Tag Archives: Bordeaux

SO, YOU WANT TO MOVE TO FRANCE?

My wife, Dorianne, and I decided to move to France about 9 months ago. We have been “on the road” since early 2015, when we sold our home in southern California. Since then, we have spent about half of our time in Europe and the other half in North and Central America. We have visited 23 countries and 16 states. I have blogged about some of our wine-related adventures.

After thinking that we would probably settle in Spain, we chose France for two main reasons: first, we feel more at home in France, second, we like the hours that the French keep – not quite so late as in Spain. Both countries have great food and wine, and both have a “work to live, not live to work” lifestyle, so it was a close call for us, especially since Dorianne is conversational in Spanish and neither of us are in French. But France called us, no matter where else we traveled.

We have been to France about 8 times since 2005, staying from a few days to several months, in places such as Paris, Avignon, Nice, Bordeaux, Lourdes, Aix-en-Provence, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and Lyon.

We decided on Lyon for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a city, but smaller, less expensive, and less congested than Paris.
  2. It has a well-preserved historic section (Vieux Lyon, where we are currently staying), and beautiful architecture throughout the city.
  3. It has a great culinary tradition.
  4. There are four wine regions nearby (Burgundy, Beaujolais, Jura, and Côte du Rhône).
  5. An international airport and access to high-speed rail (Paris in 2 hrs.).
  6. A good chamber music community (Dorianne plays the violin).

So, we began our research – after a brief visit in November, we began to do online research, looking at expat sites and chat rooms, travel blogs, French sites (including government sites on how to get visas, etc.), and real estate sites. We decided to rent for a year or so to get a feel for in which area of the city we wanted to settle.

What we discovered is that it is very difficult to get a work visa for France unless you are hired by a French company or working for a foreign company and will have a temporary assignment in France. The law says that to qualify for a job, there must be no French citizen who can fill that job, and then, no EU citizen who can fill it. Unless you meet those criteria or are going to invest and start a business and hire ten French citizens, you can forget a work visa. There are no investment visas in France, such as the Golden Visa for real estate purchases in Portugal, Spain, Greece, or Malta.

We applied for a long-stay visitor visa (there are time constraints) (LINK) (LINK). Essentially, we had to show that we could afford to live in France for a year, had health insurance that covered us there, and were not wanted by the law. We submitted a stack of papers and had a short interview at the French Consulate in Los Angeles (you must apply in person at the embassy or consulate nearest to your US residence).

Once approved, you get a visa in your passport, which they hold for a few weeks, so plan accordingly. You must enter France within 3 months of receiving the visa. We got our Visa in May and had it dated July 12, 2017 to July 12, 2018. You must enter France within seven days of the first date. The visa is good for the entire EU.

We arrived in Lyon on July 13th, my birthday, and celebrated with a dinner at the Institut Paul Bocuse (LINK) – the restaurant of the famed culinary school operated by France’s greatest chef. It is run by students, and you get a Michelin-quality meal for a great price. They have a small but nicely selected wine list as well – and the wine prices are about the same as regular retail. I blogged about an earlier visit (LINK).

We initially stayed at a friend’s apartment, but moved to an AirBnb for, we thought, a month or two, while we looked for a long-term rental apartment. That’s when we found out how difficult it is to rent an apartment in France if you are not a citizen or permanent resident (it’s also difficult if you are a citizen). It is illegal to rent to someone who has anything less than a work visa. And short-term rentals are limited to 3 months. We found that there are landlords who are willing to overlook the requirements, but they demand multiple French co-signers for your lease. It is also illegal to pay rent in advance (say pay 6 months or a year). The French laws are very much in favor of tenants, so the landlords take every advantage they can. We are still in an AirBnB.

We are still open to a long-term rental, but we will be away for December and January at least, so we will wait until we return to look further. Actually, it is easier to buy here than to rent – the limitations on visas, etc. do not apply to real estate purchases. So, we may end up buying sooner than we expected. Prices in the Lyon area are cheaper than Paris, but there are not many bargains in the categories that we are looking for.

