Tag Archives: Médoc

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.


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.


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


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.


The victorian cellars from the waterfront

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


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.




The sandy side of the Medoc.

The proximity of the Bordeaux vineyards to the ocean keeps the Bordeaux climate both temperate and humid, a major influence on the style and quality of Bordeaux wines. This is especially true for the Medoc.

The 16 500 ha of the Medoc vineyards are on a narrow strip, just 80 Km long and up to 15 km wide, running along the eastern side of this peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. It is here on the Eastern edge that the famous gravel soils are found, but also some clay and limestone. Head west; towards the coastline it’s sand.

The Medoc Peninsula Map Conseil des Vins du Médoc

I want to take you further north, past the last vineyards of the Medoc appellation, past the salt marshes where wild horses still graze, to the sandy beaches. I have just spent a week here, at the very northern tip of the Peninsula and it has given me a different view of the region, compared to the one I am normally looking at through the bottom of a glass – which can distort your view in more ways than one!

Up until the 17th century this region was a series of marshy islands. Then, to help suck up some of the water and stabilise the sandy coastal soils, forests were planted. This didn’t go down too well with the locals who were used to shepherding their sheep on stilts across the marshy salt plains. They eventually turned toward forestry, harvesting the pine resin and seeds as well as the wood.

Then the Dutch came along with their expertise in polders and recuperating land from the sea; they built dykes along the estuary, introduced drainage ditches and started to dry out the land. It’s not a coincidence that the name ‘Moulin’ or windmill is found on a lot of wine labels. Even the name of the appellation Moulis comes from the presence of windmills on this higher area. This ‘new’ land allowed the planting of the vineyards we know today.

A drainage ditch or Jalle, just south of Saint Julien. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Despite the daily ferry that runs across to Royan, the Bordelais tend to think of the peninsula as a dead end, but the tip of the peninsula has always had a strategic role thanks to trade by sea. It seems to have been an important region as early as the Bronze Age. It’s possible there were foundries here, judging by the Bronze hammer heads that are often found washed up on the shore, most probably from bronze age villages engulfed by the ocean. There is neither copper nor tin here but it might have been a meeting place for these two raw materials from which bronze is made.

Looking across the Gironde Estuary from one of the dykes. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Soulac, at the northern tip, now a holiday town, was where the medieval pilgrims would disembark from Northern Europe to start their trek south to Saint Jacques de Compostella in Spain. In the 11th century Benedictine monks built a Monastery, Abbey and Basilica, to welcome them. The Basilica is called Notre-Dame-de-la-fin-des-Terres (Our lady of the end of the land) an evocative name. In the 18th century the whole village was engulfed by sand blown in on the Atlantic storms. Only the tip of the tower of the church remained, acting as a landmark. The Basilica was uncovered again in the mid 19th century when Soulac became fashionable thanks to the introduction of the railway. The train bought the great and the good from Bordeaux to bathe and breathe the fresh marine air and pine resin aromas that were thought to be restorative.

The pine trees along the coast were thought to be good for the lungs. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The coastline continues to move here, constantly putting water front properties at risk but it is this power of the Atlantic that attracts tourists to the area. The crashing waves and huge empty beaches are a haven for surfers and campers; there’s a real cool ‘Californian’ vibe along the coast in the summer.

Surf’s up Soulac – Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Soulac has a particular and charming architectural style, known, unsurprisingly, as Soulacaise. The picturesque turn of the century cottages and villas are all built of a mix of limestone and local fired bricks.

One of the Soulacise villas seen through the eyes of local artist  Heidi Moiriot https://www.heidimoriot.com

Next time you are on a wine tour to the Medoc, take the time to go ‘off piste’ and head to the beach. A plate of oysters, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a paddle in the Atlantic is a great change of scene from the cellars of Medoc. Thanks to their restorative powers, you will return to the tasting rooms with renewed vigour.

Gonzague & Claire Lurton, from Bordeaux to Sonoma.

I’m recently back from a month travelling around the US where I was sharing the wines of the Medoc with the trade – and a few friends.

I started in California; Medoc wines are no strangers there. I’m often asked if I am well received in other wine regions when I talk about Bordeaux. I find most wine makers to be inquisitive about what is happening elsewhere in the wine world. Rather than chauvinistic they’re keen to share and to learn from one another – so I am usually made to feel very welcome. The US, especially the west coast, is refreshingly free of Bordeaux Bashing – on the contrary ‘Bordeaux is Back’ seemed to be on everyone’s lips, so I was riding on the crest of a Bordeaux wave.

