Tag Archives: Chateau du Seuil

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.

 

The long & international journey of a wine barrel.

Wherever I am in the world Bordeaux seems to follow me around, usually as bottles.  There is usually a familiar wine on the list. Sometimes on the other side of the world I’ll discover something new from very close to home. But it’s not only bottles and the wine they contain that travel from Bordeaux. Barrels do too.

Barrels are an important part of wine making. Used judiciously, they can add complexity, longevity and power. Used less wisely, they can overpower a wine, masking elegance and subtlety. Barrels add aromas and tannins but also help the wine along its evolution, encouraging a slow and controlled oxygenation of the wine as air seeps in through porous oak. This allows the highly reactive tannins from the wine and the oak to combine, creating larger tannin molecules that seem less abrasive on the palate.

Barrel cellar montrose

Beautiful French oak barrels at Château Montrose

This influence of the barrel upon the wine depends on so many factors. I mention oak above, but it doesn’t have to be, I’ve seen other wood essences used. Acacia is one you will sometimes find in white wine cellars in Bordeaux.

For oak the source of the tree, how slowly it grew, where it grew, (terroir doesn’t only come into play with grapes) and the age of the tree all play a role. The slower the tree grows the tighter the grain will be and the better quality the oak.

An oak tree destined for barrels may be over 200 years old. This raises a few eyebrows at a time when sustainability is a wine buzzword, but be reassured. These French oak forests are owned and tightly managed by the French state, only released for sale by auction, plot by plot, when they are ready to be felled and systematically re-planted. Thanks to Colbert’s 17th century policy of planting oak forests for war ships to fight the English, the French forests are thriving. Ironic then that so much of barrel-aged Bordeaux wine now ends up on the UK market.

Despite increasing worldwide demand, supply remains controlled explaining why these French oak barrels don’t come cheap; anything from €600 to €900 a pop depending on the size and the aging of the oak.

Once felled, how the oak is prepared and aged also influences the flavours it imparts to the wine. French oak is split not sawn. This ensures the grain of the wood is respected so the barrels remain watertight.  It adds to the cost, in labour but also reduces the volume of the tree trunk that can be used for barrel staves. American oak has a less regular grain so planks are sawn meaning more volume can be used, this higher yield and ease of manipulation reduces cost. The flavour profile is different however. Several wine makers have described American oak to me as giving  more coconut than vanilla aromas that are associated with French oak. You will find both in many Bordeaux cellars.

After being split and prepared into staves the wood must be aged, for anything up to three years. Exposed to wind and rain in the unpolluted areas near the forest, inelegant tannins are washed away and transformed by microscopic fungus on the surface of the cut wood.

Barrel staves ageing

Barrel staves ageing at Nadalie in the Medoc

Splitting also means that staves size will differ, assembling the staves to form a barrel is like creating a unique 3D puzzle for each individual barrel. Once the oak is matured barrel making begins. It’s a fascinating process that remains very manual – there is only so much you can mechanise. The key skills of heating the staves, whilst keeping them damp allows for sufficient flexibility to bend them to the rotund shape of a barrel. Then gentle toasting will impart the flavours to the wine; a raw barrel will bring very little to the party. Both these processes rely on the traditional skill and judgement of the barrel maker. It’s impressive to watch, I  highly recommend a visit to a cooperage if you have never seen this. The finished barrels are each a work of art.

Barrel toasts 2

Different degrees of toasting give different flavour profiles.

With so many variables in the process, each having an influence on the final taste profile, most barrels are tailor made to suit a particular wine maker. It’s not unusual to see barrels from several different cooperages in a chateau cellar, each one bringing its own flavour profile.

Barrel toasting

Barrel making – still a manual skill here at Boutes in Bordeaux

In Bordeaux barrels will be used for one to three years on average, depending upon the barrel policy of the wine maker. Their flavour profile changes with age. The newer the barrel, the more pronounced the flavours and the tannins it will impart to the wine. Vineyards producing powerful, often Cabernet driven, wines may use 100% new oak for their first wines. A more traditional Bordeaux approach is one third new, one third one year old and one third two year old barrels, combining new barrels with some already used for previous vintages. A producer making lighter wines may prefer older barrels if they are looking for the gentle evolution resulting from ageing in an oak container rather than a cement or stainless vat.

