Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Magical Macon & Mercury – Wed., 4/23/08

Wednesday morning was cloudy with light rain, but I packed the car and headed north to the Macon. It was less than an hour’s drive from my hotel outside of Lyon. Macon is a pretty magical land with rolling hills, tiny villages tucked into the folds, and some very famous cliffs – such as the Rocks of Vergisson (see photo).

The only downside of Macon is very poor signage. Their two most famous villages – Pouilly and Fuisse are almost impossible to find. The roads twist and turn with very few signs. Finally after 45 minutes of driving in circles – and find the rock and village of Vergisson by mistake – I finally asked someone for directions. Eventually I arrive in the small village of Fuisse for my first appointment – a good 30 minutes late.

This was not a problem for the owner of Domaine Christopher Cordier, however, and we had a lovely tour of the cellars, viewed the vineyards outside, and tasted some wonderful ripe apple, full Macons –all chardonnay, of course. Chris won winemaker of the year in 2005 and makes very high quality wine which he exports around the world. Indeed, he had run out of wine to sell.

Lunch was in the famous village of Cluny where I was able to see parts of the ancient and largest cathedral outside of Rome. Very impressive town. Afterwards I drove through the hills to the small town of Vire where I visited Domaine Sainte-Barbe and was able to spend much time in the lovely 60 year old organic vineyards. Jean-Marie even let me taste his rare boytrised chardonnay.

Last stop was Mercury where I visited Domaine Dumeix-Foulart where Agnes had built an impressive new cellar painted in red and pinks tones. She specialized in both pinot noir and chardonnay and we tasted through her wines. She bottle ages up to 2 years and enjoys “taking her time to make good wine.”

Around 6pm, I arrive in Beaune to check into my hotel – Hotels Stars. Immediately I tried to find a new hotel, because it was not a place to stay for 4 days. I lasted one night and moved the next morning to a lovely place (see next blog for details). However, had a wonderful dinner in old town Beaune and was amazed to see how large the town had become since Mike and I last visited in 1992.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Castles in Beaujolais – Tues, 4/22/08

Today it felt like I entered a fairytale as I drove around the very charming and quaint villages of Beaujolais. I had been invited to attend the professional tasting event of Rendezvous-Beaujolais ( which was held at four different castles (chateaux). The weather wasn’t great – mainly cloudy, but it didn’t rain. The drive was only 20 minutes from my hotel, so it was an easy commute.

First stop was Chat. de Pizay which was tasting Morgon (my favorite), as well as Chiroubles, and Chenas. All 4 estates were tasting Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais. Each offered a free lunch as well. The whole program was very professionally organized. I was even interviewed for a customer service survey before I left for the day. I tasted (spit) MANY wines and have notes on all of them, but a few that stood out are listed below. There is no way I could have visited all 160 wineries represented.

Next stop was Chat. De Corcelles (see photo) which was tasting Moulin-a-Vent (the famous windmill), Julienas, and Saint Amour. I also had lunch here and fell in love with another cheese (they had at least 10 to sample) from Touraine which was a chevre in a long log with a pole in the middle and sprinkled with gray ash. It melted in your mouth. Lunch was a stand-up affair as is common at professional tastings, but as it was in France, it was quite good – salad, duck, pates, desserts, etc.

I then drove around to see the villages of Morgon, Fleurie (where I stopped at the church to light a candle), Brouilly, and Moulin-a-Vent. The whole area is like stepping into a picture book – rolling hills covered with tiny tightly spaced grapevines and charming villages with friendly people. I want to go back on a sunny day.

