The river runs through it

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A trip down the Gironde by Catherine Taverny

With 60 Appellations (AOC) and more than 100,000 hectares of vines, the region of the Gironde (which includes Bordeaux) is the largest wine region in France. The Gironde estuary dominates the whole region affecting the climate, terroir and therefore its vintages. Much of the land occupied along the rivers - particularly the Gironde - are classified estates (under the 1855 Classification). The Gironde itself is the confluence of two main rivers - the Garonne and the Dordogne. The former rising in the Spanish Pyrenees more than 600 kilometers away, the latter in the mountains of the Auvergne almost 500 kilometres to the east in the Massif Central. After 100 kilomotres the Gironde empties into the Atlantic Ocean and it is this maritime climate which provides the more moderate winters and variable summers to the wine-growing areas affected by the river which runs through it. The appellations extend to both sides of the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers and the lands in between. The left bank, referring to the left bank of the Garonne (Medoc, Pauillac); the right bank (Pomerol, St-Emilion), referring to the right bank of the Dorgdogne have between them the Entre-Deux-Mers (between two seas), also the birthplace of the ocean explorer and environmentalist Jacques-Yves Cousteau. 'Left bank' and 'right bank', confusingly, does not refer to the same river. The region also happens to be home to Europe's longest beach - the Côte d'Argent.

The author, and Simon, professional fisherman (retired) and winegrower, make a trip on the Gironde. This viticultural estuary is also an migration axis for birds and fishes. Whilst navigating and fishing the river, the ecologist and fisherman discuss the evolution of the fluvial-estuarine system of the Gironde in terms of the water quality; the richness of the fauna; the degradations suffered and the current pressures are put into the context of the political actions taken to preserve the environment, and the way of life.

When Simon invites me on his filadière, a local traditional fishing boat of the Gironde estuary, I like to listen to his stories about this wild place which he knows so well.

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References   [ + ]

1. the local newspaper for the Gironde