Where Wine History, Technology and Art Meet

February 26, 2010

Nearly every traditional wine region in Europe boasts its own wine museum, sometimes more than one. It makes sense when you think about it – generations of wine producers have practiced their craft for centuries, and over time much has changed in terms of the technology in both the vineyard and the winery, in the marketing of the wines as well as in day-to-day life. The history needs to be preserved and if possible shared, so where better than in a dedicated wine museum, whether publicly run by a region or a private collection, usually of a family-owned producer.

It’s a good idea to visit a wine museum at least once, especially if you are enjoying a wine tour in Europe. But, you might think that once you’ve visited one you’ve seen them all, and certainly with a few notable exceptions there is a certain element of repetition.

The typical wine museum has a room with charts showing how wine production arrived in that part of the world; a room with Roman or Greek wine relics; another with all manner of vineyard implements ranging from hand ploughs to pruning secateurs and even early sulphur-spraying back-packs; next there will be a room devoted to harvest, usually complete with black and white pictures of jolly harvest parties; a room full of wine presses; the winemaking room with tools for cleaning barrels, fining and so forth (some not that different to the implements shown in medical museums); and finally there might be bottles, labels, glasses and even advertising posters.

Relatively traditional wine museums that I’ve visited recently in France that have a point of difference include a really surprising one in Montmélian in the little wine region of Savoie east of Lyon. In the same building that houses the tourist office of this unassuming town with a mountain view, my first visit there really surprised me. They have several extraordinarily huge old wine presses rescued from various parts of France, along with pertinent displays that demonstrate just how poor the mountain farmers of Savoie were before tourism came along to rescue them. I also recently discovered the fascinating négociant museum of Bordeaux in the revived Chartrons quarter, see my post on the delights of the city of Bordeaux. And, I’m told by Diane LeTulle on my informal twitter and Facebook poll that the Musée du Vin de Bourgogne in Beaune is very interesting these days, with a new take on an appellation map, actually showing the direction of the vine rows on the slope.

Moving away from traditional museums, there are those that, although they incorporate much on the history and heritage of wine, build themselves up to be major tourist attractions, not that there’s anything wrong with that if it encourages wine lovers to learn more. Notable in France is the Duboeuf Hameau du Vin in Beaujolais and – as we’re in Europe – London has Vinopolis, featuring not only interactive features and old artefacts, but some stunning pictures from the Cephas Picture Library who supplies most of the photos on the Wine Travel Guides website. In Rioja, it is Dinastía Vivanco’s Museo de la Cultura del Vino that is becoming a real ‘must-see’ destination for any wine lover visiting Spain. Not only does this museum have the most incredible and vast collection of corkscrews, wine art (from ancient to contemporary including an original Picasso) and wine-related machinery among many other items, it is beautifully displayed with excellently produced, educational videos all housed in a magnificent architectural masterpiece in the heart of the vineyards. And, a visit there can be combined with tasting at the winery and lunch in the very good restaurant.

One of the pioneers of linking art with wine was Baron Philippe de Rothschild who helped make the museum at Château Mouton-Rothschild in Pauillac a Mecca for wine tourists long before the term ‘wine tourism’ was even invented. Currently closed for renovations, it is, of course, known in particular for the displays of original artwork for the château’s  wine labels, each year featuring a different prominent contemporary artist (Picasso among the most famous). Also well established and one of the greatest wine museums in Europe is Lungarotti’s wine museum in Torgiano, Umbria in Italy. Established in 1974 we visited it last year and were enchanted by the amazing collection of ceramics from ancient to ultra-modern; the fantastic, huge number of wine-related engravings and prints (yes, you might have guessed, including Picasso again!); unusual wine books (I could have stayed in that room for ever) and the most original collection of book plates or ‘ex libris’. You should certainly put aside a day for a visit to Torgiano as you can also have an educational tasting at Lungarotti’s tasting room; visit their olive and oil museum (which we had no time for) and eat at or even stay at their traditional hotel-restaurant.

Unsurprisingly France and Italy seem to have the widest range of wine museums – in Puglia in Italy, Hallmark Travels recommends the Leone de Castris museum and James Martin rates the Museo della Civiltà del Vino Primitivo. Back in Spain, Anthony Swift of Wine Pleasures also recommends the private Cava Museum of Raymondo Canals in Catalonia.

