A Winelover’s Tour de France ( 6 )

Travel and a change of place impart new vigour to the mind.
By early afternoon Bede was on the road again, headed for Libourne.
This meant taking the N.89, which was heavy with traffic at the time,
both motor cars and large articulated trucks. As he neared Libourne he
was tempted to stop at a roadside stall to buy a punnet of fresh
strawberries He was off to the side of the road, straddling his bicycle
and endeavouring to get at the banknotes in the money belt around his
waist, when a large truck went roaring past, creating such a draught
that a 100 franc note was lifted up into the air and landed flat against
the vehicle’s windscreen as it continued on its way. He never did
recover it, despite spending some time checking the roadside as he
proceeded on his way in the wake of this monster.
On reaching Libourne, Bede found it to be a bustling town with old
quarters and quaysides. It is also the trading centre for the wines of
Fronsac, St-Émilion and Pomerol. The vineyards of Pomerol, which
occupy a small area just to the east of Libourne, produce some of the
great French wines. The sign at the side of the road proclaimed “Ici
Pomerol Grand Vin de France”. Among the many important wine
châteaux in this area, that of Petrus is one of the most highly
acclaimed, making a superb wine from the Merlot grape. He was able
to visit the relatively modest-looking chais at Petrus, surrounded by
fields of perfectly kept vines. He was told that the soil is ideal for the
merlot grape – a flinty gravel mixed with sand and clay and with iron
sediment, the iron giving Pomerol its particular richness. The wine is
a mixture of velvety softness, richness and good structure, much
nearer in style to St-Émilion than a Médoc.
The routes des vignobles next led Bede to St-Émilion, which was to
be his overnight stay. Sitting atop a limestone hill overlooking the
Dordogne, St-Émilion seduces the traveller. All around the vinedraped
fields extend outwards and there are many important wine
châteaux here, including Château Cheval Blanc, Château Figeac and
Château Ausone. In St-Émilion the vineyards are divided up into
hundreds of small properties around the village. St-Émilion wines
tend to be full bodied and go well with red meats and cheese. Many of
them are a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc varieties.
St-Émilion is an ancient village, with narrow, winding, cobbled streets
and lovely pale medieval houses built of the local limestone, with
rust-coloured slate roofs. There is a wine museum and many old
tasting cellars, together with specialist shops and hospitable
restaurants. It was in St-Émilion that Bede discovered the delightful
Auberge de la Commanderie, with its comfortable, well-appointed
rooms and excellent restaurant. He recorded in his diary that he
considered this to be the best small hotel he stayed in during his entire
journey through France. It was a very hospitable, family-run
establishment with friendly, efficient staff.
Before retiring to bed, Bede went for a late night stroll. He turned out
of a small lane in front of the hotel and walked up a narrow sloping
street, paved with large rough stones and without a footpath. It was a
splendid starlit night; the stillness of a sleeping village was over
everything. He had the whole place to himself. When he returned to
his room he was in an easy mood and slept soundly.
Bede was glad not to have to rush for his bicycle the next morning
because he was somewhat reluctant to leave this enchanting village
and the comforts of the Auberge. Once on the road he spent a pleasant
day following the back roads through to the small village of
Bouniagues. His route kept him in sight of the Dordogne as he
pedalled his way through a rather bland rural countryside. At the end
of the day he spent another comfortable night in a small family-run
hotel, before setting out next morning headed for Bergerac, 8
kilometres away.
His arrival in Bergerac coincided with a Saturday market day. The
streets were crowded with people and everywhere the mood was
bustling yet relaxed. Bede considered it to be a very colourful town
and a busy trading centre. It was here, at a little bijouterie, that he
purchased a stylishly crafted silver necklace for Jane, which she
continues to wear to this day.
By midday Bede was on the road heading south out of Bergerac for
the village of Colombier, 9 kilometres distant. He had a luncheon
appointment with Nick Ryman, the propriétaire of the vineyard and
winery Château de la Jaubertie; at that time reputed to be the best
wine producer in Bergerac. Colombier is set on a hill, so Bede had a
long climb up to the château in making his approach from Bergerac.
Once at the entrance he cycled along a wooded driveway leading off
from the road. The château itself is an elegant 18th century mansion
of soft, golden sandstone, standing quietly in an open courtyard, with
a small formal garden leading to the chais. Behind the château is a
paddock running down to the south and west, which leads to the
Bede received a warm welcome from Nick as he dismounted from his
bicycle and rested it against the wall of the chais. Nick could see that
Bede was in need of refreshment and directed him to a shaded
outdoor seating area for drinks. Bede was introduced to a new drink
for him – one-third Cassis and two-thirds Champagne, served in a
large, slender glass – a superb apéritif. Bede had a number of these as
they chatted in the shade, talking wine and travel. They were soon
joined by other house guests who were staying over for the weekend
with Nick. A full sit-down lunch followed, which Nick had prepared
himself. The lunch extended over several courses, with a different
wine for each, and was finished off with café and liqueurs. All the
time the atmosphere of the occasion was one of relaxed comfort and
By the time Bede said goodbye, Nick had given him a parting gift of a
bottle of 1985 reserve Château de la Jaubertie to see him on his way.
Daylight was fading, so he headed back to the small village of
Bouniagues for a second night there. He stayed at yet another small
family-owned hotel, where he was well looked after. His room was in
a building across the road from the main hotel and was upstairs at the
rear, with a private view over gardens and open fields beyond .He
observed that the wife and daughter were the ones who attended to the
real work of the business, including the hôtel-restaurant, while the
husband ran things from behind the bar.
The daughter, Emmanuelle, who would have been in her early
twenties, was particularly hard working and conscientious. Bede
chatted with her in French and English as she served him in the
restaurant. Emmanuelle talked about wanting to help her parents for
another year or so, but after that she had plans to attend university in
Bordeaux to further her education. In the meantime, she considered
her first obligation was to her parents before looking to her own
career and personal interests. Bede found this attitude to be consistent
with his assessment of young French women generally. They were
strongly independent and with loads of self-confidence. They usually
spoke English as a second language and were hard working and
diligent. Bede considered them to be the real strength of France. Elles
sont formidables! (They are formidable! ).


BARRY JOHNS  ( aka Le Vigneron )