Tag Archives: Saint Emilion

Women making Sense in Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bascules a Margaux

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

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

Lilian and Melanie at Mauvesin

Lilian and Melanie Barton-Sartorius at Chateau Mauvesin

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

oona

The newest member of the Barton family

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

Fonbadet barrel

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

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

Prieure kitchen

Ladies who lunch at Chateau Prieuré Lichine

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

Margaux gourmand girls

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

Margaux gourmande

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

Florence

Talking wine tourism with Florence Cathiard at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

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

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

Mout at Sigalas

Tasting the semillon juice at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud before fermentation

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

Climens Tissanerie

La Tisanerie at Château Climens in Barsac

Climens sunset

Climens 3 vintages

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

Coutet Chapel

The chapel at Château Coutet

Coutet with desert

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

Pomerol bottles

Tasting with the neighbors in Pomerol

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

Emmanuelle Fulchi

Emmanuelle Fulchi explains the Saint Emilion terroir at Château Angelus

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

Belleve:angelus

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

 

We heart Bordeaux.

I’ve already praised Bordeaux as the perfect romantic venue: the scenery, the chateaux, the wine, the food, and the waterways, all grounded in history, leave you spoilt for choice.

As the boom in wine tourism sees more properties opening their doors to visitors, these special spots are now accessible, whether for a tête à tête dinner, a romantic weekend or the perfect spot to pop the question.

As you explore the winding roads through the vines you will come across chateaux, views and villages that will inspire. Here are a few suggestions to make your next Bordeaux wine tour the height of romance.

UNESCO Heritage site, Saint Emilion, has to be one of the most romantic settings in the region; the perfectly preserved medieval village with its tiny lanes and many restaurants is perfect for hand-in-hand strolls. Famed for its red wines, you might not know they also make a sparkling wine here – Cremant de Bordeaux. Every romantic evening needs a little sparkle. Tucked away down a back street discover a hidden gem: the old cloisters of the Cordeliers. The wines are aged in the underground caves here and you can taste the results at a table for two under the tumbled-down old arches in the secluded gardens.

View from the steeple of Saint Emilion

A stone’s throw from Saint Emilion is the small, prestigious appellation of Pomerol. The 18th century Château Beauregard here has a classified garden full of mature trees that can be viewed from the terrace over looking a small lily filled moat. The private salons and dining room are at once elegant and intimate as are the newly renovated bedrooms

The Château Beauregard lilies

Should you wish to whisk your true love away in style why not in the Rolls Royce from Château Prieuré Marquet? They can pick you up and tour you around the vineyards before returning to this elegant chateau to the North of Bordeaux. Once there you can relax in the heated pool and enjoy the spa.

Spring at Château Soutard – Photo TOM FLECHT

Or wow with the ‘French Chateau’ factor, grander properties with gorgeous guest rooms include Chateau Soutard or further afield, the more intimate Chateau la Pape offers 5 beautiful rooms, also in the Graves. One of the rooms under the eves would be the perfect choice for a romantic stay.

Chateau Le Pape,

Setting the scene is important for a successful romantic venue, views over vineyards are usually pretty cool, even more so when there is a backdrop of a great river. The terrace of the magnificent 16th century Château La Rivière in Fronsac over looks the Dordogne. The romantic renaissance architecture offers more than a view, with secluded areas in the garden including a fountain as well as guest rooms for the night.

Château La Riviere

Across the Entre Deux Mers, Château Biac enjoys vertiginous views over the Gironde heading south towards Toulouse. You can even stay in one of their guest cottages to complete your romantic evening.

The view across the Garonne from Château Biac

Dine on the water by joining a Bordeaux River Cruise along the Gironde, Dordogne or Garonne, watching the vines slide by as you enjoy cocktails, a wine tasting or dinner. You could even venture as far as the coast. Less than hour from Bordeaux, at Pyla is Europe’s largest sand dune. The hotel and restaurant La Corniche is perched right at the top with views over the Arcachon Basin. Taste the oysters, fresh from the ocean, with a dry white Bordeaux – we all know the reputation of oysters.