Please do add any of your favourite wine museums in Europe into the comments below (if you’ve never posted a comment here, please be patient, I moderate them as quickly as possible). How about good wine museums in Germany, Austria, Portugal, Greece or countries further east? There must be many …

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The Weekly Twitter Quiz #7 – Cerdon in Bugey

February 18, 2009
Cerdon Tradition made in the Méthode Ancestrale

Cerdon Tradition made in the Méthode Ancestrale

We visited the Cerdon area on the Monday after the Percée du Vin Jaune festival weekend following a night’s stay in Bourg-en-Bresse. In the French department of Ain, Cerdon is a wine appellation that is part of the Bugey VDQS region. Bugey is often linked with Savoie, but Cerdon is much closer to the wine region of Jura. All very confusing, as so often in the world of French wine. We only had time for two visits but they were could not have been more instructive and more different.

First up, what is the wine Cerdon? It’s the only rosé sparkling wine made in the Méthode Ancestrale that is an official appellation. (The VDQS designation is part of the official appellation system in France – one that is due to be phased out and the Bugey region hopes desperately, after 10 years of trying, to be elevated to AC). Cerdon Tradition is made usually from  90-100% Gamay, but the Jura grape Poulsard may also be blended in. The colour comes from either direct pressing or more often a short maceration, and the juice is then fermented very cold and very slowly, with fermentation stopped at about 6% alcohol. It’s then bottled and stored in a cold room at around 10°C (50°F) and fermentation continues for around two months. When it’s time to release the wine it is transferred, filtered and re-bottled traditionally in one operation, though larger producers store for a day in-between.

The big tip about Cerdon is that the ideal time to buy it is in the spring or in summer at the latest, because it’s best enjoyed when freshest – as it ages, the pretty and vibrant pink colour fades and it loses some of the lovely strawberry fruit. This lightly bubbly pink wine is a delicious, semi-sweet sparkler with only around 8% alcohol; you could also try it with strawberries. As for the region, it’s a sleepy place but with some dramatic mountain scenery – the vineyards (less than 200 hectares or 500 acres) are some of the highest in France, going up to more than 500 metres (or 1600 feet) altitude.

Vineyards around Mérignat

Vineyards around Mérignat

We visited the largest winery Lingot-Martin who have a very decent standard of quality and whose wines are widely available in French supermarkets in the Rhône Alpes region and they export a little too. They make several styles as well as a Traditional Method Brut and have a good, practical tasting room on the main road. We also went to a tiny producer, Raphaël Bartucci up in the hills of Mérignat. He farms his vineyards organically and makes just one delicious cuvée with sales highly restricted (Just 420 bottles go to the USA each year).

Congratulations to world traveller and blogger @globtrav who has swfitly chosen the ‘Around Epernay’ micro-region guide from the Champagne Region as their prize.

Do follow me on twitter for updates on Wine Travel Guides and musings on wine, life and travel. You can also fan our new Facebook Page where you might like to join in on discussions about which wine regions are best to visit to enjoy a private wine tour. It will help spread the word about the website too, which in turn leads to more subscriptions so we can publish more guides! Join me next week for the weekly quiz and your chance to win a PDF wine travel guide.

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Weekly Twitter Quiz #1 – Win a PDF Guide – All about Bergeron

January 7, 2009

Win a PDF Wine Travel Guide to France of your choice.

Here’s the question:

What is both a type of apricot in N. Rhône and a grape in Savoie?

You must follow me on twitter to compete. The first correct answer tweeted to @WineTravel wins the prize.

I will announce the answer and winner on Twitter first and then add below.

Fall vineyards in Chignin

Fall vineyards in Chignin

Quiz Answer: Bergeron

Bergeron is the name of a type of apricot, particularly grown near the vineyards of Côte Rôtie and Condrieu. It is also the name given in Savoie to the Roussanne grape, which is only allowed for the AC Savoie cru Chignin Bergeron, grown on steep, sun-drenched slopes. Believe it or not, the wine often shows an apricot flavour and is a pretty powerful dry white. However, it is slightly lighter and more acidic than is made in the Rhône Valley, a style that has been emulated by Tablas Creek, the Ch. de Beaucastel outpost in Paso Robles, California. On a visit to their excellent tasting room last February, we discovered their Bergeron only on sale at the cellar door.