Last year I discovered Château Latour’s investment in Napa at Eisele. As Bordeaux investors in the region, they are not alone; as well as the longstanding investment at Opus by Mouton and Moueix at Dominus, Chanel, owners of Château Rauzan Segla in Margaux and Château Canon in Saint Emilion, purchased the Saint Supery vineyard and winery in 2015 and the Tesseron family, owner of Château Pontet Canet in Pauillac, invested in Napa last year buying Robin Williams Pym-Rae estate.

There is of course is more to Californian wines than Napa and I have a particular fondness for Healdsburg. This charming wine town has grown into a real foodie destination in the fifteen years since I first visited. I discovered it thanks to Susan Graf who opened her eponymous store there in 1998 (and has been dressing me ever since!) and to wine maker Jen Higgins now making Bordeaux blends at Lambert Bridge.

This year I found more ‘Medocains’ there; Gonzague and Claire Lurton. They are from two famous Bordeaux wine families, Lurton and Merlaut and between them are at the head of quite a collection of Bordeaux Left Bank family properties. Their portfolio includes Château Dufort-Vivens, Château Ferriere, both classified growths and Château La Gurgue all in Margaux, Château Haut Bages Liberale, classified growth of Pauillac and Château Domeyne in Saint Estephe, a property that they added to the collection in 2006. Several of these wines were in the tastings I conducted across the States, but it was a surprise to find them in a Healdsburg tasting room too.

Beautiful Chalk Hill

The Lurtons brought their Medoc expertise to California in 2012, buying a vineyard in Chalk Hill and calling it Trinité. Three is their lucky number: it refers to their three grands crus classes in Bordeaux, their three children and the three varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc and Merlot in their Bordeaux blend and is represented by the three fish on the logo.

Despite its name, Chalk Hill is more volcanic ash than chalk, although these diverse soils of ash, chalk, clay, loam and silt lend themselves well to a blend of Bordeaux varieties. The cooler microclimate between the Russian River and Alexander Valley gives the signature ‘old world’ elegance to the wines they were looking for.

Welcome to Trinité Estate

As the name Chalk Hill implies, the vines are planted on slopes and it was this natural beauty and the preserved wildlife of the region as well as the terroir that seduced the Lurtons. They plant a cover crop of native flowers between vines to protect their plots against soil erosion and encourage a favourable insect population. This is all part of their commitment to environmentally friendly viticulture. In Bordeaux, they started using biodynamics in 2007 at Château Haut Bages Liberal and in 2009 at Château Durfort Vivens. They use similar organic and various biodynamic practises in Sonoma, adapting to the local conditions such as handpicking the grapes in the cooler night and early morning temperatures. As in Bordeaux, they sort the grapes berry by berry and follow with a cold soak to extract colour, aromas and softer tannins, gently pumping the wine over the marc during the fermentation is another way they manage this elegant tannic structure. The wines are aged for twelve to eighteen months in French (of course) oak barrels.

The 3 Trinité Wines

Continuing with the Trinité theme the property produces three wines:

The top wine, Acaibo takes its name from ACA meaning water or fish in the native Pomo language and SIBO meaning three. It is a classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with some Cabernet Franc.


The second wine, Amaino, from the word for volcanic stone in Pomo, refers to that volcanic ash found in the soil from Mount St Helena to the North.


It is more Cabernet Sauvignon driven with Cabernet Franc and some Merlot. Both these wines age for an average of 18 months in 70% new French Oak barrels.

They also produce CG LURTON (no translation needed for that name) a 100% Merlot aged for twelve months in French oak only 10% of which is new.

G C Lurton

Brave in a land where merlot is not that fashionable and perhaps a nod to some other Lurton holdings on the right bank of Bordeaux? All three wines are characterised by an elegant freshness and bright fruit.

Taste the complete range at the Healdsburg tasting room – including their delicious Bordeaux Rosé

Visitors are welcome to discover the Chalk Hill Estate by appointment but they have embraced the Californian approach to sharing the wines by opening a tasting room in town. The hospitality is in the capable hands of fellow Bordelais, Pascal Geurlou. Pascal knows all about sharing his passion for wine, he worked for many years at La Cave d’Ulysee in Margaux before moving to California.

