My Travel Blog

What Would You Do With 9 Million Bottles of Wine?

We made it under the Pont Paul Bert without a hitch.  The charts must list bridge clearance when the river is just below flood level because according to the chart there was no way we would fit.  I know that rivers go up and down depending on the season, but what about the canals?  Canals are pretty much kept at the same level no matter what the weather conditions.  Would we end up at a bridge where we couldn’t pass, and have to back Rabelo all the way to Auxerre?

Our first stop was Bailly. There wasn’t much of a village there.  It was just a few homes and a church, but Kevin had a surprise for us.  Just a 100 steps from where we were moored was a winery. It was a very special winery.

The winery of Bailly Lapierre is completely underground.  A quarry was started at the site in 1186.  The quality of the stone was so exceptional that it was used to construct some of Frances greatest architectural works.  The stone for the Pantheon, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and Chartres Cathedral all came from Bailly. The mine was worked for over 800 years up until the 20th century. From 1927 to 1970 the vast caverns were used to grow mushrooms. Finally in 1972 the underground quarry was transformed into a winery. The Bailly Lapierre winery is so large that even the parking is underground.  They have roughly twelve acres of tunnels and caverns.  Our guide couldn’t tell us exactly how many bottles they have in their inventory, but she did say they could hold up to nine million.

Bailly Lapierre makes Cremant, which is a sparkling wine.  They can’t call it champagne because their vineyards are not in Champagne. They actually make a good sparkling wine, and because they can’t call it Champagne it is also reasonably priced.  We bought a case.

While we were on our tour the guide asked that we stay back from the stacks of bottles as sometimes they can explode.  She said they lose about 4,500 bottles per year due to defects in the glass. As you walk down the many corridors there are a number of interesting sculptures on the walls. The winery holds a contest every year to pick a sculptor to sculpt a work of art for them.

Going under the Pont Paul Bert.

The reception area at Bailly Lapierre.

This is Baccus. Does he look like a guy that knows how to party?

Our next stop was Irancy where Kevin took us to another winery Domaine Colinot. When people think of wines from Burgundy it is always Pinot Noir for reds and Chardonnay for whites.  I’ve spent enough time in Burgundy to know they also grow a little Gamay and a grape called Alligote, but they also grow a grape called Cesar as in Julius Cesar.  I had never heard of this ancient grape, and neither had any of my wine aficionado friends.Cesar is only grown in the area around Irancy, and they will add up to 10% to their Pinot Noir.

Stephanie Colinot was our hostess.

The vineyards around Irancy.

Grapes that are almost ready to pick.

This thirteenth century fortress was for sale. As a kid I always liked building forts and playing in them. Lisa wouldn’t let me buy this one.

After our wine tasting in Irancy, Kevin had another surprise for us.  He drove us to Domaine Goisot in Saint Bris. In addition to learning about the Cesar grape in Burgundy I also learned that they grow Sauvignon Blanc in Burgundy.  The French government tightly controls where the various types of grapes can be planted throughout the country. This is the grape they use for Sancerre wine, which is Lisa favorite white wine.  We were pleasantly surprised that the Burgundy Sauvignon Blanc was excellent, and far cheaper than the wines we purchased in Sancerre. We ended up buying another case of wine.

Some of the scenery as we traveled up the Canal du Nivernais.

Here I am picking peaches next to a lock.

Here I am picking apples from Rabelo’s deck.

Lisa made this incredible lunch for us.

-Tom Miller
Author of “The Wave”  and “When Stones Speak”– 
Chuck Palmer Adventure novels

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About the Author:

Tom Miller graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science in Geology. He is a consummate adventurer with over 1,000 dives as a recreational scuba diver, and an avid sailor who has traveled 65,000 miles throughout the Pacific including the Hawaiian Islands. Miller has also cruised the canals of Europe on his canal barge and given numerous lectures on cruising the canals of Europe, as well as sailing in the South Pacific. Piloting is also an interest of Miller's, and He has completed over 1,000 hours flying everything from small Cessnas to Lear jets.