The next chateau was des Ravatys with its orangery where they were tasting Brouilly and Cote-de Brouilly. It was here that I was able to really tell the difference between the two. Brouilly is much lighter and fruitier, whereas Cote-de-Brouilly is more intense and concentrated. In fact, I met a lovely gentleman at Chat. De Corcelles who gave me his personal tasting scheme on the Beaujolais Cru which I found to be completely accurate. He classified them into 3 categories:

Level 1: - Light and Fruity. To be enjoyed as a glass of wine without food: Brouilly, Chiroubles, and Regnie
Level 2: Medium intensity with fruit. To be enjoyed alone or with small food bites. Cote de Brouilly, Julienas, Fleurie, Saint-Amour
Level 3: Big, intense, more tannic and earthy. Must drink with food: Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Chenas.

I also found the vintages quite different. 2007 is fruity and concentrated; 2006 is still tight and rather tart (should age well); 2005 is an excellent vintage with complex flavors and a long finish. Many people think Beaujolais will only last 1 to 3 years, but some of the crus I tasted were fermented only semi-carbonic and then fermented in a regular fashion, as well as aged in oak. They were quite different from the bubble-gum Nouveau Beaujolais that is primarily represented in the market. Also tasted some lovely chardonnays and roses.

A few wineries I really enjoyed:
· Belleverne (not in US market yet) – offered a fresh, fruity 2007 St Amour, an intensely cherry 07 Julienas, and a wonderful big, highly structured Moulin a Vent 2007.
· Jambon Martine et Guenauel – Morgon, Cote du PY 2006 – big, dusty traditional wine that I loved. Also had some 80 year old semi-carbonic with barrel aging that was huge and concentrated.
· Christian Dix Vin Beaujolais – nice 2007 rose; excellent 2006 Morgon and Chiroubles from old vines with a long finish.
· P. Ferraud et Fils – really liked their 2006 Moulin-a-Vent with good structure, tannins, and long finish.
· Domaine de Bel-Air 2006 Brouilly – a classic with pretty fruit, floral and nice acid. Very feminine and refreshing.
· Chat. Pierreux – 2006 Mommessin – big concentrated Brouilly. Seemed more like the Cote rather than Brouilly.
· Finally, Beaujolais from Cave du Bois d’Oingt where I spoke with the winemaker who introduced me to his range of wines with very attractive labels (at least for the US and UK market). All of the wines were good – from the refreshing and perfumed 2006 chardonnay, to the strawberry-nosed rose to the 2006 La Rose Poupre, which was aged 7 months in oak with complex flavors, spice and a long finish.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cote Rotie & Condrieu – Mon., 4/21/08

An excellent wine tasting day! I managed to make my 9am appointment at Guigal in Ampuis right on time. Two Americans from Arizona and two Australians from Brisbane were on the tour with me. We had a fabulous 2 hour tour of the cellars and saw every piece of equipment, and learned every process. The most amazing part was the quality system used to evaluate fruit as it came to the receiving docks. Another interesting note is that the high-end single vineyard wines are aged 42 months in 100% new oak!

The tour was followed by an incredible tasting of 11 wines, with the last two being the very famous La Mouline from the Cote Blonde and La Turque from the Cote Brune. They were both 2004 vintage and excellent. The La Mouline included 11% viognier with the syrah. It was filled with dark berries, elegance, complexity and a slight perfumed note. The La Turque was dark, brooding, with coffee, tea and dark chocolate notes. It was 7% viognier. Both had great balance with huge tannins, good acid, and a long finish. They fit their namesakes well – with the ancient legend of the Cote Rotie hills being owned by a man who had two beautiful daughters – one a blond and the other a brunette. The lighter colored hill was names for the blond and said to produce lighter, more fruit forward wines to match her sunny nature. Whereas the darker soiled hillside was name for the brunette and produces more complex and deeper flavors to fit the quieter nature of the brunette. (see video)

Most Cote Rotie wines are a mix of both Cote Brune and Cote Blond, but in exceptional vintages they will make the famous single vineyard wines which sell for over 100 Euros. This vintage was $120E. All of the wines were delightful, but these two stole the show. I also enjoyed the 04 Cote Rotie Chat. D’Ampuis, the 03 Cote Rotie, and 05 Crozes-Hermitage, and a beautiful 2006 Contrieu. The latter was 100% Viognier with a honeysuckle nose, honey palate, viscous with a long finish and refreshing acidity. Really lovely.