Another important tip: if you want to do things like get a French cell phone or a transit card (TCL Carte in Lyon), you must have a French bank account. French banks do not operate like US banks in at least one sense – they don’t seem to particularly want new customers. We entered a branch bank to ask to open a checking account and were told that they next appointment to do so was two weeks away. At a different (downtown) branch, we got accounts right away, but we must do everything via that branch. You can do some things online and at ATM machines, but the system is very parochial.

Once we had the account, and got some funds into it (another issue), we got cell phones and transit cards. You also need a French bank account to rent an apartment long-term, by the way. Once you have a French bank credit card (which work sort of like a combination of credit and debit cards in the US – you need to have funds in your account and can only get credit for up to 500€), you will find it easier to use than US cards in restaurants and shops.

As for our first two months in Lyonlife is grand! We are eating very healthy, fresh food from the thrice per week farmers’ markets (marchés) in our Croix-Rousse (4th Arrondisement) neighborhood. Also, there are plenty of bakeries (boulangeries), butchers (boucheries), prepared food shops (epicères & traiteurs), and fresh fruit & vegetable shops as well. Oh, and every neighborhood has several wine shops (caves).

There are also plenty of restaurants, brasseries, bouchons (Lyonnaise version of a bistro), comptoirs (counters), and coffee shops. And wine bars, too. The food is amazing in just about every place you eat (we avoid the chain restaurants other than some of the local chains which have two or three locations in Lyon).

During August, just about everything that is locally owned and not a national or international chain closes for vacation for anywhere from two to five weeks. So, we drank a lot of supermarket wines during the month, which in France, is not a bad thing. There are very cheap to lower-mid-range (1.8€ to 18€ per bottle) wines from all over France, including Burgundy and Bordeaux in every supermarket. The wines are mostly from larger producers, of course, and you don’t see the premier cru labels there, however, the overall quality is very good. We were drinking wines from Tavel, Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape, Moulin a Vent, Burgundy, and others from the supermarket (supermarché) shelves. I was also introduced to boxed wine at a local party, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Luberon Valley Syrah sold in a 5-liter box for 25€.

THE FRENCH EFFECT

I’ll close with this interesting tidbit. Despite eating and drinking a large variety of foods and wines, I have actually lost a few pounds since arriving in Lyon. My best guess is that there are a few factors in this welcome phenomenon:

  1. The lifestyle here is to walk. I probably average 2 – 3 miles per day at least.
  2. We are mostly preparing our own meals, and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And there is wine and bread every day, too.
  3. I think that when you shop daily and eat fresh foods (even from the supermarket – avoid those center aisles with the processed foods), and those foods are grown on smaller farms (very little industrial farming in France), your body reacts differently to the foods you eat.

I’ll be posting more wine-centric posts as time goes on. We are itching to explore the wine regions in the area in person and to delve more deeply into the Lyon wine scene. So, stay tuned.

I would be very interested in your comments about being an expat or about your experiences with visiting France and other wine capitals in the comments section below.

Au revoir!

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

SPANISH WINE IN ANDALUCIA’S RONDA

Dorianne and I are staying in Málaga and Granada for six weeks. The other day, we took a tour of the beautiful white town, Ronda. We were going to go there anyway, but found a local tour company that combines your tour of the town with stops at two local wineries. All in all, a very nice day.

Southern Spain’s Andalucía region is an expansive area the borders the Mediterranean Sea on the south and east, Portugal on the west, and central Spain on the north. It includes cities like Seville, Granada, Málaga, Cordoba, Cadiz, and a host of other smaller towns and villages. The topography and climate are very much like southern California – warm and dry inland, slightly cooler and more humid near the sea. It is the home of millions of olive trees – and, where you can grow olives, you can usually grow grapes.

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Andalucian Valley

The wines of Andalucia are often sweet and/or fortified, such as the famous Sherry wines of the area around Jerez (LINK). Málaga is also known for sweet red wines (vino tinto dulce). But elsewhere, small producers are making dry wines out of unexpected varietals in the midst of olive country.

Our first stop was at Bodega Joaquín Fernández (LINK), just 3km north of Ronda. The bodega is located on a sloped property, and there are five hectares under cultivation, with an additional hectare about a mile away. They produce about 5,000 cases per year. Also, there is a rental unit where you can stay right at the vineyard.