The line up at the Acaibo tasting room from Bordeaux to Sonoma

Not only will he share the Chalk Hill wines with you but also wines from their Bordeaux vineyards. The terroirs may be 6000 miles apart but here, under one roof, right in the heartland of Californian wine country, you have the unique opportunity to sample the Lurton signature from both sides of the Atlantic.

Acaibo Tasting room: 422 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, California 95448. Contact: 707-473-8556 or pascal@acaibo.com









Terroir: The science behind the soil.

Terroir when discussing wine can be a controversial subject. Not only does the definition vary from country to country or person to person but opinions as to its influence on the final product and just how that influence happens is also open to debate.

Does the definition include only soil and topography? But then there’s climate and microclimate, and what about the role of man as a grape grower and even as a wine maker – how does that fit into the definition?

Bdx micro climate

Does the definition of terroir include the maritime climate of Bordeaux?

Wine being defined by the place it’s grown may be a European or old-world concept, but things are changing. Although most European wines are still very much about the place, it is the foundation of the appellation system after all, the influence of the wine maker (or consultant wine maker) is playing a larger part. Famous wine makers and consultants now sign off on wines around the world. Interestingly in the ‘new world’, it would seem the opposite is happening. Whereas as once the role of the wine maker and wine-making techniques was paramount, the notion of terroir and its influence seems to be gaining ground (pun intended). Could it be that the new and old wine worlds are reaching a consensus?

Where does the influence of terroir end and wine making begin? The wine cellar in the heart of the terroir at Chateau Feret Lambert in the Entre Deux Mers

Where does the influence of terroir end and wine making begin? The wine cellar in the heart of the terroir at Chateau Feret Lambert in the Entre Deux Mers

In many regions it’s all about the place, Bordeaux very much so, Burgundy even more and on my recent visit to South Africa, Haskell, Jordan and Klein Constantia the identification and isolation of different terroirs was at the forefront of every conversation.

The Terroir wall at Ellerman House Hotel in Cape Town show cases the variety of South african wine terroir.

The Terroir wall at Ellerman House Hotel in Cape Town show cases the variety of South african wine terroir.

With improved techniques such as measuring soil resistivity, satellite technology (and good old fashioned digging of holes), the notion of terroir is becoming more precise. In Bordeaux, recent investment in the cellars has all been about smaller and smaller vats; each vat destined to receive the grapes from a specific plot as a better understanding of terroir leads vineyards to divide their land into smaller and smaller units.

Plot by plot identification at Chateau Rauzan Segla in Margaux

Plot by plot identification at Chateau Rauzan Segla in Margaux

This has always been the case in Burgundy; here you can stand at certain crossroads and almost touch three or four different appellations. Unlike Bordeaux with our blends, in Burgundy they only really use one red varietal, Pinto Noir, so the personality of different plots has to be down to the place; the terroir. Wander through a Burgundy cellar and the many barrels may each contain wine from a different plot, each one a different appellation. It’s not unusual to see 6 or more different appellations in one cellar, all grown and vinified by the same team.

Not so in Bordeaux. We blend varietals but we also blend terroir, all those row of barrels from the different plots in a Bordeaux cellar will end up being blended together in to one, two or maybe three different wines. So why cultivate and vinifiy each plot of land separately if you are going to end up blending it all together?

Two reasons: As we have a more precise understanding of the terroir it allows for a better choice of grape varieties best suited to each plot, to produce a better wine. But there’s more to choose from than just varietals. It’s also the clone of the varietal and the rootstock. As Bordeaux vines are grafted, the grower has a choice of rootstocks that suit different soils, either limiting or increasing the vigour of the plant. But these choices are only made every sixty or seventy years or so when replanting.

Old vines, well adapted to their terroir?

Old vines, well adapted to their terroir?

The second reason is more about how we treat these plots year on year; how the soils are ploughed and fertilised, how the vines are pruned, trellised and trimmed and the all important harvest date. Ripeness can vary enormously from plot to plot depending on soil composition; clay soils tend to be cooler, gravel soils warmer, sun exposure can also change – it all adds to the terroir puzzle.

How does working the soil influence terroir.

How does working the soil influence terroir?

So coming back to that definition of the term, what of the role of the grower? Does terroir remain the same or has man changed it? In regions like Bordeaux where grapes have been grown since the middle ages one suspects that yes, man fiddling about with the terroir since they first started planting vines has had an effect.

