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.
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 »
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.
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?