Monthly Archives: January 2016

Back to the future at Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

You’ll know by now, even if you only read this blog occasionally, I’m a big fan of Cru Bourgeois. The history, the concept, the rebirth of a classic and the all important value for money represents for me, what Bordeaux does so well, taking the classics and adapting them to the current market.

Many of the individual chateaux in this ‘classification’, have the same philosophy and Chateau Lamothe Bergeron, a Cru Bourgeois in the Haut Médoc appellation, is firmly in this category.

Chateau Lamothe Bergeron, Cru Bourgeois of Haut Médoc

Chateau Lamothe Bergeron, Cru Bourgeois of Haut Médoc

The vines here go back to the Middle Ages but the chateau became famous thanks to its owner Jacques Bergeron who inherited it from his father in the 1800’s. His innovations in all things agronomic after the French revolution included the creation of a style of grafting that still carries his name. The prestige of his name was such that the next owners added it on to the property in the 19th century.

The vines seen from the observation post on the edge of the park.

The vines seen from the observation post on the edge of the park.

Improvements to the property have continued through various owners including the Bordeaux Negociant house Mestrezat, under whose ownership in the 70s and 80s the vines were replanted and the winery modernised. But it is under the current ownership that the property has come resolutely into the 21st century.

Having sold the Vodka brand Grey Goose, Cognacs H. Mounier and Hardy had some spare cash in their pockets and in 2009 they invested in this classic Medoc property, another example of the cliché that if you want to make a small fortune in the wine business start with a large one…..

Cognac producers know a thing or two about marketing and it’s clear to see here when you visit this beautifully renovated estate. Opened to the public last summer the elegant château, which dates from 1868, has been restored to its former glory, having been more or less abandoned after a fire in the 1950s. It has been cleverly renovated to blend the old with the new included fourguest rooms, a dining room and a conference facility under the eaves.

The dining room at Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

The dining room at Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

The tour is high tech too. The Chateau was awarded the recent ‘Discovery and Innovation’ Best of Wine Tourism award. As you visit the chateau, paintings come to life to tell the history of the Chateau, there’s a wooden cabin/look out post from where you can see the replanting of the vineyard and take in the blend of 58% Merlot grapes, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot that make up the 67 hectares, of the vineyard.

The blending light show in the cellars of Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

The blending light show in the cellars of Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

But it’s not all show; serious investment has been made in wine making including appointing Hubert de Bouard, of Château Angelus fame, as their consultant. Visitors are treated to a detailed video explanation of the stages involved in wine making and another more humorous video projected on to the glass panels of the wine cellar of the blending operation showing de Bouard and the director Laurent Mery in action. The visit ends with an underground tasting room, cellar and shop. The difference being the tasting is not limited to just the château’s wine but also an excellent range of the company’s Cognacs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation on all fronts at Chateau Bonhoste.

Continuing on my review of some of my new discoveries in 2015, here’s proof that you really don’t have to go far to discover new things.

Chateau Bonhoste is a stone’s throw from where I live in the Entre-deux-Mers. There’s nothing new about the Chateau, wine has been made here since 1895. Now the Fournier family cultivate 44 hectares of mainly Merlot on the clay and limestone soils high above the Dordogne valley. So far so classic but here it’s all about innovation, in the product range, the packaging and in wine tourism.

They offer a large range with nine wines from Bordeaux: including Red, White, Rosé and Crémant de Bordeaux wines, more unusually,  they also produce grape juice for younger consumers. The variety on offer does not stop at the product range but also includes the packaging.

Bag in box line at Chateau Bonhoste

Bag in box line at Chateau Bonhoste

Of course you can buy the range in classic Bordeaux bottles but they don’t stop there. They offer the wine in bag in a box and for almost a year now they also offer Chateau de Bonhoste wines in 20-litre Slim Key Kegs. Working in a partnership with their US distributors, T Edward Wines, the kegs are ‘bottled’ at the chateau and shipped to a clientele of New York restaurants. It is both an ecological and cost effective way to bring New Yorkers quality Chateau ‘bottled’ Bordeaux by the glass.