Cruise Bordeaux

Driving back inland stop in the Medoc. Le Château du Tertre in Margaux has beautiful guest rooms. The Orangerie by the pool there has to be one of the most romantic dinning venues in the Medoc.

The orangerie at Château du Tertre

What wine to serve on Saint Valentine’s? Château Calon Segur has the perfect label for the occasion. The Marquis de Segur created the label for this wine in the 18th century. it remains the same to this day. Despite owning the more prestigious Chateau Latour and Chateau Lafite at the time, he said his heart lay with Calon Segur and drew a heart around the name just to prove it.

I hope your Bordeaux romance lasts just as long. Happy Saint Valentine’s day.

A version of this post previously appeared on the Great Wine Capitals blog 

 

Château Soutard – At your service

Château Soutard, Classified Growth of Saint Emilion, has undergone a complete renovation and renewal since its acquisition by French Insurance company l’AG2R La Mondiale in 2006. L’AG2R were no strangers to wine, or to Saint Emilion, as they already owned and managed Château Larmande Grand Cru Classé and Château Grand Faurie La Rose Saint Emilion Grand Cru near by. In 2009 they added neighbouring Château Cadet-Piola to their collection, now fully integrated into Soutard as of the 2012 classification. Château Larmande and Grand Cru Grand Faurie La Rose maintain their independence, each being made in their own wine cellars. The total holdings add up to 60ha of which Château Soutard represents half at 30 ha.

The Beautiful Château Soutard, Grand Cru Classé of Saint Emilion
Photo Credit Tom Fletch

Two Best of Bordeaux Wine Tourism awards have justly compensated the dedication of the new team in bringing Château Soutard back to the elegance, deserving of its classified status. The first, in 2012, was for the architecture – hardly surprising given the beautiful gravity fed cellars created by architect Fabien Pédelaborde. As well as being an efficient working cellar, it is a showcase for both the history of the property and the unique limestone terroir of the plateau of Saint Emilion on which the vineyard is situated.

Their latest award was for Wine Tourism Services, highlighting how they have put this newly renovated facility to excellent use, opening it up to visitors in so many ways.

The view from the guest rooms in the château. Photo Credit Tom Fletch

In addition to the cellars, they have now transformed the 18th century Chateau at the very heart of the estate, offering a complete range of wine tourism from accommodation in the four suites of the Chateau to seminars and weddings in the cellars and intimate cooking classes. This is in addition to the 3 guest rooms they already had in Château Grande Faurie Larose.

They offer walk-in tours, no reservation needed (11 am and 4pm in French, 2pm in English), as well as private tours by reservation with a Corvin on hand to taste older vintages by the glass from the private cellars of the Château.

You can take a more relaxed and informal approach to discovering Château Soutard. Being so close to the centre of Saint Emilion, many people call in just to visit the boutique. It’s worth a visit; the chic French country theme includes an eclectic range of wine related gifts for all ages (the crossbow that fires corks is a particular favourite) including their own porcelain collection. Shoppers often stay on for a glass of wine and a plate of charcuterie or cheeses on the terrace in front of the château, or take a picnic hamper to enjoy in the parkland surrounding the château.

Lunch at the Château

If, after that glass of wine, the short walk back to town is too much, they rent out bicycles to discover the vineyard and surrounding area or you can walk it off with one of the especially designed walking tours through the vines.

These tours are specifically designed for wine enthusiasts who want to learn more about the vineyard. The cellars may be impressive, and many visitors will stop there, but what happens in the vineyard is what really determines the quality of the grapes and therefore the quality of the wines. The tour explains the agriculture behind the grapes and the annual calendar that dictates the many tasks throughout the year necessary to ensure a quality crop. Visitors also learn about the grape varietals, the influence of the climate and how the vineyard manager monitors it with their own weather station and how he uses this information in his viticultural decisions. Inspired to learn more? Careful what you wish for, you can even participate in the harvest and work in the cellar if you fancy getting your hands dirty.