Man has had an influence on terroir in historic vineyards - such as here in Sicily

Man has had an influence on terroir in historic vineyards – such as here in Sicily

A key example is drainage. Water is a key element in terroir: the soils’ ability to retain or drain. While many vineyards of the world are suffering from drought, in Bordeaux’s maritime climate we tend to have too much water. Drainage is a Bordeaux obsession, a lot of time and money is invested in insuring good drainage either natural or giving it a helping hand. The famous draining of the Medoc peninsula by the Dutch in the 17th century gives the site we know today – very different from it’s original ‘terroir’.

Drainage ditches in the grey clay of Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion

Drainage ditches in the blue clay of Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion

Then there is fertilisation, composting, ploughing and chemical treatments; continued over hundred of years surely this too has to affect the sense of place? The return to a more natural and eco friendly approach to vine growing after the excesses of the 70s is perhaps also a desire to return to a more real sense of terroir?

Most wine drinkers may not know or care what terroir means; they may choose their wine as a function of one or several grape varieties. But those of us who are lucky enough to taste wines from different places, and people, will recognise that the same grape variety can produce many different styles of wine depending upon where it is grown.

In Bordeaux we generalise by saying a right bank Saint Emilion is Merlot driven and a left bank is Cabernet Sauvignon driven. But look closer and we see this benchmark differentiation is not always strictly true. For example in the Medoc, in the Moulis and in Listrac appellations, you will find properties here that have a high percentage of Merlot, but they still taste like a left bank wine, they still have the taste of the place. It’s important that it does, one of the categories looked at when wines are assessed for their appellation certification is indeed typicity, this sense of place.

So you can start to see the importance of understanding terroir. If this has whetted your appetite for the subject I can recommend two books, that I have mentioned in a previous post,  to help you take the idea further.

Charles Frankel is a French, wine-loving geologist. In his book Land and Wine: The French terroir, he paints an fascinating picture of the terroirs of all the leading French wine regions and how they came to be. He tells a story that starts 500 million years ago and, instead of dry science, the subject matter includes not just the rocks but how they got there and how other historical influences give us the vineyards we have today.

Land and Wine by Charles Frankel

Land and Wine by Charles Frankel

Jamie Goode, is a leading British wine blogger under the name The Wine Anorak, in the latest edition of his book Wine Science, the application of Science in Wine Making he has included a chapter on how soils shape wine as well as the original chapter on terroir.

Wine science by Jamie Goude

Wine science by Jamie Goode

It addresses the question of exactly how terroir influences the taste of the wine in your glass. Or does it? Jamie is first and foremost a scientist and he brings this rigour to the subject of vine growing, wine making and wine tasting. In our more romantic vision of wine we often forget it is a science, he manages to remind us without losing any of the passion he obviously has for wine.

A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, these books might create a thirst for more, consume with moderation.

A New York State of Gastronomy.

I don’t normally write about food, I write about wine, in particular Bordeaux and even then I rarely share tasting notes preferring to talk about what is happening and what is changing in Bordeaux, leaving tasting to those with better palates or to allow you to make your own conclusions about wines when you taste them yourself.

 Today I am making an exception as I had an experience that was as exceptional as it was unexpected, and I just have to share it. Those of you who are hungry, turn away now.

 Mid-way through the hectic schedule of a 2 week US lecture tour on behave of the Wines of Medoc, I had a spare day earmarked for shopping in NYC. As everyone knows, shopping builds up an appetite and wandering back down Madison Avenue, on the look out for a likely place to stop for lunch, I just happened to find myself in front of the Carlyle Hotel.

 A light bulb went on and I remembered a wine tour 4 years ago when Chef Mark Richardson with his sister and brother-in-law toured Bordeaux with me. I had missed catching up with Mark once before when he was Executive Chef at the Four Seasons in San Francisco. Just as I planned to taste his fare, he upped and left for the Carlyle. Would I catch him this time?  Luck was with me; I popped in hoping to get a table for lunch and I got so much more.

 I was welcomed like a long lost friend, ushered to a table amongst the busy lunchtime crowd. The ‘feutré’ atmosphere of the restaurant is reminiscent of a elegant front room decorated with bookshelves and a fireplace, the English theme reinforced by a lot of British accents – the influence perhaps of the recent royal guests?

Mark worked his magic creating a spectacular lunch experience, he said likes to play so I handed myself over to his considerable skill.  What a treat. Proving that even in the centre of NYC you can source local ingredients, Chef Mark served up a menu with New York, Asian and European influences.

