Tag Archives: Château Angelus

Women making Sense in Bordeaux

If you think women in the world of the wine world is something new and/or unusual, where have you been in recent years? You might be forgiven for thinking that in such a traditional bastion of wine as Bordeaux, women in the vineyards and cellars might be more unusual that in other regions  – think again. Historically, there have always been influential women on the Bordeaux wine scene, as well as many others working behind the scenes.

Some of Bordeaux’s leading vineyards are still going strong today thanks to the historical role of women. Jean de Bellon was the first owner of Chateau Haut Brion in the 16th century and it’s not only Champagne that has famous widows. As a young widow, Françoise Josephine de Sauvage d’Yquem was thrown into prison twice during the French revolution but she continued to make Château d’Yquem prosper. The Comtesse de Bournazel successfully took over the reigns of the family Chateau de Malle in Sauternes on the death of her husband, before handing it over to her son. Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is named after another Comtesse responsible for its success.

Properties may be handed down from fathers to daughters who continue to grow the family estates. Famously Baroness Philippine Rothschild continued and expanded her father’s work at Mouton Rothschild, Corinne Mentzelopoulos owns and runs Chateau Margaux with her daughter. More recently, Siaska Rothschild took over running Château Lafite from her father Baron Eric, and Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal is now in charge of Chateau Angelus alongside her cousin Thierry Grenié,with Emmanuelle Fulchi their cellar master. There is nothing new about feminine power in Bordeaux wine.

Not so long ago it was unusual to see a woman working in the cellars – with an older generation of male wine makers talking about women ‘turning’ the wine – and that is still in living memory. Women are now making the wines as well as owning, running and marketing them. A few that come to mind, and not only in the top growths, are Marjolaine de Cornack at Chateau Marquis d’Alesme, Maylis De Laborderie at Chateau La Lagune, (both working with female owners), Paz Espejo at Château Lanessan and Caroline Artaud at Château Forcas Hostens. Some women are carrying on from the parents in a family vineyard, such as Estelle Roumage at Chateau Lestrille, Armelle Falcy Cruse at Château du Taillan, and I could go on.

I organized my first Women in Wine Tour in Bordeaux back in  2007, so again nothing new here, but these women, and many more, came back on my radar thanks to the recent visit here in Bordeaux of the American association Women for Wine sense (WWS). Created in 1990 by two leading Californian women in wine, Michaela Rodeno and Julie Johnson, WWS aims to increase knowledge about wine through education as a counterweight to the anti-alcohol lobby. Their premise is a better understanding of wine leads to more responsible consumption. The success of this organisation has been phenomenal; they now have a network of 10 chapters and growing throughout the US and a charitable arm that sponsors wine education for women in the industry.

I have run several Bordeaux seminars for WWS members in the US over the last year but this was their first trip to Bordeaux. With Decanter Tours it seemed only natural to concentrate on vineyards with a feminine signature, choosing properties for them to visit that were owned by, managed by or where women made the wine. I’m aware it’s sexist – but it was great fun!

We were spoilt for choice with just three days we only scratched the surface. Following their tour, I wanted to use this post to profile some of the leading women in Bordeaux but as I started looking at the long list I realised that it would take a book rather than a blog post to do them justice, so I’ll just concentrate on the women that offered us such a warm welcome and amazing hospitality during our tour.

Margaux has traditionally been considered the most feminine of all the Medoc appellations, thanks to its signature sumptuousness and velvety tannins, so it seemed like the perfect place to start. Chateau Margaux is known as the most feminine of all the 1st growths by its style as well as being owned and run by Corinne and Alexandra Mentzelopoulos. The harvest had just started when we were there, with a man at the helm; Philippe Bascules splits his wine making between Bordeaux and Napa – and was very excited about explaining  the complementarity of making wines both sides of the Atlantic – he is a very busy man!

Bascules a Margaux

With Philippe Bascaules wine maker at Chateau Margaux above the new Pavillon Blanc cellars.

Further north, Lilian and Melanie Barton Sartorius, another mother and daughter team, are working together. As Lilian takes on more and more responsibility at the family vineyards, Leoville and Langoa Barton, her daughter Melanie, the eighth generation of the Bartons in Bordeaux and the first qualified oenologist of the family, has taken over the wine making at their new vineyard Mauvesin Barton in Moulis, purchased in 2011.

Lilian and Melanie at Mauvesin

Lilian and Melanie Barton-Sartorius at Chateau Mauvesin

We also met the latest member of the family, Oona, the Parson Russell terrier puppy, who completely stole the limelight!

oona

The newest member of the Barton family

Pascale Peyronie welcomed us to her family property Chateau Fonbadet in Pauillac. After working alongside her father for 20 years, she has stepped into his shoes to run the vineyard. Her vines are on some of the best and priciest gravel terroir in Pauillac, smack in the middle of the famous names of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lynch Bages, Chateau Pichon Baron and Longueville Comtesse. You can imagine that she has received some interesting offers for her vines, but she continues to produce Chateau Fonbadet as an independent Cru Bourgeois rather than succumbing to the temptation of an easier life, although she did exchange three ha of vines with Mouton Rothschild to re-organise the vineyard. When she showed us around, her 92-year-old father was still on hand to meet the ladies and help serve the wine.

