Out of the several hundreds of wine villages in France, the one I would pick to visit is o St. Emilion in the Bordeaux district. Located <25 miles east of the city of Bordeaux, this village has it all: enchanting history, stunning hilltop location surrounded by a sea of vines, spectacular medieval architecture, and of course stellar wines. I’m in St. Emilion today and this town of 2,000 feels like it may have doubled in size---it’s swarming with visitors from around the world who have come for the annual Ban Des Vendanges (wine harvest festival).
St. Emilion is named after an 8th Century monk who was traveling to the Holy Land. As the legend goes, when the monk reached Bordeaux his gourd of water supposedly turned to wine. He took this as a sign that he was supposed to stay there….and he did so until his death, taking care of the sick pilgrims who were also bound for the Holy Land.
St. Emilion's limestone was used to build most of the grand buildings in the city of Bordeaux
The village of St. Emilion is legendary for its limestone. Bordeaux's Opera House and its beautiful Stock Exchange buildings are just a few examples of stone from St. Emilion. Quarrying has left St. Emilion with large underground areas from where the limestone blocks were removed. Some of these subterranean parts are so large that they will fit hundreds of people. Others are small chambers with secret passageways under St. Emilion.
The limestone also serves an important purpose in the area's wines. Grapes love limestone soil because it provides a perfect drainage system. Many of St. Emilion's vineyards sit on top of subterranean caverns from where stone was quarried. When touring these underground caves it’s normal to see vine roots cascading down through the ceiling from vineyards located 20-30 feet above.
The village of St. Emilion is also a medieval architectural jewel-box. It’s no wonder that several movies have been filmed here as the city appears much as it was > 500 years ago. The United Nation’s cultural arm now protects the entire village and its surrounding vineyards. Under UNESCO, no changes can be made without approval of the World Heritage Council.
Wine-Knows has several special events planned this weekend. Tonight is a private dinner at Chateau Coutet with the owner/winemaker, and tomorrow is dinner at Chateau Guadet at the owner’s home. Sunday Wine-Knows will breakfast with the Mayor of St. Emilion at City Hall, and then indulge in the festivities of the harvest festival: the blessing of the wine at a formal mass, followed by a 3-4 hour lunch with the members of St. Emilion’s esteemed Jurade.
If you're ever in southwest France, St. Emilion is definitely worth a detour. Plan to spend at least a couple of nights as there is much to soak in...wine included.