Paris & Burgundy 2/12

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From the City of Lights to Burgundian wine terroir...

Versailles Bassin d’Apollon - Apollo Fountain panorama

 

Roadside panorama in Burgundy - high slopes above Pommard in the Côte de Beaune

Eiffel Tower wrapped up in a foggy night

February may not be the best time of year for a visit to France weather-wise, but an opportunity arose to meet with clients in Paris and then extend that into my first trek through Burgundy. Adopting the attitude that there's really no "bad" time to visit Paris and Burgundy, off I went. An opportunity I chose instead of lost - or as a wise friend of mine puts it, "life is what you show up for".

 

I've been to Paris a few times before, first in 1995, so the iconic tourist sites like Versailles, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe were repeats, but I saw them this time through more of a photographer's eye. The weather turned out cold, 30s and 40s °F, and rain poured down a few times, but by-and-large it didn't slow me down. On the up-side of February, nothing was crowded, hotels were cheap and free airline travel on points was easy.

 

Burgundy is about 175 miles southeast of Paris, yet worlds away in terms of everyday life and traditions, mostly centered around two grapes - Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Burgundy's dizzying number of domains and chateaus can even be confusing to experts, so to me it was a clean-sheet opportunity to learn the wines, the terroir and the people - and to snap a few shots along the way. Wine tasting in Burgundy was completely different than in California. Connections and appointments were required, resulting in incredibly rewarding hours-long sessions with the owners/winemakers.

Thursday February 16th - Paris

 

I arrived via London and Paris' Orly Airport around 6:30pm having slept a good 6 hours on the LAX-LHR leg. I took the Air France "Les Car" bus, route 1 from Orly to the Arc de Triomphe (€13), which was a quick 10 minute walk from my hotel, the Marriott on the Champs-Élysées. I've stayed at this property before and the location can't be beat. After a quick turnaround, I met my clients for an excellent dinner at Les Philosophes in the 4th arrondissement.

 

Friday February 17th - Versailles

 

I woke late, enjoyed breakfast at the Marriott and walked to the Champ de Mars RER station. Versailles was a quick 30 minute train ride from central Paris. Turning right, then left out of Versailles' train station, I found the TI where I bought a two day museum pass that included Versailles and my favorite Paris museums. It was cold and drizzling on and off outside, so I spent my first hour inside. The remarkable lighting in the Hall of Mirrors (large picture right and first picture below) was a photo challenge.

 

Once the drizzle let up, I did a long trek starting at the back of the palace (second picture below), continuing past the frozen Latone fountain (third picture below), then looping back at the Apollo fountain (large panorama picture top of page). I ate a late lunch at le Boeuf ala Mode in Versailles' old town before returning to Paris. After some night shots at the Eiffel Tower (large picture above left), I had a cheese and wine dinner with clients and retired for the night.

Versailles Hall of Mirrors - Marie & I reflecting

Versailles Hall of Mirrors

Versailles Palace gardens

Versailles Bassin de Latone & palace

 

Saturday February 18th - Paris

 

I woke late again, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Marriott and then walked the short distance up the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe (first picture below). Skipping past the queue with my Museum pass, I hiked up the 284 steps to the viewing level. Although skies were overcast, the views were worthwhile (second picture below). From the Arc, I took the metro to the Eiffel Tower, but after seeing long lines coupled with a threatening storm, I decided to just walk the grounds around the base, doing my photography class assignment as I went. Leaving the Tower, I took the Metro to the Orsay Museum, my favorite museum in the whole world. Their new ridiculous no-photos-at-all policy marred an otherwise great visit. Leaving the Orsay at closing, I walked north across the Seine past the Louvre to the Opera House, meeting clients at Harry's New York Bar for their famous Bloody Marys before a great dinner at Chez Maitre Pierre.

 

Champs-Élysées & the Arc

Eiffel Tower from top of the Arc

Crossing Pont Au Change

Notre Dame crowds

 

Sunday February 19th - Paris to Beaune

 

The weather took a turn for the better on my last day in Paris. The temperature was in the high 50s °F and the sky was clear. I woke late again, enjoyed breakfast at the Marriott and took a long walk east on the Champs-Élysées and Rue de Rivoli, turning south across the Seine on Pont Au Change at Ile de la Cite (third picture above). Just a few blocks across the island was Notre Dame, which was crowded with weekend fair weather visitors (fourth picture above). I waited in what turned out to be a fast moving line to get in, then walked the interior perimeter as a church service was underway. Heading back towards my hotel, I passed by Saint-Chapelle, which I've enjoyed in past visits, but the line to get in was extremely long and I had a train to catch that afternoon. I Metroed back from Chatelet to my hotel, grabbing a quick lunch at a storefront on the Champs-Élysées before packing, checking out and Metroing to Gare de Lyon for my 5pm train to Beaune. Gare de Lyon is big, but remarkably easy to navigate. I was impressed again overall by how easy it was to get all around Paris using their public transportation system.

 

France's TGV high-speed train was a joy, whisking me from Paris to Dijon in an hour, before continuing on the regional train to Beaune, where I arrived around 7pm. Beaune (pronounced "bone") is a medieval style town in the center of Burgundy marking the transition from the Côte de Nuits in the north to the Côte de Beaune in the south, which in general is also the transition from Pinot Noirs to Chardonnays. By coincidence on arrival a hotel bus was waiting for other passengers on the same train, so I joined them for the quick trip across town to Hotel Le Cep, which was excellent (except for the on-again, off-again WiFi and way-too-challenging shower). My room upgraded from a single to a deluxe (#206 Cassagne) for free because I joined the Small Luxury Hotels of the World club. After a quick turnaround, I walked the compact, nearly deserted town, ate a remarkably good and reasonably priced dinner at Le Grand Cafe on the town square and then returned to my room to get my tripod, D700 camera and 24mm f1.4 lens for some night shots (first picture below) before retiring for the night.

