What do you get when a Welsh doctor and a Kiwi fund manager take over a Chateau in the Graves appellation of Bordeaux?
In 2000, Nicola and Sean Allison took over the reins of Chateau du Seuil, a 19th century property in the Graves appellation, when Nicola’s parents retired.
Purchased in 1988 with just 3 ha of vines, what started out almost as a hobby vineyard has become one of the most dynamic wineries of the appellation. Sean is from New Zealand and Nicola practised medicine there before taking her scientific background back to the university in Montpellier to study oenology.
The property now covers 25 ha over three appellations; Graves but also Cotes de Bordeaux on the right bank of the Garonne and sweet white Cérons, the village where the Château stands. As is now typical of the Graves about 65% is under red and 25% is under white vines, with an average age of about 30 years.
They have changed the approach not just to wine making but also to wine marketing;
growing the brand (not a world Nicola particularly likes) to include Chateau de Seuil Graves red and white, Cérons, Domaine de Seuil from the plots in the Cotes, again in red and wine (Bordeaux Blanc), but also Chateau de Seuil Heritage, their top ‘cuvée’ produced in exceptional years from vines on the appropriately named ‘Seuil plateau’. In 2002 they purchased neighbouring Chateau de l’Avocat. Previously the wines from this estate were blended into the Rothschild brand but now the 8 hectares of vines produce a white and a red estate bottled Graves. Presented in a heavy bottle that reflects the more powerful expression of these older vines planted on typical deep gravel soils that give the name to the appellation.
Never known to sit on their laurels they also recently added a white and a sparkling wine ‘Les Perles de Seuil’ to the brand
Unsurprisingly perhaps, given their kiwi background, they have a particular interest in the local expression of Sauvignon Blanc. But their whites, a blend of sauvignon and Sémillon, remain true to the classic Graves style. The Sauvignon is cool, vat fermented whereas the Sémillon is barrel fermented and aged on the lees; the blend brings all the zesty flavour of the Sauvignon underlined by the rich aromas and mouth feel of the Sémillon. In their continued experimentation they have gone back to the roots of Bordeaux wine making introducing ‘integral’ red wine making in 400 litres oak barrels for the top red plots of the vineyard; a mix of old and new world techniques that seems appropriate given their pedigree.
The innovation is in the vineyard too as in 2012 they produced Chateau de Seuil Red organically for the first time and since 2014 all their wines carry the organic certification.
Nicola is a great advocate for Graves wines, explaining that as overshadowed as they may be by neighbours from the North, these wines represent some of the best value wines in the region with a natural elegance, thanks to the merlot in the blend that makes them very approachable. She is constantly travelling around the world to promote their wines and also other wines from Bordeaux that they market via their small negociant company created 12 years ago, although as a nod to Sean’s roots the range includes one organic New Zealand wine. They are a thoroughly modern couple, sharing the workload at the chateau, travelling abroad t market the wines as well as bringing up 3 sons in a Kiwi-Welsh rugby playing tradition.
As to the theory that you are never a prophet in your own country, last year they proved this wrong when Château de Seuil was chosen as the official wine for the Royal Welsh Regiment and presented to the Queen during a lunch at the Millennium Stadium in June.
The answer to my first question, about what this international partnership brings? A great collection of delightful and very affordable Bordeaux wines, available at a distributor near you.
If you would like to met Nicola and learn more about Chateau du Seuil and their wines, please click on the link below to watch a recent interview with her in the cellars of the property.