Sunday, April 30, 2017

From the Bugey Region to the Drome

On Saturday morning we left our gite in Lhuis and headed to Nyons, in the Drome departement in northern Provence, about a 3 hour drive.  We said goodbye to some of the local cats, and au revoir to the gite and other sites in the village.  Lhuis was a fantastic place to stay, and the gite was terrific.

        This was the weekend of La France de Ferme en Ferme, the equivalent of Maine’s Open Farm Day, in several departements.  Both the Ain departement and the Drome, along with several other departements throughout France, have their Ferme en Ferme events this weekend, and other departements have their open farms the following weekend.

On the way to Nyons we stopped in the town of Crest, which is not particularly picturesque, except that it has a beautiful setting across the Drome River with picnic tables and a view of the donjon in Crest. So we stopped there and had lunch and took a few photos.

After leaving Crest we saw a sign for a Ferme en Ferme participant, and decided to see what type of farm it was. It turned out to be a fantastic place, and it was very busy.  The farm raised the Moulard variety of ducks, and made all kinds of products from ducks, including foie gras, duck breast, and rillettes.  We got a tour of the farm, followed by a tasting of their products, many of which we bought.

We eventually arrived in Nyons and checked in to our gite. The gite is in a building that’s built into the ancient town walls, and it took awhile to find it.  But with a little help from some residents, we eventually found it.  After unloading our suitcases and everything else we brought from Lhuis, we talk a walk through the town and packed up some pastries and a few other things for dinner.

On Sunday morning we first walked into town to pick up a few fruits and vegetables, then headed off to visit a few more farms that were participating in Ferme en Ferme weekend.  On the way we stopped at the small village of Cornillon-sur-l’Oule because it looked like there would be a good view of the valley.  The view was great, but we also noticed a shop that was having an art exhibit that was ending  that day.  The exhibit, which featured paintings by local artists gong back to the 1950's, was put together by the shop owner, who said that she often had art exhibits at her shop.  The shop also sold wines from local producers, and had a very interesting selection. I wound up buying a bottle of a red Cotes-du-Rhone Villages from Domaine Louis Tourtin, partly because of the story the shop owner told me: that Thomas Jefferson, when he was Ambassador to France, brought wine from this domaine back to the United States to give to President Washington.

After leaving Corrnillon-sur-l’Oule, our first farm stop was Ferme Monge near the village of Arnayon, a farm we had visited 10 years ago, which raises goats and makes goat cheese as well as walnut oil and fruit juice. We picked up several goat cheeses, then headed off to the next farm, La Ferme de Pracoutel in Vesc, which also raises goats.  Like Ferme Monge, this farm makes goat cheese, but also makes various goat meat products.  They were serving a lunch that included the cheeses they make as well as goat sausages and salami.  We ordered the lunch and sat at a picnic table on the farm overlooking the hills.  Before leaving we bought some more goat cheese and some goat milk.

The next stop was Les Cochons de Dieulefit, a pork producer in the town of Dieulefit. We took a stroll around the farm, viewing all of their pigs and piglets. We then stopped at the stand they had set up for the weekend and bought some of their sausages and rillettes. The woman who waited on us said that the man who makes the sausages makes the best sausages in the world. We’ll see.

We then drove back to our gite in Nyons, and after unloading our purchases we took a walk around the town and down to the river.  We crossed the river on the 15th Century bridge, then walked to the modern bridge, where we had a great view of the old bridge.  On the walk back to our gite we made a few stops, including at a still-operational lavender distillery.

When we returned to our gite, there was a cat who had walked into the courtyard through one of the gates. The cat was very friendly, and also hungry. We gave it some pork products and then some cheese, which it happily devoured.  When we sat down in the courtyard for aperitifs, the cat joined us.  When we went inside, the cat followed, then went back outside.  After we shut the door, the cat jumped up to the kitchen window, looked inside, the curled up and went to sleep.

     The cat eventually left and presumably went home.  As part of dinner we had the sausage we had bought at the farm in the afternoon, and whether they're the best sausages in the world might be subject to dispute,  but they certainly were very good.  And so was George Washington's wine, which we had with dinner.