Next step was Domaine Ogier, a small winery run by son Stephane and father Michel. Stephane was kind enough to provide a tour of the complete cellar, a tasting, and then take me to lunch at the excellent Restaurant Caves du Vigerons on the main street in Ampuis. It was wonderful to visit a small winery and listen to Stephane’s passion about his wine. The family has 11 hectares, including Cote Rotie, Condrieu and some excellent Vin de Pays which are borderline with the AOC. Stephane’s wine is such high quality that he sells out within a month or two of release. He also consistently receives high scores from Parker.

We tasted many 2007’s out of barrel and the vintage is wonderful – very concentrated with lush berry flavors. They lost a portion of the fruit to bad weather, but what they did harvest was high quality. Stephane also sells his single vineyard Cote Rotie for $120Euros a bottle.

At lunch we tasted 4 current wines – beginning with an excellent 2006 Viognier which was highly perfumed with honeysuckle and pear, soft and creamy from the ML, but not over blown and fat like some can get. We also had his excellent 2006 Syrah Vin de Pays which are fruit-forward, international in style and very approachable. They sell quite well in fine restaurants throughout France. My favorite was his 2005 Cote Rotie which was 60% Brune and 40% Blonde and showed in the wine. It was “big” and concentrated, and I loved the rich complex flavors of dark berries, spice, pepper, and a little game on the finish. Unfortunately, he is sold out, but there is still some left in fine wine shops around the world.

Lunch at the restaurant made it impossible for me to eat the rest of the day. We started with a salad with ham and warm chevre. The main course was a melt-in-your-mouth leg of lamb with haricots, petite potatoes, and mushrooms. This was followed by warm chocolate brownie and ice cream, plus coffee. Wow!

Last stop was George Vernay in Condrieu where I was hoping to taste some more Viognier before heading back, but they were sold out. Driving back I decided to stop in Lyon. I managed to find the “old city,” but then got helplessly lost. There was also no parking to be found and it started to rain. Deciding this was a sign, I headed back to my apartment, stopping for a few items at the store. Since I was so full from lunch, tonight’s dinner was mushroom soup, cheese, and a glass of Clairette de Die. This is another wine from the Northern Rhone which I’ve never tasted before. I bought the Jaillance which is a top producer in Die (south of Hermitage) and it was only $6 Euros. It is a sweet sparkling wine made of muscat and clairette – very similar to Asti Spumante – and very enjoyable! A good way to end a great day of Northern Rhone wine-tasting.

Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage & St. Joseph – Sun., 4/20/08

Sunday is a tough day in France because most everything is closed – even Auchan, the large supermarket. I slept in late – my first day to do so and didn’t leave my cozy apartment until 1:30. Heading north, I decided to find Guigal in Ampuis so I wouldn’t be late for my 9am Monday morning appointment. I was pleased to find I made the drive in 30 minutes taking the A6 through Lyons.

Ampuis was very charming and I drove up into the steep vineyards and took pictures of Cote Brune and Cote Blond (see Cote Rotie video). Since I had free time, I decided to drive the wine route from Ampuis through Condrieu, the tiny AOC of Ch. Grillet, and the vineyards of St. Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, until I finally arrived in the twin towns of Tain and Tournon which is the heart of Hermitage. The complete drive took about 45 minutes, winding through charming little towns with the Rhone on one side and very steep vineyards on the other.

It wasn’t until I crossed the Rhone to the Tournon side that I could see the famous Hermitage hill with the small chapel. When I went to Chapoutier – which is amazingly open 7 days a week (as well as the Cave de Tain-l’Hermitage) – they told me the romantic story of the hermit who lived in the chapel on the hill was invented by the British for marketing purposes. They said the real French spelling was Ermitage, without the “h” and that is why they list their highly expensive single vineyards wines as “Ermitage” on the bottle instead of “Hermitage.” (At first I thought it was a typo!)

