On Tuesday (May 31st) we got another chance to sample a wide variety of the local wines and cheeses from the Burgundy region. At 9AM our bus departed from the hostel and we went back in the direction of the major town of Mâcon. However, rather than visiting the town itself, we instead took several scenic mountain roads that took us part of the way out of the valley that Cluny is nested within. Soon, we arrived at a local winery with over 15 hectares (37+ acres) of grape vines, most of which were Chardonnay grapes. Behind the warehouse where bottling takes place, one of the two owners of the vineyard demonstrated several of the different soil types that were characteristic of the region. Some of the soils had more clay, organic matter, and many small rocks, while others had a thinner layer of topsoil and clay that was resting on a bed of limestone bedrock. As the vines get very old (in the case of the oldest vines in this vineyard – over 80 years old), the roots of the vines can actually penetrate through the cracks in these large sections of bedrock. Of course, by growing wine in a different terroir (i.e. with different climate, geological, and human influences), winemakers are able to impart different flavors to the wines that they produce. A wine made from grapes of old vines that have penetrated down to the level of the bedrock, for instance, might have a hint of salty or mineral flavor, and one aged in oak barrels might have a woody or tannic taste. Next we walked just up the street to a small medieval chapel which stood on the property of an adjacent farmhouse (itself owned by a family member of the vineyard owners’). The chapel had an ornate iron cross inside, as well as numerous paintings and an old church bell. The owner also explained that church bells like this one were once used as a means of communications in medieval Europe, with 20 different possible tones to signal various events in the town. Then, after an informal wine tasting and an indoor picnic due to rain, the sun began to shine and we all climbed back into the bus for our next adventure.
Our next stop was at a French agricultural school called le Lycée Viticole de Davayé which is geared toward teaching students all of the various techniques involved in making and selling both wine and cheese. Our host explained that Davaye has committed to growing only organic grapes for use in their wine production as we examined the vines that had been severely damaged by hail a month or so earlier. More than half of the harvest from the plot we visited was lost to this hailstorm, because many immature flower clusters had been knocked off of the vines by large hailstones. Next he showed us the 200 goats that Davayé uses for goat milk production. All of the goats were of the same breed, called alpine, and were marked by a dark brown coat of fur with scattered black spots. The goats munched happily on freshly cut wild grasses brought in by conveyor belt while our group observed and took photos. Then we went into the Davayé wine cellar to examine the fermentation tanks, oak barrels, and presses that they use to turn the grapes into wine. Finally, we went back inside to taste some of the wine and cheese produced by the students and staff at Davayé, and then returned to the bus for the next leg of our journey.
After a short time on the road we reached the home of a Dutch woman who makes cheeses according to both French and Dutch recipes. By adding spices, ash, and other interesting flavoring agents, our host had created many recipes that were very different from the typical cheese recipes that they had been adapted from. Lastly, we visited the barn that houses the 30 or so goats that our host used for milk production, and then returned to the bus once more.
Upon returning to the hostel, I decided to go running around town to get some exercise and to better familiarize myself with Cluny. After changing into shorts and a t-shirt, I ran along the west side of the town – roughly from north to south. After passing the main town square, a slight incline began to develop, and this incline continued for quite some time as it wound up and around the town of Cluny. Once I was at the top, I paused for a moment to take in a nice view of the surrounding countryside before heading back to the hostel.