Friday, April 28, 2017

More Villages in the Bugey

Thursday was a far more leisurely day than Wednesday had been, and a little bit colder.  Of course, I started the day with a walk to Favier Tradition, the boulangerie in town, to pick up breakfast items.  After breakfast we headed out for a short drive. I first had to find a place to get gas, which can be tricky in rural France, but I remembered from our last visit that there were self-service gas pumps at a grocery store just outside the larger town of Belley (particularly in rural France, most gas pumps are at large grocery stores and are self-service). We headed there and found it without any trouble.

We then drove through a number of small towns, stopping at Arbignieu and Conzieu, two tiny villages that we had visited two years ago.  By now it was getting close to lunch time, and we had decided to try a restaurant we had noticed on our last visit when we stopped to admire the impressive waterfall in Glandieu.  The restaurant is called La Cascade, after the waterfall that it faces.  La Cascade is very charming inside, and our meal was excellent. I even got to try a wine from Crépy, a nearby region that I’m barely familiar with.  Crépy is part of the Savoie AOC, and is a very small appellation. It’s very close to Switzerland, and, like the principal Swiss white wines, Crépy whites are made from the Chasselas grape variety.  After lunch, which lasted over 2 hours, we headed back to our gite.

We relaxed for awhile, then took a walk through Lhuis and stopped at the boulangerie again to pick up bread and pastries for later.  In the early evening we drove to the nearby tiny village of Groslee where the owner of our gite has his winery and had agreed to meet us at 6:00.  Patrick Charlin started his winery, Domaine Patrick Charlin, in 1980, in what was his family’s property. It’s a very small operation, but recently his wines were discovered by Becky Wasserman, an American who has lived in Burgundy for many years and who exports French wines to the United States. She was justifiably enamored with Patrick’s wines, and now exports some of them to the United States, probably in very small quantities.  Patrick poured us several reds and whites, and the wines were exceptional. We had had his Altesse the day we arrived when he stopped by and gave us a bottle, and we wound up buying as bottle to take with us. He also poured the current vintage of Mondeuse, the 2015, which was very good. He then brought out a 2006 Mondeuse which he had just opened, and it was exceptional; probably the best red wine we had had on the trip so far. We bought the 2015 Mondeuse, but Patrick also gave us the open bottle of the 2006, which we had with dinner. The last wine we tasted was a late harvest wine that was a blend of Chardonnay and Altesse, picked in November 2010, and we also bought a bottle of that.

When we returned to our gite we had a glass of sparkling wine from Le Cellier du Palais in Apremont, and a glass of Mondeuse Blanche from Caveau Bugiste.  We then decided to take a long walk through Lhuis and up into the hills above the village before heading back for a dinner of various cheeses from the Savoie that we had picked up yesterday, plus pastries from Favier Tradition in town.

Views of Lhuis

Friday morning I took my obligatory walk into town to pick up croissants and brioche. After breakfast we decided to take a drive high up into the hills about ½ hour from Lhuis. We first stopped in Montagnieu, a grape growers’ village that we had visited 2 years ago when we stopped at Domaine Peillot. We parked in the center of the village and took a short walk through the town.

We then headed towards a few sites that we wound up either not finding or not getting close enough to get a good view of, including an old private chateau off the road and a chartreuse, both of which I had read about that morning.  However, surprisingly we stumbled across a farm I had read about earlier and had hoped to find – Le Ferme Chasser, which raises pigs and sells pork products out of their small shop at the farm.  We stopped and bought a slice of their pork terrine, and a salami. We then continued on and stopped at the town of St.-Sorlin-en-Bugey, which we had visited 2 years ago. We parked in the center and took a stroll through the charming streets of the town, encountering a cat that was not particularly scared but also didn’t really want to be photographed.  After leaving St. Sorlin we drove back to our gite for lunch. With lunch we had the Chignin “Vielles Vignes” from Domaine Andre et Michel Quenard, which we had visited a couple of days earlier.