There is a nature trail specifically designed for children too, they love to discover the biodiversity of the site; the other flora and fauna found in the vineyard including a good bug guide – known in-house as the ”who eats whom” tour. The children’s guide includes an illustrated map with drawings to colour in, the same pictures that they can find at information points throughout the vineyard, keeping them busy while their parents visit the cellars and taste the wine.

All these services add up to over 18 000 guests across the three vineyards, from business seminars to romantic weddings and gastronomic dinners to children’s trails; anything is possible at Château Soutard.

The cellars at Château Soutard – technical and practical. Photo Credit C. Goussard

It’s no secret that Château Soutard is focussing its quality efforts on the next classification with a clear ambition to become one of the 1er Grand Crus Classés of Saint Emilion. If they are as successful in their objective as they are at wine tourism – this is one to watch.

 

The original of this article was posted on the Great Wine capitals Blog.

Chateau Coutet Saint Emilion Grand Cru – An environmental history.

 

Chateau Coutet is right at the heart of the historical centre of Saint Emilion, part of the classification from 1955-85, it is surrounded by other classified growths on the south and south-westerly facing limestone slopes and plateau of the appellation.

Château Coutet at the heart of Saint Emilion

Château Coutet at the heart of Saint Emilion

An historical vineyard in so many ways, the preservation of the natural environment that this history has allowed is what earned the property its Great Wine Capitals award for sustainability.

Chateau Coutet has been a family run property since the 14th century and after 400 years of ownership by the David Beaulieu family, four generations now live at the vineyard.

The property has always been organic. It may have been certified organic in 2012 but they have never used herbicides, pesticides or insecticides at the property. The result is that, as well as quality in the vineyards, there is a unique flora and fauna with rare wild tulips (Tulipa Radii Roman and Tulipa Sylvestri) alongside spring orchids and gladioli.
Whatever time of year you visit the property, the family will be happy to share this unique flora with you. Maintaining this biodiversity is one of their priorities, thanks to old oak groves amongst the vines.

The flora amongst the vines of Château Coutet

The wild tulips amongst the vines of Château Coutet

It’s not just flora; the woods and ponds are home to rare tritons, salamanders and fresh water prawns, all of which you may be lucky enough to see as part of the tour when you visit as well as ducks, geese and a rather possessive gander.

Saint Emilion is known for its history and was classified a UNESCO heritage site in 1999, some of the reasons for this can be found at Chateau Coutet.

At the heart of Saint Emilion limestone slopes

On the Saint Emilion limestone slopes

Hidden in the woods at the heart of the estate is a unique Archaeological site: a vaulted well dating back to the Merovingian period (5th-8th century). Built over the spring and under a 17th tower, it was discovered 9 years ago, when flooding over the vines and the memories of a grandmother lead to the discovery of the old silted up retention and drainage ditches. It took volunteers four years to clear the area.

The hidden spring

The hidden spring

Close by, crossing the 16ha vineyard, is a Gallo roman road leading from Dordogne waterfront to the town of Saint Emilion; it is still used by walkers and joggers today.

There is more recent history; the chateau has a chapel dating from 1840 consecrated by an envoy of the Pope in 1892.

This history goes deep into the vineyard too, including the varietals. 60% of the vineyard is planted in Merlot most of which is the historical and rare Merlot à queue rouge (red stemmed merlot) maintained thanks to massal selection within the vineyard. Complemented by cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon there is also, more unusually, 7 % of Pressac (the local Malbec). Horses are used to plough the most delicate plots.

Horses plough between the vines

Horses plough between the vines

This long and fascinating history is reflected in the launch of a new cuvee this year, inspired by finding of a bottle of 1750 Château Coutet buried under the mud floor of the cellar under the chateau. The unique bottle was sealed by a glass emery stopper in the shape of a heart – leading to lots of romantic speculation on its origin.

Adrien David was so inspired by the find that he decided to re-edit this bottle thanks to the work of a craftsman 100 miles away, who made wooden moulds of the original bottle. The first wine to be bottled in this unique bottle will be the 2014 vintage. Previously there has only been one wine produced at the vineyard, no second wine, so this cuvee is something new for them; a small production of only 200 bottles, selected from plots of 90 and 70 year old vines, worked using horses rather than tractors and using historical techniques of wooden fermentation vats, selecting by hand, crushing by foot,

The original bottle and wine press in the cellars of Château Coutet

The original bottle and wine press in the cellars of Château Coutet

But they are not just looking to the past; on the contrary they are making this unique chemical free environment available for research, including solar powered weed control. They have made the land available to the agronomy school of Bordeaux that is studying its micro bacteriology.

