Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Photographic Impressions of Paris and Provence

Even overcast Paris can be captured magically by Shannon Brunner of Saskatoon, professional photographer and winner of the 2013 Photographer of the Year Award!  This spring Shannon invited 10 of her friends/students along with her to experience sunny Provence and magnificent Paris through the eye of a lense.  Corinne of VM Travel knows Provence intimately and was able to provide these “keeners” with opportunities to capture the essence of the south of France from gnarly olive trees, to towering plane trees, to rambunctious poppies.  Lavender season is in July, but the smell of lavender was in the air! The provençale sun, which so inspired Van Gogh, also inspired this group of photographers.  Everyone set out to capture the list of shots – a sunflare, feeling blue, a faceless self portrait – ideas that make one look at the world more intimately!  Something clever!  Shannon assigned us letters to look for in nature or construction – this got everyone looking for all the letters – lots of x`s found! It was a real collaboration of `finding the shot`.  Shannon was a real inspiration for us all and we could have spend hours in on location, but as the tour leader I gently pressed on to a new venue – Cézanne`s studio in Aix -en – Provence, the quaint fishing village of Cassis, the market in St Remy de Provence in close proximity to Van Gogh`s capture of his sunflowers and irises and Roman antiquities to boot. 

The one thing about staying at the Mas St Antoine in Rognonas (yes, just try to pronounce it!) is that we are just a short drive from all that inspires! A short note – Mike, who got carried away in the Palais de Papes in Avignon missed the pickup and was not too sure of the NAME of the town where he was staying – somehow he made it back just in time to join us on our night photography excursion to the 2000 year old Roman Aqueduct, Pont du Gard on the first night of its summer illumination!  As a tour operator this is the first time I have visited this UNESCO site at night and it was magical! It had just rained so the atmosphere was `douce`- just like the night of a bonfire in the middle of summer in Sask!  (no mosquitos though).  Zac made sure we had `glass`wineglasses for this adventure and yes, Shannon managed not to break hers until the last moment! 

Don`t get me wrong, we were not taking photos ALL the time. Pierre the former owner of the Mas St Antoine shared his provençale culinary skills with us one night – then the K`s (Kerrin and Keryn) guess who is the female and who is K1 and who is K2, entertained us pool side with a gourmet pizza night – nope, nobody fell in the pool! Although we may be missing someone as the frogs were croaking about something all night.  The Mas St. Antoine is a lovely respite in Provence – a self catering gite where you have your own kitchen, BBQ and privacy, but yes you have to take out your own garbage OR recycle!!! www. massaintantoine.com   If you are ever planning a visit to the south of France – this little haven is heaven.
Well I have be rambling on enough – I don`t even have to talk about Paris as Paris is Paris! The magic about  this tour, Photographic Impressions of Paris and Provence was the guests – fun loving, supportive, enormous encouragement by Shannon (merci) and best of all – THEY LOVE TO PICNIC!!!!!
Thanks for a wonderful tour!  Need to repeat!  All the best from your tour leader, Corinne    

                                  NOW WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS IS ALL ABOUT!!!???!!

                                             WE SAW IT - SOMEONE CAPTURED IT!!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Zorzal Wine Tour of South America


A dream come true – buy a little winery in Argentina and wine not?! 

This spring  32 guests from Western Canada and Ontario participated in a Zorzal Shareholders Wine Tour of Chile and Argentina.  For many of them it was their first visit to their winery nestled in the Uco Valley of Mendoza, Argentina.  They escaped the cold March temperatures in Canada for the warm harvest wind of South America.

The tour started in Santiago de Chile. Everyone streamed in on their own time to our lovely Plaza San Francisco Hotel in the downtown district.  Some had visited Peru, others Patagonia and some had opted for the wine tour of the Maipo Valley before coming together for a cocktail reception at the hotel that evening.  Yes, name tags were in order!  Although we all had one common interest – our Zorzal wine, many of us had never met before. The Zorzal group started in 2008 and recently new shareholders were welcomed to the Zorzal family, my sister and I amongst the lucky ones. 
Natascha arranged a private bus to take us to Vina del Mar to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean and visit the colourful port of Valparaiso, the shipping point for our Zorzal Wine. We had a small window of time to take a boat tour of the harbour, but somehow the Chileanos just couldn’t get their act together to make it happen. 

Heading back to Santiago we stopped at the House of Gruppo Belin where we were thrilled to find a full slate of Zorzal Wines for sale.  Our Canadian flag welcomed us as we enjoyed a sparkling wine and an afternoon asado of roasted pig and an array of Chilean dishes and wines. 

Our private bus over the Andes was an adventure!  Once we navigated the 36 switchbacks through the Portillo Ski Resort we all scattered like marbles at the base of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Andes.  The gods were with us as the skies cleared to give us a perfect view of the massive glacier.  Everyone enjoyed the chance to stretch the legs.  With all our paperwork in order we nervously crossed the Argentine border and then the pressure was released as the corks started popping.  Included are a couple of mountain photos just in case some of you missed the scenery!

Once in Mendoza we nestled into our winery accommodations in Luyan de Cuyo and enjoyed a gourmet dinner at the Terruno Restaurant of Club Tapiz.Marco Toriano, a long time friend of Natascha and Corinne’s shared his passion for Argentine wines and particularly wines from the Uco Valley.  Now we know why are wines are so special as this valley has its own particular microclimate. Marco came with us to the Bodega Tapiz Winery where Carolina enchanted us with her knowledge of the unique wines of Mendoza.

Soon we were off to the Mareina Winery where the Bianco family shared the award winning Bonardas and Malbecs with complimenting dishes from the kitchen. A tango couple provided some dramatic entertainment, until Jane was invited to dance. It ended up to be  a comedy when we watched the footage that her best friend Marnie had taken of the spectacle.