St. Sorlin and its Cat

After lunch we took another long walk into the countryside around Lhuis.  In the late afternoon we made the half hour drive to the town of Yenne in the Savoie.  We had stopped there a couple of years ago looking for a goat cheese producer, but everything was closed then and we never found it.  It looked like a charming town, so we decided to go back; we were also looking for the shop that made the ice cream we had tried in Chanaz earlier in the week.  This time Yenne was bustling, and we took a walk through the center of town, stopping to get some ice cream to bring back to our gite, as well as a Gateau de Savoie, a light cake that is a local specialty; the shop we bought it at bakes it the traditional way, in a wood-fired oven.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

More From The Savoie

On Tuesday morning we decided to do a little less driving, and went to the Bugey town of Vongnes to visit Le Caveau Bugiste, the principal wine cooperative in this area.  They make a wide range of wines, including some from the very rare indigenous grapes Mondeuse Blanche and Mollex.  We tried a number of whites and sparkling wines, including their wines from those rare grapes. Everything was quite good, and we bought the Mondeuse Blanche, a sparkling wine, and a delightfully sweet late harvest wine made from Chardonnay. Next to the caveau is a wine museum which we visited; it has a huge collection of old implements used in grape growing, harvesting, and vinifying wine.

When we left the Caveau Bugiste it had started to drizzle, so after visiting the wine museum we headed back to Lhuis, where we had lunch at our gite.  With lunch I opened a bottle of Altesse from Domaine Dupasquier, which was at least as good as I remembered from the tasting room.  We’ve been very impressed with the Altesse/Roussette wines we’ve had so far, and hope to try several more.

By the time we had finished lunch it was raining fairly heavily, so we decided to do something that would keep us out of the rain.  There was a brochure at the gite about a nearby grotto, so we drove to Les Grottes de La Balme.  The grottoes were massive and extensive, and included underground lakes, and bats. We spent about an hour walking throughout the grottoes, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to take any pictures inside; just this photo of the plaque above the chapel outside the grottoes, indicating that the chapel was built in 1310.

After leaving the grottoes we headed back to Lhuis.  We parked at our gite and took a short walk into town to pick up some veal at the butcher to cook for dinner, and some desserts at the bakery.  Before dinner we had the rest of the Altesse wine from lunch, and with dinner I opened the Roussanne from Le Cellier du Palais.  Another exceptional wine from the Savoie.

The next morning it was raining lightly, but I took my usual walk to the boulangerie to pick up croissants for breakfast and a baguette for later.  It’s less than 10 minutes round trip to the bakery, and I’ve gone every morning except for Monday, their closing day.  As I mentioned previously, the baker has developed quite a reputation in a short time, and everything we’ve had there has been outstanding.  Some bakeries we’ve been to in France have made great breakfast items but mediocre pastries, and some have been the reverse, but everything at the one in Lhuis has been outstanding.  I can tell from the days that we’ve made multiple visits that they are selling quite a lot during the day, but I wonder how long they’ll be satisfied with running a boulangerie in this little village.

After breakfast we headed off to the Savoie for what would turn out to be a long day.  We first stopped at the town of St. Pierre d’Albigny, where we though that there would be an outdoor market, but there was none. There was a very good cheese shop though, Fromagerie Demoly, selling many different local cheeses plus others from elsewhere in France, and we bought a couple of Savoie cow cheeses, including the well-known Beaufort, which has an AOP.

From St. Pierre d’Albigny we drove to the nearby town of Freterive and stopped to try some wines at Domaine Grisard, which we had visited 2 years ago.  Their wines were outstanding then, and were just as good this time.  The Domaine makes all of the traditional wines of the region, such as wines from the Jacquere, Altesse and Mondeuse grape varieties, but also has been trying to keep some old gape varieties alive by continuing to make wines from them. These include Mondeuse Blanche, Persan, and Douce Noir, all of which we tried. Not surprisingly, we bought far too many wines.

After leaving Domaine Grisard we headed north to Saint Jean de Murrien, a larger town in the Alps.  Among other things, this town is known for the Opinel knives, which are sold throughout the world .  Opinel was founded in 1890, and at one time the knives were made in Saint Jean de Murrien in a building that is now the Opinel Museum.  We took a tour of the museum and bought a few knives.  We also took a walk around the town and found a great-looking cheese shop, where we bought some more Savoie cheeses.

We then left Saint Jean de Murrien and headed back in the direction we had started. We first stopped at Chateau de Miolans, a fortified medieval chateau high above St. Pierre d’Albingy, where we had stopped in the morning. It was closed then, but open in the afternoon, and we spent some time visiting the chateau.