The visit to Chapoutier was lovely and I ran into 4 Californians there as well on vacation. They took the photo of me at the tasting bar. Chapoutier has a great display of all the soil types from the various appellations and it was easy to see the difference. All of their company owned vineyards are biodynamic, but they also source grapes from others. Like many of the larger houses they sell wines from both the Northern and Southern Rhone.

They have 5 different levels of wine. I focused my tasting on Hermitage, St. Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage. From the Fac&Spera collection, I had the 2004 De L’Oree which is a biodynamic marsanne with great intensity; and the 2005 St. Joseph Les Granits red and white. From the Prestige collection, I tried the 2005 red Hermitage La Sizeranne, which was my favorite and the one I bought, as well as the 2005 white Hermitage Chante-Alouette, which was exquisite, and the Crozes Hermitage Les Meysonniers 2006. I also had the 2005 white and red St. Joseph Deschants. This region is quite easy to understand, because all of the reds are Syrah and the whites are primarily Marsanne. They are allowed to use Roussane, but rarely do because it is difficult to grow. They explained the production and aging process to me, and I greatly enjoyed my visit.

On the way home I tried to have a light dinner in Touran, but as it was only 6pm all of the restaurants were closed. They said I could have a drink, but no food until 8pm. Therefore, I drove back to my Lyon suburb and had a quick dinner at a pub style restaurant – steak, fries, and a salad (not very French).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Recommending Citea Residences in France

My hotel apartment outside of Lyon is quite nice. It is called Citea Lissieu and is about 10 minutes north of Lyons. I didn’t want to stay in Lyons because I didn’t want to drive in the city. This place is quite nice, clean, and new. I have a living room, kitchen, bath, and bathroom – 4 rooms in all. It has Internet, a swimming pool, breakfast for $7 Euros if you want it, and a laundry. Plus I got a great price and one night free on

Unfortunately I got very lost following the Google Earth Map instructions to find the hotel, and wish I would have just drove to Lissieu instead. If I had, I would have saved at least an hour and A6 tolls going the wrong way. As it was, I met lots of people stopping to ask for directions. Two guys drew me a map at one point; but finally a lady in a grocery store found a customer who spoke English and together they got me to the hotel.

Once I arrived I understood why it was difficult to find, because it really it like a very nice apartment complex instead of a hotel. There is a private gate which requires a remote control. There are flowers and trees in bloom, and it is painted in lovely colors. A very nice place to relax at the end of the day.

In Praise of French Cheeses

I am so amazed at the wonderful price of cheese in France. As I headed north towards Lyons, I stopped at a grocery store near Avignon because I knew I may not have time later. It was called Intermarche and is a chain. I purchased a gold medal award winning St. Aubin Brie for only $2.67 (large cheese in photo); two Crottin chevres totally $1.94, and a long thin pork sausage for $1.27. These were not even the special cheese in the glass case – they were regular cheese in the everyday case. And yet when I tasted them that evening with a glass of wine (that was dinner, because I was still full from lunch), I was amazed at the quality. Low cost, but excellent flavor! Wish we could get cheeses like this at home for these prices!


My tour of the winery was lovely. On the way in, I observed and took photos of the vineyards with their very small tightly spaced vines in the stony soil. Once at the winery, I was taken on a private tour of the cellar with all of the processes explained, and then tasted through the two recent vintages of whites and reds, as well as one special taste of a 1991 Chat. La Nerthe Rouge. It was spicy and earthy with cloves, and amazingly made of 42% Mouvedre. I ended up purchasing the 2003 (2005 had not yet been released in reds), because it was much more approachable than the 2004’s – and I couldn’t afford the older vintages that were available.