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Moises Fernandez

Our tour was led by Moises Fernández, the son of the owner. He gave a very thorough tour of the vineyard and winemaking operation, with great detail on their organic processes. Only red varietals are grown at the bodega – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (pronounced Mer-LOT here), Syrah (pronounced SEE-rak), and Garnacha.  A white wine and a rosé (Rosado) made from Merlot are signature wines here along with some red blends.

All wines are fermented in large stainless steel tanks – a fermentation for alcohol, and then a malolactic fermentation. The wines are then stored in oak barrelsFrench and American, for periods from 3 months to two years. This is regulated by the local D.O. Malaga Hills/Mountain. Another regulation is that Tempranillo, the most popular red wine grape of Spain, cannot be grown here. That is why local wine makers rely on Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. In keeping with their organic philosophy, then do not use foils on their wine bottles. Instead, they seal them with a thin coating of beeswax.

Of interest, they have been experimenting with storing bottled wine under water. Here is a sample.

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After the tour, we had a tasting and tapas in the bodega’s outdoor tasting room that overlooks the vines. We tasted all of the wines produced – six in total. Dorianne and I were both impressed with the craftsmanship here – the wines were uniformly well-balanced, and all were very enjoyable. Two favorites were the 2015 Blanco de Uva Tinta – a white Merlot, and the 2014 Garnacha, a blend of 90% Garnacha & 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Their wines sell in the 11€ to 15€ range – great values.

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The line up – note the beeswax seals.

Next, we had a couple of hours to tour Ronda – a beautiful city bisected by a river canyon that runs about 300 feet deep or more. If you visit Andalucía, Ronda should be on your list of places to visit. But back to the wine.

Our second stop would include lunch. We were driven a few kilometers out of town to a small bodega called Bodega Garcia Hildago, a small producer – about 1,000 cases annually. Here, we received a tour by Miguel Hildago, the owner and then a four-course lunch with some of his wines. His wife is an amazing cook, but she was away for the day, so he served the food that she had prepared earlier at a table on the patio of their beautiful home.

Miguel grows the same varietals as Bodega Joaquín Fernández, on about 2 hectares on his property. A few of his wines are in local restaurants, but otherwise, you have to visit the bodega to enjoy them. He makes four wines using organic techniques in his vineyard.

We particularly enjoyed his 2014 Zabel de Alcobazin, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. It was rich, full bodied, and had a nice hint of minerality to it. There was a good tannin structure, so it should age well. It sells for 14€.

ZABEL OK_600x900

Our tour company, Tannin Trail (LINK), offered a great experience. The van was comfortable (only two couples on the tour, which may have been a factor), the guide, Kelly, who originates from South Africa and has lived in Spain for eight years, was very knowledgeable about the local viniculture and the wines of the region, and the two bodega stops were interesting and fun. The tour company is in the process of expanding their operations to the Rioja Region as well, and have been re-branding from Trippy Vines to Tannin Trail during that time. Their Tripadvisor.com ratings are also excellent (LINK).

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It was good to get out and visit some of the wine makers who are making dry wines in this area of mostly sweet wine production. To be sure, Andalucía has a lot to offer.

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (LINK) after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.

Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.

After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a Burgundian Chardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to  compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.

Here is the list:

Starter Case Chart
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.

Starter case -USQ
Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).

To create your own starter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).

I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.

A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.

It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.

Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

GOOD ARTICLE – THOSE DARN WINE RATINGS

A very well written article from The Globe and Mail (LINK TO ARTICLE) across the Pond on the difficulties with the 100 point scale. It speaks to several of the points I’ve made here before, but it’s well written, as I said, and as a bonus, has some interesting reviews of some little-known (in the US) wines.

Of course, one of the main concepts behind this blog (LINK) is that wine should be both accessible and enjoyable to everyone. Anything, even a rating system that is intended to be helpful, that gets in the way of either of those ideals is problematic. The enjoyment of wine is a subjective experience for everyone, and becomes something close to an objective experience, that is, one that can be quantified generally, for only a very few. So I come down on the side of the many, without denying the few the bounty that results from their training and expertise (and maybe their God-given naturally discerning palettes).