Fonbadet barrel

Is it a characteristic for women to work more closely together? We had several examples of collaboration between neighbouring women in wine which make me think that perhaps it is.

Four properties in Margaux owned and/or managed by women have grouped together to welcome visitors into their chateaux. Well aware that chateau visits can be repetitive (vines, cellars, barrels, tasting, repeat), Lise Latrille of Château Prieuré Lichine, Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, Marie Laure Lurton of La Tour Bessanand Anne-Francoise Quié of Chateau Rauzan Gassies have grouped together to create a ‘Une Journée Gourmande à Margaux’. These dynamic women explained this project to us over lunch in the beautiful kitchens of Chateau Prieuré Lichine.

Prieure kitchen

Ladies who lunch at Chateau Prieuré Lichine

Their idea was to create a tour where each visit concentrates on a different part of the wine process.  The tour starts at Château Prieuré-Lichine, with a history of the Medoc while sipping on their white wine (yes there are some rare white wines in the Medoc even though they don’t carry the name). Then at Chateau Rauzan Gassies they explore the importance of terroir, tasting the wines from the three vineyards owned by the Quié family. Lunch at Chateau Kirwanis the opportunity to taste the wines from all four vineyards paired with regional dishes before a visit to Château La Tour Bessan to try your hand at blending, tasting your results alongside local chocolates – there’s a reason this is called a ‘Gourmande’ tour.

Margaux gourmand girls

Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, Lise Latrille of Château Prieure Lichine and Marie-Laure Lurton of Château La Tour Bessan.

Margaux gourmande

Women do seem to be very open to developing wine tourism. I was recently asked to cover leading women winners of best of Wine Tourism awards reinforcing this impression. Chatting with Florence Cathiard at Château Smith Haut Lafite, one of the pioneers of wine tourism in the region, it was interesting to compare the European and the American approach to wine tourism. The chateau with its open door policy, new land art exhibition alongside the more traditional visits, as well as the phenomenal success her daughters have had, both with The Sources de Caudalie resort and the Caudalie cosmetics is a case study for successful wine tourism.

Florence

Talking wine tourism with Florence Cathiard at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

We had another experience of collaboration with the women of sweet Bordeaux. A picnic lunch in the park of Chateau de Ceronswith Caroline Peyromat and her neighbour Nicola Alison from Chateau du Seuil, was the ideal way to discover the characteristics of the tiny Cerons appellation but also to share their red and white wines from the Graves appellation.

Then on to Sauternes and Barsac for a progressive dinner, the idea was to show just how food friendly the sweet wines of Bordeaux really are. After a visit and tasting at Chateau Yquem with cellar Master Sandrine Garbay, and a look at the new in-chateau boutique, we headed down the hill to the terrace of Château Sigalas Rabaud. Here, with tapas, we tasted the range of wines made by owner wine maker Laure de Lambert including her 100% dry Sémilion (La Semillante) and a Sweet Bordeaux made with no Sulphur le 5 – quite a technical challenge.

Mout at Sigalas

Tasting the semillon juice at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud before fermentation

Then on to Barsac, to first growth Château Climensfor the main course served with three vintages from the property, after discovering where owner wine maker Berenice Lurton dries and prepares the herbs she uses in her biodynamic preparations.

Climens Tissanerie

La Tisanerie at Château Climens in Barsac

Climens sunset

Climens 3 vintages

And of course dessert served at neighbour Château Coutet by Aline Baily, and we all slept soundly on the coach all the way home!

Coutet Chapel

The chapel at Château Coutet

Coutet with desert

We found this same spirit of cooperation in Pomerol. The neighbours came over to lunch organised by Monique Bailly at the new Ronan by Client winery of Château Client. Hosted by Nathalie Bez, we were joined by Maireille Cazaux Director and wine maker at Chateau La Conseillante and Diana Berrouet Garcia Wine maker at Chateau Petit Village.Tasting their wines side by side, although they are so close, showed just how important the notion of terroir can be even in as small an appellation as Pomerol.

Pomerol bottles

Tasting with the neighbors in Pomerol

Cellar master Emmanuel Fulchi hosted us at Chateau Angelus, taking us into the vineyard to get to grips with the terroir in their two properties, Chateau Angelus and Chateau Bellevue. Walking amongst the almost ripe grapes, we could understand the subtle differences of terroir up and down the south facing foothills of the limestone slopes of Saint Emilion.

Emmanuelle Fulchi

Emmanuelle Fulchi explains the Saint Emilion terroir at Château Angelus

The tasting was a master class in right bank Merlot. Bellevue is 100% Merlot and Angelus a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Recently returned from a Merlot seminar in the US, Emmanuel shared her surprise at the reputation Merlot suffers from in the States. The tasting firmly dispelled any questions hanging over the great potential of Merlot on the right bank.

