Wine-themed river cruise – Lyon to Viviers

 A more pronounced aroma distinguishes a winter from a summer truffle.
A more pronounced aroma distinguishes a winter from a summer truffle.

ABOARD THE AmaDAGIO – We departed Lyon around midnight and with the assistance of a fast current, arrived in Le Pouzin around noon. This was the port of debarkation for our first excursion and it was memorable. While cruising in the morning, Cruise Manager Kriss provided a general destination briefing for all interested passengers, followed by our first wine lecture from Steve Ledson, our wine host.

Steve’s 10:00 A.M. talk included the opportunity to taste two white wines from his Sonoma Valley winery, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Yum! We thoroughly enjoyed the crisp, well-balanced cuvees but especially appreciated learning details of his wine-making process. He described fascinating intricacies of his viticultural practices, from variety and clone selection for each site, to trellising and pruning practices, to harvest timing. Apropos of our location, Steve summarized his wine philosophy as, “great wine is made in the vineyard.” He and the French seem to agree on the importance of “terroir.”

Questions from Steve’s audience suggested a pretty knowledgeable bunch.

 Serge and Amy prepare to find truffles.
Serge and Amy prepare to find truffles.

But that was just the beginning of our gustatory education for the day. Serge Aurel, third generation owner of a truffle farm, proved that an educational talk can be thoroughly entertaining. With broad gestures, dramatic pauses, infectious laugh, and expressive face, it almost didn’t matter that he was speaking French and very few in his audience understood the language very well. We had a helpful translation by our guide that provided a more nuanced understanding, but most of us got the gist of his message directly.

We had tasted truffles and knew of the distinctive aroma and taste of the pricey fungus, but that was about the extent of our knowledge before we experienced Serge. He explained about farming truffles in contrast to traditional truffle hunting with pigs, including selecting the two varieties of oak to plant, and infecting the roots of young saplings with truffle spores before planting. Even our untrained noses could readily detect the difference between winter and summer truffles. Then he introduced us to his dog Amy, and took us out into his grove, instructing Amy to demonstrate her truffle finding technique. It was an impressive feat, and she was a well-trained dog. Serge did admit that the truffles had been planted for Amy to find, since recent harvesting had retrieved the truffles growing on these roots. Afterward he offered us wine and baguette slices with truffle oil and pate. Yum! Again.

 In the medieval village of Grignan
In the medieval village of Grignan

Our excursion continued in the nearby village of Grignan, a medieval limestone confection crowned with a castle cum Renaissance palace. Our guide led our walking tour past a game of petanque, small boutiques and cafes, and up cobblestone lanes to the castle. The climb might have proven a challenge for some less agile or sure-footed members of our group. However, we discovered AmaWaterways offered a “gentle” walking option on excursions such as this one with more challenging conditions—an option appreciated by some of our fellow voyagers.

By 6:00 P.M. we were back aboard AmaDagio only in Viviers, rather than Le Pouzin. The crew had moved the vessel down river while we were experiencing truffles and castles, thus picking up some time on our journey. We left port in the wee hours, headed for our next port-of-call, Avignon.

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