Robert Parker may have started the whole 100 point thing, but don’t blame him – someone else would have done it. And personally, I find his ratings helpful. I trust his Bordeaux ratings and distrust most of his California ratings. So, like I said, subjective.

Enjoy the article!

Wine - Parker 100 pts

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

FIVE GOOD REASONS TO BUY WHEN YOU VISIT THE WINERY – FROM LAZENNE.COM

Our friends at Lazenne.com (LINK), makers of wine luggage and wine travel accessories, have posted an excellent article giving five reasons to purchase wine at the winery. Here is a quote from the article by Chrissie McClatchie for Lazenne:

“In France alone there are over 300 AOC’s (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or Controlled Designation of Origin), some counting just one or two producers (Palette in Provence) to hundreds (the simple Bordeaux AOC). Considering the scope, it’s easy to imagine how many of these wines don’t leave their region of origin. I lead wine tours through the Bellet AOC in the hills of Nice, one of France’s oldest and smallest appellations, boasting only eleven vineyards. With such a small production, the wineries can little keep up with the local demand, let alone consider opening up export markets. For most people, therefore, purchasing direct is the only access they have to wines which are simply not available in their home country.” – (LINK TO FULL ARTICLE)

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Tasting Room at Chateau Manissy in Tavel, France

I would add that many of the same reasons hold true when you are visiting domestic wineries – good values, wines that are not otherwise available due to limited production, and knowing the provenance are also reasons to buy at the winery in California, New York, or Virginia.

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Tasting at LaFond Winery in the Santa Rita Hills of California.

Dorianne and I will be visiting California’s Central Coast twice in the next two months, and Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino areas early in the new year. We are looking forward to tasting and buying some amazing wines.

Jim at Broc Winery
Me Tasting at Broc Winery in Berkeley, California.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Lockard

LUXURY WINE TOURS TO FRANCE – BORDEAUX – PARIS – CHAMPAGNE

A very special experience awaits you. If you are a wine lover and are eager to experience some of the greatest wine regions in the world, we have a journey for you. Seven nights in France, with time on the left and right banks of the Gironde River to explore the tastes of Bordeaux wines, followed by time in Paris, the City of Light, and a day in the Champagne Region to savor the famous wines of that historic area. This intimate, small group tour features lodging in fine hotels, meals in châteaus, visits to the legendary vineyards, and tastings of some of the great wines of the world.

Journey to French Wine Country 3

In Paris, we will pair wine and food at specially selected restaurants, have a literary walking tour with a local author, and even have some free time to explore on your own or just relax and sit in a sidewalk cafè. All the while, you will learn more about wine in the vineyard and at the château. All tours will be in English, but there will be interactions with French people.

Bordeaux Treasures

Led by American wine blogger Jim Lockard (JimLockardOnWine.com), who has traveled extensively in France and who will be joined by local experts, you will get the inside story of some of the great wines of Bordeaux and Champagne and have access to places not generally available to the traveling public. This small group experience will give you the opportunity to interact with the guides and the winemakers and sommeliers. You will be joined by a few other wine lovers and share gourmet meals and luxury transportation.

St Emilion Image

“The Bordeaux/Paris/Champagne Tour is unlike anything offered in the travel industry today. I looked for the trip I wanted to take and could not find it – so I created it, in partnership with travel expert Steve Hooks of Journey Different.” ~ Jim Lockard

Now you have the opportunity to join them for the wine experience of a lifetime.

For more information and to register visit  DeluxeWineTours.com (LINK)

BORDEAUX – PARIS – CHAMPAGNE – JOIN ME IN MARCH 2016

I am very pleased of officially announce the launch of DELUXEWINETOURS.COM (LINK), my new venture with Journey Different, Inc. to provide unique wine tours in France. Our focus is on bringing wine lovers into contact with wine makers and others in the industry in the great wine regions of France.

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Chateau Guibeau and its Organic Vineyards in St. Emilion are on our Itinerary!

