Tag Archives: Château Guiraud

The Sweet Spot.

The sweet wines of Bordeaux are too often overlooked. They were at the height of their fame and success in the 19th century, whereas now they are too often relegated to a dessert wine after dinner, when everyone is already replete, or as an optional add-on to a Bordeaux wine tour.

The wines have an undeserved reputation for being expensive. They are certainly costly, and difficult, to produce. Low yields, labour intensive, risky harvests, but they are rarely expensive to buy, certainly not compared to many Bordeaux reds. Sweet Bordeaux wines merit a closer look. Do get yourself to Sauternes, it has never been easier or more exciting. Add an extra day (or two) on your next Bordeaux wine tour – it’s nearer than Pauillac and no further than Saint Emilion and every wine tourist finds time to go there.

When I say Sauternes, I really mean Sweet Bordeaux. Did you know there are 15 different appellations in Bordeaux where sweet wines can be made? Some are really tiny and don’t make sweet wine every year. The first person to list them all in the comments below will receive a signed copy of my new book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’.

So what is so exciting? First the wines themselves: wine makers are producing sweet Bordeaux wines that are brighter, lighter and perfectly adapted to so many drinking opportunities, from aperitif, to fish, from roast chicken to blue cheese. Try them with spicy food and there are always the classic matches of foie gras and dessert – but be bold, don’t limit yourselves to the classics. The producers don’t – they will show you the way. The doors of Sauternes chateaux are now thrown wide open for amateurs and enthusiasts alike to sample the wines alongside all sorts of food options.

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Sweet Bordeaux and fish? be more adventurous

The area is beautiful. The rolling hills of the Sauternes plateau, the vines of Barsac along the Garonne and the limestone slopes of Saint Croix du Mont, Cadillac and Loupiac on the right bank are often swathed in the legendary early morning mists, responsible for the noble rot and adding to the romantic atmosphere. In amongst all this there is a wealth of wonderful architecture, witness to the historic and prosperous past of the region and the success of these fine wines.

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The beautiful morning mists of Sauternes

One such gem is Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, a 1er Grand Classé (a first growth) in the heart of Sauternes – just down the slope from Château d’Yquem (always the reference).

Dating back to the 13th century, this proud, fortress-like construction has always been an iconic part of the diverse architecture of the appellation. Renovations were under taken by the previous owners but under the new ownership of Sylvio Denz it is really enjoying a renaissance, with the opening in June of the Lalique Hotel as a 400th birthday present to the estate.

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Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, now the home of the Lalique Hotel

Denz is no stranger to wine; he owns a wine auction house in his native Switzerland, vineyards in Spain and Italy and Château Péby Faugères and Château Faugères in Saint Emilion and Château Cap de Faugères in Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux. Lalique is no stranger to wine either. Rene Lalique was from the town of Ay in Champagne, (a Lalique discovery trail opened there this spring). He designed a collection of Yquem carafes and glasses in 1934, and a Barsac collection in 1939.

This is the third Lalique hotel, La Villa René Lalique opened in 2015 (a Relais & Châteaux 5 star hotel and 2 star restaurant) and Château Hochberg in 2016, both in Alsace where the crystal is made.

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Make yourself comfortable at The Lalique Hotel

The decor at The Hotel Lalique in Sauternes is amazing, there is Lalique crystal everywhere; the door handles, the arm rests of chairs and sofas, crystal panels of the signature grape motif inlaid into the furniture, crystal vine leaf light fittings and chandeliers and vases and other objets d’art scattered around the rooms and check out the taps. It’s like a permanent crystal treasure hunt.

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The crystal treasure hunt

A modern extension (glass of course) houses the restaurant; the ceiling is decorated with gold crystal Semillon leaves. More Lalique pieces grace the tables, including perfect replicas of the salt and pepper mills co-created by René Lalique and Peugeot in 1924.

