Monthly Archives: May 2016

Innovation at Chateau de Reignac

Yves and Stephanie Vatelot have been innovating at Chateau de Reignac since they purchased property in 1990, so it came as no surprise that the Chateau was awarded the best of Wine Tourism award for Innovation for 2016. As an engineer and entrepreneur, innovation is in Yves Vatelot’s DNA, he made his fortune with the ‘epilady’ that some of our readers may know well.

There is a clear hierarchy to the wines of Bordeaux, thanks to the famous classifications from the 1800s and early 1900s established Bordeaux’s reputation but there is also a hierarchy within the 62 different appellations that make up the region.
The Bordeaux appellation is at once the largest and most humble of the appellations of the region and Chateau de Reignac is firmly at its heart. Their red wines are under the Bordeaux Supérieur label, which requires a slightly lower yield and a longer ageing period.

So why Château Reignac? Well as always, it’s all about the place in Bordeaux: the ‘Terroir’. Situated almost at the point of the Entre deux Mers close to the confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, the highest outcrops of Reignac’s vineyards are strewn with pebbles brought by these rivers over millions of years. This deep quaternary gravel similar to that found in the Medoc and Graves, is key in Bordeaux’s cool Atlantic climate. The warmth reflecting off the gravel helps the grapes, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon, to reach perfect and consistent ripeness. Other plots of the vineyard are dominated by the Limestone and Clay soils associated with the top vineyards of Saint Emilion where Merlot and Cabernet Franc flourish on these cooler soils. So the potential was here, the range of terroir that shows the range of soils that Bordeaux does best.
Investing in such a region for an innovator offered a myriad of possibilities but also challenges, the Vatelots rose to this challenge with gusto, and it has paid off.
The property now produces 4 wines, the Grand Vin de Chateau de Reignac, the second wine Chateau de Reignac their top cuvée Balthus, produced from a small parcel of Old Merlot, and more recently a dry white.

Choosing Michel Rolland as a consultant was a daring move but they applied his ideas and the resulting Grand Vin de Reignac regularly shines at blind tastings outclassing wines that are sometimes 10 times the price. He seems proud of his tag line Grand Cru Non Classé.

These were the heady days when the garage wine movement in Bordeaux was all about the innovation in the cellar: low yields, severe selection of berries, cold maceration, integral fermentation, techniques that are now well integrated into, if perhaps toned down, to Bordeaux winemaking thanks to innovators like Michel Roland and de Reignac, amongst others, who dared to be different.
Today innovation is all about what’s happening out in the vines and de Reignac is right there, using the latest agronomical and pedological studies and techniques. Biodiversity is a buzzword in viticulture and the layout of the 150 ha of the property contributes to this, just 70 are under vine, the remainder being forest and a lake large enough for an enthusiastic client to land his seaplane on during a recent visit. If you need any reassurance that they take their eco credentials seriously – check out the sustainable pencil used for tasting notes, plant it and seeds embedding in the tip will flower for you!

Next to the Chateau is the beautiful greenhouse, built by Gustave Eiffel, and the new aroma garden where 200 plants, sharing the typical aromas of red and white wines, have been planted. After a visit to the winery and the barrel cellar, a tour of this garden allows guests to get their sense of smell well honed before the tasting. This brings to life, in a very relaxed way, the part of wine tasting that many find the most challenging.

Reignac greenhouse

The Greenhouse at Chateau de Reignac

The garden has been such a success that many guests stay here for a picnic lunch under the trees with a picnic basket prepared by the property accompanied by their wines, of course and it was this garden that clinched the 2016 Best of Wine Tourism prize for ‘Innovation et discovery »

Lunch in the garden?

Lunch in the garden?

I first visited de Reignac just after the launch of Balthus in 2002. Named after their youngest son, it had been crowned the most expensive Bordeaux Supérieur on the market and was enjoying great success in the US. I was with a group from the American wine trade, keen to learn more about this phenomenon and we were not disappointed. The tasting room is in the 16th century pigeon tower, renovated in 1998 it includes a circular tasting table built around a dramatic pulley system that lowers the bottles selected for blind tasting from an upstairs room, already innovative in it’s approach to welcoming visitors.

Inside the Tasting Tower

Inside the Tasting Tower

The proximity to the water was the inspiration behind a new experience. “The Secrets of a Wine in a Day” starts in Bordeaux where a minibus takes guests to visit local barrel maker Boutes, then, after a full visit of Chateau de Reignac including the aroma garden and a tasting they enjoy a lunch in the gardens before returning back to Bordeaux by cruising up the Garonne river. This new experience is available for small groups from May until October.