Why France? Because France is the modern-day cradle of all things wine. Wine may not have originated there, but modern wine culture is centered there. And, it is a truly beautiful country, offering great cities such as Paris and Lyon that can be added to itineraries and provide a much richer experience.

You are invited to join us for this unique and exciting inaugural tour!

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Le Wine Bar, the top-rated wine bar in Bordeaux is on our itinerary!

Our first small group tour, scheduled for March 15-22, 2016, is to include Bordeaux, Paris, and Champagne.

We will combine visits to châteaus with great meals (some of them IN the châteaus) and fine wine tastings, wine seminars, luxury accommodations, local guides and experts, time in the vineyards, opportunities to purchase fine wines to ship home, a literary walking tour, TGV train travel, and more!

Did I mention that there would be great food? 

Visit our website (LINK) for all of the information and to register at a limited time discounted price.

Tell your wine-loving friends about this great opportunity to experience the best of French wine culture with me!

Wine - Paris Wine Shop Display
Large Format Bottles in a Paris Wine Shop Window.

BORDEAUX WINE THEFT RING FOUND GUILTY

This just in from Wine Spectator (LINK).

“A few feet away sat their 13 accomplices, a diverse group that included an aging thug with a long rap sheet; two small-town elementary-school teachers; a local bar owner; three Bordeaux négociants; the owner of that catering supply company from Biarritz; and a political science professor from an elite Paris university. Their link? Rey said the men shared a “fascination with the luxury of the world of wine, a world that was out of their reach.”

The spree began on June 10, 2013, when Gautrau and Allard broke into Château d’Yquem and stole 384 half-bottles of d’Yquem 2010 worth more than $110,000. It remains a mystery why a 27-year-old with no knowledge of wine knew enough to specifically take d’Yquem 2010. Prosecutors believe he had received an order. Phone records reveal that he received a phone call from Biarritz the night before.”

Wine - Wine Thief

A GEM IN ST. EMILION – CHATEAU GUILBEAU

We arranged a visit to Chateau Guibeau (LINK) through a friend who is doing academic research on the vineyard and winery. After some pleasant email exchanges with Brigitte Destouet Bourlon and her husband, Eric, the co-owners, we visited last Thursday. Eric focuses on the vineyards, Brigitte on the marketing, and they collaborate on the wine making. The vineyard is actually the combination of properties of two families united in marriage a couple of generations ago, Chateau Guibeau and Guibot The Fourvieille. Wines are made under both labels today.

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Located in the St. Emilion (LINK), area, the property and its chateau overlook a beautiful valley and Puisseguin, the village below.

The vineyard of 41 hectares (101 acres), planted with Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is located in the town of Puisseguin (LINK), in the Bordeaux Region.

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We walked around the beautiful grounds, toured the barrel room and the wine making areas, with the vast fermentation vats, did some tasting, then got a tour of the vineyard with Eric. They have been converting to a fully-organic vineyard over the past five years, and have their first vintages under that regimen produced. This required quite a bit more work for them in the vineyards, but they feel that it is worth it for environmental and health reasons.

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A special barrel design to aid in-barrel fermentation. This one is Merlot.

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The wines that they produce at the Chateau are all reds – mostly Merlot, as it the case with most Right Bank producers in Bordeaux. The blends vary from year to year, but normally have at least 70% Merlot with lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their 2012 Chateau Guibeau (LINK) blend is 80-10-10.

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The Chateau Gibeau that we tasted, the 2012, shows great promise – it has a good balance, moderate tannins, a nice sense of dark fruit and a hint of minerality. It should improve with age. The 2008 Chateau Guibot La Fourvielle Puisseguin Saint-Emilion (LINK) was a revelation. This 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc beauty is rich with dark fruit, moderate tannins and acidity, and an underlying minerality that strikes both the nose and the palate in a very nice way. This wine should age well, but is ready to drink now. We bought several bottles to bring to the states, but two have disappeared so far on our journey home.

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Jim and Brigitte Destouet Bourlon in the Chateau Guilbeau tasting room.

There is also a guest house to rent on the Chateau property – here is the (LINK).

This is a very good house, doing very good things – look for their wines and visit when you are in Bordeaux.