Probably the most surprising fact about the wines were how different the composition of each vintage. Obviously by law, they can use 13 different grapes, but it is QUITE different based on the year. For example, the 2003 which I purchased was 47% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 20% Mouvedre, 5% Cinsault, and 2% other grapes. 64% of the wine went through pigeage (punch downs); fermentation and extended maceration lasted 17 days, with 35% being aged in oak, 54% in foudres (large oak tanks) and 11% in cement tank. These numbers change dramatically – depending on what is needed for each vintage. The very high end wine – Cuvee des Cadettes – which starts at $60 Euros and up, is aged 100% in oak barrels which are about 30% new. My visit was very pleasant and I was given a gift of the chateaux olive oil when I departed.

CHATEAUNEUF DE PAPE – Lunch at Chat. Des Fines Roches

I arrived in Chateauneuf de Pape via Avignon and found it as enchanting as I did the other 2 times I have visited. Since I have been here before and visited wineries both in and outside the town, as well as Gigondas and Beaumes des Venise, I decided to just visit one special winery this time – Chat. La Nerthe. I arrived early to make sure I knew where it was, and then found a restaurant right next to it at Chateau Des Fines Roches.

This chateau looks just like an ancient castle (see photo), and I actually visited the winery there in 2000 with my mother and Zia. I remembered the estate because it has a very nice hotel and restaurant. Hoping I could get in without a reservation, I stopped and found they had one table left. I order the prix fixe menu at $25 Euros and found it to be an excellent value.

For the price, I received an appetizer of local olives, tapenades, crackers, and chips. The salad course was fresh dorado fish with grilled fennel; the main course was grilled duck with mushrooms and risotto, and it was followed by coffee with a small plate of dessert cookies and brownies. The lunch also came with my choice of red, white, or rose Cote de Rhone. I chose rose, hoping it would be lower alcohol than Tavel – but it wasn’t. Still quite good, but I couldn’t finish it. A very lovely and elegant lunch at a beautiful place.


I left Chateau Chirac and drove to Tavel – about a 1:15 minute drive, and on the way went through Uzes. I was going to stop and explore, but as it was Saturday morning, the town was mobbed due to market. I knew if I stopped, I would have trouble making my appointments. So I head to Tavel and went to Les Vignerons de Tavel which is open every day to the public. There I was able to taste the famous roses of Tavel – much larger, rounder, and higher alcohol than roses of Provence – and learn how they were made. I also tasted a Lirac blanc and rouge and found them rather rustic – mineral on the white and “animale” on the red. The town of Tavel is adorable and I walked around a bit, before heading to Chateauneuf de Pape.


On Friday evening, Francois led the way from the University through Montpellier to Chateau Chirac – his wife’s (Anne) family estate. It was about a one hour drive through the rain and on the way we stopped at a tasting room in Pic St. Loup to take a short break and watch them fill up people’s take-home plastic gallons of wine. The Chateau is near the town of Uzes, but is in the country. It was built in the 1800’s by Anne’s great grandfather and has been passed down through the family.

It was a lovely old Chateau built in the traditional stone with a tower and blue shutters. There are two large iron entry gates with posts, and outlying buildings attached to the chateau so it appears to be a small village. They rent out some of the buildings and have remodeled the barn to be a lovely house. The Chateau is reserved for the large family on holidays. There are also about 60 hectares of land which used to be under vine, but is now primarily wheat and orchards.

They used to have a winery there that was known for its great red wine. Francois has now sold the winery to a Belgian who makes equally good wine, primarily from syrah and mouvedre. We had a bottle with dinner which was chicken with tomato and a lovely zucchini a gratin for which I got the recipe (cut and saute zucchini in olive oil and garlic, then put in a baking dish and cover with béchamel sauce. Then grate gruyere cheese on top. Cook until cheese melts and is a golden brown.) Next course was a green salad, then a cheese course, followed by a flourless chocolate cake. We also had a bottle of the old vine carignan that I brought from Famille Lignares with dinner. I should mention we started with a glass of my Vin Jaune and tapenade appetizers. After dinner, we had tea with local honey by the fire. A huge storm blew in and rattled the windows with rain, thunder and lightning. Anne’s father, mother, and brother joined us for the meal.