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Some of the beautiful crystal ‘objets-d’arts’ are for sale in the boutique alongside the wines of the property

It takes quite a chef to compete with all this and Jérôme Schilling, the former executive chef of Villa René Lalique, (two Michelin stars) rises to the challenge with a menu that plays with different ways of using Sauternes in preparing the food as well as serving it. In his opinion ‘Sweet wine brings other foods into the realm of haute cuisine’. I’ll drink to that.

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The restaurant with its views over Sauternes

Lalique at Lafaurie Peyraguey is set to be an excellent showcase for Sauternes, if you were waiting for an excuse to get down there this is it.

Sauternes is not a one-stop shop; there are plenty of other things that merit the trip.

When you are sitting at your table in the Lalique restaurant you look straight across the vines to neighbouring Château Sigalas Rabaud, another 1855 1st growth. You can’t miss the bright red parasols on the sunny terrace. I’ve mentioned Sigalas Rabaud before, due to the dynamism of owner-wine maker Laure de Lambert Compeyrot. Since taking over the family property in 2006, she has added two dry white wines to their portfolio, including a 100% dry Sémillon, and a ‘natural’ sweet wine (i.e. without sulphur). Called Le 5 It is a typical example of a move in the region toward brighter, lighter wines. She is just as dynamic in wine tourism, she has opened the doors of the traditional one storey Chartreuse, where you can happily spend an afternoon sipping her wines on the terrace: Sauternes – the perfect siesta wine.

 

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The Terrace of Château Sigalas Rabaud

The most spectacular Chartreuse in the sweet wine region of Bordeaux is Château de Cérons, taking its name from the appellation with one of the smallest productions in Bordeaux.

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Chateau de Cerons

Château de Cérons is a listed historic monument, built in the early 17th century on a gravel terrace overlooking the Garonne River.

Xavier and Caroline Perromat, who took over the family estate in 2012, will make you feel at home under the trees in their park overlooking the beautiful 12th century church. Settle in to enjoy a picnic with a by the glass selection of the dry white and red Graves that the property produces, their rosé and of course their flagship sweet Cérons.

If you want a more substantial lunch, Chateau Guiraud back in Sauternes has also recently opened a restaurant, La Chapelle, in the beautiful old chapel in the grounds next to the Château. As well as Château Guiraud by the glass, they have a really good selection of half bottles of Sauternes and Barsac on the wine list, a great way to taste your way across the appellation.

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La Chapelle de Château Guiraud

 

It’s not all about food and wine in Sauternes, you can also just hang out, literally. Château Rayne Vigneau, another 1st growth, sits right at the top of the plateau of Sauternes, considered by many locals to be some of the best terroir in the region. Their hillsides of vines run down from the fairy-tale chateau – still lived in by the previous owner of the vineyard – with views across the Ciron valley.

To get a better viewpoint, don a harness and hoist yourself up a 200-year-old Cedar tree, here you can sip your wine seated at a suspended table high above the vines. Or get up close and personal with the terroir on a horse back tour through the different soils that make up this beautiful region. Returning to the chateau, you can blend wines from the individual grape varieties to create your very own blend of Sauternes.

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Hanging out at Château Rayne Vigneau

Barsac and Sauternes are often said in the same breath. Barsac is one of the five villages that makeup the appellation, but the only one that has the choice to put its name on the wine labels. When you come you really should visit Barsac too. It is lower than the Sauternes plateau, closer to the Garonne, on a soil dominated by limestone with a thin layer of red, iron dominated clay and sand giving wines a lovely freshness – a trend towards which most sweet wine producers are now working. There are two first growths in Barsac: Chateau Climens and Château Coutet. Visit them both.

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La Tisanerie at Château Climens. Photo credit @ F. Nivelle

Château Climens is owned and run by Berenice Lurton and she is passionate about Biodynamics. A visit to Climens will allow you to discover the wines but also get an understanding of biodynamics with a visit to her ’tisanerie’, a special plant and herb drying room dedicated to biodynamic preparations. Climens was one of the Bordeaux vineyards that produced no wine at all in 2017 due to the terrible frost early in the season.