Belleve:angelus

The Women for Wine Sense visit was both an opportunity to shine a light on the women in Bordeaux but also to dispel a few Bordeaux myths. They are planning to return, so it’s back to the drawing board to see which other Bordeaux Women in Wine we can visit on their next trip – we will be spoilt for choice.

 

Booze Books for Christmas

There are so many good books about wine, spirits and tasting and Christmas seems as good a time as any to take a look. Here are four recommendations as gift ideas for like-minded wine geeks, beginners or even to add to your own Christmas stocking.

I mentioned Decanter Journalist, Jane Anson’s previous book Bordeaux Legends, in the run up to Christmas a couple of years ago. Well, she has done it again with this beautiful book. She has teamed up with photographer Andy Katz to profile the Bordeaux vineyards known as The Club of Nine.

The Club of Nine by Jane Anson and Andy Katz

The Club of Nine by Jane Anson and Andy Katz

His photos are spectacular. Even having lived near these properties for almost 30 years, I found the images as surprising as they are breath-taking. You can see more of his beautiful work on this web site.

The Club of Nine is the term used for and by what are considered, by most, to be the nine top properties of the region: The five Red first growths of the 1855 classification; Haut Brion, Margaux, Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild. (Although technically Mouton only became a 1st growth in 1973.) Then there are the original two First Growths A from Saint Emilion, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Ausone and the neighbouring Chateau Petrus from Pomerol. Although the Pomerol appellation has never ‘benefited’ from a classification, received wisdom and market prices concur that Petrus is the leading light of the appellation. Finally there is Chateau d’Yquem. Yquem was granted the highest accolade of Premier Grand Cru Classé Supérieur in 1855, outranking them all, such were the heady days of the 19th century for the sweet wines of Bordeaux.

This is more than a ‘nickname’ for a group of top terroir wineries, but also a forum where the technical directors of each property regularly meet to discuss and share, technical issues, research and the challenges their properties and the region face.

The question now raised is that, based on these selection criteria of classification, should we talk of a Club of 11? Both Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie were promoted up to Premier Grand Cru Classé A in the last, Saint Emilion Classification. But then again that was in 2012, so let’s not rush things!

There’s a lot of history surrounding the properties mentioned above and Bordeaux history is intimately linked with that of England, right back to Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the 12th century. Eleanor is one of the many British, influences mentioned in recently published Empire of Booze a humorous look at the history of booze and the role the British empire has, and continues to, play. Written by wine and spirits journalist, Henry Jeffreys and published through the website unbound, it’s a read that will take you backwards and forwards through time but also from London, to France, Portugal, Spain, Scotland and as far as Australia – a terrific read.

Empire of Booze by Henry Jefferies

Empire of Booze by Henry Jefferys

For some lighter reading, perhaps as a gift to those not quite so far down the wine geek road, Jancis Robinson‘s recently published The 24-Hour Wine Expert, is a cracking introduction to the wine world. Covering everything from tasting to serving from geography to varietals and much more. Just enough to get any beginner through the first steps of wine appreciation and perhaps start them on the road to wine ‘geekdom’ – you have been warned.

Become a 24-Hour Wine Expert with Jancis Robinson

Become a 24-Hour Wine Expert with Jancis Robinson

And for a completely different take, try Jo Malone My Story. It has nothing to do with wine, but interesting for tasters as it is all based around her acute sense of smell, such an important part of tasting. So much so that the very opening pages of the book are scented with her signature scent Pomelo – a Sauvignon Blanc with that perhaps?

A great sense of smell - Jo Malone's Story

A great sense of smell – Jo Malone’s Story 

Bordeaux à table!

Often described as a food wine, Bordeaux wine needs good food to show to its best advantage, food and wine matching has become quite the art. Lucky then that the food and restaurant scene in Bordeaux is thriving with new chefs and well established ones opening new restaurants or taking over established names.

But what of the chateaux themselves? Surely they should be show-casing their wines with food? Many chateaux are happy to organise meals for groups with a little advance notice, some like Chateau Phelan Segur will even welcome you into their kitchens for a cooking class first. But should you wish to dine independently amongst the vines it is also possible.

It’s not new, three very well established Bordeaux examples are Château Lynch Bages in Pauillac, with Chateau Cordeillan Bages, Château Smith Haut Lafitte in the Graves with Les Sources de Caudalie, and Hostellerie de Plaisance in Saint Emilion, owned by Chateau Pavie, all of which take wine hospitality to internationally renowned levels with Michelin stars in their respective hotel restaurants.

Chateau Cordeillan Bages in Pauilllac

Chateau Cordeillan Bages in Pauilllac

Saint Emilion on the right bank is a particularly popular destination so it’s no surprise that wineries here welcome guests offering food alongside their wines. Château Troplong Mondot opened Les Belles Perdrix in 2013. Starting off as casual dining for guests staying in the chateau guest rooms, it was awarded a its first Michelin star this year and the views from the terrace are some of the best in the region.

