Cadillac, Sauternes and Sunsets
“In water, one sees one’s own face. In wine, one beholds the heart of another”
– French Proverb
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
November 27, 2014
Last night, all of the guests aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti were asked to do a little dance for the weather gods. Or a few dances, even. Perhaps an offering of fine Bordeaux wines and cheese. Anything in order to avoid one thing: fog.
When the port of Bordeaux experiences fog, the port authorities shut the harbour down. With so many low bridges to pass under and navigational hazards standing between us and today’s port of call of Cadillac, France, any fog would have kept us berthed in Bordeaux.
At 6:30 a.m, I awoke and looked out my balcony window: fog. Oh no! I looked closer. Wasn’t the pier just five feet away from my window last night? In pyjamas, I went out onto the balcony and leaned over the railing. Not only was there no pier, but we were underway. Viking Forseti was going to make it to Cadillac after all.
Had we not been able to leave Bordeaux, the fabulous crew of Viking Forseti had come up with a Plan B – which had been typed out, printed, and explained to us last night. Meal times would be adjusted, and the Sauternes wine tastings and walking tour of Bordeaux would be conducted by coach with modified departure times to account for the greater distance. One way or another, guests would get the day they were promised in the brochure.
To me, this speaks highly not just of Viking’s company policies, but also of Program Director Mieke and Hotel Director Michael. Imagine having to tell coach drivers, “Well, if we sail – meet us in Cadillac at ten. If we call you early and we’re stuck in Bordeaux, we need you alongside at half-past-eight.”
The logistics are enormously complicated, and yet our printed Viking Daily programs came with this supplemental information in-place by the time we’d returned to our staterooms last night. That’s the kind of planning I really appreciate; no matter what happened today, we’d have our expectations set. And when it comes to cruising in particular, expectations are everything. If you prepare people for potential disruption, I think they tend to be more understanding of it and appreciative of your efforts to get around it. Viking definitely understands this.
By the time we arrived in Cadillac, the fog had lifted and we filed off the ship to board our numbered coaches (for me, 1B), for the journey to Chateau d’Arche in Sauternes.
Grand Cru Classe en 1855, Chateau d’Arche is nestled in some of the most gorgeous French countryside you can imagine. Once again, vineyards run here for as far as the eye can see, and our tour would include tastings of three different kinds of Sauternes, with vintages 2005, 2008 and 2011 presented along with detailed descriptions of what goes in to the production of this sweet French wine.
Our tour started outdoors, on what has been our only truly cold morning of this entire voyage. Surprisingly, there were still wasps buzzing around, even in the closing days of December. You know how Indiana Jones hates snakes? I hate wasps and most buzzy insects. Fortunately, I didn’t spill a drop of my Sauternes: the Chateau had given each of us small glasses attached to a lanyard that we strung around our necks. It’s about convenience, after all.
What I found truly interesting about our experience – which retreated indoors after our outdoors tasting station had been completed – was that my perception of Sauternes was inaccurate. I tend to not like very sweet dessert wines, yet the 2005 and 2008 vintages were excellent, and tasty enough that I could have easily enjoyed a glass. The one variety that I truly didn’t care for – the younger 2011 one – ended up being the favorite of some others in the room. So it’s not really possible to lump all Sauternes into the same category.
Sure, these wine tastings have been immensely fun – but they’ve been just as educational, and it’s amazing how much knowledge you can absorb in a single week. Other river cruise lines offer “wine appreciation” cruises; Viking does this on a nearly year-round basis aboard Viking Forseti here in France.
After lunch, Viking offered a guided walking tour of Cadillac. But Cadillac isn’t terribly big; another guest and I figured we could do a quick walking tour on our own. So we did, and ended up covering the entire town in about 20 minutes. One of our fantastic guides, Sarah, even provided us with tickets that would allow us entry into the Cathedral, which was super-nice of her. Viking’s guides know and understand that some guests may wish to do their own independent touring, and I appreciated that.
By the time we finished our walkabout around the town, we encountered the Viking coaches that brought guests…all of one block from the ship before letting them off. I think it was a safety thing (there was a busy roundabout you had to cross in order to access the town), but it was a little odd nonetheless. Still, Viking does an excellent job of recognizing that not all guests will be at the same levels of activity and mobility, and I think our stop today in Cadillac demonstrated that nicely.
We decided to set out a little further afar – and ran into a very interesting experience. On the bottom right-hand corner of the official Cadillac map was an enticing symbol: a wine glass. Next to it were the words La Closiere. Reckoning this was a Chateau – and there would naturally be wine tastings – we set out for the furthest reaches of our map. But, this is Cadillac; what looked like a pleasant 30-minute stroll through the forest was actually a five minute walk down a back alley and up a dirt lane.
