Some History and My Renovation in Zug, Switzerland

A request that people have made is to show how the build in Zug is progressing. Thus over the next little while I will be posting pictures and blog entries that go back over 1.5 years. The focus will be on explaining why I did what I did.

So let’s start with what my wife and I bought.

IMG_0697 IMG_0706

This property is an old build at a 1,000 meters. It was originally built in 1960, and when I gutted the inside I saw newspapers from 1959 and 1960. What is interesting about this house is that it is solidly built. The quality is good, but there where some problems and in the later postings I will point out the problems and solutions.

The renovation will result in a building that looks as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 12.36.08 AM Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 12.37.03 AM

And to a large degree the house has turned out to the plans. There are some modifications as I changed the original permit plans to something that we wanted.

Buying a Property in France

So it appears that we will finally be buying that property in France. When I signed the contract the deadline for the contract was end of April. If that deadline was breached the deal could be made null and void. Before signing I explicitly said, are you sure that is enough time. It was 3 months of time. The French salesperson said, “oh no problem and gave me a 20 minute explanation on why it will work out.” I replied and indicated that I was skeptical.

Well I was right…  June 5 or nearly 1.5 months later the property will be ours…

How I Taste My Wine

As I have written before I will be doing Bordeaux wine reviews. The idea is to bring to you the reader the world of Bordeaux wines, with the catch being 95% of the wines have to be 15 Euros or below. This is a challenge to me because it is easy to buy an expensive wine and say it is good. What is challenging is to rate wines that are cheaper.

Wine Reviews are not Legible

I am going change how wine is rated. The reason is very simple and can best be illustrated with this review.

This has a prominent savory and green olive profile, offering black cherry and plum fruit, backed by accents of black tea and cinnamon. Sleek and savory through the finish, with the olive edge lingering beautifully. For the Loire connoisseur. Drink now through 2019.

Read that and try to figure out what it means. I say it means FUCK ALL! Yes I used that word, but for crying out loud what the fuck is the person trying to say?

Think of it as follows. According to this person you are drinking something that is savory, has taste of green olive, black cherry and plum. Of course we cannot forget the accents of black tea and cinnamon. Seriously what the fuck is this? I pride myself as a cook and know tastes. However I have yet to stuff into my mouth something that has olives, black cherries and plums. Oh yeah I forgot the black tea and cinnamon. And since I have not stuffed my mouth like that how I can say it tastes like that? You can’t.

The Base of Taste

Taste is rather simple, and let me illustrate, sweet and sour chicken balls. Kitsch Chinese food,  but it is an interesting combination of sugar and vinegar. Sugar is sweet and vinegar is sour, and you would think it would not work, but it does. The reason is because sweet and sour are part of our base tastes.

To repeat our base tastes are; salt, sugar, sour, bitter, and umami. There are further refinements and effects, but they are limited and I will use them to explain the taste of the wines.

So why does the wine industry resort to saying things are like olives, black cherries, and black tea? Because these are all “positive” “elitist” things. Who wants to have their wine reviewed as, “has sourness like a lemon”. YET I happen to like lemon taste quite a bit, and do not find it a negative.

BTW as a sidenote if you ever want to know why people prefer processed food to real food it is because the food is engineered to our taste buds. Salt, sugar as base tastes, and fattiness as an extended taste make us desire food. If the food industry gets those three tastes right people will buy the food regardless of the quality or whether it is good for us.

Wine Review: Château Haut-Cadet

Please refer to how I rate my wines for explanations of the terms I use.

In summary, a good wine and it is typical Saint-Emilion. True to my word it is in the 15 USD range.

IMG_2070

Let’s look closer at the label as it will tell us many things.

The label top says Chateau Haut Cadet, which is the vineyard. The year of the harvest is 2011, and it is considered a Grand Vin De Bordeaux. This is the overall region definition, with the sub-region being Saint-Emilion. But what makes this wine special is that it is a Grand Cru.

The Chateau:

It appears that the vineyard has no web page, but you can tour the vineyard. Contact details:

Tél : +33 05 35 17 00 08

commercial@rcrgroup.fr

The email is interesting in that it seems to be generic. Upon researching the rcrgroup I learned that it was a corporation that owns various vineyard properties in Bordeaux including in the Bergerac AOC region.

What is truly interesting is that this group seems to be getting a hodge podge of different Chateaus and doing very different wine types, including organic. It would seem that this company is doing revenue maximization and not truly caring about the wine. I would be very hesitant to make such an accusation as Bordeaux wine is a mix of grapes because they wanted to get a consistent wine even if some grapes failed or were lack luster.