After Miolans we stopped in the nearby village of Chignin to visit Domaine Andre et Michel Quenard, a very highly regarded wine producer. It was a little past closing time, but the vigneron was in the tasting room and started pouring us some wines until his wife arrived and took over.  She poured us a wide range of their wines, including their three Chignin Bergeron wines, made with the Roussanne grape. We bought one of those wines, plus a couple of Chignins (made from the Jacquere grape) and a Mondeuse from the cru “Arbin.”  That finished our long day, and we headed back to Lhuis to try and make a dent in our purchases and have dinner.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Savoie Region

On Sunday morning we drove to the town of Morestel, in the Isere departement, to do some shopping at their large weekly outdoor market.  We spent quite a bit of time there, and picked up a lot of food provisions for the next few days.  We then drove back to our gite to have lunch, and tried to make a dent in all the goat cheese we had bought.

After lunch, we drove to Chanaz, a lovely town that we had stopped at 2 years ago. Chanaz has a beautiful setting on a canal that runs into the Rhone, and since it was such a lovely  day and it was in the middle of school vacation, there were a lot of people strolling around the town.  We had come back there partly to visit Le Moulin de Chanaz, a walnut and hazelnut oil mill that we had stopped at 2 years ago but which was closed then.  It was open today and quite busy, and we watched some of the production of their nut oils. It was fascinating to watch the small production operation which used old methods of heating and pressing. We bought several bottles of each oil, some to use here and some to bring home.  We also stopped at an artisinal chocolate shop; the chocolates were made at a small facility on the outskirts of Chanaz, and the woman who makes the chocolates was selling them at her little shop in town.  She gave us some samples, which were delicious, and we bought a few of them.

Moulin de Chanaz

After leaving Chanaz we drove north towards the Chautagne region to try and find the Cave de Chautagne wine producer.  We eventually found it, and visited their caveau. We tried a number of their wines, but most of them were disappointing. Some had clearly been open for too many days, and overall there was not much we liked. We did buy a bottle of their Vielle Vignes (old vines) Mondeuse, which we had with dinner that night.

We then drove to the village of Chatillon, a port town on the northern part of the Lac de Bourget.  We parked near the port and strolled down to the water and out onto the pier. After leaving Chatillon we stopped at the Abbaye d’Hautecombe, a magnificent abbaye overlooking the Lac de Bourget.  We finally drove back to Lhuis and had a late dinner.
Lac de Bourget in Chatillon 
Abbaye d'Hautecombe

Monday morning we started by heading towards the Lac de Bourget again, this time stopping at the wine village of Jongieux, which we had visited 2 years ago.  Since most of the producers are very small, you can’t always be guaranteed that someone will be available at the tasting room, even if you arrive during listed opening hours, but after one miss, we stopped at Domaine Dupasquier, which had been recommended by the wine writer Wink Lorch, and one of the proprietors was there. She poured us their range of wines, most of them white, and they were outstanding.  We bought their Jacquere, a local white grape; two wines from the Altesse/Roussette grape, including one that was from the sub-AOC ‘Marestel”; and their Mondeuse.
Domaine Dupasquier Caveau
After leaving Jongieux we headed to Seyssel, which is actually two towns: Seyssel in the Ain departement, and across the river, Seyssel in the Savoie. We parked on the Ain side and walked across the bridge to the Savoie side to go to their weekly market and see the center of town.  We had driven across that bridge 2 years ago from the Ain side, and had wanted to come back and see the center of the Savoie side.

After we left Seyssel we drove to the town of Alby-sur-Cheran, on the Cheran River. The old part of the town was lovely, with an arcaded center and wonderful old buildings. We took a long walk around the town before heading back towards our gite.

On the way back we decided to take a detour to the Apremont wine region.  We got off the highway near the village of Apremont, and when we got to the town I saw a sign for Le Cellier du Palais, another wine producer that Wink Lorch had recommended we visit.  An older man was there, and he called his daughter Beatrice, the winemaker, who arrived and opened the tasting room.  We tried most of their white wines and one red, all of which were terrific. We bought 6 bottles, then headed back to Lhuis.
Upper Part of Lhuis

After unloading our purchases and having some cheese and wine, we decided to take a walk outside the center of the village. There was a farm about half a mile from our gite, and we headed in that direction.  Their principal product was goat cheese, but they also had a whole array of other farm animals, including cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys.  There was also a friendly cat, as well as a dog that was not so friendly and who attacked me.  While we were strolling around, their herd of goats were returning to the barn, accompanied by one of he owners And several young children.  Although the farm store was not officially open, the owner said to enter the shop, and his wife was there to serve us. So we got more goat cheese to add to our collection.