France, part four – Cognac, Bordeaux, Périgueux and a snail farm
After waking up to the sounds of the roosters, now seeming even fresher than yesterday, we continued our road trip to Cognac, the city as well as the area. Arriving in the Cognac area, we were amazed by HUGE, really HUGE, vineyards all over. It was extreme. And in fact, Cognac, with more than 76.000 hectares, is the largest white wine area in France. But, when arriving in Cognac, we first needed to do some laundry. We found one of the outdoor laundromats in Segonzac. We were lucky that the laundry machines and the dryer wasn’t occupied. 18 Euros and a couple of hours later, we could continue to our planned place for the night, another France Passion host, the interesting Cognac estate Gilles Brisson in Châteaubernard just outside the city of Cognac.
Here the family has about 28 hectares (out of 65) planted with the dominating grape variety Ugni Blanc in the finest and most prestigious area, or terroir, the 1er Cru de Cognac, from where the Cognacs bear the additional name “Grande Champagne”. There are six terroirs in Cognac. After arriving and very friendly reception, and installation on our spacious pitch, we were invited for a tasting session. Absolutely great Cognacs with fine awards. And the Pineau des Charentes was also fabulous. The price/quality is hard to beat so of course we needed to add a bit to our stock.
We will not try to explain all the facts and myths about Cognac, just talk about our own experiences. The next day we drove into the center of the city of Cognac for another visit with a guided tour and tasting at Meukow Cognac. The buildings there is a mix of brand new, for exhibition and offices, and very old buildings for storing the most beautiful and ancient barrels and bottles. We had a private guided tour, also in English, in the cellars with a tasting afterward. The tour was really touching, seeing all the old parts of the Chai Meukow. The tasting session was very interesting too.
After the visit, we had a delicious lunch at The Place to Be in Cognac including Cognac cocktails! That was new to us. Unfortunately, we missed a visit to the Market Hall Cognac.
Our next visit was at Cognac Frapin in Segonzac. A family-owned company and in the business since 1270! The whole estate and 240 hectares of vineyards are all within the finest terroir, the Grande Champagne. There was no tour available this day, but we still dared to ask if we could see the Chai, cellars, as Frapin was on the top of our list of Cognac distillers to visit. We were very, very friendly invited inside for a wonderful experience in the old buildings to see the beautiful, and somewhat different, old barrels and bottles. Here we also again got the explanation about the dark surfaces of many buildings in the Cognac area. It is caused by the fungus Baudoinia Compniacensis that lives in distilleries and cellars where spirits, in this case, Cognac, are maturated. Cognac Frapin was exactly the experience we were looking for, so we were thankful for the invitation to get inside. A funny little story, our friendly guide had been living in Denmark for a year as an exchange student.
We are now moving to Bordeaux, well known to most for wonderful red wine. We had selected a small chateau, the beautiful little Château Coustolle, in the Fronsac region for our night. We parked our camper with a fantastic view over vineyards and were invited for a wine tasting at the chateau. Great wine, the reds as well as the white. During a short visit to the cellars, we were given a little present, a half-size bottle of red from 1970, of course without any guarantee for the drinkability. Unfortunately, we couldn’t drink it, but it was still a magical moment to open the bottle.
In the morning we went through the city Bordeaux and then through the appellations Pomerol, and Lalande-de-Pomerol where we visited Château Perron to see the cellars and of course taste their magnificent wine. This year huge parts of the vineyards in Bordeaux are hit by the presence of mildew, destroying vast parts of this year’s harvest. The risk is it will be the lowest since 1977! There are more than 8.500 wine producers in Bordeaux.
We continued to Périgueux, a wonderful ancient town, over 2.000 years of history, where we walked around in the beautiful old center. Surely a place to visit again.
Then we continued to our place for the night, again a France Passion host, this time at a snail farm, near Négrondes. The last kilometer or so was a very narrow road through a forest. Snail farming, or heliciculture! wasn’t something we knew about before. It was in the end very interesting, though not hectic 😊. Thousands and thousands of snails moving around on wooden plates. Mostly they were eating pea plants, but they were also offered a flour mix with calcium carbonate for the shells. This additional food supplement was something the snails liked, “suddenly” they swarmed out to gulp the delicacies. Automatic sprinklers watered the plants and were good for the humid environment that the snails need. It all sounds simple but was really very interesting and most certainly the essence of slow-food 😊. Snails, even in the numbers of tens of thousands, don’t make a lot of noise, so we had an excellent night at the farm.