According to their linked-in page they are more than 50 employees and less than 200. Considering that they have 14 Chateau’s that is not overly large and I would classify this company as a smaller niche vineyard. This vineyard though is motivated to offer affordable wine and something that I would want to drink.

Location of Vineyard:

The vineyard is not located directly in Saint Emilion, but in the Saint Emilion wine region. This means according to some it will not have access to the prime land around the village of Saint Emilion.

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 00.09.47The ground is limestone clay and they use three grapes to make this wine:

  • Merlot 70 %
  • Cabernet Franc 20 %
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 10 %

From the base tastes there was a slight bit of sourness, but it was limited. If you were to open the wine bottle for a few hours ahead of time then the sourness will disappear. The sourness is due to Cabernet Sauvignon. There was very little sweetness, but not enough to say this was a sweet wine. This wine had zero pungency, but it had a touch of calcium taste to it, but that is due to Merlot and the region. The taste overall for the wine was one that had very little after taste and did not contradict itself.

A wine that tasted smooth with a hint of sourness to it. The foods I would eat with this wine (it is personal) is dark chocolate, beef in a stew, brocoli, mushrooms, fried onions, and mashed potatoes. It is a wine that I found would blend well with strong tasting meals as it will not conflict with the food.

An Ode to A Forest On Your Property!

Here is the property that is right now undergoing the purchase cycle.

DSC_0089Our property is the bit that has a forest! (3,400 m2) Yes a big friggen forest! My idea is to construct a vacation home on this property. There are many challenges, but the biggest challenge is how to get rid of all the trees. The obvious answer is to cut the trees down. But the problem is that you cannot just cut a tree since when trees fall they can cause quite a bit of damage.

How To Cut A Tree

So how does one cut a tree? Obviously with a saw, but you will need a chain saw. And if you navigate to this page you will get an instruction set of how to cut a tree. Visually the art of felling a tree is as follows:

fig2Looks easy right? I mean super easy and anybody can do this, right? WAIT one minute as I have felled trees before and let me tell you it is nowhere near as easy as the instructions make it to be. Go back to the property picture and what do you see? You see a forest. Thus you have the following problems:

  1. Trees are not standing straight
  2. Trees have no clean line of sight to fall
  3. There are houses to either side of the property

These three “little” problems make felling a tree extremely complicated.

How to Fell Complicated Trees

Felling complicated trees requires one extra bit, a tractor!

maxresdefaultThe image uses a smaller tractor, but YouTube video shows a bigger tractor. Sometimes people even use excavators or they use winches (video, video).

The idea behind this is to ensure that the tree falls in the proper direction and does not get hung up by other trees. It is a safety measure and unless you are in the middle of the forest it is the technique you use.

Ok, So What is Christian Going to Do?

Christian is about to become a farmer and is about to purchase a tractor. I kid you not! Here are the tractors I am looking at.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 00.26.55 Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 00.27.07 Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 00.28.16These tractors are in the range 5,000 to 7,000 KG weight and as my neighbor said can be used to plow 100 hectares. Of course I will need a backhoe;

595_642x462and a trailer;

imagesWith this I will be able to work my land, carry building materials, and be self sufficient. My wife and I would like to purchase a house with at least 1 hectare to create our own farm. Of course this tractor is overkill, but we will keep it and probably purchase a smaller one.

I plan on purchasing a tractor in 2016 and will be Farmer Christian! So stay tuned!!!!

Am I getting excited? Absolutely! As they say, “men toys”!

 

 

 

A Newbie’s Introduction to the Bordeaux Wine Region

One of the first wines I liked was Medoc. I did not know why, but it was my preferred Bordeaux wine. Of course the irony of me landing in Medoc is not lost on me. Also I thought that Medoc was somewhere inland, to the east of Saint Emilion, but I did not even know about Saint Emilion.

Part of the problem is that France has the annoying habit of labeling regions and then renaming them, or regrouping them. Ask any Alsatian if they like being part of the folks on the other side of the hill. I am not making a judgment call, but saying sometimes to the outside world it can be confusing.

Why Is Bordeaux So Important?

So let’s with the elephant in the room question. Why is Bordeaux an important wine region? Simply put because of the English. It is ironic that the English and French who have love-hate relationship would be responsible for one of the greatest wine regions there are. The English did not create the wine region, as the Romans (2000 years ago) were the ones who planted the first grapes.

This English connection is extremely important, and one that locals told me about. The English have left influences that still exist to this day. For example the popularity of Rugby was due to the English influence. Or at least that is what the locals said to me. The English influence started in the 12th Century. Specifically the province of Aquitaine (pronounced ah-key-ten) was an English territory and Richard (Richard I) used Bordeaux as a base for his French operations.