The Terrace of les Belles Perdrix at chateau Troplong Mondot in Saint Emilion

The Terrace of les Belles Perdrix at chateau Troplong Mondot in Saint Emilion

Chateau Angelus, on the other side of the medieval city, decided to go another path. Rather than opening a restaurant at the chateau, they bought the restaurant Le Logis de La Cadene in the heart of the town in 2013, which thanks to the skill of chef Alexandre Baumard, has rapidly gained a excellent reputation.

Delicious and elegant fare at Logis de la Cadene in Saint Emilion

Delicious and elegant fare at Logis de la Cadene in Saint Emilion

So much for fine dining, but for a relaxed lunch with that glass of wine, call in to Château La Dominique on the boundary between Saint Emilion and Pomerol. The chateau joined forces with the Bordeaux Restaurant ‘La Brasserie Bordelaise’ to offer informal fare on the roof of their new Jean Nouvel designed cellar, where the glass red pebbles resembling the open top of a fermenting vat of wine compete for your attention with the views over the famous names of Pomerol. On the foothills of the famous limestone slopes of Saint Emilion, the tiny fairy tale Château de Candale was recently renovated to include a restaurant with a delightful terrace looking across the Dordogne valley.

But if you can’t make it to Bordeaux (although you really should) Bordeaux can come to you.

Previously mentioned, Château Phelan Segur, is owned by the Gardiner family. They are famous for their food and wine hospitality at the beautiful Les Crayeres Hotel and restaurant in Champagne. Having added the Taillevent restaurant in Paris to their portfolio they recreated a bistro version, Les 110 de Taillevent, in both London and in Paris, named after the range of 110 wines offered by the glass, that I have raved about in a previous post.

But the jewel in the crown has to be the restaurant ‘Le Clarence’ opened in Paris at the end of last year by Château Haut Brion.

Le Salon of Le Clarence : all the elegance of Chateau Haut Brion in the heart of Paris.

Le Salon of Le Clarence : all the elegance of Chateau Haut Brion in the heart of Paris.

Chateau Haut Brion is one of the oldest and most respected vineyards in Bordeaux, not surprising then, that when they turned their minds to hospitality they would get it right. Their objective was to re-create in Paris the same chateau atmosphere that visitors enjoy in Bordeaux. Having been fortunate enough to dine at both Château Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, I can vouch that their signature warm and elegant hospitality is perfectly mirrored in their new venture in Paris.

The library dinning room of Le Clarence

The library dinning room of Le Clarence

The ‘Hotel Dillon’ is not a hotel but a ‘town house (‘hotel particulier’ in French), named after the Dillon family who acquired the property in 1935. It is just off the Champs Elysées on avenue Franklin Roosevelt. The 19th century building houses the headquarters of the wine company but also beautiful reception rooms, a bar, the elegant dining room of ‘Le Clarence’ and an underground cellar. The cellar alone is worth a visit, with a vaulted brick ceiling and suitably stocked with not just wines from the family vineyards but other Bordeaux and from further afield.

The cellar, as spectacular as the bottles it contains.

The cellar, as spectacular as the bottles it contains.

The décor is sublime – you are indeed transported to a chateau atmosphere with carefully curated furnishings and art. The food is on a par with the surroundings, seasonal with a twist to traditional dishes. It is the perfect place to show the wines of their vineyards to their best advantage. Once you have tasted this Bordeaux hospitality in Paris, you will inevitably be drawn to come and sample the real thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Behind every great wine…. there’s another one.

For those in the know, the second wines of top Bordeaux estates have long been considered some of the best value drinking in town.

Rather than a ‘dustbin’ for everything that isn’t good enough to make the grade of the first wine, these wines carry the château name, are part of the brand, and are treated as such. Not only do they profit from the know-how of the same wine-making team but they may be made from parcels and lots kept specifically for these wines, perhaps from younger vines or different terroir, often giving a lighter expression, benefiting from a lighter oak treatment giving easier and earlier drinking wines – more approachable both in style and in price! Their quality continues to grow as many properties are introducing third wines, Le Pauillac de Chateau Latour since 1990, and the Petit Lion de Marquis de Las Cases since 2007, to name but a couple.

Whilst these wines are now on most wine enthusiasts’ radar, it’s worth taking a peek behind these chateau labels, as many of the top properties have other strings to their bows.

In the official figures for 2015, released by the CIVB earliest this year, the number of growers, all Gironde wines combined, was 6,822 (fallen by half in the last 20 years). The total number of wine properties is probably nearer 10 000 however as many of the ‘Growers’ are the fortunate owners of several properties.

Although the other wineries owned by top growths may not be classified, these lesser-known properties will also benefit from the know-how of the top winery teams, the deep(er) pockets of their owners and the marketing push as they are presented alongside their big brothers at tastings. Other advantages include access to newer barrels with a guaranteed provenance, as barrel turnover will be faster in top growths that use a higher percentage of new oak.