Local heirloom tomatoes and burrata,

Local heirloom tomatoes and burrata,

The menu started with a work of art; local heirloom tomatoes and burrata, beautifully fresh and perfectly seasoned with sourdough crisps. This was followed by Hamachi (yellow tail) tartar served with an Asian vinaigrette, topped with avocado and crunchy toasted breadcrumbs. The contrasting textures and flavours were perfect in both dishes.

Hamachi Tartar

Hamachi Tartar

 The Ricotta gnocchi that followed, served in brown butter and lemon, the citrus notes complemented by a few arugula (roquette) leaves, were cooked to perfection, creamy in the middle. When I asked how they remained so creamy with out having the doughy taste of undercooked pasta, he remarked that they were mainly just ricotta with hardly any flour.

New Jersey Scallops with bacon vinaigrette.

New Jersey Scallops with bacon vinaigrette.

 Then New Jersey scallops, impeccably cooked, served with confit aubergine slices, plums and bacon vinaigrette – a perfect paring with red wine – see below.

New York Strip-loin with deep fried green tomatoes.

New York Strip-loin with deep fried green tomatoes.

The finale was the New York strip just seared, meltingly tender over deep fried green tomatoes – a nod to his Kentucky origins.

 And the wines? They have an impressive and varied selection by the glass, American and international, but I have to admit I stayed with the French – I’m heading west on the next leg so Californian wines will come.

I couldn’t resist the Sancerre called French Blonde and a glass of Chateau Reysson Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc 2010. It is the Medoc that sent me over here, after all.

 The whole experience was remarkable and I was lucky, not just in finding Mark but in finding him just in time. After a year as Executive chef at the Carlyle, he is heading to pastures new, returning to his family in Kentucky to start a new venture.

New York’s loss, Kentucky’s gain!

Discovering the Medoc with the Cru Bourgeois

September saw exciting news for Medoc fans; not only did the Cru Bourgeois release the news of the new classification of the 2012 vintage, with 267 properties classified, they also confirmed their interest in re-establishing a quality hierarchy that was at the origin of the classification in 1932.

The Cru Bourgeois are a great window on the Medoc. I have just returned from several weeks in the US and used a range of Cru Bourgeois on several occasions to introduce the terroirs that make up this region of Bordeaux. They also encompass the history and the diversity of the region and are examples of the increase in quality and consistency that have characterised Bordeaux wines over recent vintages.

Presenting the Cru Bourgeois to students at Chaplin School of Hospitality in Florida

Presenting the Cru Bourgeois to students at Chaplin School of Hospitality in Florida

So what are the Cru Bourgeois exactly? As with most things in Bordeaux, to understand how we got here it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the history behind the story.

It is undeniable that the 1855 classification of Médoc, Graves and Sauternes, represents one of the best marketing coups the wine world has ever seen, even if at the time it wasn’t intentional. Was the Cru Bourgeois Classification created in its shadow? It’s unfair perhaps to think of it of a club for those who didn’t make it in 1855, but it certainly represented, at the time of its creation in 1932, a group of châteaux that may have considered that if that classification had not been written in tablets of stone in 1855, they may well have been included had it evolved further. The 60 Medoc properties included in the 1855 classification out of a total of 1500 represent 22% of the surface area of the Medoc vineyards.  (Haut Brion in the Graves and 27 properties in Sauternes and Barsac were also included). For more information about the 1885 classification, I highly recommend consulting Dewey Markham’s seminal tome 1855.

The Cru Bourgeois were officially classified for the first time in 1932, however it has deeper historical roots. It may seem strange to Anglo-Saxons to use the term Bourgeois, perhaps not always considered a compliment? It is however a traditional term that dates back to the Middle Ages. Historically it applied to influential families of Bordeaux rather than the aristocracy, who benefited from exoneration of charges on their land acquisitions; consequently, they purchased the best pieces of land that became available in the Medoc in the 17th century when the peninsula was drained by the Dutch. This right was granted by the French King to keep the Bordelais on his side against their historical allies (or occupiers depending upon how you look at it), the English.

In 1824 a treatise by  Franck identified about 300 Crus Bourgeois in the Médoc pre-dating the 1855 classification. In 1932 Bordeaux’s wine merchants with the Chamber of Commerce officially recognised 444 Crus Bourgeois at three levels of quality : Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel.  In the 60’s a Union des Cru Bourgeois was formed.

The attempt to bring the classification up to date in 2003 with just 247 chateau was challenged and written off, so the new more democratic system came into being as of the 2008 vintage.