During King Richard’s time and that of his successors the English exported the Bordeaux wine. As England was a sea faring nation their reach was far, which meant that Bordeaux wine would reach as far. Of course there are plenty of little details that continued to re-enforce the importance of Bordeaux wine, but I consider those as details. For it was the English that started the popularity of the Bordeaux wine and had they not done so Bordeaux would be another wine region on this planet. The English influence did not stop there, but included architecture, and ways of living.

Do I need to pay 5 gazillion for a good bottle of wine?

You will hear it over and over and over and over that Bordeaux wine must 15 years old, cost 500 hundred dollars and must be stored in prefect conditions.

HOGWASH!!!

First, let’s look at the classification system.

Most of Bordeaux’s classifications – notably those for the Médoc, Sauternes and Graves – have never been updated, despite various attempts to do so. That for St Emilion, however, is regularly reviewed; the latest classification took place in 2012. Status has always been important in Bordeaux and it is thus not entirely surprising that all attempted reclassifications are fraught with problems.

Think very hard about this. They are saying that outside of Saint Emilion, the classification of wine has not been changed in 200 hundred years. I take offense with the author on the following point:

…like the Médoc, Graves and Sauternes – because they were pretty accurate in the first place, being largely based (albeit indirectly) on terroir.

I traveled to quite a few local growers, and I mean I went to their Châteaus and had longer conversations with them. These folks produce decent wine, even though it might not part of the premier cru’s.

What the local growers told me was very interesting. They said that Medoc is a land of two classes. There are the upper class, the cru’s and the rest. Granted the cru’s for the most part are good, though they are overpriced. But what is extremely frustrating for the the smaller growers is that their effort and desire to strive for quality is largely ignored.

What this means is that in Bordeaux it is possible to get cheaper wine that is of good quality. The challenge though is the taste testing you will need to undertake to find a wine that you adore. Thus far of all Bordeaux wines I have drunk I have not been disappointed. In fact my wife and I upon returning to Switzerland and drinking wines from our cache have commented, “wow Bordeaux wines are good”

As I spend more time in Bordeaux on this blog there will be reviews of wines that are 15 Euros and below. My motto is that at 15 Euros and below anybody can be happy with a nice glass of Bordeaux wine.

What about those regions?

Let’s start with the basics, Sud Ouest, which for all intensive purposes is mostly Aquitaine. However, according to the new region definitions this is now called: Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charente.

626px-Aquitaine_in_France.svgEven though the regions have been reorganized Aquitaine will remain in the minds of people and books for centuries to come. So in the old days Aquitaine is one of the 27 regions of France. There is a strong Basque influence alongside the English influence. Within the region there are 5 departments (think of it as a state, or province); Dordogne, Lot et Garonne, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, Landes and Gironde.

The two major wine regions are Bergerac which is in the department of Dordogne, and of course Bordeaux, which is wholly in Gironde. Even though the Cognac region is near Bordeaux and Bergerac, it is not part of the Sud-Ouest.

The department of Gironde touches the Atlantic Ocean, and has to its north the Gironde estuary that is formed by the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. The capital of Gironde is Bordeaux, which happens to be the center of the Bordeaux wine region.

507px-Gironde-Position.svg

The Bordeaux wine region is wholly within the Gironde department, which is wholly within the Aquitaine region, which is wholly within the Sud Ouest of France.

What are the Wine Regions?

In the Bordeaux there is the overall wine region called Bordeaux. Thus if you encounter a bottle that labels itself as Bordeaux wine, or Grand Region of Bordeaux then it is not part of the other sub regions, or does not wish to classify itself with the other wine regions.

WARNING: There are these new imposter wines that call themselves Bordeaux blends, but are in fact copies of Bordeaux. I call these wines imposters because they try to copy the Bordeaux wines by replicating the blending of a Bordeaux wine, even though they are not in Bordeaux.

Weinbaugebiete-frankreich-bordeauxAs you see from the diagram it gets really confusing and while there are plenty of details here are the big picture things you need to know.

Right Bank of Bordeaux: These are all of the wine growing regions that are to the North of the Dordogne river. On this side of the river the primary grown grape is Merlot. A very notable wine region is Saint Emilion.

Left Bank of Bordeaux: These are all of the wine growing regions that are to the West of the Garonne river. On this side of the river the primary grown grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. A very notable wine region is Medoc.

Entre Deux Mers: This region is between the two rivers and while there is red wine, white wine is its claim to fame.

Key points: Left bank -> Cabernet Sauvignon, Right bank -> Merlot, Entre-Deux-Mers -> White Wine.

And there you have it, this is the introduction to the Bordeaux wine region. From this point on there are specific wine regions and their appropriate blends.