Key Kegs ready for 'bottling' at Chateau Bonhoste

Key Kegs ready for ‘bottling’ at Chateau Bonhoste

Wine tourism at Bonhoste is just as innovative. This year they were awarded A Best Of Wine Tourism Special award for hospitality. They offer a warm welcome including a visit to their 19th century underground limestone quarries, where the wine is aged, to the reception rooms where groups can enjoy lunches and a shop that offers a range of local products alongside their wines.

The major innovation comes in the form of the guest rooms. I mentioned the Coup de Foudre at Chateau Vieux Lartigue in a previous post a couple of years ago. When the Château was sold the original ‘vat-rooms’ were moved to Château Bonhoste and redesigned.

Ready for your night in a barrel?

Ready for your night in a barrel?

The two 20 m2 wooden vats that would normally be used for wine fermentation have been adapted so each includes a bed, a sitting area, a small kitchenette and bathroom.

If you really want to get intimate with wine making – this could be your chance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

José Maria da Fonseca – Portugal from glass to plate

2015 was a great year for me discovering new wines, new wineries and new wine makers. Even after 25 years, I’m still making my way through the 7500 chateaux in Bordeaux. But there is more to life than Bordeaux – really – and I’ve enjoyed meeting some inspirational wine makers from further afield. All over the world, winemakers share the same enthusiasm and passion and it’s contagious. You may have seen this recently in my posts from SA but I was also blown away by a trip last summer to Portugal. I wasn’t there for the wine, I was there for the golf but there is only so much golf this girl can watch. My friend Roger Voss, European Editor of The Wine Enthusiast, highly recommended I visit Jose Maria de Fonseca while I was in the area.

Outside of port, my knowledge of Portuguese wine is very limited. This was a wonderful opportunity to learn more as José Maria Fonseca produce 34 different brands from vineyards throughout Portugal. The 6.5 million litres of production comes from their own 650ha vineyards as well as from grapes bought from the North and South of the country. Consequently their’s is an enormous range of style and price point with 80 per cent of the production exported to Northern Europe & the Americas.

The beautiful fountains at the entrance to Fonseca

The beautiful fountains at the entrance to Fonseca

Fonseca produced the first Portuguese Rosé in the 1930s, Faisca (older than Mateus which arrived in the 40’s). António Porto Soares Franco qualified as a wine maker in Montpellier and made his rosé famous in Lisbon serving it with hot dogs at an amusement park, leading to great success on the domestic market.

Their biggest and oldest brand is Periquita. Introduced in the 1850s, they now produce over 800 000 litres pa, it is one of the biggest red brands in Portugal. Never content to rest on their laurels, a white wine joined the range eight years ago and head wine maker Domingos changed the blend in 2014 to include Viognier, giving it a delightful mouth feel.

The range includes premium and super premium wines but it is the Moscatel de Setubal that keeps the heart of the family beating.

I visited them in their historical centre in the Setubal peninsula just South of Lisbon. Sixth generation, Domingos Soares Franco, couldn’t have been a more charming host. As senior wine maker and VP working alongside his brother Antonio, his passion shines through. His personality is as big as some of his wines with his unique blend of experience, innovation and independence.

Some of the majestic mahogany vats

Some of the majestic mahogany vats

2015 was his 35th vintage; he was the first Portuguese winemaker to graduate from Davis University in Californian, which might explain his heady mix of respect for tradition and disrespect for rules.

It is a resolutely modern company but firmly anchored in the past.  Setubal is their largest vineyard; it is here too that they have engaged with a very modern and ecological approach to vineyard management that has been the benchmark for their production since the 1980s. They also produce wine in the Douro and in Alentejo, where they produce the José de Sousa wines (they purchased the winery in 1986).

The company was founded in 1834 and won their first award for their Moscato in 1855 (familiar date anyone?). Now the sixth and seventh generation are at the helm. The beautiful Manor house in Setubal is the original family home dating from the early 19th century; the house was restored in 1923 and was the Soares Franco family residence until 1974. With its beautiful gardens, it is now the hub of their wine tourism activity, which includes a museum and a shop welcoming over 36 000 visitors a year. The old ageing cellars here house the huge 100-year-old, 2000 litre Brazilian Mahogany vats. Vats this size and this old are neutral, giving no taste to the wine. But they make for an impressive backdrop for dinners and events.