We found La Closiere. No problem. But it looked like a distribution centre with lots of service entrances. A small sign read, “Wine sales at the top of the hill on the right.” So, we walked to the top of the hill, turned to the right, and found a four-way stop and a cemetery.
It was here that we noticed a second sign: Chateau Something-or-Other. My French is rusty, but the bottom paragraph seemed to suggest it was part Chateau, part RV Park. Maybe they have wine tastings. So, we followed the signs (we’re well off the map now), and bumbled into what looked like someone’s backyard. Two Citroen cars sat parked on the lawn. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked.
Satisfied that no one was there, we turn to leave and – right on cue – the door opens to reveal a man in track pants and a t-shirt. Bonjour, he says. He looks at us expectantly: why are you in my yard? We look at him expectantly: why are you not serving us wine? Soon, it becomes apparent he does do wine tastings, and he invites us in.
Was it a winery? Yes. Did they make wine? Sure – but Regan was probably in office when the equipment was last turned on. Hoses and buckets are strewn everywhere, in stark contrast to the Chateaus we visited earlier in the week that were so clean you could eat off the floor.
Here, I got the impression that studying the floor in detail might not be a good idea. We were led into a series of rooms that looked like they were straight out of central casting for the next Hostel movie. Finally, he flips on a bank of lights that clack on with an industrial thunk, revealing a room with a hodgepodge assortment of chairs, dozens of cardboard boxes, a wooden bar that had seen better days, and a classic Rolls Royce that is in surprisingly immaculate condition.
Now, just as I think we’re about to be murdered, he cuts into an unopened box of wine and pulls a bottle out, circa 2010. He uncorks it. He pours two drinks into two very dusty, hastily-cleaned glasses. We swirl it and take a sip.
We also wince. It tastes…the opposite of good. I figure I look like a six-year-old taking medicine: unconvincing at best. But, we are Canadian. We’re polite to a fault. So we thank him, and he shows us the way out and wishes us a pleasant day. A bizarre but authentic experience that probably could never be re-created.
Now, while I don’t advocate that everyone go and do exactly what I did – bumble into some unknown Chateau – I do strongly suggest seeking out experiences that are unique to your own interests and which other guests may not share. In my case, the winery held the appeal of a local, independent tasting, which I think would have complemented our Viking-arranged shore excursions nicely. That, and it’s just plain fun.
Of course, when the adventure went haywire, it just makes for a great story. I’ve seen horror movies that don’t have the kind of set decoration that this Chateau did on its own accord. Great stories also make great memories, and sometimes it’s nice to try to work some experiences into your river cruises that the other 190 guests who are joining you can’t say they’ve had. Your mileage may vary, of course, but the adventure was well worth it to me.
Back onboard, we were treated to one of the most spectacular sailaways we’ve had all cruise. The sun came out in force, and bathed the Viking Forseti in the delicate cognac hues of the setting sun. The most enjoyable things are sometimes the simplest. This was one of them.
For our American guests onboard, the culinary team onboard the Viking Forseti served up a terrific Thanksgiving feast. I’m Canadian, so this was rare opportunity to enjoy a full turkey dinner before Christmas (our own celebration takes place in October.) The consensus amongst the American guests I talked to: pretty darn good. I have to admit to not having had the pumpkin pie; I can’t get myself off of the cheese plate every night for dessert!
Once again, the entire ship seemed to retreat to the Viking Lounge after dinner. Nightlife on this ship has been nothing but enjoyable, and highly unusual for a river cruise. All around me, everyone seems intent on maximizing these last minutes. Tomorrow will be our last day onboard; offering one more chance to enjoy Bordeaux and the Viking Forseti.
That’s the ironic part of river cruises: time stands still before you arrive, and shifts to mach speed once you’re onboard.
Our full journey:
Viking Forseti - Chateaux, Rivers and Wine In Bordeaux
|November 22, 2014||Bordeaux, France||Arrival; free time.|
|November 23||Gironde River / Pauillac, France||Scenic Cruising / Medoc and Margaux wine country visit; wine tasting & evening at leisure|
|November 24||Blaye, France||Tour of Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon free time or optional excursion to Cognac|
|November 25||Libourne, France||Tour of Saint-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site & Pomerol wine region; afternoon at leisure or optional excursion to Bergerac|
|November 26||Garonne River / Cadillac, France||Scenic Cruising / Excursion to Sauternes wine region & wine tasting|
|November 27||Cadillac, France / Bordeaux, France||Morning city tour / evening at leisure in Bordeaux|
|November 28||Bordeaux, France||Tour of city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon at leisure|
|November 29, 2014||Bordeaux, France||Disembark Viking Forseti; flight to Budapest, Hungary for the start of our next Live Voyage Report!|