Monthly Archives: October 2014

New Harvest – New Toys

If you follow this blog you will know that I’m always keen to share what’s new in Bordeaux and to show that, despite its traditional image, Bordeaux embraces new technology with gusto.

Harvest is a great time to see all the wine makers’ new toys in action. The number of optical selectors in the cellars, whizzing their way through grapes increases every year.  Given the healthy state of the crop this year, very little seemed to have been discarded – a welcome change after last year. Producers are breathing a sigh of relief, as we see yields back to normal in 2014.

Technology is not just about selecting grapes, it is present at every level of wine making from fermentation, pumping over, extraction, running off, you name it every part of the process is subject to tweaking. Perhaps the most spectacular example of innovation I saw during this year’s harvest was the suspended cellar at Chateau La Fleur de Bouard in Lalande de Pomerol. It is great to see such a cellar at the heart of an appellation so often overlooked in favour of its prestigious neighbour. It does of course help that the owner  has Angelus to hand to help with the investment, but what is interesting is that it could be considered a testing ground for the big brother; similar inverted tanks where installed at Chateau Angelus following their success here. It is perhaps less risky to experiment in a lesser know area? Having said that, Saint Emilion and Pomerol have always been recognised for being in the vanguard of innovation in Bordeaux wine making.

The suspended and inverted vats t Chateau La Fleur de Bouard

The suspended and inverted vats t Chateau La Fleur de Bouard

The 25 ha property created this spectacular suspended cellar in 2011 so this year the team was confident using the 100% gravity fed technology. The 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (the Cabernet sauvignon seems to thrive on the on big pebbles here near the Barbanne river that the percentage will be increasing in future vintages) are lifted up to the top of the inverted stainless steel tanks; wider at the top narrower at the bottom.

Philippe Nunes explains how it all works

Philippe Nunes explains how it all works

This inversion creates greater weight on the cap during delestage (rack and return), allowing for a natural pressing from the weight of the grapes and more free run wine. The juice from the tanks is run off into smaller tanks that are transferred back to the top via a tank-sized lift (similar to the one built in Cos d’Estournel). They use only delestage for extraction, or super delestage as wine maker Philippe Nunes likes to call it. It is quick; the liquid falls back onto the cap at a rate of 40hl per minute – that’s fast! (I do have video and will make it a priority to work out how to upload this and more this winter – promise!)

Despite this high tech investment, Philippe claims that 90% of the work is done in the field and that, of the work in the cellar, 90% is cleaning – a warning to aspiring cellar rats who may want to work here!

Punching down - literally!

Punching down – literally!

But it not just about stainless steel, the 100% Merlot Le Plus de Bouard is vinified in 100% new oak barrels, and the punching down needed for extraction is done by hand – that’s pretty low tech – and also involves a lot of cleaning!

With innovation comes responsibility, and at Château Smith Haut Lafite in Pessac Leognan they are taking their environmental responsibility very seriously with the building of their new ‘Stealth ‘cellar. 2014 was the second vintage made in this low energy cellar, constructed from local materials by local builders in an old gravel quarry on the property, a stone’s throw from Les Sources de Caudalie. Stealth is a good word. Not only is the aim to reduce the environmental impact but without technical director Fabien Teitgen with us to lead the way, we wouldn’t have found it, so well is it hidden among the trees.

Searching for the stealth cellar

Searching for the stealth cellar

Found it!

Found it!

The cellar was built around existing trees in the quarry and moss on the vat cellar roof and bushes on the barrel cellar roof add to the disguise. This plus its location, the 60cm-1m thick concrete walls, natural humidity and exchange with geothermal heat from 2m down maintain temperatures a cool 12-14 C. Solar panels on the tractor garage help power the cellar and CO2 from fermentation is recovered to make bicarbonate of soda.  With a 90 tones potential production perhaps we will soon be seeing a Caudalie toothpaste to remove those wine tasting stains?

Bicarbonate of Soda - a new by-product

Bicarbonate of Soda – a new by-product

Technology is not just reserved for wine making. Bordeaux is sometimes criticised for its marketing (or lack of). Well think again. Iconic Bordeaux property Chateau Lafite Rothschild held its first “virtual” tasting  this summer from its spectacular circular cellar, broadcast live and simultaneously to 3 cities in the United States: Dallas, New York and Chicago.

Organised by Pasternak Wine Imports, importer of DBR (Lafite) wines in the USA, the tasting was broadcast to an audience of American clients and wholesalers. Happily it wasn’t completely virtual as clients were able to taste the same wines simultaneously as the wine makers.

Filming in the cellars of Chateau Lafite

Filming in the cellars of Chateau Lafite

I was thrilled to be involved, interviewing Charles Chevallier, Director of Bordeaux Estates, Eric Kohler, Director of International Estates and Diane Flamand, Winemaker for The Collection range.

With the DBR Lafite Rothschild winemaking team

With the DBR Lafite Rothschild winemaking team

Each wine maker had a unique opportunity to present and comment on a selection of wines from DBR (Lafite) properties sold in the USA and exchange live questions and answers from the US trade, creating a deeper understanding of the underlying signature of elegance and place that unite all the wines in the DBR portfolio. To view the film trailer, click here: and here for a product by product tasting.

Bordeaux is also innovating its generic communication, offering a new image with the first ever Global Advertising Campaign. Under the tagline ‘The more you look, the more you discover’, it invites consumers in 7 leading Bordeaux markets (France, Belgium, Germany, USA, Great Britain, China and Japan) to engage with the wines of the region through modern visuals communicating messages, such as ‘savoir faire’, diversity, elegance, originality and authenticity – messages that can perhaps get lost in some more traditional images of Bordeaux.