The shop at the Fonseca Manor House.

The shop at the Fonseca Manor House.

Portugal has over 250 indigenous grape varietals to choose from, in the gardens at Fonseca they have a ‘library’ vineyard collection started in 1920 by Antonio when he was studying in Montpellier.

The super modern wine making facility, with four bottling lines with a capacity of 30 000 bottles per hour and a production of 6.5 million litres is only a stone’s throw away, but it is here that you can feel the beating heart of the family.

The tasting line up

The tasting line up

The tasting started with the entry level Lancers Rosé, a low alcohol (10%), slightly sparkling rosé which enjoys huge success in the US market where has been sold since the 1940s. We tasted the iconic Periquita in red (2012) and the first white of the range 2014 vintage (excellent for whites) as well as the Periquita reserve red 2013. I particularly enjoyed the Quinta de Camarate 2014 red. Not far from Setubal, this single vineyard has been in the families since the early 20th century. This label was launched in the 60s, with some new French oak and a little Cabernet Sauvignon alongside the traditional local Touriga Nacional, Aragones and Castelao. The land is planted under vines and the reminder grazed by sheep producing the famous local Azeitao cheese – hence the sheep on the label!

The Hexagon range

The Hexagon range

The José de Sousa collection was also eye opening. The vineyard, in the heart of Alentejo to the South has been making wine since the 1870s, but joined the family holding in 1986. 1940 had been a benchmark vintage for de Sousa, and with the purchase they decided to go back to the future, following the traditional wine making techniques of the area to reproduce this success. They ferment the grapes in 100 clay amphorae alongside a brand new stainless steel winery. José de Sousa Mayor is the estate’s premium wine, with a more precise selection, a larger percentage being vinified in the clay amphorae and aging in new French oak. The granite soils transmit a fresh minerality that shines through this big powerful wine.

Domingo also signs his own Coleccao Privada – with this he says he can do what he likes (I have a feeling he does that anyway). But the Moscato is really the star, it is their speciality; they produce almost a million cases. They produce 10 labels of Moscato here aged in old oak from ten up to forty years . The cellars of the manor hold the oldest Setúbal Moscatels, some of which are over 100 years old.

I know I have a bias towards sweet wines but these traditional fortified wines balance perfectly freshness, alcohol and an elegant fruit driven sweetness. A DOC since 1907, these traditional wines are enjoyed in Portugal more often as an aperitif than a dessert wine, in the heat of the summer chilled, they were delightful. We tasted the Alamabre 2010 from the Muscatel de Setubal varietal. Fermented until 5°, when up to one third of brandy is added, Domingos has had fun experimenting with various brandies including blends of Armagnac and Cognac to create the range. This blend is then kept on the skins for three months before pressing. The youngest current bottling is 2010, as it needs four or five years minimum ageing for complex oxidative aromas to develop. The latest addition to the Alambre range is the Alambre Moscatel Roxo de Setúbal 2010 D.O.C. Called Moscatel Roxo as it is made from this rare purple version of the Moscatel grape, a speciality of Setubal.

Because no wine is complete without food, at the end of the tasting off we trotted off to the neighbouring restaurant, bottles in hand. Here again I was treated to a wonderful welcome from Domingo’s brother, Antonio and a group of friends with some delicious typical local dishes. Despite serving some of his top Hexagon wines, the major point of discussion was the quality of the sardines and whether the season was at its peak or not yet.

Lunch including the famous sardines

Lunch including the famous sardines

To accompany these delicious dishes we started with the delightfully bright Verdelho 2014 and then onto the Hexagon wines; José Maria da Fonseca’s Super premium wines. These wines combine the best of the New World and Old World. Keeping alcohol lower and acidity higher they give a powerful but elegant expression of the terroir, specifically aimed towards the international market. They use the old traditions of foot-trodden grapes and alcoholic fermentation finished in oak casks, but use new oak French oak casks for the 12 months aging.

If you can’t get to the winery for a visit call in at their flagship store come wine bar in Lisbon. All the wines from the range are available here by the glass, served with local specialities, but I bet the sardines can’t beat the ones in Setubal.