So how does it work now? There are 2 steps to becoming a Cru Bourgeois. Even to be considered the wine must already be declared as AOC from one of the 8 Medoc appellations (Medoc, Haut Medoc, Listrac, Moulis, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac or Saint Estephe). The first step is then compliance with quality criteria on the basis of approved specifications, followed by the second step, a blind tasting by professional tasters of all the wines between March and July following bottling.

2010 saw the publication of the first Official Selection for the 2008 vintage (243 Crus Bourgeois). The wines are tasted when bottled and brought to market. In 2011, the 2009 Official Selection represented 246 Crus Bourgeois, the 2010 Official Selection 260 Crus Bourgeois the 2011 Official Selection 256 Crus Bourgeois and the last 2012 official selection 267.

It’s not just about being classified. The Cru Bourgeois procedure approves the quality of only a given volume of wine and provides a guarantee of this quality for the consumer. The Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 2012 are easily identifiable at point of sale, each bottle is authenticated with a sticker with a unique, random number and a ‘Flash code’ – a direct link to a dedicated space for each château on the new website.

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker

The latest classification announced this September is the fifth since the re-oganisation of the system and shows an increase in châteaux that pass the acid test of blind tasting by an independently sourced panel. This all adds up to a total of 146 million bottles released onto the market over five years, of which the quality has been guaranteed. This general increase is in both the numbers and quality of participants but also an increase in reputation of the ‘brand’.

The lack of a hierarchy within this new system means there has been reluctance by some of the previously Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels to participate. It will be interesting to see if the new stated desire to recreate several quality levels will bring them back into the fold. I hope they do, the Cru Bourgeois are a force to be reckoned with. Last month’s classification of the 2012 vintage covers 4 100 hectares of vines and represents about 30% of the Medoc’s production, that’s 29 million bottles.

A Cru Bourgeois line up in the US

A Cru Bourgeois line up in the US

How would I sum up the Cru Bourgeois and their classification? Durability with an annual challenge perhaps or, as I found on my tour of the US, a highly accessible and reassuring way to discover the wines of the Medoc. They are accessible in style and, perhaps even more importantly, accessible in price. Showing these wines to the trade and students never failed to ellicit the delighted reaction that wines from the Medoc could be both affordable, available and delicious. Go look for that sticker.

The sticker to look for

The sticker to look for











Cru Bourgeois in China and vice versa.

In 2010 32% of Bordeaux wines went to the export markets, up 14% in volume on 2009 that is 235 million bottles for a total turnover of €1.51 Billon (up 17% in value) Increasing quality and quantity – just the message Bordeaux is trying to push.
However the leading markets shifted place a little. The UK lost its dominance with Germany remaining the biggest volume market and unsurprisingly to many, China came in second with an 67% increase in volume for a 121% increase in value and Hong Kong knocked the UK off the top of the value market to second place with 252 million Euros against 227 for the UK.
Asia as a whole purchased 605 million Euros of Bordeaux; 28% of total Bordeaux exports – four times the value of the US market. Hardly surprising therefore to see such a large presence of Asian buyers and commentators at the primeur tastings this spring and again at Vinexpo.
Understandably many producers are looking at the Asian market with great enthusiasm. Belying the idea that the French don’t work in August; The Alliance des Cru Bourgeois with 30 château owners are making their way to China later this month organising tastings and dinners in Shanghai, Canton and Peking to present 90 wines from the official selection of the 2008 vintage.

Tasters at the Cru Bourgeois primeur presentation earlier this year

Just a reminder that 2008 vintage was the first vintage to receive the new annual ‘Reconnaissance de Cru Bourgeois’. Of 290 Châteaux that presented their candidature 243 were given the ‘classification’ in 2010. The selection for the 2009 vintage will be available for tasting in September this year in both Bordeaux and London.

Continuing the theme, earlier this year, Château Laulan Ducos one of the 2008 Cru Bourgeois of the appellation Medoc was purchased by Chinese jeweller Richard Shen whose target market as you can guess, is china.