Chateau Le Crock

Chateau Le Crock

I was reminded of this when I visited Chateau Le Crock recently. Chateau Le Crock is a magnificent chateau perched high on a gravel outcrop of Saint Estèphe, in between prestigious neighbours Chateau Montrose and Cos d’Estournel. It is a Cru Bourgeois, part of the new classification as well as the original one. The owners, the Cuvelier family, are also owners of Chateau Leoville Poyferre, second growth of Saint Julien, as well as Chateau Moulin Riche. Moulin Riche used to be considered a second wine of the property but now is a stand-alone label, the second wine is Le Pavillon de Leoville Poyferre.

Tasting Moulin Riche and Leoville Poyferre

Tasting Moulin Riche and Leoville Poyferre

The neighbouring Leovilles also have other properties; Chateau Leoville Barton is also home to Chateau Langoa Barton, (although originally it was the other way round, as the cellars of Langoa welcomed the wines of Leoville back in the 1800s). The Barton family have more recently invested in Moulis, at Chateau Mauvesin Barton, as I mentioned in a previous post. Chateau Leoville Las Cases also has hidden treasures, the Delon family own Chateau Potensac in the north of the Medoc appellation.

The line up of Barton family bottles

The line up of Barton family bottles

This is not a uniquely Saint Julien affair, just next door in Pauillac several top properties have hidden jewels; Chateau Pichon Baron, a second growth of Pauillac, owns Chateau Pibran a neighbouring Pauillac property and, across the road, when Roederer purchased Pichon Comtesse they also bought the lovely Chateau de Pez in Saint Estephe. The Cazes family, as well as owning Lynch Bages, own Chateau les Ormes de Pez in Saint Estephe and the lovely and very affordable Château Villa Bel Air further afield in Graves.

Another Médoc family the Quiés are spread over several left bank appellations. Famous for their 2nd growth in Margaux Rauzan Gassies, they own 5th growth Croizet Bages in Pauillac and Bel Orme in Haut Medoc, another Cru Bourgeois.

It’s not a uniquely left bank phenomenon either. Some brave souls dared to cross over to the dark side. Leoville Las Cazes owns Chateau Nenin in Pomerol, Château Lafite has Chateau L’Evangile in Pomerol and Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes as do Pichon Baron owners Axa Millesimes again with properties in both Sauternes: Chateau Suduiraut and in Pomerol: Chateau Petit Villages.

Right bank properties also have jokers up their sleeves, investing in lesser-known estates and surrounding appellations such as the Saint Emilion Satellites or the Côtes appellations.

The von Nieppergs, owners of Chateau Canon la Gaffeliere in Saint Emilion, also own Clos de l’Oratoire and Chateau Peyraud in the same appellation and have invested both in the Côtes de Castillon buying Chateau d’Aiguilhe where a modern wine cellar makes this one of the leading lights of the appellation. Angelus owners, the de Bouards, have used their Lalande de Pomerol property, La Fleur de Bouard as a testing ground for a lot of experimental wine making that they have since harnessed at Angelus, so the advantages work both ways. They have more freedom to experiment in smaller properties rather than in their flagship vineyards where is it perhaps more risky to test out new techniques.

The innovative cellars Chateau La Fleur de Bouard

The innovative cellars Chateau La Fleur de Bouard

Francois Despagne, owner wine-maker of the classified growth Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne in Saint Emilion is also using his expertise making Chateau le Chemin in Pomerol and Chateau Ampelia in the Côtes de Castillon. Look out for Chateau la Maison Blanche, owned and made by his brother Nicolas just across the boundary of Saint Emilion in Montagne Saint Emilion; some of the purest expression of terroir in organic and biodynamic production.

Somes of the wines from the Francois Despagne stable

Somes of the wines from the Francois Despagne stable

These are just a few of many examples well worth looking out for, other owners that are spread across several appellations include the Cathiards of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte who have recently invested in Pomerol and Sauternes and Bernard Magrez who has a finger in many Bordeaux appellations.

I’ll stop now before this sounds too much like a shopping list, as these are just a few of many examples well worth looking out for and I haven’t even mentioned investments made in other French wine regions or abroad – another blog post perhaps?

These investments in lesser known estates and appellations by leading wineries brings not just money but know-how and experience, raising the bar of excellence and increasing their reach to the wine enthusiast. If you thought second wines were worth looking for, take it to the next level; it’s worth getting off the beaten track a little and looking behind those top labels to see what other treasures they are hiding.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Right bank or Libournais?

There is so much that is new on the right bank of Bordeaux at the moment that I hardly know where to start. “Right bank “is a misleading name. After all, there are two rivers and an estuary that run through Bordeaux, all of which have a “right bank”. “The Libournais” is a more accurate descriptor as the  appellations to which we refer surround this ancient waterside town.  It was an important centre for wine trading and export with continental Europe in the middle ages, with the Libourne Merchants trading directly, rather than through ‘La Place de Bordeaux’, all thanks to the charter granted to the town in 1224 by the King of England.

