Little Challenges…from Art In The Harvest….part one

I figured before I blog much of anything about the 19 days of travel throughout Europe, I should start with re-living a few of the challenges that happened on the trip…or maybe some of the moments that might have been a little stressful at the time but have an element of humor towards them now. Every trip has its hiccups, right? This is part one.

This trip was actually a huge undertaking on a few levels. Travelling in three countries for three weeks where you don’t speak the languages is one thing, but on this trip the idea was to make it as effective as possible to hit 9 wine regions, ideally in the middle of harvest or as close as possible. I will save some more details on that for another time….here’s a few things that happened, were funny or went wrong on the trip.

First off…I flew into Paris, arriving early in the morning around 8am.. Originally I was thinking I would rent a car at Charles d’Gaul and then spend the day and night in Paris. Clearer heads prevailed and I figured I should just get out of town and stay the night in Chateau Thierry, near where I needed to be the next morning. Of course I was fairly tired upon arrival, but had to wait 1 1/2 hours for a car since Avis was all out of them. The real joy came when I finally got a car and was ready to get off airport property as fast as possible. However, I learned immediately that GPS would often have other ideas about how to navigate to a chosen destination…that is if it could even find my chosen destination. So, I went ahead and just started driving. I figured I would try and just get off of airport property. I have a really good sense of direction, and following my gut instinct actually worked perfectly. After about 20 minutes of driving on the highway I found an exit and pulled over to see if I could get things working. I finally did. It was here I had my first real weird “what the hec’ am I doing” kind of moment. I was about to visit 9 wine regions in three countries. Over 1600 miles of driving. For a little bit it was kind of overwhelming – but I tend to do best when I just jump in – so I did.

Darrin Ballman Photography
Vineyards ready for harvest in Chigny-les-Roses, Champagne, France.


Navigating my way into Chateau Thierry and meeting up for a wonderful dinner with our marketing person from Champagne Baron-Fuente that first evening made the trip official.

The next real challenge came on days two through four. After spending the day photographing at Baron-Fuente, it was time to drive another hour or so to Reims, and then start the next day with Champagne Dumangin & J. Fils. I booked a hotel at the south end of town, in a newer suburban like area, only a few minutes from the village of Chigny-les-Roses where Dumangin is located. I rolled into Reims mid-evening, so it was already dark. GPS was having trouble again and I kind of thought I was near my hotel but still completely unsure. Unfortunately I was also starting to feel really sick. Achy, fever, headache, etc…I really didn’t have the energy or desire to fight the small monster known as Garmin. I pulled into the parking lot of one really “cheap” hotel. I went for it. Just give me a room with a bed and internet and I’m good. Unfortunately when I got into the room I was less than thrilled with it. I spent the energy to get the laptop out and get online anyways. Low and behold, I look up where the other hotel is (that I had pre-paid two nights already)…and I quickly realize that not only is it 3/4 of a mile from the dump I was in, but in my driving around to find it, I literally drove right past the hotel and missed it. Since the hotel was also paid already, I went ahead and moved over to it. Best decision ever as I ended up spending three nights there. Longest stay in any one place the entire trip.

Darrin Ballman Photography
Entering the village of Chigny-les-Roses. Home of Champagne Dumangin & J. Fils.


Even though I was not feeling well, I had a wonderful time with Gilles Dumangin and was very pleased with the images despite harvest not starting for another few days. Originally I was supposed to drive to Sancerre on day 5 but with how I was feeling, I chose to rest and mostly sleep that day. It worked, when the next day came I was much better and quickly back up to full speed.

Darrin Ballman Photography
Vineyards in Champagne.


After feeling much better, I headed for the Loire Valley and a visit with Domaine Henri Bourgeois. It was a beautiful drive over there. I felt like I was getting the hang of driving and navigating in France by that point. By late morning I found myself pulling into the villages of Sancerre and Chavignol. I had a great visit with Henri Bourgeois that afternoon before driving down to the city of Moulins for the night.

Darrin Ballman Photography
Overlooking the Loire Valley village of Chavignol, home for Domaine Henri Bourgeois.


The next few days generally went smooth. I figured out key roadway signs fairly quickly and GPS was cooperating more often than not. The drive from Moulins into Vienne and the Rhone Valley was one of the best of the trip. I mostly took a lot of back roads, and with the fog and thick cloud cover, the deep green of the countryside was amazing. The first half of the day was so relaxing and I was literally on as back road as back roads get. That wasn’t the original plan of course. Originally I was going to take the highway but my own navigational error put me into the country side and since I had plenty of time I decided to roll with it. Eventally I found myself picking the highway up again as I rolled into Saint-Étienne. Just in time to hit torrential downpours as I went through some of the mountain areas. Everything cleared up as I entered Vienne, just south of Lyon.

Darrin Ballman Photography
A few cows hanging out on the back roads between Moulins and Saint-Étienne, France.


Darrin Ballman Photography
Small village on the back roads between Moulins and Saint-Étienne, France.


It was a unique Deja Vu when I rolled into Vienne and the beginnings of the Rhone Valley, realizing that I had traveled the same path into Orange some 22 years before on my first trip into France. For me personally, there’s something about being in “new places” that I find very exhausting. Changing hotels as often as I was of course was exhausting. I enjoy being able to relax in one location and really take things in. My days at Boissan and Pere Caboche overall went very well. The day at Boissan, in Sablet, was at first dampened by learning that Christian’s father had passed away a few days before, and the day of my arrival was the day of the wake and funeral. That’s a story I will tell more completely another time, but if you would like a glimpse into it now, check out my post on The day at Boissan was a pretty heavy day emotionally and the original plans I had for the day completely changed. To make things even more difficult, while I was at Boissan, I had one of those moments while eating some pretzel sticks where I somehow clamped my jaw down wrong and immediately felt something outrageously painful on a couple of my teeth. As if I had bitten down as hard and fast as I could on a large rock. That feeling stayed with me the rest of the trip and well beyond.

The Estate of Domaine de Boissan in Sablet, France. Rhone Valley.


At Pere Caboche, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the exhaustion really started to set in and the tooth pain didn’t help. It was a very good day and I loved the time with the Boisson family, but at the same time I was looking forward to getting down to Languedoc-Roussillon. The next stops were with Corinne & Damien Deneufbourg in Roussillon and at the Domaine de La Dourbie estate in the Languedoc, just outside of Montpellier.

To be continued….


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