Blending defines Bordeaux wines and the use of barrels is part of this. Some wine makers will blend their wines before barrel ageing, others after or even during the ageing process. Blending just before bottling allows wine makers to profile the different lots of wine, adapting the choice of barrel to each lot (age of vines, different varietals). Other wine makers prefer to blend before ageing and rack from one barrel to another so the wine benefits from the complexity a range of barrels bring.

Racking

Racking from barrel to barrel, here in the cellars of Chateau Phelan Segur,  increases complexity as well as removing sediment from aging wines.

What happens to the barrels once the wine makers have finally finished with them? I come back to my introduction – they travel. I have seen Bordeaux oak barrels in many places. New ones are exported directly to wine makers from California to South Africa, with French oak holding a premium for many wine makers.

Barrel shipments Boutes

New oak barrels reading for shipping around the world from Boutes in Bordeaux

boutes vbarrels glenelly

A new Boutes oak barrel at Glenelly in South Africa

But used barrels travel too. They may go to other wineries. Rioja, for example, buys a lot of used barrels as much of their wine is aged for many years in older barrels looking to round out the wines through slow oxygenation rather than add powerful tannins.

As wine ages in barrels it soaks into the wood, staining it dark red and leaving a shiny deposit of tartaric crystals. This makes the barrel less porous but it also make the wood very attractive and staves from these older barrels are often up-cycled for decorative items such as bottle holders, and furniture – the limit is your inspiration.

Barrel art 2

Wine and tartrate deposits make used barrel staves decorative.

 

Barrel cellar door Evangile

Barrel staves make a stunning cellar door at Château l’Evangile in Pomerol

If you replace the wine with a more powerful alcohol it acts as a solvent leaching some of the wine colour and flavours as well as the oak flavours and tannins into the alcohol. Whisky is always aged in used barrels, although once you get to Scotland they are referred to as casks. These casks come from all over the world. The thousands of barrels in the ageing warehouses (not cellars) are all shapes, sizes and colours reflecting their origins, be it Spain, Portugal, USA or France, making for a very different impression to the neat and tidy lines of barrels we see in Bordeaux cellars.

Whisky casks 2

Used casks waiting to be prepared and filled with whisky at Glenfiddich.

Those dark, rich aromas and mouth-feel we associate with whisky for example, owe a lot to the previous tenants of the barrel. Whisky needs long cask ageing; straight from the still spirit is white, taking its colour from the barrel. Sherry or bourbon casks are traditionally used, the decline in sherry’s popularity, reducing production has resulted in whisky distillers often financing sherry companies barrel consumption to ensure their supply.

Whisky casks

Whisky casks of different origins in the Edradour warehouse

Spirit producers are getting more adventurous, offering a diverse and growing range of finishes. A finish is when a spirit spends the last few months of its life in a different cask, often a wine barrel. It makes a difference. Compare different finishes and you’ll see a different hue depending upon the barrels used. Unsurprisingly whiskies finished with a Bordeaux or other red wine barrel will have a more ruddy colour than others.

Barrels are expensive new but after three years of wine ageing they are worth less than €100. Even so it helps if you can ensure the supply chain. Handy then that some wineries and whisky distillers belong to the same groups. At the Auchentoshen distillery near Glasgow I saw many Chateau Lagrange barrels used for their Bordeaux finish – unsurprising as drinks group Suntory owns both the winery and the distillery.

There is synergy in other groups too. Glemorangie is owned by LVMH and was one of the first whisky distilleries to introduce a complete range of different finishes including a premium Sauternes finish. No coincidence perhaps that LVMH are also the owners of Château d’Yquem. The residual sweetness of the Sauternes barrels – reminiscent perhaps of those sweet sherry barrels – imparts unique aromas and mouth feel to the whisky. On my last trip to Scotland last year I saw Sauternes barrels from Château Suduiraut used for the Sauternes finish at Tullibardine.

Glenfiddich cerons

The Chateau du Seuil Cerons finish limited edition Glenfiddich

It was a sweet Bordeaux finish that first took me to Glenfiddich. I was there to sample a Cerons cask-finished 20-year-old Glenfiddich in barrels of Chateau du Seuil. Glenfiddich continues to innovate; the latest addition to their experimental series is Winter Storm a whisky finished in Canadian ice wine casks. Again that residual sweetness.

winters-bottle-box

Winter Storm from Glenfidich: the love story between whisky and sweet wine barrels crosses the Atlantic.