Libourne on the Dordogne river

Libourne on the Dordogne river

Despite its ancient history, with vineyards dating back to 56 BC, this region of Bordeaux is a hotbed of innovation and has been since the ‘garage wine movement’ was pioneered by the likes of oenologists and winemakers, Michel Rolland, Jean-Claude Berrouet, Jean-Luc Thunevin, Jonathan Maltus and Denis Durantou in the 90’s.

It is a curious mix of old and new. Saint-Emilion is the first winegrowing area in the world to be listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in the “Cultural Landscapes” category in 1999. These landscapes have succeeded in preserving the traces of their history; the medieval village of Saint-Emilion, Romanesque churches, grottos, windmills and dovecotes, etc.  In 1884 the first French Syndicat Viticole saw the light here and in 1933 the 1st cooperative cellar of the Gironde was established here too.

The land of 1000 chateaux from the Steeple of Saint Emilion

The land of 1000 chateaux from the Steeple of Saint Emilion

Compared to the rest of Bordeaux, the average size of properties here is small; for a total size of 12 000 ha there are less than 2000 properties, so do the math and you’ll see that the average size of 6-8 ha is half that of the Bordeaux average of 15 ha.

This structure of numerous individual wine estates is one of the reasons behind this constant innovation.  Small is beautiful but also perhaps more flexible than larger corporate ownership?  That, and the dominance of Merlot, which lends itself more kindly to experimental wine making than Cabernet.

The Libournais is also perhaps more ‘democratic’ than the left bank. Driving around the Medoc, the wealth seems to stop at the Chateau gates with vast tracts of vine and not much else in between except rather dreary villages (Bages being the exception that proves the rule). In the Libournais, cellars and chateaux are all side-by-side surrounded by their ‘gardens’ of vines, it is known as the land of 1000 chateaux.

Out of the 10 appellations only Saint Emilion ‘enjoys’ a classification. This came into being in 1954, almost 100 years after the Medoc/Graves/Sauternes classification of 1855. I’m on dangerous ground here, but it could also be considered more democratic being up for grabs every 10 years (or so). The last classification, in 2012, was a revision of the previous controversial 2006 edition, and no less controversial if you listen to a few disgruntled producers and certain sensationalist journalists. Despite this they are now the holders of a classification including 82 classified growths of which 18 are first growths and 4 are As with two new A’s  (Chateaux Angelus and Pavie) added to Cheval Blanc and Ausone, for the very first time since the classifications creation.

So what is new? As elsewhere at the top end of Bordeaux, there is a rash of new and beautiful cellars. They are easy to spot here, as the properties are all much closer together. Promotional opportunities perhaps, but also a desire to incorporate the new technology in a more efficient way and also open their doors to visitors.

Cement tanks have always been traditional on the right bank, their thick walls being resistant to rapid temperature change, and smaller family estates couldn’t afford to destroy them when the trend towards stainless steel started in the 70s so they remained and are now the height of fashion again, see the new cellars at Cheval Blanc.

With an increased understanding of the soils on the properties leading to more precise plot by plot management, it is not unusual to see vat size reduced or the older, larger vats replaced by smaller ones and even to see a mix of oak, cement and stainless in a single cellar allowing the wine maker even more flexibility. I must admit a certain affection for these older ‘art deco’ tanks that are now being spruced up again.

The old cement tanks at Chateau Petrus pre renovation

The old cement tanks at Chateau Petrus pre renovation

Cheval Blanc is not the only one to reinvent concrete. Family owned Château La Conseillante in Pomerol has created a super efficient oval cellar of 22 brand new elegant concrete vats for the 12 ha property, allowing for precision vinification for Chateau La Conseillante and the second wine Duo de Conseillante. The cellar is an elegant illustration of the style of their wine underlined with their purple signature.

The elegant new vat cellar at Chateau La Conseillante

The elegant new vat cellar at Chateau La Conseillante

A close up showing the attention to detail

A close up showing the attention to detail

Visiting Saint Emilion can be a religious experience. In the 8th century, the hermit Emilion stopped off on his pilgrimage from Brittany to Santiago de Compostela and  sheltered in a cave in the rock, the remains of which can still be seen near the 8th century monolithical church (Europe’s largest). There then followed a Benedictine monastery a century later reinforcing the religious importance of the town.

The religious theme can be seen in the names of many properties, l’Eglise Clinet, La Dominique, l’Evangile, Prieuré, Angelus, Saint Georges, etc. and the influence is clear in some cellars, such as Croix Canon recently brought to life by Chanel.