A Bordeaux negociant at the top of their game

In all the excitement over the prestigious châteaux in Bordeaux, the role of the Bordeaux negociant or wine merchant is often overlooked.
The 300 Bordeaux wine merchants sell 70% of the volume of Bordeaux wine with the 8 leading companies representing 57% of this business. Their role covers the range of Bordeaux wines from the top classed growths to custom bottling, negociants account for almost half of the bottling of Bordeaux wines.
Cordier Mestrezat, one of those leading Bordeaux negociant houses, this year celebrates its 125th birthday. Historically Cordier owned such prestigious estates as Château Lafaurie Peraguey, Gruaud Larose, Meyney and Talbot and after a merger Mestrezat the company is returning to its prestige roots with several new top end projects – they should know a thing or two about luxury branding with TAG as one of their shareholders.
To celebrate the anniversary they have launched two new collections: the Club Elite, 12 château bottled wines in a revived bottle style previously associated with Cordier estates, and the Époque collection; 4 château bottled wines selected to represent the diversity of Bordeaux styles: a Saint Estephe, a Saint Emilion grand Cru, a Pessac Leognan and a Medoc.

Another innovation, these wines are presented together in a ‘Four box’ a unique 4-bottled wooden case. Don’t fancy that selection? All is not lost, the Four Box can be made to measure for you including a range of wines starting at €100 up to €25 000 or how about the Golden 4 Box? Four 1st growth Sauternes, including d’Yquem of course.
Not quite luxurious enough for you? Take it a step further they have created 3 unique Louis Vuitton 4 boxes for 4 of the 1st growths from the 2008 vintage.

Just so convenient for travelling!

More close links between Bordeaux and California

Vinexpo seems a way away now a couple of months down the road but a reminder recently arrived on my doorstep.
One of the pleasures of Vinexpo is to be able to taste wines from all over the world and California was well represented for a region whose wines are under represented in the French market place. The Napa Valley Vintners had not just a great stand but also ran a fascinating seminar presenting the results of their research into the reality of climate change in Napa and its effects on winemaking practises. Not that anyone dared say they were climate change deniers but there was definitely an undercurrent that wine style was affected a lot more by agricultural and wine making practise than by any inherent change in the climate. Not dissimilar from what we hear from a lot of producers here in Europe. we have more in common than it would seem.
Yes there is some rising in temperature but nowhere nearly sufficient to explain the rise in sugar levels over the same period, so global warming cannot be blamed for the rise in alcohol levels to such dizzying heights as we are seeing in many regions and not uniquely California.
These high levels of sugar and hence alcohol are explained much more by agricultural decisions, from trellising to planting densities and the all-important picking date. This trend is a response to market demand, despite what some of us more traditional consumers from the old world might think, there is a huge demand for wines with lots of fruit and high alcohol levels in many markets, not least the USA and of course the power points awarded by some critics that can make or break the market for these wines. What producer wouldn’t respond to such market pressure?
Please will the consumers out there that prefer ‘drinkability’ stand up and make themselves heard so producers will respond to their legitimate demands too?

The reason this was brought back to mind was a wonderful surprise from friends at Ponzo vineyard.

Not from Napa but nearby Sonoma, Phil and Barbara Ponzo grow grapes in the beautiful Russian River. They supply several local wine makers for their single vineyard wines; Nickel and Nickle, and Hawley amongst others.
I met them thanks to the dynamic Susan Graf, stylist to all the lady winemakers of Sonoma County. As well as a full time job as a style icon Susan helps run the Healdsburg Food Pantry charity and mutual friends, Jim and Sally Newsome, bid on a wine tour with me and brought along their fellow wine growers the Ponzos to discover how we grow our grapes in Bordeaux in a viticultural ‘compare and contrast’ week.

The Newsomes and the Ponzos at a tasting lunch in the new dining room
at Château Troplong Mondot

After a week of sipping Bordeaux with them the tables have turned, a case of their wines has arrived for me and it’s my turn to taste some of their Sonoma wines – tasting notes to follow when I surface!

A line up of Ponzo single vineyard wines ready for tasting

Get wed with wine

Just back from England I can confirm that the country is indeed awash with wedding fever. However if you want to get away from the royals why not come to Bordeaux. We might not have castles but we have châteaux instead. Some of which will be happy to open their doors to receive newly weds and their guests, not just in elegant reception rooms but many properties now have guest rooms too

The wine bill will also be considerably more affordable ‘sur place’ than in the UK and it is so much more romantic sipping the wines overlooking the vines where they were grown.