Chateau de Reignac continues on its path of innovation in wine making, grape growing communication and tourism. In one single property they dispel several myths that surround Bordeaux: they offer excellent wines at affordable prices with a warm and innovative welcome in 5 languages. If you can’t get to visit the property to experience it for yourself, you can join them via social media, but I recommend you try – seaplane trip anyone?

Are Bordeaux rules made to broken?

French appellations laws are strict and although they guarantee a signature style and assure a certain quality, do they also stifle creativity?

With questions around climate change, the idea of introducing different varietals into the Bordeaux Blend is a regular question. Despite fears of global warming, planting figures in the region show an increase in Merlot, an early ripening varietal, over the later developing Cabernets in recent years. At the same time Petit Verdot, which sometimes struggles to attain perfect ripeness in Bordeaux, seems to be on the increase in blends on the left bank. There is more to these planting decisions that just climate fears.

Despite the appellations laws limiting the varietals planted, it’s not impossible to find some rogue plantings here and there. Emblematic of the experimentation that characterises all wine makers, even those in Bordeaux!

Wines from non-permitted varietals can’t be bottled as Bordeaux of course but the recent change of name of these wines from Vin de Table to Vin de France somehow makes them sound a little more exciting.

Chateau Theuiley is at the very heart of the Entre Deux Mers. 10 years ago the Courselle sisters, Sylvie and Marie, whose family have owned the property for over a century, took the step of planting both Chardonnay and Syrah in the vineyard, neither of which are permitted Bordeaux varietals. They chose a clay and limestone plot, not dissimilar to some of the best in Saint Emilion, a plot not included in the appellation when it was defined in 1936. It is possible to apply to the appellation authorities (INAO) to get land re classified, which they did. They knew approval would be a long time coming so they threw caution to the wind and experimented with varietals that they had enjoyed working with abroad.
As Vin de France, the wines cannot be bottled under the Chateau name, used for their range of red, white rosé and sparkling Bordeaux wines so they are named them Les Truffieres, from a nearby plot planted with truffle oaks.

Les truffières Chardonnay from Chateau Theuilley

Les Truffières Chardonnay from Château Theuiley

Only 13 000 bottles of these single varietal wines are produced from 1.5 ha of Chardonnay and 1.5ha of Syrah. After 10 years they have just received the authorisation for the plot to enter into the Bordeaux appellation. Given the quality and success of Les Truffières I don’t think they’ll be in a rush to uproot and replant with the more traditional Bordeaux grapes.

Le Trufières Syrah from Chateau Theuilley

Le Truffières Syrah from Château Theuiley

The Entre deux Mers remains for me one of the most overlooked regions of Bordeaux; it’s big and varied and some properties have ‘terroir’ that can rival in best in Bordeaux. Despite this and sadly for the wine growers, the market limits the price point that the wines attain, even those with an international renown such as Reignac who proudly uses the tag line Grand cru non-classé. So it is perhaps unsurprising that it is an area where unusual initiatives are found.

All wine makers love to experiment, even higher up the hierarchy including the Medoc. I’ve mentioned the historical role of Syrah in Bordeaux and its use the in odd blend in the Medoc before – but these are from imported Syrah not locally grown. Look hard enough and you’ll find some unusually home-grown blends too.

Chateau du Tertre in Margaux has just released its second vintage of Blanc du Tertre. Producing a white in a famous red appellation could be considered a bold move but many chateaux do so with the likes of Pavillon Blanc at Margaux, L’Aile d’Argent from Mouton and les Arums de Lagrange (one of my favourite Medoc whites) to name a few. This is not a new trend, many producers always made a little white for house pour and inspired by the consistent quality of whites now coming out of Bordeaux from the traditional white regions of Graves and Entre Deux Mers, it is hardly surprising that there has been a regain of enthusiasm in the Medoc.

Tertre Blanc

Tertre Blanc

These wines are produced under the Bordeaux Blanc appellation, the Medoc appellations only apply to wines made from red varietals. However Le Tertre has also experimented with less traditional varietals continuing the Bordeaux tradition of blending but using Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier 
and Gros Manseng, 
inspired by their experience in Italy at their property Caiarossa. They produce just 6000 bottles from under 2ha of vines.

Palmer White - keeping it simple

Palmer White – keeping it simple

Margaux is no stranger to white experiments; Chateau Palmer also produces a small amount of dry white. Again with a historical origin, old bottles found at the property suggest that a small amount of white wine was produced there in the early 1900s. Palmer revived the tradition with a tiny production in 2007 with a blend of 50% Muscadelle, 35% Loset and 15% Sauvignon Gris. It’s hard to find but worth the search. Again due to the Loset, it’s a Vin de France and its simple label shows the philosophy behind the wine. Bordeaux can be at once adventurous, experimental and unpretentious.