It began as a sunny, cold day in the Graves Appellation. Our friends Jean-Paul and Rachel arrived to pick us up at 9:30 this morning.  It was freezing; we all wore many layers.  We drove to Chateau Coquereau in La Brede, southeast of Cestas.  We stood in the bright, cold sunlight, tasting some 2004 and 2005 reds, then we toured the “1750 aging cellar”.  It looked like an old barn, which it was.  The owner showed us his charming homemade welded tool for stirring up the cap of grape skins, and then a homemade “room” for keeping the fermenting juice warm (a huge black plastic tent which we entered, with space heater!).  The cousins and neighbors pick the grapes on this tiny 1.5 hectare property.  Munching cookies, we photographed the sturdy 130 year old lemon tree, and hoped they remember to bring it indoors tonight.

The Depiot family began to grow wine at the elegant Chateau Belon in 1606, and the same family is still in residence.  We had visited once before.  The owner’s foxy Bostonian girlfriend,  Beverly Como, had promised to deliver a case to our house in San Diego , but didn’t answer our e-mails when the case failed to show up.  To our surprise, she was still there, and claimed that her mother in law dropped the ball.  We tasted but didn’t take her up on the offer of 24 bottles for 100 euros.  We just couldn’t see drinking bottle after bottle of the same mediocre wine.

Next, Chateau de la Haut-Pommarede, in Castres, where we learned the estate sits on a deposit of gravel 60 feet deep.  The gravel regulates water, draining it in wet years, and holding it in dry ones.  The owner demonstrated how to make a blended wine.  He drew off some Merlot from the 2006 barrels, and poured it into our glasses for tasting.  Then, he drew off Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon plus Malbec and combined it with the Merlot in our glasses.  The complexity level rose, and so did our opinion of his wine.

But first, we took advantage of the 5 euro plate of meats with glasses of 2002 and 2004 red.  The owners bustled around setting out tables in the sun, now warming us (and bringing the bees).  At other tables, Russians and French families took their lunches. 

After a coffee, we returned west to the Chateau de Castres.  Magnificent 300 year old trees frame the golden stone building owned by the Baron of Poitevin at the end of the 17th century.  The winemaker toured us through the modern facility, complete with beehive shaped conical tanks with temperature controls and new oak barrels.  The tasting took place in a charming room to the right of the main house, with wood burning in the fireplace.  We tasted the 2003 and 2004 Chateau de Castres, and bought the 2004 Tour de Castres (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet France /Petit Verdot).  The owner’s mother, elegantly attired in autumn yellows and blues, with Chateau de Castres apron on, greeted us kindly and fed us cookies and coffees.  The room connecting the main house with the tasting room was a winter garden with enormous palm tree and other potted plants kept warm with hot water radiators and original tiled floors.  Comfy and classy.

Our next target was the Chateau de Couloumey, in Beautiran. The home is an austere classical chateau, with magnificently decorated interiors. There is a graceful pigeon tower in the large courtyard, with white doves crowding into the niches.  Of all the many castles we have seen in the past 7 years of this event, this was the first where we received a tour of the dining room, kitchen and entry hall.  Walls magnificently painted with figures, period furniture, custom tablecloths, mirrors, oriental rugs, all in good taste, but the castle itself in need of ceiling and ornamental repairs.  We strolled around the back grounds, with a former chapel converted to office.

The sun was beaming, so we decided to check out one final chateau – le Chateau de Calens.  We couldn’t find it last year, with those pesky little signs leading nowhere, but J-P persevered.  The winemaker seemed indifferent, and the red Graves was pretty bad.  We asked a few questions about what they had served on the buffet at noon, as a possibility for next year (sausages, fried rice, pasta), and then made our way home.

It was a beautiful and interesting day.  The only thing we can say is, there are still 20 more wineries left that we haven’t seen, so we’ll be back next year for more!

Claudia, Steve
11/22/07

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