From horses to solar powered robots, it’s a true marriage of the old and the new.

So if this inspires you to visit, either for the history, the unique biodiversity, or of course the wine, you’re in luck. They are open to the public all year round and have been since 2013. The family offers two visits including one for the fitter and more adventurous guests that covers a walk not just through the vineyards but also the woods including the fauna, flora and the history. Of course, there is a well deserved tasting at the end of the hike.

Come and taste.

Come and taste.

The original of this blog post was featured of the Great Wine Capitals Blog.

 

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.

Right bank or Libournais?

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

Libourne on the Dordogne river

Libourne on the Dordogne river

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

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

The land of 1000 chateaux from the Steeple of Saint Emilion

The land of 1000 chateaux from the Steeple of Saint Emilion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The old cement tanks at Chateau Petrus pre renovation

The old cement tanks at Chateau Petrus pre renovation

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

The elegant new vat cellar at Chateau La Conseillante

The elegant new vat cellar at Chateau La Conseillante

A close up showing the attention to detail

A close up showing the attention to detail

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

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

A religious experience in the cellars of Croix Canon

A religious experience in the cellars of Croix Canon

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

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

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

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

The stunned glass window designed by director John Kolasa

The stained glass window designed by director John Kolasa

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

The new 2012 and the classic Angelus labels

The new 2012 and the classic Angelus labels

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

The new entrance at Chateau Angelus with bells on!

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

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

The new inverted vats at Angelus Photo Manfred Wagner

The new inverted vats at Angelus
Photo Manfred Wagner

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

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

La Terrasse Rouge

La Terrasse Rouge

Bon appétit!

 

 

 

Dining in and out of town.

Saint Julien is a prestigious appellation but it is one of the smallest in the Medoc and the village itself is tiny. It already has a lovely restaurant, appropriately called Le Saint Julien, however, should you want a less formal dining experience there is now a new roadside restaurant called Chez Mémé. It has been open for about a year now, and is the lunch spot for all the local winemakers. It is run by Didier and Nadege, both of who are well known having worked in wine and hospitality in Bordeaux for years. Their warm welcome and the excellent value for money (3 course daily menu for €15) explain the success they now enjoy. As they are open from nine to five, Monday to Thursday and nine to four as well as the evening on Friday and Saturday, you can even call in for breakfast or a coffee between tastings. Be warned it’s best to book ahead.

Chez Mémé

Chez Mémé

On an altogether bigger scale, on the right bank, Chateau La Dominique, Grand Cru of Saint Emilion, has just opened a roof-top restaurant ‘La Terrasse Rouge’ overlooking the vines of the chateau and neighbouring Pomerol. Run by the team from popular Brasserie Bordelaise in Bordeaux you can see them at work in the open kitchen and bar. The atmosphere is very much a brasserie and the food is simple, generous and classic french. They too are open as of 9.30 for a vigneron breakfast of cold cuts and fresh bread – the perfect way to set you up for a morning of tasting. The large terrace is built over the impressive new barrel and fermentation cellars of the chateau and is decorated with thousands of red glass pebbles, designed to look like the top of a vat in fermentation.

La Terrasse Rouge

La Terrasse Rouge – don’t fall in!

When you are in town try  Garopapilles the brand new wine shop and restaurant just opened by chef Tanguy Laviale. Tanguy knows all about wine and about food; he was previously the private chef at classified growth Chateau Haut Bailly in Pessac Leognan. It’s a great concept; open at lunchtime Tuesday through Friday, and evenings on Thursday and Friday. At other times they make the small (20 covers) restaurant  available for small private groups for hands on food and wine tasting events, either with his sommelier who selects the wines for the shop or bring your own wines (it’s already a favorite haunt of the wine trade).  You walk through the wine shop into the restaurant with its open kitchen and small private terrace (where they grow their own herbs too).