Why not import the whisky to Bordeaux rather than export the barrels? Upon returning to Bordeaux, I found that this is exactly what Moon Harbour is doing, finishing whisky from Scotland in barrels from Château La Louviere while they wait for the first whisky from their new Bordeaux based still.

Moonharbour range

Moon Harbour – Scotch Whisky aged in Bordeaux – whilst they wait for the first drops from the Bordeaux stills to age.

Whisky is not the only spirit that uses old barrels; Rum enjoys the influences of used barrels too. I have already talked about the joint venture between London wine merchant Berry Brothers and Rudd and Medine in Mauritius. This week, at a rum tasting in Mauritius, I tasted the delicious new Sauternes finish rum at the Chamarel Rhumerie. See what I mean when I say Bordeaux barrels travel?

Chamarel Sauternes

A Sauternes finish for the Chamarel Rhum from Mauritius

And what goes around comes around. The Balvenie Caribbean cask whisky is finished in – you guessed it – rum casks.

Balvenie line up small

The Blavenie line up including the Caribbean Cask

Even after all this there may still be life left in an old cask or barrel; furniture, planters or barbeque fuel perhaps? From fire to fire. The life of a barrel can be a long and winding road.

barrel art glenfiddich small

Old casks have a second life in artwork by a Glenfiddich artist in residence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#Bdx16

As the 2016 harvest in Bordeaux draws to a close, I wanted to share some of my photos taken over the last month or so of touring around the vineyards. As a wine educator I’m lucky enough to accompany professionals, journalists, wine educators, sommeliers and other enthusiastic drinkers on winetours tours through the vineyards at this exciting time. And it is exciting; 2016 was another year that showed the unpredictability of Bordeaux weather – we really do never know quite what Mother Nature will throw at us.

Morning mists announce the arrival of cooler nights and harvest weather

Morning mists announce the arrival of cooler nights and harvest weather

This is supposed to be a photo essay so I won’t go on too much, use the #bdx16 on line and you’ll see much more comment and many more photos. I rarely remember to use hash tags when sharing my photos, so I thought I’d regroup a few here to make up for it! The comments using #bdx16 will continue until (and past) the presentation of the wines in their infant state to the press and trade at the primeur tastings in April next year.

It was a year that started wet and cold, with the organic vine growers in particular sighing with exhaustion, as they were obliged to get back on their tractors again and again. The more natural alternatives to the systemic treatments used to combat the attacks of Mildew, so frequent in this damp maritime climate, need reapplying every time it rains.

Another sign that it's that time of year - the colours really start to change once the grapes have been picked.

Another sign that it’s that time of year – the colours really start to change once the grapes have been picked.

More established organic producers claim that they see a greater resistance against these diseases as the years under organics go by. Nicola Allison, an organic producer at Chateau du Seuil in the Graves and a MD, compares it to not giving excess antibiotics to children, allowing them to build up a natural immunity.

After a damp, cool start the sun came out and didn’t stop shining all summer, with no rain at all from mid June to until mid September. That early build up of water in the sub soils came in handy, especially for vines with deep roots to access the subterranean reserves.

The flowering is another crucial period and with all the rain there was cause for concern but the sun shone, giving a drier and warmer period early June – perfect timing just when it was needed, to allow a lovely flowering – lots of potential yield in store making up for some of the losses due to mildew earlier on.

The vine in flower

The vine in flower June 2016

Summer hydric stress is all well and good, it concentrates the vines attention on the grapes allowing sugars and polyphenols to be transferred from leaves to berries but enough is enough. Too much means vines stop functioning and shut down and younger vines, without well-established root systems, really start to suffer.  Just when worried wine makers were starting to stress as much as the vines, they were saved by the rain.  High rainfall fell on 13th September and then again a little rain on the 30th. Phew! This gave enough moisture to save the vintage, allowing the final maturation.

The Sauvignon blanc at Chateau Olivier - some of the first grapes to be picked

The Sauvignon blanc at Chateau Olivier in Pessac Leognan – some of the first grapes to be picked

Then followed a sharp cool snap in early October, allowing growers to wait for optimum ripeness in the skins without the fear of reduced acidity or mould attacks.

My first taste of #bdx16 fermenting Sauvignonblanc at Chateau du Taillan

My first taste of #bdx16 fermenting Sauvignonblanc at Chateau du Taillan

The moisture was also perfectly timed for the sweet white wines of Bordeaux; the triggering the botrytis attack on grapes that were perfectly ripe – avoiding any problems of grey rot that can sometime occur when Botrytis arrives too early on under-ripe grapes.

