Monthly Archives: September 2011

A little bit of Britain in the heart of St Emilion

Staying in a working vineyard is always a treat and in Bordeaux you are spoilt for choice. Between luxury hotels on, or associated with, vineyards (think Les Sources de Caudalie, Hostellerie de Plaisance and Cordeillan Bages) and more low key but often just as luxurious B & B’s think Chateau de Mole and Chateau Grand Faurie Larose (more of which soon to follow in another post). You can even privatise a Chateau for your guests and live like a chatelaine at Chateau La Lagune or live like a local in a self catering gite such as Chateau Biac

Somewhere in between the 2 is one of my favourites. Chateau Franc Mayne is a classified growth of St Emilion, owned and run by Griet Laviale. On the eastern slopes of the limestone outcrop at the heart of the appellation the Chateau overlooks the vineyards not just of saint Emilion but also Pomerol with views of the Tertre de Fronsac in the distance. The chateau is the perfect location for a boutique hotel, only 5 minutes from the village by bicycle (which they provide).

Griet has used the site beautifully with the 9 bedrooms in the main chateau, where her artistic flair and familiarity with high-end hotels has been put to good use. The sumptuous living room with its honesty bar and oenomatic wine selection leads to the onto the terrace and natural swimming pool overlooking that view. The pool reflects the eco concerns of the owners, as do the agricultural practices of the estate and the complete recycling of all water used in the winery as well as the hotel.

Close by are the redesigned winery cellars with the latest oak and stainless vats and the 9th century quarries used for ageing.

The View across the vines to Fronsac

Never one to stand still Griet is just putting the finishing touches to 2 new guest rooms in the 18th century post house situated on the very top of the property along side the old roman road leading from Libourne to the heart of Saint Emilion. This road was used by the pilgrims on their way to Saint Jacques de Compostella in the middle ages and it is now dedicated to more modern hedonistic pilgrims in pursuit of fine food & wine.

The two rooms in the post house are a perfect getaway for a family or friends, slightly away from the main house. For obvious reasons the Oxbridge room, with its private terrace, speaks to me. Both rooms have what must be the biggest showers in Saint Emilion, if not Bordeaux, where you can sing under the shower with a view over the vines.

The Oxbridge room

You are not limited to supping Saint Emilion while you are in residence, Griet owns 2 other properties in the region; the spectacular Chateau de Lussac in the heart of the satellite appellation Lussac Saint Emilion and Château Vieux Maillet in Pomerol and are available for tasting, and drinking, at the property.

Keep on eye on the Relais Franc Mayne as they are currently redesigning the tour in the underground quarries and, in keeping with their eco philosophy, they will be building a tree house in the famous Cedars (the name of their second wine) for the next season.

Come join the harvest

The Bordeaux harvest is under way, the dry whites are in and the reds are starting with the more precocious merlot. It is possible to join in the fun of the harvest in Bordeaux, even if you’re not feeling up to all the backbreaking work. For several years ‘Les Medocaines’ a group of 4 women wine makers have organised harvest days at their properties; Château Paloumey and du Taillan in the Haut Medoc, Château La Tour de Bessan in Margaux and Château Loudenne in Médoc .
Just sign up at the Bordeaux tourist office for one of their scheduled days and you will be whisked away to pick and sort in the morning and, after joining the harvesters for lunch, it’s off to learning how to make and blend the wine in the afternoon.

Grape selection at Château Paloumey

If you are happier observing from a safe distance but still want the atmosphere, from the 10-12 September Château Gruaud Larose, classified growth of Saint Julien, is also offering the possibility to join in the fun with their Harvest workshop days. These include a tasting of the different grape varieties during a visit of the property, a harvest lunch alongside the pickers and a tasting of the fermenting must in the afternoon. Along with the lunch at wine, that’s a start to finish tasting experience.
Or you can just turn up for a harvest lunch along side the real workers. Chateau Troplong Mondot, first growth of Saint Emilion, offers a wonderful harvest menu in the dining room next to the cellars along with 4 different wines from the property, as does Château Phelan Segur in Saint Estephe. Squeezed between top classified growths Cos d’Estournel and Montrose this family vineyard has one of the post spectacular locations overlooking the Gironde Estuary.

If you can’t decide and want someone to organise all the details for you, Decanter Tours is offering personalised Harvest tours to suit your mood. Book now before it’s all over.

A new crop – of labels!

Harvest is well underway, most of the dry whites are in and driving around I can see some merlot on trailers already on the way to the cellars.
The vintage 2011 is not all that is new here, this week I saw the new bottling of 2009 on display. Most of the properties bottled their 2009 through the summer and are just planning to deliver the bottles to customers who stumped up their money spring 2010 for their primeur allocation. The 2009 vintage will be on the shelves for the end of the year although most of them will be laying down for a few years rather than ending up on festive tables.
There are some new labels amongst the 2009 crop. Château Pichon Longueville Baron, second growth of Pauillac, has a very complicated label but it has become such a signature that fans do not need to look at it to understand what’s in the bottle, they can recognise it from a distance. Changing it would be tricky, however their label for their second wine ‘Les Tourelles ‘ has had a complete revamp. The picture on the new label shows the property as it is today. Not that the 19th century ‘fairytale’ chateau has changed since it was built by Raoul de Pichon-Longueville, but the cellars have and the château is now reflected in a pool covering the new underground cellars. The label manages to capture the traditional château but with a clean presentation – the mix of tradition and modern that represents today’s Bordeaux so well.


However the label of the Grand Vin is nodding towards the 21st century sporting a QR code on the back label.

Another property with a change to the back label is Château Canon, first growth of Saint Emilion. The Wertheimer family, owners of Chanel purchased canon, in 1996 but along with their ownership of Château Rauzan Segla since 1994. For many years the Wertheimer family kept a low profile about their Bordeaux presence and the link to Chanel was rarely mentioned. This has all changed now the new label of Rauzan Segla designed by Karl Lagerfeld (see previous post ) and now the back labels of the 2009 clearly mention the link with Chanel.

A glass with your wine?

There are rumours that the legislation for taking liquids on board planes will be lifted soon which will be a relief to the châteaux receiving visitors and their guests alike.
The legislation has made a big difference to cellar-door purchases by foreigner visitors not wanting a risk a breakage in their suitcase on the way home. However for many of the top growths in Bordeaux there is often no wine to purchase at the cellar after visits anyway, as everything is pre sold on primeur. Some properties keeps a little back for visitors but it’s a challenge during the bun fight at primeur time for them to hold on to bottles.
All is not lost however as if you can’t take back a bottle you can also take another little memento. Move over corkscrews and sommelier aprons Bordeaux has a better class of souvenir – crystal decanters and glasses.
Chateau Troplong Mondot has just created tasting glasses and the Chanel properties,Château Rauzan Segla and Château Canon, who know a thing or two about luxury, have crystal glasses and decanters with a discreet logo on the base and stopper. Château Latour also has a beautiful decanter and glasses but as they only welcome trade at the Château you’ll be lucky to get your hands on one.

Château Lagrange has a more modern decanter and glass set with the signature château visual from their label, and Château Kirwan, one of the pioneers of wine tourism, also sells signature classes with a bold K. Château Giscours even offers a free glass as a gift with the visit and tasting.

Recognise the château?

You can buy the wines when you get home but the decanters and glasses are the exclusive proof that you were there. The question remains; can you serve your Pichon in a La Tour decanter or your Cheval Blanc in a Canon glass? It might lead astray your guests at a blind tasting though!