It’s been a while since we all took a holiday. Don’t you miss researching about a new place, the happening attractions, the undiscovered territory & the local cuisine? Grab on to your favourite beverage (you may need a glass of wine for this), some munchies to devour & a comfortable corner in your home. I’m taking you on a trip to a country rich not only in the variety of wine & food, but also boasting of history & culture.
Are you ready? Let’s go.
Today, we’re visiting what can only be called the queen of wine growing regions or “Le Jardin de la France” (“The Garden of France”). Versatile, graceful, surprising & most definitely stunning. Loire Valley, here we come.
With the volume of depth & knowledge in the various parts of Loire, we’re visiting an underrated town called Chinon, located in the heart of Loire Valley on the banks of the Vienne river, 3 hours to the Southwest of Paris. The perfumed & aromatic grape varieties of Cabernet Franc (reds rosés) & Chenin Blanc (whites) shine here. We have an extremely special wine professional, who’s been offering tailor made vineyard tours in & around Chinon on his bicycle. He’s here to share his story with us & tell us about the experiences he curates.
Meet Quintin Smith. He’s formally educated in Criminal Justice Studies with International Relations but has been doing this for the last 1 year, pampering & educating his guests from around the world.
1. Hi Quintin, it’s a pleasure to be interacting with you. Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m noticing some grey hairs starting to come through, but I still feel like I’m 18! I love my family and everything I do is with the goal of being able to provide for them, I’m so proud of them. We plonked our boys in a school, in a new country speaking no French at all, and after 2.5 years… well, they just blow my mind. I love wine, cycling, socialising and spending time with friends, talking about the world. I love time outside, I love the beach (slight problem living in central France now!) so we get our fix by paddling in the river. I love skiing in the winter. I don’t like marmite, oysters and people being unkind – if you’re going to be nasty, just keep it to yourself.
2. Why did you choose vineyard tourism as opposed to anything else? What was that one inflection point?
We also look after a chateau (country house or a castle) here in Chinon, which was the reason we decided to move here in the first place – it seemed like, and was, too good an opportunity for my family and I to try and live in a different country, experience a different culture and it’s allowed our three children to speak fluent French. For me personally, I also continue to run a business in the UK which is where I’m from, but it’s stressful, takes a lot of headspace and means I need to spend a lot of time behind the desk! Initially, I was going to set up a mirror image of that business on this side of the channel, which is looking after holiday homes and second homes. I quickly realised however that I needed something that made me wake up in the morning & look forward to the day ahead. I started coming up with ideas and kept coming back to my hobbies basically – bikes and wine! There are lots of existing companies offering longer cycling tours through the Loire, but I wanted to try and create a small business that offered an experience which is part of someone’s holiday rather than their entire holiday. I love cycling, but actually, I don’t really like sitting on a bike saddle for long hours & days at end. I therefore by a stroke of luck really found myself living in this beautiful town, blessed with many amazing winemakers on the doorstep – It all seemed to come together!
3. Tell us one episode out of your holidays in France, that made you choose Chinon in Loire over the so many other wine growing gems? Maybe a memory or a conversation with somebody?
I’ve holidayed for years in France since I was very young. My parents gave me the love of France in the first place, and I always knew that one day I’d call France ‘home’. After our children came along though, realistically I thought we’d missed the opportunity to live in France, so it was put on the back burner, and I thought it would be something my wife and I would do once the boys (we have 3 boys aged 11, 9 and 7) had left home. Then I saw a little advert looking for a guardian couple – in Chinon… et voila!
4. Within vineyard tourism, you are doing something extremely unique. Why did you choose cycling & picnics for wine experiences over conventional vineyard tasting activities?
I’m sure there are others out there doing something similar. There’s a company based in Bordeaux called Rustic Vines and I can’t wait to visit them to see what they do – it looks really good with a very similar ethos to mine. I’ve basically tried to take some of the fear out of wine tasting. For years, my wife and I holidayed in France, never quite being ‘brave’ enough to go into the big barn doors of a vineyard, and when we finally did, we tended to go into the bigger vineyards which proudly shouted ‘We Speak English’, even though my wife was fluent in French! So, my thinking is that anyone can go into a vineyard around this part of the world, taste a few glasses of wine and go home with a box or two. For me, my experience, France and it’s wine is more than this. When I think of France, I think about cycling, I think about the countryside and the nature, I think about the warmest of hospitality, about the sunshine, the amazing baguettes and the sweetest of desserts. And of course, the wine. When you put all of this together, it’s fits into a great package for part of someone’s holiday. My business is also just me. I don’t want to get too big, I want to keep a hold of something that I love doing without it being stressful. I love the laid back way of life this offers, sharing everything I love about France and this part of France, with those who join me on a tour. Even the picnics are AMAZING, and these are made and collected by me on the morning of each tour, by 2 friends who run a truly a wonderful boulangerie (bakery) in Chinon.