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Château Coutet

Nearby Château Coutet is also a must see. It is an impressive 13th century fortress with its own chapel and the cellars are in what used to be the stables of the Lur Saluces family, then owners of Château d’Yquem. The Baly family now owns and runs the property and they offer a warm welcome. What I really enjoyed was a unique way of understanding the aromatic complexity of these wines. With a local jam maker, owner Aline Baly has created a range of grape preserves from the emblematic grapes of the region, one from Sauvignon grapes, one from Muscadelle and one from Sémillon. There is also one made from Sémillon affected by botrytis, which really educates the palate as to how the complexity of these great sweet wines develops. Tasting each of these is a great introduction to how the different elements come together to make these special wines.

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Discover the flavours of Barsac

One day is just not long enough to discover everything there is on offer. It is a good job there is a new hotel here If you wait a while, you will be able to enjoy more Sauternes hospitality at Château d’Arche. This Classified Growth has operated a hotel in the 17th century château since before I arrived in town. Now everything is getting an upgrade. The cellars first, they are investing over three million euros in an eco friendly winery, with a vegetal roof and wooden architecture to blend in with the surrounding area. This will also give them room to welcome visitors with an emphasis on discovering the unique viticulture needed to create a great sweet wine. The hotel will also be renovated with and there are rumours of a high-end spa. A little relaxation after all this activity? Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

To Bio or not to bio?

And it is a question. Organic vine growing is increasing all over France and in Bordeaux in particular; Aquitaine is the third largest region of organic vines right behind Languedoc and Provence. In 2012 organic production in the region increased by 3% compared to 2011 with 735 organic wine producers cultivating 9752 ha and with another 4276 ha in conversion (a three year period). Most of these are in Bordeaux, and of these most are on the right bank.

But not everyone is convinced that this organic trend is a good thing. One of the issues raised is copper residue. Producing organic wines is particularly difficult in Bordeaux due to the humid oceanic climate and the fungal diseases (mildew and odium) that thrive in these conditions. Copper sulphate and lime (known as Bouilli Bordelais or Bordeaux mixture) is the traditional method for treating these diseases and is permitted in organic agriculture. It’s great for roses too.

Although the amounts of copper permitted for use in organic agriculture are less than in traditional agriculture, (4kg/ha/year of metal copper compared to 6kg averaged over five years for traditional agriculture), some argue that, as other options for treating are limited in organic production, it encourages use of more rather than less copper. The rain also washes this mixture off the vines, so re-application rates are high in a rainy year. More sophisticated synthetic treatments absorbed by the vine can continue to combat the problem despite the rain but are not permitted under an organic regime.

However several organic growers have mentioned to me that after several seasons using organic and especially biodynamic methods, they see the plant defending itself better against these diseases as the vines develop their own natural resistance the result being the need for less treatment.

Intensive use of copper has toxic effects on soils especially in light sandy soils. Formerly, doses of 30kg/ha/year were not uncommon, so this new regulation is a huge improvement. Organic producers of course agree that it would be better to stop using this heavy metal completely and research is under way to use other organic fungicides like sulphur or potassium bicarbonate, plant extracts and clay.

One of the issues in a region like Bordeaux, along with the humid oceanic climate is of course mono-culture (vines represent 50% of the agricultural area of the Gironde). The concentration of vines in the region leads to the rapid spread of diseases such mildew, odium, phyloxera and new problems such as Esca. Now the Asian Drosophila are also raising concerns amongst growers. Prevention is always better than cure and part of the ecological and organic movement is to increase biodiversity to combat this, which is a type of poly-culture in itself. You can see this in Bordeaux for example with the planting of wild flowers, in land lying fallow in between planting as well as elsewhere in the vineyards and the creation of hedgerows.

The importance of Biodiversity in the vineyard.

The importance of Biodiversity in the vineyard.