Seasonal fare from Tanguy Laviale

Seasonal fare from Tanguy Laviale

The lunchtime menu of the day is created from whatever appeals to Tanguy in the market that morning. His cuisine is a wonderful expression of classic local ingredients with his own personal twist, accompanied by friendly service and a great wine selection, not just from Bordeaux. Evenings offer a 5-course menu. Check on line or follow on Facebook for more information about his themed tasting evenings.

Garopapilles

Garopapilles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vat houses

Here’s another original way to enjoy a stay amongst the vines of Bordeaux.

Coup 2 Foudre* is the name of two huge (750hl) oak vats that have been specially built by cooperage Seguin Moreau and installed in front of the cellars of Chateau Vieux Lartigue, a Grand cru of Saint Emilion just a few kilometres away from the medieval city.

The two foudres

The two foudres

There is more to them than meets the eye. Tardis like, inside each vat is full, not with wine but with a bedroom, bathroom and a small living room with a kitchenette complete with fridge, nespresso machine, kettle, a bottle of wine and even a wifi connection.

The living area

The living area

You can reserve on line and will be sent a door code to let yourself in and settle down for the night or even the weekend. Installed since the summer, given their success we’re likely to see these home from home vats popping up at other properties.

and bedroom

and bedroom

I have to own up to the fact I haven’t spent a night here myself yet but I’m tempted – I’ll report back but might wait for the warmer weather.

*(For the non-French speakers ‘Coup de Foudre’ is play on words.  Foudre means Vat made of oak and coup de Foudre means to fall in love 2 because there’s 2)

 

 

 

 

 

Château la Croizille – The old and the new in Saint Emilion.

The De Schepper family are not new to Bordeaux. They were already established in the liqueur and wine business in Belgium when they purchased their first Bordeaux property, Château la Tour Balaldoz, in Saint Emilion in 1950. This was followed by the purchase of Château Haut Breton Larigaudière, a Cru Bourgeois in Margaux, in 1964. The family history has followed that of Bordeaux, as they first exported wines from their 2 properties in barrel for bottling in Belgium before starting to bottle at the chateaux in 1972.

The entrance to the old limestone quarry at Chateau Tour Baladoz

Their wine portfolio now includes a total of 5 Bordeaux properties and a negociant house De Mour. The most recent acquisition was Château La Croizille in 1996.

Château Croizille can trace its origins to the 1800’s and the purchase was a perfect opportunity for the family as it neighbours Château de La Tour Baladoz. So much so that a visit now includes both of the properties, a fascinating compare and contrast exercise between the very traditional Chateau la Tour Baladoz and the extremely modern Chateau La Croizille.

The view of La Croizille vines from the new tasting room

Since it’s purchase in 1996 work has been concentrated in the vineyard, 5 hectares in a sheltered valley or ‘Combe’ which reaches up to the top of the hill 82 m above sea level planted 70% Merlot  25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 % Cabernet Franc.

The typical Clay-Limestone soil of Saint Emilion.

Late 2012 saw the opening of the spectacular new wine cellar. A project that was subject to some controversy, being built within the UNESCO Heritage site.  2012 was the first vintage made in this gravity fed cellar. Small stainless steel vats and 100% new oak barrels stacked on oxoline frames to facilitate the manipulation for the first years ageing are neatly tucked under the second year cellar and tasting room. The tasting room is suspended above the vineyard with a 180° view across the valley showing perfectly not only how beautiful the rolling hills are in this part of the appellation but also how well they suit vine cultivation with excellent drainage and sun exposure. The design of the new chai is inspired by the clay and limestone terroir so typical of this part of the appellation due East of Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf and Chateau Troplong Mondot.

The first year, new oak barrels on oxoline

 

As of last October, visitors are welcome to see this view along with the new cellars at Croizille and the more traditional cellars at Baladoz. Perfectly placed between 2 favourite lunch stops, Chateau Troplong Mondot and L’Atelier de Candale, it couldn’t be easier to include in a Saint Emilion itinerary and the latest member of the family to join the team, Hélène de Schepper, will be delighted to welcome visitors to the property.

