What will spring 2011 be remembered for in Bordeaux? The exceptional dry and hot weather leading to flowering 3 weeks early, Vinexpo with the Fête de la Fleur at Château Lascombes or the ‘interesting’ primeur campaign – we’re spoilt for choice.
The uniquely shaped vats in the new cellars at Château Cheval Blanc
For me it is the year of the new wine cellar.
There is no shortage of candidates from Château Clerc Millon, to Château Soutard. Cos d’Estournel doesn’t count as they led the way a few years ago following in the steps of Pontet Canet. Pavie has yet to come, Mouton should be finished any minute now and there are still cranes hanging over Le Pin and Petrus.
The prize however has to go to Château Cheval Blanc. They certainly got their timing right with the launch of their amazing new cellar just in time for Vinexpo. The ballet of helicopters flying to and from the show everyday for lunch and visits was an example of how no expense was spared to ensure that the great and the good discovered the new jewel in the LVMH crown.
Cheval Blanc is remarkable in many ways compared to its Saint Emilion neighbours. Along with Château Figeac it lies along the boundary with Pomerol where it enjoys a soil so very different from other Saint Emilion estates being dominated made by sand, gravel and clay sediment from the nearby Isle river rather than the traditional clay and limestone of the other classified growths of Saint Emilion. Hence the unusual dominance of Cabernet Franc in the blend.
The vines are a single vineyard situated all around the château which dates back to 1871 and covers 37 ha, large for Saint Emilion where the average is around 6 ha. Cheval Blanc was Classified as an A (along with Ausone) at the beginning of the Saint Emilion Classification in 1954 and has remained at this level in each subsequent revision (see previous post
Pierre Lurton was already managing the estate for the previous owners when Bernard Arnaud and Baron Albert Frère acquired the property in 1998. They wisely kept him on and he now also runs Château Yquem for the LVMH group.
Until the launch of these new cellars everything seemed to be in keeping with tradition and history. However behind the apparent tranquillity changes have taken place that perfectly illustrate trends throughout the Bordeaux vineyard, including agricultural practices with a greater respect for the environment and a better understanding the soils (Kees van Leeuwen, terroir expert at Bordeaux university was interpreting the soils of Cheval Blanc long before soil analysis became common practice)
This better understanding of the soils has lead many chateaux to undertake investments in the cellars to increase the number and reduce the size of tanks so that each parcel of land now indentified can be vinifed separately. This allows for a better expression of each parcel of land with a more accurate decision on picking time and wine making techniques from vat to vat. A student recently asked me ‘What’s the point if it’s all going to be blended anyway?’ Blending is after all one of the signatures of Bordeaux. Wine makers will answer that this allows for a much more precise decision of when to pick but perhaps more importantly a more precise choice of which parcels will enter into the first and the second wine, and in more and more cases the third wine (Latour, Leoville Lascazes, Haut Bailly, etc)
At Cheval Blanc the majority of wine making has always taken place in concrete tanks as is traditional on the right bank, and in particular in Pomerol, where most of the top properties continue to use concrete, appreciating the thermal inertia that the thick walls offer and the flexibility that made to measure concrete tanks give (see the recent cellars in Petit Village).
The architect Chrisitan de Portzamparc was given the challenge of the creating something beautiful enough for these men from the luxury and fashion worlds and practical enough to please the cellar master. Giving the impression of being a rolling hill amongst the vines, albeit a white one, the suspended garden on the roof and the use of wood does blend into the surrounding vineyard even though driving past during the construction ‘flying saucer’ was heard from the locals.
52 elegantly shaped concrete vats are housed in this Eco building qualified by the material used for construction, its energy efficieny and waste management. It is a spectacular marriage of past, future and nature.
A few weeks after Vinexpo Cheval Blanc released its price for 2010 futures, up to €750 bottle over €600 last year – someone has to pay for that $ 18.8 million cellar!