The next morning was bright and sunny and I walked around the grounds taking photos (some included with this blog). Breakfast was café au lait in a bowl with toast and homemade jams and chocolate chestnut jelly. Francois said the locals used to live off the chestnuts in the mountains. The area is also known for mulberry trees and silkworms – similar to Lyons. On the third floor of the chateau, Francois showed me a room that had been used to raise silkworms. It had a fireplace in each corner to keep them warm. He said they fed them mulberry leaves and then when they cocooned, locals would slowly extract the silk and weave fine fabrics.
The experience at the chateau was magical and one that I will treasure for a long time to come. To have the opportunity to stay in such a magical place with a real French family was very special.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Famous Wine Ladies Statue

Last time I visited the University of Montpellier in July of 2006 to attend a wine conference, I encountered this intriguing statue. It depicts a younger woman holding and soothing an older woman. For days I kept asking people what it meant, but it wasn't until the last day that I found someone who knew the story of the statue.

It is a representation of France and America helping one another with viticulture. When France's vineyards were dying of phylloxera in the 1800's, America gave them American rootstock which is resistant to the disease. So the majority of France's vineyards were replanted on American rootstock with French clones. The older woman depicts France as ill and dying, whereas the younger woman illustrates America coming to help and sooth. It is a very touching story. The only piece that is left out is the fact that America was actually responsible for bringing phylloxera to France in the first place.

Regardless, I think it is a beautiful representation of the bond between France and the USA. There is a long history of love/hate between the two countries...but love seems to prevail. After all it was France who gave America the Statue of Liberty.


The last few days I’ve been interviewing French students at the University in Montpellier. It has been fascinating learning their views on wine and why wine consumption has dropped so dramatically in France. The weather was nice (in the high 60’s and sunny) on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I was able to explore the city and have a nice dinner on Wednesday evening. Montpellier was established in the 900’s by the Dukes of Toulouse and has some fascinating arched structures, impressive mansions, and an old city center where no cars are allowed. It is filled with plenty of outdoor cafes, restaurants, and shops to explore.

I had dinner at a small charming restaurant called La'Colyte that sold local wines by the glass and had a great jazz piano player. I dined with Guitier, a wine student, who acted as guide and showed me the local wine shops. Dinner was filet mignon of porc with a great local red with leather and “animal” notes. In one of the wine shops, Gautier helped me locate a bottle of Vin Jaune from the Jura – a wine I have been wanting to taste for a long time. It is yellow colored and oxidized with a sherry-like nose, but tastes of nuts, dried apples, orange rind and has a refreshing acidity with about 14% alcohol. Very intriguing. The more I tasted it, the more it grew on me.

Today – Thursday – is cold and rainy. It was a good day to do my lecture on American wine marketing and let the students taste 6 popular American wines. I’m impressed with the caliber of the Montpellier wine students, who are pursuing the equivalent of a Masters degree. Most of them speak at least 3 languages. Tomorrow I attend more lectures and do some final research, before heading to Francois’s chateaux north of the city to visit his winery, have dinner and stay the night with he and his wife.


On Tuesday I drove one hour SW of Montpellier to visit Famile Ligneres Winery near Corbierres. It was a wonderful visit with owners Anne and Jean. They provided an excellent tour of the vineyards where they specialize in growing Grenache, Carignan, Mouvedre and Syrah for reds, and Rousanne, Grenache Blanc and Vermintino for whites. They have 200 acres – all dried farmed and organic. Some of the soil is quite rocky (see photo), with dramatic mountains rising behind. They are about 30 minutes from the Mediterranean.