A religious experience in the cellars of Croix Canon

A religious experience in the cellars of Croix Canon

Chanel purchased first growth Chateau Canon in 1996, two years after their purchase of Chateau Rauzan Segla 2nd growth of Margaux, in 2011 they purchased the neighbouring classified growth, Chateau Matras. Wary of the influence of the INRA (the body governing wine appellations and classifications) and the effect it could have on their classification they were prepared not to include the new land into Chateau Canon. However they were given the right to include 1ha12 of old Cabernet Franc vines into Chateau Canon.  With the 2011 vintage they changed the name of Matras to Croix Canon, now the second wine of the property replacing Clos Canon. As these new hectares join the younger Canon plots to make the second wine Clos can no longer be used as the new plots are not within the (beautifully restored) walls that surround Chateau Canon.

The renovated walls around the vines of chateau Canon that gave the name to Clos Canon

The renovated walls around the vines of chateau Canon that gave the name to Clos Canon

Chanel know about renovation, having already renovated the cellar, underground caves and walls of Canon they are now working on the Chateau itself – more of which next year.  The cellars of Matras were within a badly run down 12 century chapel, now renovated to more than its former beauty to showcase the vat room and barrel cellar surrounded by a gallery, complete with pulpit. The tasting room has a spectacular stain glass window with a camellia at its heart as a subtle reference to Coco Chanel. They have even rebuilt the bell tower and if you have a head for heights, you can climb the wooden ladder to the top to see views across the vines and admire the new bell made by the foundry that made the bells for Notre Dame de Paris.

The stunned glass window designed by director John Kolasa

The stained glass window designed by director John Kolasa

Talking of bells, the Croix Canon cellar is just next door to Chateau Angelus. Angelus made the headlines with the 2012 classification, being one of two properties along with Chateau Pavie to break the glass ceiling of the A classification taking the total from 2, at which it had remained since its inception in 1954, to the grand total of 4. To celebrate, their 2012 vintage will be sold in bottles embossed with a golden label.

The new 2012 and the classic Angelus labels

The new 2012 and the classic Angelus labels

The property has also just opened its brand new cellars. The wine making and ageing cellars themselves have not changed that much but the building including the bell tower has. The new entrance hall is a spectacular wood and stone renaissance structure topped with the bell tower, which will peal out your national anthem for you as you pass through the portals.

The new entrance at Chateau Angelus with bells on!

The new entrance at Chateau Angelus with bells on!          Photo Manfred Wagner

The renovations however are more than just a PR opportunity. They have enabled the integration of new wine making techniques, the signature of experimental co-owner and winemaker, de Bouard. In 1986 Angelus was the first property in St Emilion to use a sorting machine, and his La Fleur de Bouard, in neighbouring Lalande de Pomerol, has a spectacular cellar of suspended inverted vats that could be considered a testing ground for these techniques.

The new inverted vats at Angelus Photo Manfred Wagner

The new inverted vats at Angelus
Photo Manfred Wagner

He has introduced two of these vats, one in oak and another in stainless, into the new cellars at Angelus alongside the classic cement, stainless and oak vats already in place. He has also reduced the temperature of the 1st year barrel cellar to 10°C enabling a more efficient precipitation of lees and a slower, longer 12 months aging on the lees. The lower temperature also reduces the inherent risk of brett and the use of sulphites and gives a more elegant uptake of oak allowing for a longer, 2 year aging in barrels.

If all this talk of new cellars has worked up an appetite, help is on hand. After Chateau Troplong Mondot and Chateau Candale. Chateau La Dominique, Saint Emilion cru Classé on the border of Pomerol, has also opened a restaurant.  Construction tycoon, Clement Fayat, owner of Chateau Pichon Clement in Haut Medoc, has commissioned a spectacular new cellar designed by French architect Jean Nouvel inspired by the work of British artist Anish Kapoor. The artist’s fascination for red is perfect for Saint Emilion. The red plastic surfaces on the curved walls of the winery reflect the vines and the sky. The building is topped by an enormous ‘Terrasse Rouge’ the floor of which is covered with red glass pebbles, designed to look like the top of an open fermenting vat full of grapes.  Here you can sit admiring the view over neighbouring vineyards and watch the chefs busy at the grill, preparing your steak and other regional specialities.

La Terrasse Rouge

La Terrasse Rouge

Bon appétit!

 

 

 

All change in and around Bordeaux in the restaurant line up.

The Michelin star accolades that arrive in February each year are a sign of the times, none more so than in and around Bordeaux, where there were a few surprises this year. So if you plan your wine tourism around places to eat (which sounds like plan to me) here’s a quick update.

It’s been a game of musical chairs in the Bordeaux gastro scene. On the move this spring is the Michelin stared chef Nicolas Frion, who has presided over the kitchens of Le Chapon Fin for the last 11 years. The iconic Chapon Fin is a Bordeaux Institution (and probably still my favourite smart place to dine in Bordeaux city). It first opened its doors in 1825 and has kept its Michelin star in this year’s ratings along with Le Septième Péché, Le Gabriel and Le Pavillon des Boulevards in Bordeaux, and in the oustskirts of Bordeaux, Le Saint-James
in Bouillac, La Cape in Cenon and Jean-Marie Amat
 in Lormont.