The notion of biodiversity is also about preserving the genetic diversity of the vines. Although only 6 red and a few more white grape varieties are currently permitted in the production of the AOC wines of Bordeaux, it was not always thus. Over the years, the range of varieties and of clones of vines planted has reduced. Through massal selection of vines from existing plots for grafting onto rootstocks for new plantings, many properties can maintain their unique vine profile, hence increasing both their complexity and their specificity. This technique pioneered by properties such as Château Haut Brion and is now more and more common for properties working closely with the specialised local vine nurseries. Some properties such as Smith Haut Lafitte have their own nurseries; theirs is safe from any genetic contamination on the “La Lande” island on the Garonne River. Château Guiraud created a vine conservatory in 2001, housing a collection of hundreds of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc vines from different vineyards that are used for research on massal selection. From this stock they produce 40,000 vines each year used by themselves and other Bordeaux vineyards.

Vine clones ready for planting

Vine clones ready for planting

There has been an organic wine label in Europe since August 2012 with a corresponding logo. This Europe-wide label includes regulations for cellar management and winemaking as well as grape growing. Previously in existence wines had to be labelled as wine from organic grapes rather than organic wines – a subtle difference but an important one for purists. This new label obviously only allows the use of organic grapes but also limits the use of wine making additives (including S02) and sets the permitted organic wine practices.

The new European organic wine logo

The new European organic wine logo

Producers also have the option to use the AB (Agriculture Biologique) logo, which covers all organic agricultural production. This is not to be confused with natural wines for which, as yet, there is no legal European definition but which implies one produced using organic (or biodynamic) principles with a minimum of technological intervention.

Chateau de Seuil in the Graves uses both the AB and the new Organic Wine logos on their label

Chateau de Seuil in Graves uses both the AB and the new Organic Wine logos on their label

However, not all organic wines producers use the logo. It is not obligatory. Some producers choose to be organic as a part of their philosophy but prefer not to mention it on the label. Too much information on the label? Managing expectations? Or perhaps they just feel that their brand and what it represents speaks for itself.

Many producers feel that the certification either does not go far enough or perhaps too far, in the damp climate of Bordeaux where the threat of mildew and odium are never far away, a slip up or a need for treatment in a tricky vintage (2013 springs to mind), means you are back to the drawing board for another three years.

Organic is not just for classified growths, on the contrary it is very much a grass roots movement (no pun intended) as the majority of properties certified as organic are not classified. There are a few notable exceptions, which brings welcome attention to the trend such as Chateau Pontet Canet in Pauillac was certified organic in 2010 and Chateau Guiraud in Sauternes in 2011. Chateau Fonroque in Saint Emilion has been certified biodynamic since 2005 and neighbouring Chateau Fonplégade is organically since 2013, the owners also have a organically certified vineyard in Napa to name a few.

And it is not just organic; sustainable agriculture and biodynamics are also part of the Bordeaux eco-mix and there are certifications for both.

Sustainable agriculture is a vague term open to many interpretations but is a notion that has a powerful impact on consumers. There is a Terra Vitis certification in France that committed growers can adhere to. Pheromone traps and sexual confusion in the vineyard, ploughing, modelling of diseases and close measurement of climate that allow a much reduced and more targeted use of agrichemicals are all techniques associated with sustainable agricultural methods.

Pheremone wires on vines at Chateau Sigalas Raubaud in Sauternes

Pheremone wires on vines at Chateau Sigalas Raubaud in Sauternes

Biodynamic viticulture takes organic culture a step further, often characterised by the process of burying cow horns full of manure or using the cycles of the moon there’s unsurprisingly a lot more to it than that. Practitioners consider the vineyard as a complete organism in itself and only use biodynamic treatments on the vines, mainly home made herbal concoctions, self-sufficiency being a key part of both organic and biodynamic principles. Biodynamic certification is subject to European regulations by the independent organisation Demeter and also Biodyvin the international union of biodynamic wine makers, the wine sector leads the biodynamic sector in France; in 2012 more than half of the 450 certified biodynamic French farms were vineyards.