5. How do you keep your customers engaged while staying authentic to Chinon, the winemaking, terroir & it’s story?
It’s not that hard – when you’re cycling through the vineyards, and meeting the winemakers themselves who tell their tale, it’s nothing but real. Chinon is a very special town rich not just in wine, but in history as well. It’s also a very dynamic, forward thinking town which opens its arms to visitors – that’s the reason we’re still here, and firmly call this little town in the heart of the Loire valley, ‘home’. I also don’t have a ‘route’ that I use for every tour. I tweak, I change, & visit different vignerons (a grape grower) because I’ve always said, if I get bored doing the same old route, telling the same stories, and seeing the same people, I’m not going to enjoy the experience. So how on earth will my guests enjoy it? If someone wants to ride 5km or 40km, we’ll come up with a plan for the day, which is what I love – every day is different. I also know a little bit about wine so I also help inform and share my passion along the way. I’ve worked in vineyards during the harvest and earlier in the season, done my fair share of back breaking and knee shattering during ‘ébourgeonnage’ (budding) so I know my way around a vine. I also proudly have my WSET level 2 pin badge, but I’m learning all the time from the real experts around this part of the world, who kindly open their doors to us with the warmest of welcomes.
6. Tell us how your guests are different from regular vineyard visitors?
Ooh I don’t know- are they different? I guess they are a little because they have a passion for an experience, for adventure. I guess the easy option would be to drive somewhere and load up with wine, but those who ride with me want something more. They want the sunshine, they want the bike ride, they want the French boulangerie experience – they want something real and authentic. They’re a slightly different breed I guess wanting something else from their holiday, and are looking to have a good time achieving this. What it means is that probably 99% of those who join me, are actually like me! We often share the same passions, want the same things from the day, have the same outlook on life and are all looking for something new & different from what you’d achieve by simply visiting a cave.
7. Is there a specific happy or interesting anecdote with your customers that you can recall & would like to share with us? There must be many, but share 1-2 with us…
Just last year I started 2 tours, on 2 different days, with people that I quickly realised couldn’t ride a bike! You know the old saying- ‘You never forget how to ride a bike’… It’s not true!! People clearly forget, and that provided a challenge, but we get through, we giggle along the way, and still manage to taste wine and experience something different. Even if it means we need to change the plan of the day entirely within 5 minutes of starting, and need to repair a broken derailleur… The truth is every tour is interesting – I meet so many people from so many different backgrounds, from all over the world. I’ve spent time with bankers, waiters, musicians, vets, dentists, politicians, students, from most of America, much of Australia and the whole of the United Kingdom. We all have 1 thing in common, the desire to find that bottle of wine which just works, and to be able to relax with it at the end of the day reflecting on a great experience.
8. How has the universal lockdown impacted your business? Are there going to be some innovations in your offerings?
I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but most of the world is in the same boat. I’m fortunate- my little business is just me. I have no staff to pay, no outgoings, no large loan repayments, so I’ve just shut down. Brighter days will come and France will no doubt return to its spot as being the most visited country in the world. I’m not worried, but I’m looking forward to getting back and doing these tours, whether that will be this year or 2021 we’ll see, but we will be back and I can’t wait. I’ve pondered changing my offerings, but no, we’re just going to continue to slowly evolve, and build on what I have now. Why change something when you love it, and are excited to start again. Things are changing for us personally, which will mean that in the future, we’ll also be able to offer my guests, a chance to stay with us, dine with us and to have an even greater French experience, but for now, that’s something to look forward to in the future.
Lastly, we’d love to know about your guilty pleasures, favourite style of wines & go to food & wine pairings…
My guilty pleasures… chocolate. My favourite style of wine changes with the season. I’m writing this in June so I love the local rosé offered in Chinon. 100% Cabernet Franc. It’s rosé with a soul!!! I love big hitting fireside reds which need to breathe for half a day at Christmas, I love fresh crisp white wines when on the Ile-de-Re in the Summer… My favourite go to food – curry! I love curry and miss it so much. Every time I go back to the UK, first night ritual is always a curry with a big hearty red wine. In the summer, I do love a BBQ with a rosé or a seafood platter (minus the oysters!) with a cool, crisp sharp white wine… My mouth is now actually watering just writing this!
This was so delightful. We hope you are enjoying at least a few of these treats on your special day. Today, Quintin turns a year older, giving us all sorts of work goals by pursuing his passion with a smile on his face every day. So, in return, he ends up making all his visitors happy by sharing his love for wine, France & cycling.
All images courtesy: Vineyard et Vélo
Aradhna Chhachhi is a certified holistic healer at RachnaRestores and you can find more details about her HERE. For more such articles and content on health & wellness, don’t forget to follow us!