Tag Archives: Cognac

Château Loudenne – can history repeat itself?

I have always had a soft spot for Château Loudenne. Arriving in Bordeaux in the late eighties I knew very few people, but I was soon introduced to the world of Château Loudenne, then under British ownership. It was party central for Bordeaux Brits and most of the players in the Medoc.

The hospitality was legendary. The dining room was the scene of many a memorable dinner and the amazing vintage kitchen hosted many more. I even remember London based Chef, Albert Roux flying over one August with fresh grouse in his suitcase for a Glorious 12th dinner.

IMG_0916

View to the back of the Château looking donw from the gravel outcrop.

The rooms were always welcoming, and waking to look at that view over the Gironde Estuary was a treat. In those days Château Loudenne was owned by IDV, having been in the portfolio of Gilbeys when they purchased that company.

Gironde from terrace

The view from the terrace of Château Loudenne to the Gironde Estuary

The history of Château Loudenne goes back over 300 years. Built in 1670 in the typical ‘Chartreuse’ style, the traversing rooms ideally suited to the spectacular views over the Gironde Estuary. This beautiful pink chateau is still at the heart of the large vineyard, 132 ha under vines including 12 ha in white. As early as 1880 it was the very first Medoc vineyard to produce a white wine.

Traversing rooms

A view through the Château

Alfred and Walter Gilbey purchased the chateau in 1875 and made it their home as well as the base for their Bordeaux commerce. They were the first negociants to be based in the Medoc, rather than in the Port of Bordeaux, establishing their trade out of the huge Victorian waterfront cellars near the property’s private port. Chateau Loudenne remains the only property in the Medoc to have its own private port.

Loudenne port

The ‘Port’ of Château Loudenne from the water

It became ‘The Pink Château’ at the time of the Gilbeys; it has remained so ever since. The Gilbeys, in true English style, created the stunning landscaped park which has a rare collection of David Austin English roses.

In 1963, their family company changed hands to become IDV, which went on to join the spirits group Diageo. In their move away from wine investments, Diageo sold the chateau in 2000.

After a few years in the hands of owners that sadly didn’t invest either in the wine or the architecture, Moutai purchased Chateau Loudenne in 2013, joined by Camus Cognac as minority shareholders in 2016. They are old friends having worked together as distribution partners for over 10 years. Moutai is the number one Chinese Liquor Company and Camus Cognac the largest family-owned independent Cognac house. Camus took over the management of Chateau Loudenne when it entered into the capital in 2016.

The involvement of the Cognac family is a back to the future moment; monks from the Saintonge region, near Cognac, were the first to plant vines in the village of Saint-Yzans-de-Médoc in the 13th century.

Folly

One of the gravel outcrops with its folly

Château Loudenne is in the Médoc appellation, in the North of the peninsula just beyond the boundary with the Haut Médoc. Here two large Garonnaise gravel outcrops rise above the tide line of the estuary. Victorian brick and stone follies, the function of which is still unknown, crown these outcrops. They were possibly built to store vineyard tools but more likely to make the site easily identified from the water. Or perhaps they are simply follies with no need for justification. The traditional coat of arms of the property show one of these towers with a Wyvern sitting on top.

I remember a party for the Ban des Vendanges in 1992 when a ‘son et lumière’ bought these Wyverns back to life to the amazement of hundreds of guests in dinner evening dress strolling though the vineyard. Heady days.

The new owners have reworked the presentation and marketing using a ‘belle époque’ design for the labels reminiscing about its illustrious past reinforced by strap line ‘I will always remember’. Also playing on the word Rose (pink in French) as a reference to both Chateau and its rose garden in the new stylised rose design on the labels and capsules.

New labels

The new Chateau Loudenne Labels

Rose

and the stylised rose design

The renewal is not solely a marketing operation. They are not simply looking over their shoulder at the past. New vines are being planted with ‘complanting’ in the older vineyards, introducing Petit Verdot to the Cabernet/Merlot blend and Sauvignon Gris to the white blend with the goal of becoming organic in five years,

New planting

A recently replanted plot near the estuary

General Manager, Philippe de Poyferré, plans to modernize the emblematic waterfront cellars, adapting the Victorian vats to handle the plot selection to suit the different vineyard plots. These majestic cellars date from 1876 and were a perfect example of the Gilbey brothers’ drive to modernize the estate during the 19th century. Designed by Bordeaux architect, Ernest Minvielle, they are a classic Médoc-style two-story vat hall, already harnessing gravity to manipulate the harvested grapes and wine.

Cellars

The victorian cellars from the waterfront

De Poyferré has already reintroduced hand harvesting, sorting tables, and gone back to gravity rather than use pumps.

Cuvier

The 19th century vat room

Chateau Loudenne still produces white wine under the Bordeaux appellation. Fermented and aged in oak with 25 % of Sémillon, unusually high for a dry white from the Medoc, it is reminiscent of a Graves in style and elegance.

The red wines of Chateau Loudenne are Cru Bourgeois, currently a 50:50 Cabernet/Merlot blend and tasting recent vintages the improvement in quality as of 2014 vintage is marked. One to watch with hopefully a future party invite.

 

 

 

Tesseron Cognac, a new approach to a classic.

The Tesseron name may be familiar as the name behind two leading Medoc vineyards; Chateau Pontet Canet, 5th Classified Growth of Pauillac, and Chateau Lafon Rochet, 4th Classified Growth in Saint Estephe. What you may not know is that the origins of the family’s interest in the wine business actually started in spirits, in neighbouring Cognac.