Constant experimentation is a signature of Bordeaux wine making, both in the vines and in the cellars, and nowhere more so than in the sustainable/organic/biodynamic sector. Few properties would launch into a new method of culture or wine making without experimenting first.  For example 3ha of the 78ha that make up Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande are currently farmed organically and 3ha are biodynamic. Chateau Margaux is also experimenting and Chateau Latour has also been switching to biodynamic methods as can be illustrated by the horses often seen ploughing the vineyards.

Chateau Smith-Haut Lafitte has instigated it’s own Bio Precision approach, aiming to match the innovative viticulture and vinification techniques respect of the environment, promoting bio diversity through hedge plantation, use of natural grass, production of organic compost, horse ploughing, etc. They carry this through into the new ‘stealth’ wine cellar mentioned in a previous post. So there is clearly no conflict between organic and high tech.

Experimentation is the cellars too. Château Pontet Canet has been certified organic since 2010. They started in 2004 with 30ha and were so convinced they went 100% as of 2005, although with weather conditions in 2007 they were obliged to spray so it back to the drawing board until 2010. They then experimented in the cellars introducing a few concrete eggs or ‘amphorae’ in 2010. As of 2012 they now use 35% amphora for aging the wines alongside 50% oak barrels and the remaining 15% in one-year old oak. These amphorae bring the notion of terroir right into the cellar; the concrete is mixed with gravel stones for the Cabernet and with limestone for the Merlot along with the yellow clay from the vineyard.

The amphorae in the cellars of Chateau Pontet Canet

The amphorae in the cellars of Chateau Pontet Canet

As I mentioned above the right bank has the greatest concentration of organic properties and it is an area that has been a hot bed of innovation in wine making technology as well as agricultural methods since the late 1980’s.

It reminds me of how when the ‘garage wine’ movement first started in the right bank with a lot of more established producers showing disdain for the ideas but now later harvest dates, cold soaks and selection tables are common place throughout Bordeaux – we are seeing a similar thing with organic agricultural techniques, more and more producers are reducing chemical loads, ploughing, using lighter tractors, growing green crops between plantings and using pheromones in their vines to control the vine moths through sexual confusion. This last practice is also open to some criticism as again not everyone is convinced that having large concentrations of insect pheromones in the air is necessarily a good thing.

Some properties may not be certified or searching certification but the theories and methods introduced by the certification are taking a hold and the results can be clearly seen as you drive around the vineyards. Non certified properties use many of the sustainable, organic and biodynamic principles such as Chateau Clinet in Pomerol, where owner wine marker Ronan Laborde talks of gentle farming methods and uses the biodynamic practice of tying the vines rather than trimming. This works perfectly on the vines that, as of 2004, they raised by 10-15 cm to obtain a larger leaf area to favour the ripening of the grapes. A programme that took 2 years to complete.

'Living' soil at Chateau Clinet

‘Living’ soil at Chateau Clinet

It’s now common to see more ploughing going on between vines to control weeds but also to aerate and bring the soil back to life. This is done more and more by horses. Chateau may either have their own horses such as at Chateau Latour, Chateau Pontet Canet or Chateau Troplong Mondot or by using specialist companies that provide the horse drawn ploughing services. Chateau Cheval Blanc uses such a service and yes, when I was there, it was a white horse pulling the plough.

Ploughing at Chateau Pontet Canet

Ploughing at Chateau Pontet Canet

Francois Despagne, owner of Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne, classified growth of Saint Emilion, is one of the most passionate viticulturalists I know in Bordeaux and is certified sustainable by Terravitis and had several experimental plots on the vineyard under organic before converting and becoming organic and is now experimenting with bio dynamics. His brother, Nicolas, owner of Chateau la Maison Blanche up the road in Montagne Saint Emilion, is a passionate advocate of biodynamics.