 

The Nazi Bunkers on the Coast of Medoc

Some of you may have wandered the coast of Medoc, or on other beaches along the Continental Europe coast and noticed REALLY big and heavy blocks of concrete and wondered, what is that? They are the left over pieces of the Nazi Atlantic Wall.

IMG_1864From the Wikipedia page it would seem not much is left over from the wall. The wall was never completed and in the case of the Medoc beaches there were only bunkers. Yet on the Medoc beaches most of them are in one piece. To appreciate the hugeness of these things consider that my wife is 5’3.5″ or 1.62m tall.

DSC_0131 IMG_1831 IMG_1814I was not born anywhere near the time of the WW2, and while I know the story of WW2 I cannot appreciate what it meant. Looking at the bunkers while we walk our dogs I get an appreciation of what might and did happen. I like seeing the bunkers as it is a piece of history that is not getting lost due to time. However I am both sad and happy at the same time. I am sad of what the bunker represents, but I am happy that the artists of today have such a big canvas to do their beautiful art.

Here is a trivia question, are the bunkers in the same location as when they were built?

Answer, no, the beaches are in constant movement and as one of the locals has said to me they were on dunes and further away from the ocean. He says 30 meters higher on a dune. Me, I don’t know, but that makes me realize just how powerful nature is.

How I Arrived In Medoc

Me landing in Medoc is not a stretch of the imagination if you consider my background and life. I resemble my mother, and that means Francophone, Italian lineage. My siblings resemble my father who is classic Germanic lineage. Though I was born in Germany I have never been crazy about beer. I remember back in grade three my parents had a dinner party in Canada. They served, beer, hard liquor, and wine. It was the red wine that I liked the most. My birth place Nassau (not Bahamas) is a German wine region. And then throughout high school I was always interested in French Canadian women. Simply put I have always have had a love of things Francophone and I adored France while living on the Cote D’Azur.

Here is Where the Story Becomes Long

For our retirement our idea was to create vacation rental properties and treat it as a business. That idea was not a stretch of the imagination for me since for most of my life I have lived in tourist  places (eg Fenelon Falls, Cote D’Azur, etc). I know what tourism implies and how to deal with it since my summer jobs (when I was not in Germany) were tourist related.

In 2014 we decided to find a place to build this business. So it would seem obvious that we want to be in France, right? No, actually we decided against it. We decided for Italy. Specifically we focused on the Abruzzo Region of Italy.

DSC_0520The people are wonderful, the food is fantastic, and the country side is beautiful.

DSC_0494 DSC_0526We even found a lovely property with a lovely view (The clouds are covering the mountain in the previous picture).

DSC_0009Ok we found a ruin that I could renovateDSC_0004Now things become comical.

The ruin was the right size, the property was the right size, and we liked the price. The next step was to purchase the property, and we asked “can we buy this property?” This is how the conversation went, please add shrugging shoulders, and the typical Italian accent.

Us: What are the dimensions of the property?

Them: It depends.

Us: It depends?

Them: Yes, it depends because we would need to know what you want to buy.

Us: What do you mean what we want to buy?

Them: Well you like the ruin, right?

Us: Yes

Them: We just found out right now that the ruin does not entirely belong to the property. You only get half.

Us: Half?

Them: Yes, half.

Us: So if we were to renovate, we would only get half the ruin and thus half of the ruin would remain a ruin?

Them: Yes, but you could also buy that other half.

Us: Who owns the other half.

Them: It depends, right now we are thinking it is the Uncle, but it might be the Aunt, or Great Uncle. We would need to figure that out.

It was not only this property where the size, owner and other attributes “magically” appeared or disappeared. I decided to ask an architect about this and he replied with, yes you guessed it, “it depends”.

I like Italy, it is awesome, but the legally, wow, it’s complicated.

France it is…

France was our final destination after Spain and Portugal. Each of those countries failed like Italy, but on different issues like water in Spain, or remoteness in Portugal. I looked at various regions and decided on Bordeaux. The first property that we wanted to purchase was in a village called Villefranche-de-Lonchat.

DSC_0187In the photo that vineyard and very old castle from nearly a thousand years ago were our neighbors. Take into account the picture was taken in the middle of winter when it was 1C you get the idea that life could be awesome. We were sold! Absolutely sold! The nearby lake (walking distance) was the cherry on the top.

But I am one to not just look at things once. Namely before I make any decision I try wild card ideas to validate whether or not my train of thought is correct. My wild card idea was Medoc. I thought, why not, I am in the area and hence take a few hours and see what there is.

Wow, was I shocked. It was not just about the beaches, but it is about everything; beaches, water, wine, country side, food, and the list goes on.

DSC_0026 DSC_0071 IMG_1844IMG_1801IMG_1868I arrived…