Abel Tesseron founded the family Cognac Company in 1905, with vines in both the Grande Champagne (Boneuil) and Petite Champagne (Saint-Surin) regions. It wasn’t until 1960 that his son, Guy Tesseron, diversified into wine purchasing Chateau Lafon Rochet and then Château Pontet Canet in 1975. Château Pontet Canet is now run by Guy’s son and his grand-children: the fourth generation is now carrying on the family tradition.

The Tesseron Cognac Vines

The Tesseron Cognac Vines

They have not forgotten their Cognac origins. For three generations their precious Cognac reserves have been hidden away, unknown except to a few Cognac negociants who would buy them to complement their blends.

Some of the Tesseron Cognac reserves

Some of the Tesseron Cognac reserves

Alfred is no stranger to innovation; he has transformed Château Pontet Canet into a biodynamic vineyard with innovative wine making and ageing, bringing it to a position where it hits way above it’s official status in the 1855 classification as a 5th growth.

Unsurprisingly he has innovated in Cognac too: ten years ago Alfred decided to stop selling their historic spirits to Cognac blenders and to sell them under the Tesseron name as ‘Lots’; blends from their best reserve spirits.

Cognac is just North of the Medoc, and there are many parallels between what they do in Bordeaux and in Cognac, first the notion of blend. At Pontet Canet the grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are blended after fermentation to recreate the final wine for each vintage. In Cognac they use the traditional Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche et Colombard varietals, bucking the trend away from Folle Blanche and Colombard due to their fragility and keeping them for complexity. The notion of blend in Cognac goes further than wine. Not only are they looking at different grape varieties but after distillation and ageing the different spirits are also blended.

The Tesseron stills

The Tesseron stills

But we missed a stage between these blending operations – distillation. The white wines from the grapes are double distilled in small coal heated copper stills (alambiques). These spirits are then aged in ancient oak barrels « Tierçons » for 3 generations (a generation meaning between 20 to 30 years) before being decanted into Bonbonnes; beautiful 20 to 30 litres ‘Dame-Jeanne’ bottles that are then stored in ‘Paradis’, an appropriate name as it is a 12th century crypt that previously belonged to monks.

The Dames Jeanne in the crypt

The Dames Jeanne in the crypt

In Cognac you may not sell spirits as a vintage, a specific year, unless they are 100% from this one vintage and kept in secure conditions that ensures this, protecting against fraud. In Alfred’s opinion this brings no added value, on the contrary, blends from different vintages allow for an increased complexity, especially in the hands of expert blenders. He has decided to sell his spirits as Lots. The first Cognac marketed under the Tesseron name was Lot 90; a blend of Cognacs from 10 to15 years old, this was followed by Lot 76 a blend of one generation, i.e. from 20 to 30 years, then Lot 53 from two generations, and finally Lot 29 from three generations. Their Royal Blend is a blend between the Lot 29 and Lot 53.

The beautiful hand blown bottle for Lot 53.

The beautiful hand blown bottle for Lot 53.

When Cognacs have aged for about 50 years in oak they start to show a very specific nose; buttery aromas of ‘rancio’ (a nutty characteristic associated with old port and sherry wines as well as aged Cognacs). It is at this time the spirits are transferred from barrels to the traditional glass ‘Dame Jeanne’.

Tesseron Extreme

Tesseron Extreme

These beautiful old bottles inspired the creation of the blend l’Extrème with spirits of 80 years old bottled in miniature copies of the traditional bonbonnes.

Melanie Tesseron, one of the Forth Tesseron generation

Melanie Tesseron, one of the fourth Tesseron generation

The innovation doesn’t just stop with the blending, labelling and packaging. This may be a traditional family company with a historic product but that doesn’t mean it only appeals to a traditional clientele. Alfred has dynamic young children and nieces on his team, illustrating that Cognac is no longer uniquely an old man’s drink. This new generation is the perfect face to front this new approach to a very traditional product.

Martell – all packed up and ready to go.

If you thought the Louis Vuitton/ Cordier-Mestrezat travelling case mentioned in my http://www.insidertasting.com/blog/inde … new=true]previous post[/url] was the perfect travelling companion for wine and spirits lovers on the move, think again. The Cognac house Martell has gone a step further – and bigger. If ever you were worried about going thirsty on a trip this is the answer to your prayers.

Martel asked Frédéric Pinel to design a creation allowing Martell lovers to rediscover the complete range of Cognac produced by this historic house that going back 300 years. In the signature ‘Martell Blue’ (obviously an important colour for top class wine and spirits see ‘Bleu de Chanel’). This mobile trunk-bar is the largest Pinel & Pinel have ever produced: 2.06m high, 2.20m wide and 0.70m deep with almost a thousand skilled man-hours of work.

The Cognac range presented in this trunk includes, not just the house blends, but also the ‘montres’ – pre-blends prepared in small, cylindrical, 20cl sample bottles – the stepping-stones on the way to a great Cognac.
The subtly lit leather- lined compartments and drawers of the trunk present all the tools you need to understand and discover Cognac: the Exclusive Blends, the crystal glasses and decanters, cocktail gadgets, scented candles and a cigar humidor – what more could you ask for? A small blue leather-bound booklet containing the handwritten tasting notes of Benoît Fil, Martell’s cellar master.

The owners of the trunk can add their own notes on their voyage of discovery,
both geographical and spiritual!