Bending the vines rather than strumming them - a practice once limited to biodynamics is now seen more often in Bordeaux vineyards

Bending the vines rather than strumming them – a practice once limited to biodynamics is now seen more often in Bordeaux vineyards

Certification is an expensive and complicated process and not all growers have the money or the manpower necessary to implement it, even if they agree with the philosophy. The CIVB (Conseil des Vins de Bordeaux – The Bordeaux wine council) has devised a way to help such properties. The System de Management Environmental (SME) is a process whereby the cost of a consultant and the certification process is shared between the CIVB and a group of wine makers or chateaux. The members also appreciate this collective initiative as an opportunity to exchange notes and share problems they encounter along the way. Currently 141 wine producers have reached the ISO 14001 environmental certification through this system and another 300 are currently engaged in the process, including wine merchants and cooperatives as well at chateaux, altogether totalling 12 500 ha of Bordeaux vines.

There are other interprofessional schemes; Bordeaux was the first vineyard to have a collective Carbon footprint project for the « Bordeaux Wine Climate plan 2020 » launched in 2010 with the objective of 20% less green house effect, 20% energy savings, 20% renewable energy, 20% water savings by 2020 in line with the European objective of cutting its emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, The Bordeaux objective is -40 000 t.eq C by this date. It was 203 000 t.eq C in 2010. On-line Carbon foot print calculator is freely available for the Bordeaux wine community so they can measure and adapt their carbon footprint accordingly.

So where does this leave us? In 2012 over 40 400 ha of farmland were certified organic in France with another 24 351 in conversion (a 3 year programme). This is about 8% of French vines but also 6% of French organic agriculture – so wines are well ahead of the trend and the prognosis for 2013 was over 51 000ha.

Being ecologically responsible might give wine makers a nice warm feeling, but what is the motivation? With the majority of vineyards in Bordeaux being family owned, ecology is taken very seriously as chateau owners often consider themselves caretakers rather than owners, with a responsibility to hand down a healthy vineyard to future generations. Is there a price premium? In certain markets there is but it also gives access to new markets and helps differentiate products in what is a very competitive market, especially in mid-range priced wines. Does the organic or biodynamic product taste better? Well the jury still seems to be out although research shows there seems to be a higher concentration of some tannins as well as having an effect on alcohol levels. However, to produce both organic and biodynamic wines, requires attention to detail and this is clearly one way to ensure great quality.

But what about the market? Wine only accounts for 10% of sales of organic food in France but it’s on the increase; 15% a year from a turnover of 413 M € in 2012, a third of which is sold directly from estates – so better margins for producers. Market data provided by Agence Bio in 2011 gave the revenue from organic wines as 360 million Euros at 4 per cent of all wine sold in the country. This was a higher share of organic than for the total food market, where organic food sales constitute just 2.3 per cent.

The recent publication of 3rd edition of Le Guide des Vins en Biodynamie, by Bordeaux publisher Editions Feret, is perhaps a good indication of increased interest.

What does the future hold? European organic wine certification remains a work in progress with an update expected in August 2015. The various private certification standards are seen as a base for further evolution of pan-European standards looking at themes such as: biodiversity in grape production, soil fertility and soil life, alternative approaches to pests and diseases, sustainability of grape production, wine processing and storage, quality and source of organic wine ingredients, of yeasts quality both including wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentation, limitations on additives including a possible total of sulphites, further limitations on processing techniques, limitations on tools and equipment, etc, etc.

In 2011 8% of French vineyards were organic (61 000 ha) compared to about 6% of the EU as a whole (interestingly enough the UK showed the highest percentage at over 16% – but I know it’s a tiny surface area compared to France) it is notable that the organic vineyards have exhibited far higher growth rates than the overall organic farmland.

In a global context, Europe is by far the largest player when it comes to organic vineyards: Europe’s 260,000 hectares of organic vineyards constitute 89 per cent of the total area under organic vines worldwide and represent 3.7 per cent of all vineyards. Major producers outside Europe are the United States (almost 12,000 hectares in 2008) and Chile (4,600 hectares).

