Most of the following day was spent touring the Beaujolais region. It is very beautiful -- not unlike Virginia.


Harvesting

Our trip was scheduled during the vendange, the time of harvest. Some vineyards had already been harvested, some were actively being harvested and others were awaiting their time.

Depending on the rules pertaining to the region, machines may or may not be used. Clearly harvesting machines were allowed here. The yellow machine, straddles a row of vines and collects the grapes (along with twigs & leaves). The harvested material is then dumped into the trailer behind the tractor and carried to the winery.

When we were lunching in Châteauneuf-du-Pape the harvesting machines were regularly rumbling though town.

In other locations we occasionally saw workers wearing or dragging huge baskets picking the grapes by hand.


Discarded grapes

There are lots of rules in France dealing with wine production. For example, each region has regulations on what kinds of grapes can be used in the wines. Each region also has regulations on how much a particular winery can harvest. Prior to the harvest, workers come through the vineyard and choose excess grape clusters to remove. They are simply dropped on the ground and eventually decompose to return the nutrients to the soil.

This vineyard looks like more grapes were discarded than remained on the vines for harvest.

I asked one of the winemakers if these rules created any resentment or favored large vineyards over smaller ones and he felt that they enhanced the marketability of the wine, due to the resulting consistency, and protected the smaller vintners from the large ones flooding the market.


Chateau

Château Montmelas has been in the same family since the 16th century. The original fortress at this location was built in the 10th century. The Marquis de Montmelas purchased the property in the 16th century and his descendants live there today. Traditionally the château has descended through the female line.

By the 19th century the château had fallen into disrepair and the family wanted to restore it as a residence. They consulted an architect who came up with a very elaborate, perhaps overly ornate, design. Since it was expensive to implement, the family decided on something a bit more restrained. Even so, non-original touches like the crenellations were part of the restoration, not the original structure.

The elaborate surround for the entryway is also not original. It was "repurposed" from a chapel owned by the same family.


Beaujolais

The view over the surrounding countryside was magnificent. It is possible to see Mont Blanc through the haze.

After our Road Scholar program, we spent several days with an old friend and his French girlfriend. Her family also owned a Beaujolais château and winery. She told us that many years ago the region had a more diversified agriculture. Now, as you can see, it is almost 100% vineyards. She felt that the monoculture and resulting over-production, even with the production restrictions mentioned above, made it more difficult for a small winery to remain viable. Her family had been forced to sell their own château because it was not supporting itself. The new owners continue to make wine, but have turned the château into a B&B to supplement their income.

Montmelas also rents out part of the château as apartments and offers a couple of cottages for accommodation.


Step One

I think I've got the sequence of events right for the discussion that follows. I'd like to think that next time I'll take notes, but I know I won't!

The harvested grapes are brought to the winery and then placed in tanks for the initial fermentation. At this winery, the tanks are built into the floor of this upper level. We were admonished to be careful of where we stepped lest we end up in a vat of grape juice!


Grape clusters

The grape clusters fill the vat.


After inital fermentation

Initial fermentation has occurred. The grape skins have risen to the top.


Pressing

Eventually the partially fermented grapes are passed through this press, which extracts the liquid through the pressure of a bladder inside the press. The skins, seeds, twigs, etc., are then used for compost (or in some places animal fodder to produce very contented cows!).


Additional fermentation

The extracted juice is then returned to the tanks for additional fermentation.


Tasting

The winemaker not only tastes the proto-wine as it passes through the various stages, he uses various chemical measurements to determine if the wine will be within allowable specifications of acidity, alcohol levels, etc., for the particular region.

Depending on the desired result, the wine will be aged in stainless steel or oak barrels of varying provenance before final blending and bottling.


Tasting

The final stop on our tour was, of course, the tasting room.

Our hostess was the wife of the château's owner and winemaker. They produce wines under their own label, Marquis de Montmelas, and the Chateau de Montmelas label.

The wine was, of course, delightful.


Chateau Montmelas

As we were leaving for our planned lunch in the village of Oingt (can't tell you how to pronounce it), we stopped to get this picture of the château in the midst of the vineyards.


Oingt

Oingt has been officially designated "one of the most beautiful villages in France."  We were glad the weather was clear so we could appreciate walking around the village after lunch unlike our previous experience at a beautiful village!

Of course the lunch was delicious as well.


Chapel

The original chapel is still standing and still an active place of worship. Over the years it has experienced some structural degradation, witness the "fallen arches" over the apse. I hope the reinforcing rods are adequate to keep it standing. I confess that I didn't hang around inside for long.


Artist's residence

The village seems to be largely populated by artists. We saw many clever name plates on the houses. This is an example.

It wasn't clear if they were permanent residents or only came for the tourist season. Most artist's houses seemed to be associated with galleries.


Convivial tavern

This was not the restaurant where we ate, but it was certainly popular. Although it was a chilly day, these folks look comfortable basking in the sun.


Silk weaving

Upon our return to Lyon, we visited the atelier of a local silk producer, Soierie St. George, where we saw this traditional loom and heard about its capabilities.

This loom is considerably smaller than ones Jim and I had seen earlier at Maison des Canuts and other textile museums. It is currently dedicated to a commission for Japanese obi cloth. The young man who described the workings to us was not yet a master weaver and therefore was unable to show the machine in action.

There were many beautiful scarves and other textiles offered for sale.


Bouchon

That evening we had dinner in a traditional Lyonnais bouchon: Le Garet.

I didn't get too adventurous, but the tripe appetizer was very tasty, albeit a bit vinegary for me. The pork cracklings were yummy -- reminded me of "down home." I think I had the sausage special.

Thanks to Agathe for the picture.


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