tested it on our press group but did not allow us to take photos.

The winery owners hope to have the animated tour up and running soon. The tour provides narration about wine aging in the caves and gives a dramatic presentation on the history of the Saint Emilion region.

I detail much of the visit the accompanying photo album. I’ve written before during wine travel that one such trip will increase your wine knowledge and understanding of a region far more than any amount of reading.

We then headed off to the village of Saint Emillion where a tourist office guide walked us through the catacombs of the old village and through the monolithic church which has been delcared a World Unesco Heritage site. There are more than 173 acres of catacombs beneath the city.  Saint Emilion lived below ground here in the 8th century for 17 years.

The church was carved from solid limestone removing 15,000 cubic meters of rock to create the church. It is a stunning site.

The charming and acient little village clearly is a tourist attraction. There seemed to be 3-4 wine shops per street with small bakeries selling macroons in between.

Fellow U.S. bloggers Pam and Janelle with
Saint Emilion tour guide.

As good as yesterday was with a visit to a small village it just seems to get better. Tonight we board a river boat and cruise the Garone River for dinner as the Fete du Vin hits high gear with huge crowds, fireworks and a light show. We should have a front row seat from the river.

Tomorrow morning it’s off to the Atlantic to tour an inland bay where oysters are harvested. Plenty of white Bordeaux is on the menu as well.

This is really tough work – really – but someone has to do it.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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