To the north of Bordeaux city in the Médoc. Between the estuary and the ocean it is famed for its vineyards and the stunning châteaux, which are perfect examples of the extravagant architecture of the 18th and 19th Century. In the village of Saint Yzan de Médoc on the banks of the Gironde Estuary is Château Loudenne , the ‘Pink Château’ owned by the Lafragette family. As well as the lavish receptions rooms there is a terrace with an amazing view across the water. It also has many guest rooms and can be accessed by boat as well as the road.
However, if it is luxury and gastronomy you are after, head south to Château Cordeillan Bages, which boasts a Relais & Châteaux hotel belonging to the Cazes family of Château Lynch Bages fame. It comes complete with a Michelin 2-star restaurant where young chef Jean-Luc Rocha has recently taken over and is making his name known (see Bordeaux blonde http://bordeauxblonde.wordpress.com/201 … lan-bages/)
If you prefer something more low key, the same winemaking family also owns Château Les Ormes de Pez, which is run as a guest house and you can take over the entire house with its pool for your event.
Château du Taillan has spectacular old cellars and can accommodate over 100 guests within good proximity to the city and the airport. The venue is not far from modern rooms and a spa at the Hotel du Golf (www.hotelgolfdumedoc.com).
Further south towards Bordeaux city in the village of Margaux, the recently renovated Château Marojallia has a terrace overlooking the vines and can accommodate a large group, with extra rooms at the neighbouring hotel.
Similarly Château Giscours has rooms with the option to stay at its sister property, Château du Tertre, which has an open air pool.

The Orangerie dining room at Château du Tertre

Still on the Left Bank, but south of the city, you can explore the Graves and Sauternes areas.
Classified growths Château Pape Clement and Smith Haut Lafitte both offer sumptuous accommodation. Les Sources de Caudalie in the grounds of Smith Haut Lafitte is a fabulous hotel and wine spa with two restaurants including the Michelin starred Grand Vigne. Not only is it a wonderful way for a bride to be pampered in preparation for her big day, but Smith Haut Lafitte has a reception room that can cater for several hundred guests for a sit down wedding breakfast. Caudalie builds packages on request.
Château Pape Clement in Talence, which is the oldest wine estate in Bordeaux, has a restored glasshouse in the garden designed by Gustave Eiffel (whose significant work includes the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty). For a smaller group they offer wine tourism packages including Rolls Royce rides or helicopter flights should the bride or groom wish to arrive in style.
For the French, Sauternes is a celebratory wine served at weddings, christenings and confirmations. Classified growth Château d’Arche has been transformed into a hotel with views overlooking the vines of Château Yquem.
The Côtes region is not far off the motorway north of Bordeaux with hillside vineyards surrounded by beautiful countryside. Visit Château Pitray, a glorious family property built in 1868 with a working vineyard and set in a park. The family will be delighted to show you around the cellars and taste their wines, which are available in the UK though Majestic.
At Château Biac, Youmna and Toni Asseily will welcome you to one of the three self catering cottages on the hillside vineyard with stunning views over the Garonne River where they make both red and sweet white Cadillac wines.

The wonderful view from Chateau Biac
Saint Emilion is probably the most famous wine village in the Bordeaux region and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999 and is ideal as a romantic setting.
The Hostellerie de Plaisance Relais et Château, where Philippe Etchebest‟s cuisine has been awarded two Michelin stars, is in the centre and overlooks the whole village.
There also a few rooms at Château Pavie Decesse, owned by the Perse family, who own other Châteaux making top Saint Emilion wines.
At Château Franc Mayne, a working winery, is a small hotel whose rooms each have opulent and different décor. A natural swimming pool runs down the limestone slopes under which enormous centuries-old quarries are now used for barrel ageing the wines. The terrace overlooks the slopes down towards Pomerol.

The appellations known as the Saint Emilion Satellites are on the other side of the small Barbanne River from Saint Emilion. Puisseguin, Saint Georges, Lussac and Montagne Saint Emilion are on a series of undulating limestone hills that enjoy lovely views with hospitable properties open for tastings and accommodation.
Château de Môle won the 2010 Best of Wine Tourism award. It has idyllic bridal suits with ‘spa rooms’ in this renovated working Château in Puisseguin Saint Emilion. Of the five rooms, three have their own private sauna and jacuzzi in the en suite bathrooms. You can visit the cellars under the Château to learn more about their winemaking.
Château la Dauphine is right on the river-bank of the Dordogne and has a room specifically created to cater for weddings. The proprietors know all the local specialists to help with your day. The lawns with views down to the water are perfect for wedding pictures.

Inspired ? Well even if you not not planning to tie the knot you can always come for the romance without the ceremony !