Congratulations to Michael Crook of Virginia for the right answer!

French wine shops to check out en route from skiing

December 29, 2008

By Wink Lorch

The French have surprisingly few wine shops in relatively affluent town centres compared to the UK or the USA for example. Yet, if you are a wine lover travelling through France with no time to visit a wine region and buy direct from a producer, a wine shop with a well-chosen selection from the nearest wine region and someone there to advise you is just what you need. The dearth of good wine shops is slowly being addressed with a new breed emerging, sometimes incorporating a wine bar and often owned by highly trained sommeliers, oenologists or simply by an enthusiastic amateur.

For those of you returning from a ski trip in the French Alps, I can recommend two new wine shops/bars that fill this gap in major towns on the routes to and from the ski resorts.

Bruno Bozzer, Java des Flacons, Annecy

Bruno Bozzer, Java des Flacons, Annecy

Until La Java des Flacons was opened two years ago by the lake on the edge of the beautiful town of Annecy (departmental capital of Haute Savoie), you could not find a wine shop with a decent selection of the local Savoie wines. The shop is owned by the very affable and highly experienced sommelier Bruno Bozzer, who for ten years was the sommelier for the local 3-star Michelin restaurant Marc Veyrat and previously worked for Louis Jadot in Burgundy. He has created a veritable Aladdin’s cave of wines in a modern, spacious environment.

The Savoie wines are in a corner, but all the top names are there, including some rare cuvées not usually available. They include wines from biodynamic producers such as Belluard, Maillet and Domaine Prieuré St-Christophe along with regional classics such as Dupasquier and Magnin. The rest of the shop is packed full of everything French from Languedoc and South-West finds to top classic Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône. There’s a bar in the corner where at least a dozen wines are available by the glass or bottle at modest mark-ups and a sofa to relax on. You can choose a plate of tasty French or Italian charcuterie or even a dozen oysters if you prefer. Whether you want one special bottle or plan to make an investment, Bruno and his team do everything to advise you. They also run monthly tutored tasting evenings.

Syrah & Co in Albertville

Syrah & Co in Albertville

In Albertville, famed for being home to the winter Olympics of 1992 and not much else, but en route from the big Tarentaise resorts like Val d’Isère, Tignes and Courchevel, last autumn I discovered a tiny shop, on the main shopping street, named Syrah and Co. owned by Nicolas Le Goff. From a hotel and catering background, Le Goff has created the shop as a relaxed meeting place and chance to discover mainly organic wines. Many of the same Savoie names as those stocked by Java des Flacons are here including a selection of vintages from Prieuré St-Christophe and the fascinating Domaine des Ardoisières whose vineyards you might have driven past. Wines are available by the bottle to drink at the bar for a €8 corkage charge and 12 wines rotate by the glass costing around €4. Note the shop/bar is not open at lunchtime, but remains open late into the evening if there is a demand, and you can choose to accompany your wine with a plate of charcuterie, cheese or mixed vegetables.

I should also mention the well-respected and more established shop called Vins Duvernay in Annemasse, near Geneva, which stocks a wide range, but that I haven’t yet visited.

If driving back to the UK, you can pick up a case of unusual Savoie wines to taste at home, and if you’re flying you could perhaps find space in your suitcase for a couple of bottles, couldn’t you? Better still, come back to visit the region in 2009 and make sure you use my wine travel guide to the region.

La Java des Flacons, 49 Avenue du Petit Port, 74940 Annecy le Vieux.
04 50 23 31 39
Open 10.00-20.00. Closed Mondays.

Syrah & Co, 12 Rue de la République, 73200 Albertville.
Tel: 04 79 38 46 99
Open 10.00-12.30 and 15.00 till late. Closed Mondays, Tuesday mornings and Sunday afternoons.

Vins R. Duvernay, 12 Rue Charles Dupraz, 74100 Annemasse.
Tel: 04 50 92 20 20

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