Although the restaurant retains his name, Jean-Marie Amat re-opened in March under the young chef Vivien Durant, big shoes to fill but he was hand picked by the maestro so I’m optimistic.

Le Pressoir d’Argent at The Grand Hotel de Bordeaux lost its star with the departure of Pascal Nibaudeau for the Pinasse Café en Cap Ferret. Stéphane Carrade from la Guérinière in Arcachon has taken his place (told you it was musical chairs!) although Stéphane previous held 2 Michelin stars at Chez Ruffet in Jurançon.

Chef Stephane Carrade from Le Pressoir d'Argent at Le Grand Hotel

Chef Stephane Carrade from Le Pressoir d’Argent at Le Grand Hotel

Outside of the city La Grande Vigne Restaurant at Les Sources de Caudalie kept their star and the hotel is adding to their gastro offer this summer with a new ‘epicierie-bar’, alongside 12 new suites all built, Arcachon style, on stilts.

Further south, in Sauternes country, the fourth generation of the Darroze family kept their star at  Claude Darroze in Langon whereas in and around Saint Emilion is also a hotbed of changes. After the departure of Philippe Etchebest from l’Hostellerie de Plaisance, it was no great surprise that they lost both their Michelin stars. Philippe, despite his recent TV stardom, is hopefully not lost to the region as rumour has it he is opening his own restaurant in Bordeaux. After 10 years working with the Perse family, who are also the owners of the recently promoted 1st growth Château Pavie, and gaining 2 stars, he has been replaced by a fellow Basque Cédric Béchade, who was launched onto the Bordeaux scene at the start of this primeur week with a gala dinner at Château Pavie.

Not to be outdone in the gastro stakes, Château Angelus has also announced their purchase of Saint Emilion institution Le Logis de la Cadène. This picturesque restaurant is one of the favourite haunts of locals, despite being on one of the most treacherously slippery slopes of the medieval town. Christophe Gaudi now manages it and the kitchen has been taken over by the young Alexander Baard. Come and test his talents out this summer before they close for a complete renovation of the guests rooms this winter.

On the outskirts of Saint Emilion the little known but increasing popular Cafe Cuisine, on the banks of the Dordogne River in Branne, has renovated their dining room to become a trendy spot for locals. Further upstream, The Auberge Saint Jean in Saint Jean de Blaignac has won its first Michelin star after continued improvement since 2010 when it was taken over by Manuela and Thomas L’Hérisson.

Head out even further east into the Dordogne to the beautiful golf and country club, Chateau des Vigiers, where chef Didier Casaguana of Les Fresques Restaurant has just won his first Michelin star too.

The beautiful Chateau des Vigiers

The beautiful Chateau des Vigiers

Now even the most seasoned visitors to the region have plenty of new places and chefs to try this season.

 

 

Fabulous flowering

The vines may be 2 or 3 weeks ahead of flowering and winemakers looking at an early harvest, but the vines are not the only flowers just loving this hot dry spring. This year, the roses in the vineyards are some of the most beautiful I have seen.

Roses in the courtyard of Château Langoa Barton

Visiting the gardens of Château Langoa Barton in Saint Julien, I learnt that the property has over 2000 rose bushes – a most spectacular display. I don’t know if it’s the Irish connection but Château Kirwan also has a wonderful rose garden with an alleyway of roses in full bloom and Château Loudenne (another Anglo-Saxon association) also has a world-class rose collection.

Roses at Château Loudenne

There is more to see than just vines in the Bordeaux vineyards. Roses are scattered throughout the vineyards as a legacy to their use as a warning sign for mildew, not a problem we have had so far this year with this dry weather. The rose and the vine are related and owing to their sensitivity to mildew and odium the roses were the indicator as to when the vineyards should start to spray the vines with the traditional ‘Bouilli Bordelais’ (Bordeaux mixture), a lime and copper sulphate solution. It wasn’t unusual in damp springs to see the blue tinge on the vines that had been sprayed.
Legend has it that this solution was found after vines that had been sprayed with copper sulphate solution on the edges of Château Ducru Beaucaillou’s vineyards in Saint Julien to prevent predators (human ones!) from stealing the grapes. These vines were then seen not to suffer from the disease.
These days however winemakers use the less romantic but much more effective measurement of precipitation, humidity, wind and temperature by mini weather stations situated throughout the vineyards. All linked to computers, along with a detailed understanding of what constitutes the risk of the development of these diseases this does a much better job of indicating when and just how much to treat the vines, making for a more efficient and hence lower use of chemicals in the vineyards as the properties in Bordeaux move towards sustainable agriculture.

To prove it’s not just a Left Bank thing – here’s another beautiful display
at Château Angelus in Saint Emilion

Luckily for visitors however, many vineyards have kept the traditional roses on the end of the vines where they were originally placed to encourage the oxen, that pulled the ploughs, not to turn too quickly and damage the ends of the rows.The oxen were not great flower lovers – they didn’t like the thorns!