Last week I was afforded the honor of accompanying a small group of American wine professionals on a trip to French wineries represented by Bourgeois Family Selections (Asheville, NC). Our group included Jean-Philippe Bourgeois (president of B. F. S.), Jem Emery (B. F. S. office manager), Martin Von Ellen (N. E. sales manager for B. F. S.), Tom Lally (Sales Manager, Okoboji Wines, IA), Steve White (Wine Brands Manager, Click Wholesale Distributing, WA), Chris Horn (Wine Director, Purple Café, WA), and our chauffeur, Alain Paquet. This trip covered most of France’s major wine regions and a total of 16 wineries were visited/represented over the course of seven days. 

Posts will be in a day-by-day account.
This was my first ever international travel experience and it all went surprisingly smoothly. Dulles to JFK (4-hour layover) to Paris-CDG by 6:15 am. It was snowing upon arrival in Paris, but that only delayed pick-up from the airport by half-an-hour to 9:40 am.

Not enough sleep on the flight over.

From here I met with the group on our Mercedes Sprinter van (outfitted for traveling bands — which later became known by the group as “The Disco Bus” for it’s blue LED interior lighting and odd French radio selections) — and off we went to our first winery visit.

Champagne Philippe Fontaine

Gorgeous place with the river running under the mansion and a watermill located at the back.

It was snowy and cold (about 30° F max) in Balnot sur Laignes. Our rear-wheel-drive van could not make it onto the snow-covered property, so we hoofed it a bit. We were greeted by the lovely couple of Salomé Fontaine-Garcia and Louis-Antoine Garcia who gave us a thorough tour of the property and explanation of their viticultural and winemaking methods.

Gyropalettes for riddling.

Just a little limestone here.

The Fontaine’s grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, and somewhat surprisingly, Pinot Blanc (from which they make a 100% varietal bottling) in both Balnot sur Laignes and Riceys. These images are from the main property in Balnot sur Laignes.

From here we retired to the Fontaine’s charming little home in the village of Balnot sur Laignes. Here we met up with the winemaking patriarch, Philippe, who preferred to keep a low profile throughout our visit. This is where we tasted all the current bottlings of their production and enjoyed a lovingly prepared lunch — heated at a neighbor’s house due to a lack of electricity in their home at that time — including an incredible smoked salmon and foie gras terrine. The family was incredibly kind and generous with their time, energy, and passion while providing us with a wealth of information about their wines and the warmth of their home.

All the cuvées of Champagne Philippe Fontaine.

  • Brut Tradition: 70% Pinot Noir/30% Pinot Meunier — rich, soft lemon curd and light toastiness in an almost extra-dry style but with striking acid and a keen minerality
  • Cuvée des Lys: the oddball of the bunch made with 100% Pinot Blanc (the family does not feel that Chardonnay makes for a good sparkling wine and chose Pinot Blanc after an off-the-cuff experiment) — higher-toned than the Tradition and with more spice evident on the nose and back-palate
  • Brut Reserve: same blend as Tradition — palate of very rich and gentle apple and restrained acid, lusher mouthfeel than those preceding
  • Brut Prestige: 40% Pinot Blanc/35% Pinot Noir/15% Pinot Meunier/10% Chardonnay —very spice-driven nose with mouth-filling baked apple and cinnamon on the palate, super-satisfying
  • Brut Millésime 2007: 100% Pinot Noir — kind of the disappointment of the afternoon with a very tight nose and closed palate showing only a bit of toffee
  • Brut Rosé: 50% Pinot Noir/50% Pinot Meunier — beautiful strawberry color, floral/ yeasty nose, palate of mixed berries and dried flowers with a soft yeasty note on the finish
Day 1, Part Two: Beaune to follow…