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 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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.