Botrytised grapes at Château Doisy Daene in Barsac

Botrytised grapes at Château Doisy Daene in Barsac

And into the trailer - very physical work!

And into the trailer – very physical work!

So all in all there are smiles on the faces of wine makers. Many of the berries are small but that will give a lovely concentration although yields will not be enormous but thanks to an even flowering there should be plenty to go around.
It’s early days, all the dry whites have been safely in for a few weeks, the Merlots too and I think the last of the Cabernets were picked at the end of this week, leaving properties to prepare the Gerbaude or harvest celebrations for exhausted but elated pickers.

The sweet wines have a long way to go yet, they are still keeping an eye on the sky for forecasted rain that seems to be no more than a threat for the moment.

Happy days!

Enjoy the photos.

Fermenting white at Chateau Thieuley in Entre Deux Mers

Fermenting white at Chateau Thieuley in Entre Deux Mers

 

Rosé on it's way from the press to the tank at Chateau Thieuley

Rosé on it’s way from the press to the tank at Chateau Thieuley

Picking is hot work at Chateau Haut Brion

Picking is hot work at Chateau Haut Brion

Picking on the slopes of Chateau Gaby over looking the Dordogne.

Picking on the slopes of Chateau Gaby over looking the Dordogne.

Hand sorting the bunches of Merlot at Chateau Villemaurine in Saint Emilion

Hand sorting the bunches of Merlot at Chateau Villemaurine in Saint Emilion

Berry by berry selection at Chateau Recougne

Berry by berry selection at Chateau Recougne

Berries or Caviar? Post sorting.

Berries or Caviar?

It's not just greenery that gets removed during sorting - snails make a break for it at Chateau Monconseil Gazin in Blaye

It’s not just greenery that gets removed during sorting – snails make a break for it at Chateau Monconseil Gazin in Blaye

Testing for sugar density at Chateau Peyrabon in Haut Medoc

Testing for sugar density at Chateau Peyrabon in Haut Medoc

All the stages of botrytis in the ands of the wine maker Guillaume Perromat at Chateau Armajan Des Ormes in Sauternes

All the stages of botrytis in the ands of the wine maker Guillaume Perromat at Chateau Armajan Des Ormes in Sauternes

Cerons fermenting in oak barrels at Chateau de Cerons

Cerons fermenting in oak barrels at Chateau de Cerons

Egg shaped barrels waiting for the white harvest for barrel fermentation at Chateau la Louviere

Egg shaped barrels waiting for the harvest for barrel fermentation at Chateau la Louviere

cabernet juice pre fermentation at Chateau Monconseil Gazin

Cabernet juice pre fermentation at Chateau Monconseil Gazin

The BBQ awaits hungry harvesters at the end of the day at Chateau de Gaby in Canon Fronsac

The BBQ awaits hungry harvesters at the end of the day at Chateau de Gaby in Canon Fronsac.

And it's all over for another year - no more dawn picking for a while

And it’s all over for another year – no more dawn picking for a while.

Chateau du Seuil – an international blend

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.

The full range of wines from Chateau de Seuil

The full range of wines from Chateau de Seuil

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.

Chateau de Seuil on parade in Wales.

Chateau de Seuil on parade in Wales.

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.

View the interview here

 

 

 

Granted!

It’s never too late to start a new career. William Grant was already 50 years old when, in 1886, he built the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown. William Grant & Sons is now the largest and one of the few remaining family owned blended Scotch whisky companies. From humble beginnings do such empires grow; Grants now produces 5M bottles a year and is the world’s third largest producer of Scotch whisky, distilling some of the world’s leading brands including Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky (the world’s number one single malt), Grant’s Blended Scotch Whisky (the world’s number four Scotch) and The Balvenie range of single malts as well as other premium spirits including Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and has recently acquired Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey.

The Glenfiddich Distillery at Dufftown

The Glenfiddich Distillery at Dufftown

The site at Dufftown was chosen because of the water from the nearby Robbie Dhu spring, still used today in the production and cutting of the whisky. Like Bordeaux, whisky is all about the blend; whereas Bordeaux blends varietals and plots each vintage to create the best wine possible, Whisky blending is all about consistency.  For example the Grants Family Reserve blend uses 25 different whiskies to maintain this consistency. Brian Kinsman is only the 6th master blender to work at Grants and he was trained with the 5th, again consistency. He has been with the company for 17 years, although you wouldn’t know it to look at him; whisky obviously has similar anti ageing properties to Red Bordeaux!