 

Beaune's Hostel Dieu

Beaune's distinctive rooftops

Curtil Vergy village

Château de Gevrey Chambertin

 

Monday February 20th - Burgundy: Côte de Nuits

 

After a good night's sleep, I took a morning walk around Beaune, stopping for coffee and croissants along the way. The architecture and roof colors were beautiful in the morning light (second picture above) and the weather was superb. At 9am I met Sue Boxell of "Burgundy on a Plate", my excellent guide and driver for two days in Burgundy. My goal for two days was to begin to learn the wines and to photograph some insides and outsides of Burgundy. Sue and I discussed this in some detail weeks before I chose her. She also provided me with a Burgundy basics primer which I've included as a separate page on this site for anyone who wants to dig deeper into everything Burgundy. The best and most comprehensive reference book I found on Burgundy was "Inside Burgundy" by Jasper Morris MW. Heading across town in Beaune we started our wine tasting early at Patriarche which is a 5km long maze of underground caves holding thousands of bottles of Burgundian wine. Sue was allowed to do her own tour there, so we walked and then tasted a series of reds and whites in a private tasting area.

 

From Beaune we drove north into the Côte de Nuits - Pinot Noir country, along the "route of grand crus", breaking away from the main road on one-lane and dirt paths for photo opportunities. In the little village of Curtil Vergy (third picture above) we stopped for an excellent extended lunch at Au Petit Bonheur where I met and discussed Burgundian food and wine with the owner, Olivier Debail. Heading out of Curtil Vergy, we looped north past the landmark Château de Gevrey Chambertin (fourth picture above). Then heading south we stopped in Morey St. Denis at Domaine Pierre Amiot where I was treated to a private wine tasting (first picture below) and tour (second picture below) by the fifth generation winemaker Jean-Louis Amiot. By this point I was both learning fast and fast realizing what a huge amount there was to learn about Burgundies. A closed mouth, open mind and good translator (Sue) allowed me to pick up lessons from a real expert and not come off as new-world wine blind. My wine purchases for the first day totaled just three bottles: a grand cru and two premier crus - 9 bottles left to buy before reaching my self-imposed one case ship home limit. Returning to my hotel around 6pm, I walked around the town looking for a good dinner spot, but most every place was closed on Monday night. I ended up at Fleury's near my hotel, which was excellent, but overpriced.

 

Domaine Pierre Amiot tasting

with Jean-Louis Amiot

Domaine Pierre Amiot cellar

Hotel Le Cep

Hostel Dieu

 

Tuesday February 21st - Burgundy: Côte de Beaune

 

After another good night's sleep, I took another early morning walk around Beaune, stopping at a new place for coffee and croissants. Armed with my D700 camera and a 12mm fisheye lens, I wanted to add a different perspective in my shots. The front of my hotel (third picture above) and the edifice of the Hostel Dieu (fourth picture above) give a sense of what I tried to capture. Meeting Sue again at 9:30am, we headed south along the "route of grand crus" into the Côte de Beaune - Chardonnay country. Our first stop was in Mersault at a tasting cellar called Grand Vins de Bourgogne (associated with Coche-Bizouard that includes 10 hectares of vineyards spread over Meursault, Pommard, and Auxey-Duresse Monthelie as well as a small business negoce of Puligny-Montrachet, St. Romain and St. Aubin - bottles marketed under the label Coche-Bouillot). That long list in parentheses is an example of how confusing just one place's wine territories are! My private tasting with the proprietor Alain (first picture below) covered a lot of ground and lasted the rest of the morning. I bought six bottles there, all but one premiere crus.

 

We stopped for a long, traditional Burgundian lunch at Le Cellier Volnaysien in Volnay where I got to talk with the owner, Natalie, about her wines and approach to food. After lunch Sue and I took a quick walk around the hills of Volnay before looping around through the cliffs above Pommard for photos (large panorama top of page, second one down). Mid-afternoon we headed south again toward Santenay, detouring for shots along the hillside dirt roads (second picture below). In Santenay we had an appointment for a tour and private tasting at Domaine Jessiaume (third picture below), which turned out to be the best of the two days. Hosted by Marc Jessiaume himself, we went through a range of wines from his properties and from others. What an interesting person to meet along my journey, full of stories of wine, terroir and his personal connection with making wine. After the three hours of tour and tastings, I chose three of his best wines to round out my case to be shipped home, two premiere crus and one village wine. When I handed him my credit card to buy them, he said, "That's okay, no need to pay." We finished around 5:30pm with another grand cru from his cellar before saying goodbye (fourth picture below). Sue and I drove to Mersault with the last of the wines, completed the paperwork to ship them at the shipper she used and then drove back to Beaune, arriving around 6:30pm.

 

I snacked that night in lieu of dinner, packed and then got a good night's sleep before my early train Wednesday to Dijon, connecting to Paris' de Gaulle airport. From there I flew to London where I had an afternoon and evening free before my morning flight Thursday to LAX. I checked in at the Hilton Heathrow and took the tube downtown. On a recommendation from a business acquaintance, I had dinner at Langham's Brasserie, picked up a half-price ticket for "Ghost - the Musical" at the TCKS booth on Leicester Square, then walked around the Buckingham Palace area before heading to the show at the Piccadilly Theatre, which was very well done. I tubed it back to Heathrow after the show, got a good night's sleep and caught the morning flight back to LA on Thursday. All-in-all another great business and sanity trip.

 

Mersault tasting with Alain

Chevalier Montrachet

Domaine Jessiaume barrels

Domaine Jessiaume Grand Cru

tasting with Marc Jessiaume

Home Up Burgundy basics 2/12

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