A tasting room with a view

Here you can see a remarkable contrast between the old and the new in cellar design as well as the wine of course. The packaging, a modern label with the family’s signature, hand wrapped in orange paper, is an indication of their desire to emulate their prestigious neighbours – I wish them luck.

 

Cabernet Franc from Cheval Blanc

 

It’s not every day you taste 100% Cabernet Franc. It’s not every day you taste 100% Cabernet Franc from three different soil types. Nor is it every day you do exactly the same with Merlot and with the wines coming from the Premier Grand Cru Classé A St Emilion, Château Cheval Blanc. It is in fact so out of the ordinary that it has actually never before been done outside of the château or by anyone other than the technical team, yet here was Pierre-Olivier Clouet, the château’s Technical Manager since 2008, presenting plot samples alongside finished wines to 75 of the great and the good (and me!) of the wine world’s MWs, student MWs, educators, journalists, importers and merchants.

This new openness is refreshing. Pierre-Olivier explained vineyard and vinification decisions which lead to Cheval Blanc being one of the greatest wines in the world, then gave us the evidence to prove it, without any PR patter, prices or bumptiousness. His down-to-earth, clear and hugely informative presentation was a welcome relief from the usual hype.

Cabernet Franc samples ready for tasting

Initially we tasted 2012 samples – raw components, or ingredients, of the new wine to be blended, crafted, created at the end of the month. What a privilege to be able to make our very own 2012 albeit with just a fraction of the 44 plot samples the winemaking team will have at their disposal. As soil, (Pierre-Olivier tried very hard, and failed only once, not to use the word terroir) makes such a huge impact on the flavours, the grape variety being an expression of its soil, each plot in the 39 hectares Cheval Blanc farms, is vinified separately. Once fermented, and pre-ageing, the wines are tasted blind. No matter where the grapes originate – whether from the lesser sandy soils or those generally offering more complexity from the gravelly plots or the concentrated more structured grapes from clay soils – whichever are deemed the best in that year will fulfil their rightful destiny and make it into the Grand Vin, otherwise they will find their way into the second wine, Le Petit Cheval or even into the third wine. In this new spirit of glasnost, not only did we taste an expressive, concentrated, fine sample of Cabernet Franc 2012 from a clay soil plot but also one from sandy soils where the wine was not of sufficient quality, showing too many green pepper notes and with unripe tannins. Its final fate will be a less glamorous one.

I would not be inclined to argue with Pierre-Olivier having tasted the 2001 sample of Cabernet Franc, blended from the various plots which went into the Grand Vin, that in his opinion it is ‘the best variety in the world’. It and Merlot are the only two grapes used in Cheval Blanc and the ratio of each is totally dependent on the vintage – there is no set formula. The only rule they work to is to work ‘like monks’, traditionally, toiling in the vineyards: limiting vine vigour in the Cabernet Franc, controlling yields by green harvesting the Merlot. In the winery, they only ever add sulphur, yeast and egg white but there was no suggestion of letting the wine make itself. Why spend a fortune on a truly beautiful new winery if you never actually go there!

The concrete vats inside the new Cheval Blanc cellar

And the ultra-modern architecture of the new cellars from the outside

Making the perfect wine is more than a lifetime’s work. Pierre-Olivier admitted to not yet having made the perfect blend so the toiling and striving goes on. Already, over the course of fifteen years, they have developed their own Cabernet Franc clone through micro-vinification experimentation. Every vintage they retain 24 bottles of each wine which makes up the blend to assess its development over the years – there are now 6 fewer bottles of 2001 – so the research, decisions and planning continue. The team at Cheval Blanc makes premium wine selling at stratospheric prices, yet is far from complacent. One feels sure that that perfect blend is within Pierre-Olivier’s grasp, and tasting the 2010, he’s certainly not far away, whether it will ever be 100% Cabernet Franc is anyone’s guess.
Thanks to Yvon Mau for organising such an enlightening (not to mention delicious!) tasting and to Pierre-Olivier for sharing his knowledge and insights with such candour.