The beautiful copper stills at Glenfiddich

The beautiful copper stills at Glenfiddich

This notion of consistency is important to the family. The 5th generation are now running this, the largest family owned spirits company in Scotland. They are justly proud of this heritage and it is central to their philosophy, reflected in their commitment to quality, their attention to detail, and a policy of reinvestment not just in their products and in the place but in their staff. It gives them a long-term view and a respect for sustainability.

 

Kirsten Grant Meikle - one of the 5th generation of Grants to work for the company

Kirsten Grant Meikle – one of the members of the 5th generation of Grants to work for the company                                    Photo Georgia Sichel

 

But nobody is taking anything for granted here, respect for tradition hasn’t stopped innovation, or perhaps it’s the spirit of William Grant that encourages it.
 Until 1963, everything produced in Scotland was blended and even now, 90% of Scotch Whisky is blended. Glenfiddich was the first ever single malt, it was also the first whisky to offer cask finishes in 2001 and they were the first distillery to open their doors to the public in 1969.

They now welcome over 100k visitors every year to discover the distillery and Malt Barn bar and restaurant that serves local specialties (that includes locally made Haggis).

 They are constantly re investing.

We were lucky enough to be hosted at Torrin, a beautifully renovated old workers’ cottage overlooking their smaller neighbouring Balvenie Distillery. Local workers using local products have created a home here that perfectly reflects their notions of hospitality and sustainability; particularly the talents of master carpenter Paul Hodgkiss.

Torrin through the black trees

Torrin through the black trees

The Auld Alliance is a theme I’ve touched on before, unsurprisingly, as France is one of the largest Scotch markets in the world, and also as we were there to taste the first batch of a cask aged whisky finished in Cerons (sweet white Bordeaux) casks from Chateau du Seuil. 
As you will know, the use of new oak for ageing in Bordeaux, is an expensive choice, many properties age red wine in up to 30% new oak with some of the top growths using up to 100%. With whisky, things are different. They use casks (they seem to change from barrels to casks when they cross the channel) from all over the world, the thousands of barrels in the ageing warehouses are all shapes, sizes and colours reflecting their origins, be it Spain, Portugal, USA or France, making for a very different impression to the neat and tidy lines of barrels we are used to seeing in Bordeaux cellars.

Artwork made from the variety of casks used at Glenfiddich by one of the artists in residence they welcome each year

Artwork made from the variety of casks used at Glenfiddich by one of the artists in residence they welcome each year

Here, when they talk of new casks, they mean wood that has been previously used for ageing something other than Whisky: wine, sherry, bourbon, etc. whereas for us new oak is, well, new! Some of the casks are aged to order in Xeres for the distillery.

The tasting line up at Glenfiddich

The tasting line up at Glenfiddich

They are one of the rare distilleries to have their own on-site cooperage that allows them to recondition and re-toast barrels. Again, their definition of toast is not the same as ours; they flame their barrels, charring them rather that the mild toasting we are used to. So much so that some of the black char can be seen when they decant the whisky from the barrels during ageing. No photos of that I’m afraid; they were too concerned that a flash of a camera might ignite the strong concentration of alcohol in the air. This angels share, the part of the alcohol that evaporates through the wood during ageing, makes us look like amateurs in Bordeaux when we talk about 5 -10 percent lost to evaporation and racking. After ageing for 40 years there might only be the equivalent of 100 – 120 bottles in a whisky cask. They don’t top up here either, unlike wine, the Whisky will not be adversely affected by oxidation. There is so much Whisky in the air around the distillery it encourages the growth of a specific fungus on the trees that turns them a rather sinister black!

Cerons Sweet Wine Finish Gelnfiddich

Cerons Sweet Wine Finish Gelnfiddich

The parallels and contrasts in wine and whisky production, be it blending, the use of wood or ageing, is fascinating, the choices made reflect a passion for quality, an attention to detail and a respect for heritage that I see in both in Bordeaux and Scotland. It’s a successful blend and the proof is in the tasting, as with the blend of Scotch Whisky and French oak in the Cerons cask finished 20-year-old Glenfiddich; another successful example of the auld alliance.