As mentioned above, just like all wine makers organic wine makers love to experiment and the organic wine movement seems to be particularly good at participatory R & D, in both the field and wine cellars. Subjects such as lowering copper input are being looked at in this way and they are also working with other agricultural products where copper use is an issue see http://www.co-free.eu

Everyone benefits; wine is a relatively prosperous agricultural sector –not everywhere (that includes parts of Bordeaux) and it is also a competitive and dynamic sector and research into issues of organic wine benefit other agricultural products too. I think this is where the future lies, along with more closely aligned legislation with export markets so different organic producers from around the world can sell as organic in their various export markets.

The 2015 review of the organic wine certification is around the corner – it needs that time lapse to have a couple of vintages under our belts especially in Bordeaux when wines are often bottled between 24 and 30 months after harvest – exciting times ahead for gentil farmers.

 

Bio Bordeaux

Bordeaux may not be the first wine region that springs to mind when thinking of eco-responsibility – well think again. A few high profile examples such as Chateau Pontet Canet, classified growth from Pauillac and Chateau Guiraud, first growth from Sauternes, have both recently obtained organic certification and prestigious Chateau Fonroque is a leader in biodynamic agriculture.

Ploughing the vines of Chateau Latour the traditional way

There is also an important underlying eco-movement in Bordeaux which is not restricted to the top vineyards. Bordeaux is a big place with, currently, around 8700 wine growers each owning, on average 14 ha (about 35 acres). The vast majority of these properties are family owned, and with family ownership comes the notion of stewardship; the belief that the land is there to be looked after and passed down to the next generation, a philosophy that goes hand in hand with the notion of eco-responsibility.
However, conversion to sustainable, organic or even biodynamic agriculture is a long and often expensive process both in financial terms and, for a family run business often more importantly, time.
Several initiatives to help producers in their evolution towards more eco-friendly production have been spearheaded by the CIVB (Bordeaux Wine Council) and these are putting Bordeaux on the eco map.
In 2010 Bordeaux was the first vineyard region to measure their carbon footprint and launch the Bordeaux Wine Climate plan 2020 which stated clear objectives for reducing the carbon footprint of the vineyard :
20% less green house effect 20% energy savings;20% renewable energy 20% water savings and the carbon footprint by 40 000 tons carbon equivalent by 2020 (today the footprint is 203 000 tons).
Objectives are fine but this is also backed up by an online carbon footprint calculator available for all producers and merchants, which allows them to understand exactly where and how these carbon economies can be made.
The Ecophyto 2018 plan, also a CIVB initiative, has a goal of a 50% reduction in pesticide use throughout the vineyard and 20% of the surface area in organic agriculture by 2018. About 5% of Bordeaux’s vineyard is currently under organic agriculture (the same of eco friendly Switzerland, for example).
The major innovation however is the 2010 SME (Syteme de Management Environnemental). This is not just about setting industry wide objectives but is an associative management tool, helping individual properties to improve environmental performance. Under the SME, piloted last year, smaller producers, that don’t necessarily have the finances or the time to spend understanding and implementing what needs to be done to reach certification but who are motivated by a desire to become more environmentally friendly can work together, sharing the costs of a consultant and their experiences. In the first year pilot, 27 companies successfully worked together to reach the environmental certification ISO 14001. With this success under its belt the initiative is now spreading to other vineyards.
However, in the genuine desire to improve environmental practices, there are various certifications and associations which can be confusing for the consumers, especially as each country seems to have different definitions and legislation.


Healthy leaves ………

give healthy grapes
The SVBA (Syndicat des Vins Bio d’Aquitaine) currently has 140 members producing wine from organic grapes. There is currently no such thing as organic wine, only wine made from organic grapes, although this is a work in progress with the possibility of a certification for organic wine in the pipeline for 2012 (at the earliest).
The SVBA is showing their members’ wines this weekend, the 19/20th November, in Begles (better known for its Rugby than its wine!) just on the edge of Bordeaux city centre. Organic producers form other regions, such as the Jura, will also be present, which is typical of these environmental initiatives that seem to cross geographical barriers with ease.

