Cadillac, Sauternes and Sunsets

Sailing the Garonne River, as seen from Viking Forseti's sun-splashed Aquavit Terrace. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sailing the Garonne River, as seen from Viking Forseti’s sun-splashed Aquavit Terrace. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

“In water, one sees one’s own face. In wine, one beholds the heart of another”

– French Proverb

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.

A little early-morning fog couldn't keep us from arriving in Cadillac on-time. Note the iron bridge in the background; it was designed by Mr. Gustav Eiffel, creator of the Eiffel Tower. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

A little early-morning fog couldn’t keep us from arriving in Cadillac on-time. Note the iron bridge in the background; it was designed by Mr. Gustave Eiffel, creator of the Eiffel Tower. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Chateau d'Arche would be the site of our morning Sauternes wine tasting. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Chateau d’Arche would be the site of our morning Sauternes wine tasting. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The countryside here is very different from that which we saw in Pauillac, but no less impressive. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The countryside here is very different from that which we saw in Pauillac, but no less impressive. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Our host at Chateau d'Arche explains how Sauternes is made. Three different varieties of grapes are used: Semillon (60-80%); Sauvignon (19-39%); and Muscadelle (1%). Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our host at Chateau d’Arche explains how Sauternes is made. Three different varieties of grapes are used: Semillon (60-80%); Sauvignon (19-39%); and Muscadelle (1%). Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Inside, we're taken through the production facility to taste a 2005 vintage that was stunning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Inside, we’re taken through the production facility to taste a 2005 vintage that was stunning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Tasting the 2005 Sauternes. Note the crystal wine glasses attatched to the lanyards; you could buy these for five Euros in the gift shop. Neat! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Tasting the 2005 Sauternes. Note the crystal wine glasses attached to the lanyards; you could buy these for five Euros in the gift shop. Neat! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

The sauternes spends approximately 18 months in the Chateau's cellars. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The sauternes spends approximately 18 months in the Chateau’s cellars. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

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Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti continues tomorrow as we spend one last day drinking our way through beautiful Bordeaux! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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