One of the Bordeaux visuals promoting the diversity of wine styles in Bordeaux

One of the Bordeaux visuals promoting the diversity of wine styles in Bordeaux

 

As of next week the adverts will be popping up in the UK where they will appear in the national press, on outdoor poster sites and the London underground and in similar sites in the US. You will find them on line as well, exclusively so in Asia.  More illustrations will follow in 2015 – so keep your eyes open.

 

 

Discovering the Medoc with the Cru Bourgeois

September saw exciting news for Medoc fans; not only did the Cru Bourgeois release the news of the new classification of the 2012 vintage, with 267 properties classified, they also confirmed their interest in re-establishing a quality hierarchy that was at the origin of the classification in 1932.

The Cru Bourgeois are a great window on the Medoc. I have just returned from several weeks in the US and used a range of Cru Bourgeois on several occasions to introduce the terroirs that make up this region of Bordeaux. They also encompass the history and the diversity of the region and are examples of the increase in quality and consistency that have characterised Bordeaux wines over recent vintages.

Presenting the Cru Bourgeois to students at Chaplin School of Hospitality in Florida

Presenting the Cru Bourgeois to students at Chaplin School of Hospitality in Florida

So what are the Cru Bourgeois exactly? As with most things in Bordeaux, to understand how we got here it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the history behind the story.

It is undeniable that the 1855 classification of Médoc, Graves and Sauternes, represents one of the best marketing coups the wine world has ever seen, even if at the time it wasn’t intentional. Was the Cru Bourgeois Classification created in its shadow? It’s unfair perhaps to think of it of a club for those who didn’t make it in 1855, but it certainly represented, at the time of its creation in 1932, a group of châteaux that may have considered that if that classification had not been written in tablets of stone in 1855, they may well have been included had it evolved further. The 60 Medoc properties included in the 1855 classification out of a total of 1500 represent 22% of the surface area of the Medoc vineyards.  (Haut Brion in the Graves and 27 properties in Sauternes and Barsac were also included). For more information about the 1885 classification, I highly recommend consulting Dewey Markham’s seminal tome 1855.

The Cru Bourgeois were officially classified for the first time in 1932, however it has deeper historical roots. It may seem strange to Anglo-Saxons to use the term Bourgeois, perhaps not always considered a compliment? It is however a traditional term that dates back to the Middle Ages. Historically it applied to influential families of Bordeaux rather than the aristocracy, who benefited from exoneration of charges on their land acquisitions; consequently, they purchased the best pieces of land that became available in the Medoc in the 17th century when the peninsula was drained by the Dutch. This right was granted by the French King to keep the Bordelais on his side against their historical allies (or occupiers depending upon how you look at it), the English.

In 1824 a treatise by  Franck identified about 300 Crus Bourgeois in the Médoc pre-dating the 1855 classification. In 1932 Bordeaux’s wine merchants with the Chamber of Commerce officially recognised 444 Crus Bourgeois at three levels of quality : Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel.  In the 60’s a Union des Cru Bourgeois was formed.

The attempt to bring the classification up to date in 2003 with just 247 chateau was challenged and written off, so the new more democratic system came into being as of the 2008 vintage.

So how does it work now? There are 2 steps to becoming a Cru Bourgeois. Even to be considered the wine must already be declared as AOC from one of the 8 Medoc appellations (Medoc, Haut Medoc, Listrac, Moulis, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac or Saint Estephe). The first step is then compliance with quality criteria on the basis of approved specifications, followed by the second step, a blind tasting by professional tasters of all the wines between March and July following bottling.

2010 saw the publication of the first Official Selection for the 2008 vintage (243 Crus Bourgeois). The wines are tasted when bottled and brought to market. In 2011, the 2009 Official Selection represented 246 Crus Bourgeois, the 2010 Official Selection 260 Crus Bourgeois the 2011 Official Selection 256 Crus Bourgeois and the last 2012 official selection 267.

It’s not just about being classified. The Cru Bourgeois procedure approves the quality of only a given volume of wine and provides a guarantee of this quality for the consumer. The Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 2012 are easily identifiable at point of sale, each bottle is authenticated with a sticker with a unique, random number and a ‘Flash code’ – a direct link to a dedicated space for each château on the new website.

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker

The latest classification announced this September is the fifth since the re-oganisation of the system and shows an increase in châteaux that pass the acid test of blind tasting by an independently sourced panel. This all adds up to a total of 146 million bottles released onto the market over five years, of which the quality has been guaranteed. This general increase is in both the numbers and quality of participants but also an increase in reputation of the ‘brand’.

The lack of a hierarchy within this new system means there has been reluctance by some of the previously Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels to participate. It will be interesting to see if the new stated desire to recreate several quality levels will bring them back into the fold. I hope they do, the Cru Bourgeois are a force to be reckoned with. Last month’s classification of the 2012 vintage covers 4 100 hectares of vines and represents about 30% of the Medoc’s production, that’s 29 million bottles.

A Cru Bourgeois line up in the US

A Cru Bourgeois line up in the US

How would I sum up the Cru Bourgeois and their classification? Durability with an annual challenge perhaps or, as I found on my tour of the US, a highly accessible and reassuring way to discover the wines of the Medoc. They are accessible in style and, perhaps even more importantly, accessible in price. Showing these wines to the trade and students never failed to ellicit the delighted reaction that wines from the Medoc could be both affordable, available and delicious. Go look for that sticker.

The sticker to look for

The sticker to look for