Friday, October 31, 2014

Descending into Irancy

Not far from where yesterday's photo was taken, this is another view of Irancy in Burgundy with more of the vineyards visible. You can see how the vines cling to the hillsides above the town. I was struck by how steep the vineyards are in Irancy, Chablis, and farther west in Sancerre compared with the very gentle slopes here in the Touraine region.

If I had to walk Callie up and down in these vineyards, I'd probably be in much better shape!

As we wound around the vines along the little road into town (you can see a section of the road just to the right of the tractor), we passed a huge tour bus coming up the hill. We made it through unscathed.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Irancy

Not far from Chablis in Burgundy is the small town of Irancy, home to about three hundred people. Apparently the place has lost about two-thirds of its population since the nineteenth century. Irancy is known for its red wine, made primarily with pinot noir (as most red burgundies are). They also grow another grape for blending called césar, a grape that, as its name implies, was brought to the region by the conquering Romans oh so long ago.

Looking down into Irancy. You can see the town and its impressive church in the center-right.

Irancy is a pretty town; it sits in the bottom of a kind of natural amphitheater, the sides of which are planted in vineyards. It's a very impressive sight and I'll be posting a few views over the next days. For now, here's the sign that greets visitors just as they begin their descent through the vines and into town.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Photography experiment

In the never-ending quest to improve my photography, I did a little exercise while we were in Burgundy. No, not jumping jacks. I only used one lens (with one minor exception). I have four lenses for the camera: an 18-55mm zoom (which is the lens I use most often), a 70-300mm zoom for long shots, a fixed 100mm macro for close-ups, and a fixed 50mm/f1.4 lens. On one of the online photography sites I read, the author talked about prime (fixed) lenses and why she prefers them to zooms. For instance, she noted that fixed lenses often have better quality glass because there is less of it in the lens. Zoom lenses force light through several layers of glass and sometimes a fixed lens produces sharper, better quality images. She also noted that fixed lenses can have wider apertures allowing for more versatility in low-light situations. My 50mm prime, with it's maximum f1.4 aperture, is the widest of the four lenses I've got. The author suggested forcing yourself to use just a prime lens for a period of time to get a feel for it, so that's what I did on this trip.

La Fosse Dionne, Tonnerre, Burgundy.

All of the photos I'm posting from our Burgundy trip were made with the 50mm prime lens. It was a bit of a challenge as I'm very used to being able to frame a photo by zooming in and out, and I can get wide photos in tight spaces with the 18mm wide angle; 50mm is not a very wide angle. With a fixed lens, zooming has to be done on foot, walking toward or away from the subject to frame it the way you want it, and that is not always possible in narrow streets, inside buildings, or at scenic overlooks.

Today's picture was taken in the town of Tonnerre at the site of a source, or spring, called la Fosse Dionne. A circular enclosure was built around the spring in the 18th century to serve as the town's public laundry. The spring and its enclosure are nestled tightly in the old neighborhood with buildings all around, so getting back for a long/wide shot was not at all possible. This image was the best that I could do with the 50mm lens. One of the points of the exercise is the challenge to take an interesting shot without relying on the zoom. In this case, I tried to capture the feel of the spring and its circular enclosure without being able to get it all into the frame.

Ken used his wide-angle zoom and got some really nice shots of the whole place. He'll probably post some of them on his blog soon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Eglise Saint-Pierre

Not far from where we stayed in Burgundy is the town of Tonnerre, a small burg of about five thousand people that dates back to Roman times. Its streets and buildings climb up a steep hillside in the valley of the Armançon River along a historical route between Paris and Dijon. In the ninth century, the church of Saint-Pierre (Saint Peter) was built on a high point above the town. It was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in the sixteenth century.

The bell tower of the church of Saint-Pierre in Tonnerre. Can you see the pigeon under the right-hand arch?

While it's easy to walk up to the church from the streets of town, cars are sent high up above the church before they can wind their way back down to it. We had the car and the dog, so we drove. Unfortunately, the church was locked up tight and we didn't get to see inside. But we had a nice walk around the outside and took in the views over the town's rooftops.

One of the church's stained glass windows, seen from the outside. The sunlight was shining through the building from the other side.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Chablis

The hillsides surrounding the town of Chablis in northern Burgundy are planted in chardonnay. All Chablis wine is made from chardonnay. If I understood correctly, there are four "grades" of Chablis depending on the location of the vines and their exposition to the sun: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru. Each vineyard parcel is classified into one of these four appellations.

Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru vineyards called Les Fourneaux and Côte des Prés-Girots near the town of Fleys, just east of Chablis.

The harvest was over and done and the wine making under way when we visited last week. But there was still a lot of activity in the vineyards. We could see workers pulling up dead vine trunks and replacing support posts. The leaves on the vines were beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and gold. Ken and I stopped into two places to taste and buy wine on Wednesday morning. The first was a winery I knew of because they had a booth at one of our local wine events last spring. The second was the local wine cooperative (La Chablisienne). Yum!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Watching for invaders

This is a watchtower, called an une échauguette or une guérite in French, on the ramparts of the Burgundian city of Avallon. A sentinel stationed inside the turret would be sheltered from the elements and from view, but would be able to see any movement along the approaches to the city.

A sixteenth century watch post on the ramparts of Avallon.

After we took a few photos here, we made our way around the city and back to our route toward Chablis.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Road trip

Ken, Callie, and I took a short road trip this week to northern Burgundy, very close to Chablis. We rented a small gîte (vacation house) in a small village for three nights and spent a couple of days touring around and tasting wine. We didn't have the best weather, but it wasn't a washout, either.

Just a glimpse of central Avallon. I don't know who the kid is.

The drive over took us about four hours. We set out in the morning and arrived in Pouilly-sur-Loire four lunch, then drove on toward Chablis. We stopped in a couple of towns for a look along the way and to give Callie a chance to stretch her legs. The town in this photo is the Burgundian town of Avallon, built on the heights above the river Cousin. After driving through the historic center (very slowly), we spent about fifteen minutes in a small park on the ramparts. The view is from the park back into town.