Currently they export about 90% of their wine to the USA where they have received scores of 92+ from Wine Spectator and Advocate. The red wines all have concentrated fruit flavors with plush, velvety tannins and higher alcohol levels. They are now looking to export to other countries and sell more wine directly in France.

The most unusual element to the winemaking, and perhaps what makes the wines so delicious, is the fact that they age for 12 to 16 months in 20% new French oak, but only top up the wines once during that time with no racking. They let all of the wines age on the gross lees, which are transferred from fermentation tanks to barrel. A unique barrel turning device allows them to rotate the barrels in order to stir the lees without opening the bungs. They also protect with nitrogen gas. The result is a wine of very concentrated fruit, dense color, and smooth tannins.

I was impressed with the international character of the wines and will seek them out in the USA market. Prices range from $15 to $30 – depending on the program level. I tasted three vintages – from 2004 to 2006. All were excellent, but the 2005’s (which have not yet been released) are even more impressive with very long finish and layers of complex fruit and mineral. See for more information.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


It’s hard to believe but I’ve had 2 great neck & shoulder massages within the last 24 hours – and they both were free! The first was with Virgin as part of their Upper Class service. Not only do they give you great martinis and full meals in their lounge (I had pork tenderloin with grilled fennel – lovely), but once on board, they give you pajamas, down comforters and pillows, seats that turn into flat beds, more than 60 movies to watch, and free massages! When I worked in industry I was able to fly business class on other airlines, such as United, Continental, British Air, and American – and none of them were as generous as Virgin. What a treat!

The second massage just occurred in the Air France lounge in Paris. I stopped by the massage booth to ask how much they were and was told “gratitude” – or free! So I had a wonderful free 15 minute neck and shoulder massage, and received a free sample of Clarin’s products. Apparently it is a joint promotion by Air France and Clarin’s. Very nice of them. Makes me think even more positively about both brands.

So now I’m relaxed and getting ready for the final leg of my trip – an hour and a half flight down to Montpellier.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Planning the Trip to France

It’s been much more complicated planning the France wine tour verses the Australia one. This is because I am required to make appointments with most of the French wineries, rather than just dropping by open tasting rooms as in Australia. Many of the top chateaux in France are by appointment only, whereas only a few in Australia are.

Fortunately, I’ve had much help from my father-in-law, Michael, who speaks French and 4 other languages fluently. He has helped me translate emails and messages. Sopexa, the French PR firm for wine and food, has also been extremely helpful, as well as Inter-Rhone and the Beaujolais Tourism Board. In Bordeaux I’ve been assisted by my friend Christian from Lafitte and Tim’s friend Thierry. In Languedoc, Francois at the university has been my savoir by tirelessly responding to emails and helping me to organize my research project in Montpellier. I am blessed with many wonderful friends.

Now I sit in the Virgin Atlantic lounge in San Francisco having a Virgin Kiss martini and waiting to get my Upper Class seat to London, then Paris, and finally Montpellier, France. Mike, my wonderful husband, was kind enough to share 100,000 of his Continental miles so I can have this lovely treat of a seat which reclines into a full-bed. We flew Virgin Upper Class a few years ago on our 20th wedding anniversary to Paris, so this will be a pleasant reminder of that trip. Fortunately, Mike will be joining me in the South of France on May 1 to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. We plan to visit Bandol, Cassis, St. Tropez, Cannes and Nice.

The only sad part of this whole trip is leaving family, friends, and the sunny warm weather of California. Zia made me a lovely lunch before we left for the airport. The drive from Sonoma County to San Francisco was beautiful, with Sonoma County in all its Spring glory. It is actually 82 degrees in Sonoma today and the vineyards are in full bud with pale green leaves, yellow mustard, and orange California poppies. Thank goodness for email, cell phones, and the Internet so I can stay connected.