Three approaches to dry white wine production

Three visits in Pessac Leognan and Sauternes today to see the beginning of the dry white
The grapes arrive in the cellars of Château La Mission Haut Brion in a refrigerated truck.

Using dry ice to protect the crop during pressing at Château Guiraud for Le G de Guiraud

A little help picking the grapes at Château Sigalas Rabaud for the second vintage of the La Demoiselle de Sigalas dry white.

Roadside dining around Bordeaux

The D2 (the ‘route des Châteaux’) is possibly the most famous road in the Bordeaux region,driving up the D2 is like driving through a wine list. Passing one grand example of architecture after another, the road sweeps through the famous appellations of Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe. And most of these have great roadside restaurants.

Travelling from south to north leaving Bordeaux:
Le Lion d’Or is as typical a local bistro as you can get. The ‘Patron’ is a fervent defender of local cuisine and a dedicated ‘chasseur,’ so game features plentifully on the menu in season. Throughout the rest of the year, local specialties include confit of duck, local asparagus and artichokes. Surprisingly, the wine list is petite. This is because the dining locals are winemakers with their own wine lockers that line the dining room. You can admire fabulous wines guarded by lock and key, which only the owners hold! To compensate, bring your own bottle but only if it is ‘rouge’. Should you want a glass of white or rosé, order it from the house list.

Heading north, continue to Saint Julien and stop at the eponymous restaurant. In the summer the terrace is delightful and in the evening the chef will stoke the grill with vine clippings to prepare the steaks and duck breasts. They also have the best dessert buffet in the region.

Just before arriving in Pauillac, take a break in Bages and on the left is the 2-star Michelin hotel and Restaurant Cordeillan Bages , plus a vineyard. The innovative chef Thierry Marx creates modern interpretations of local products and the experience is a mix of dining and entertainment. He is a staunch defender of the local culinary traditions and has been instrumental in preserving the local milk-fed lamb ‘l’agneau de Pauillac.’

For a more modern take, go back to Bordeaux on the only other main road in the Médoc, the D1. Still on the left bank but south of Bordeaux city in the Pessac Léognan appellation, pause amongst the classified growths in the village of Martillac at Le Pistou , a relaxed local bistro just opposite the church.

Carry on further south to the village of Sauternes where you can dine on the terrace of Le Saprien overlooking the vines and enjoy a menu carefully designed to match with the luscious sweet white wines of this appellation.

 

The view from the terrace of ‘Le Saprien’
over the vines of Château Guiraud

On the right bank over towards Saint Emilion, take the ND936 from Bordeaux towards Bergerac and turn left towards Saint Germain de Puch where you can have lunch or dinner at l’Atmosphère , which offers everything from pizza to high-end local specialties such as artichoke and foie gras salad.

Once in Saint Emilion there is only one street to drive through. Half way up Rue Guadet, stop on the left at Chai Pascal for a light lunch with an interesting selection of wines by the glass.

Further up the same street on the right is Essentielle , owned by Jean-Luc Thunevin. This wine bar offers some of the most hard to find wines of the region by the glass accompanied by artisan cheeses and ‘charcuterie’.

Chinese students studying Sauternes.

In 2008 China represented nearly 4% of Bordeaux wine exports and is growing. Chinese wine enthusiasts are putting Bordeaux on the map for visits too. With the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux and Vitivini tours I welcomed a group of Chinese graduate students from Cheung Kong Graduate School. Their first night was a baptism by fire with a Sauternes dinner at Château Guiraud, Premier Grand Cru Classé.


A tasting menu designed specifically to compliment the 5 different vintages chosen (1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003) showed just how versatile Sauternes can be with both traditional and exotic cuisine, savory and sweet.