Friday was the day at our winery – at last!  The weather was not looking so good as storm clouds and rain followed us along the Ruta 40 an hour south of Luyan de Cuyo.  But  the Uco Valley has its own weather pattern and we enjoyed the afternoon at the winery in full sunshine! We were thrilled to meet the Michilini Brothers, our famous winemakers!  They proudly showed off their innovative “ eggs” 10 of them in fact, before involving us in the de- stemming of the harvested grapes. We were happy to have their families join us for the afternoon asado on our property. A modest bodega, a few vines planted and lots of work to be done, but it is ours and it was a thrilling visit. 

To finish up the day some golfed (if you can call best ball golfing) at Tupungato Winelands, some just sat around in the warm sun with a glass of wine in hand and we eventually made our way to the Mendoza Park Hyatt Hotel for the night.
Our final day in Mendoza was relaxing, some shopping, some museum visits and many goodbyes.  We finished up our excess wine (if there is such a thing) at the farewell reception. The next day everyone went their separate ways.  A few couples visited fabulous Iguazu Falls, others joined Natascha and I for a Tango experience in Buenos Aires! 

When we were in a little wine shop in Buenos Aires most of the Zorzal wines were available.          We were told by the sommelier that the Michelini Brothers were the best and most innovative winemakers in Argentina and we are lucky to have them on our team!
The do us proud – look at the Robert Parker scores!!!
 2008    Zorzal Wines Climax Malbec                         89    
 2013    Zorzal Wines Eggo Blanc                              91  
 2013    Zorzal Wines Eggo Filosofo Pinot Noir          93    
 2012    Zorzal Wines Eggo Tinto                               94  
 2012    Zorzal Wines Field Blend                              92  
 2012    Zorzal Wines Gran Terroir Malbec                89
 2012    Zorzal Wines Gran Terroir Pinot Noir            92    
 2011    Zorzal Wines Piantao                                    91  
 2013    Zorzal Wines Terroir Unico Malbec               92    
 2012    Zorzal Wines Terroir Unico Pinot Noir           91  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pool party in Provence and Pleasurable Paris! Visiting France with Tommy Douglas High

Saskatoon’s Tommy Douglas Collegiate goes to France!  April 18 – 28, 2014

The Easter holiday was in late April this year, so even better to enjoy nice weather in sunny Provence, the destination of the 23 Immersion and Core French Students lead by their much loved, (and very organized) leader, Mme Lafreniere!  12 days in France for pool parties, beaches, train trips and catacombes, a wonderful mix that gave the group a real glimpse of modern and ancient France!

Colline du Chateau picnic in Nice
The group was greeted with some spring showers upon their arrival in Nice, but this soon blew away as the students dipped their feet in the Mediterranean, picnicked on the Colline du Chateau and shopped along the Zone Pietonne.  The Hotel Busby accommodated the whole group with friendly Provencal hospitality as the keeper of the key dutifully put the key in the ‘trou pour clefs’ at the front desk.  

On day two they were whisked off to the sand beaches of Cannes to jump collectively into the Mediterranean Sea as a group of German sailors watched on.  'Crazy Canadians!' ...they hollered out from their picnic on the beach.  Everyone in the group got wet, to some extremity or another!  Driver Herve loaned his bus as a "change room" for the girls…and then the guys... and they were soon off to sniff in the scents of France in Grasse, the capital of perfume, and for some a few headachesL.

La plage de Cannes
On top of the Chateau d'If
On the way to Avignon for a three night stay in the heart of Provence, the group made a stop in Marseille to pay a visit to the Chateau d’If, the former prison of the fictional character from Dumas’ The Count of Montecristo.  The guided tour was very detailed in French and the students learned just how terrible the conditions were in this bastion-turned prison…. You would not have wanted to be dropped into one of the worst cells called “les oubliettes”…  
... But it was a nice day for a boat ride and the ferry came into port amongst a regatta, just winding down, giving this group from the Prairies a good look at sea life!

Port of Marseille
Avignon is always about shopping, and even those who were not big spenders found something to purchase on the Boulevard de la Republique!  
Brasserie le Cintra
Dinners with some well chosen wine at the Cintra were enjoyed by the group and there was even time to take a nighttime walk around the Palais des Papes to see the grandeur of this ancient Pope's palace lit up from the shadows of the cobblestone streets where we stood.
Aux Baux de Provence
Poolside at the Mas St. Antoine
The group got to enjoy the best of the weekly Provencal markets at St. Remy de Provence, then sharing picnic provisions   amongst the group looking over the valley from the heights of les Baux de Provence.  

Next on this gorgeous sunny day??  A pool and pizza party at an old Mas, a traditional country home.  Marco...Polo!  Was heard for the rest of the afternoon as everyone, including Mme. Laf, jumped in the pool!

Gare de Lyon, Paris
They arrived at the Gare de Lyon in style after the 2 & 1/2 hour train ride to Paris on the TGV.  Average speed was calculated at 276 kms per hour!  A quick check-in to the hotel on the Grands Boulevards had the group take off to saunter along the Champs Elysées before enjoying dinner at the famous Boullion Chartier where almost everyone tried the escargots!  A rainy visit to the Chateau de Versailles reminded us of the splendour of this country, while the next few days in Paris were filled with metro, Bateau Mouche and elevator rides up the Tour Eiffel, long lunches in the Latin Quarter and even a last-minute visit to the Paris underground, the Catacombes.
Metro professionals!

Les Catacombes de Paris
Two and a half kilometres of bones from the overfilled cemeteries after the Revolution Française reminded us of the long history we were standing on...or under, rather.   

From the Cote d'Azur to Paris, this group took advantage of all the stops to practice... la Langue Française... bravo a tous... et MERCI Mme. Lafrenière!