Monthly Archives: August 2017

On your bike at Château Marquis de Terme.

Chateau Marquis de Terme walked away with the top award for the Global Gold Best Of Wine Tourism in Bordeaux at the end of 2016. Their original ‘Best Of’ win was for Innovation in Wine Tourism. They have really embraced wine tourism since their renovation with the arrival of director Ludovic David in 2009. They have an open door policy with receptions rooms for groups and different tours including food and wine tastings for wine tourists.

Château Marquis de Terme

Vineyards are pretty adaptable at catering to the interest of the visitors. Subjects include the history of the property, as most Bordeaux vineyards have a long and fascinating story to tell, wine making, barrel ageing and of course the tasting.

The actual vineyards, the fields of vines, don’t always get a look in. In recent years the role of terroir, the responsibility of the winemakers to look after it in an ecologically sound way and the management of this terroir in a plot-by-plot fashion (precision viticulture) is at the heart of wine making. The emphasis is all about growing as perfect a grape as possible and getting it safely to the wine cellar so the wine maker can then work his or her magic on the best possible raw material.

To do so, the matching of the varietal to the soil is all-important. The terroir of the left bank, where Margaux is situated, is usually described as gravel, compared to the clay and limestone soils of the right bank around Saint Emilion for example. But there is so much more to it than this. To understand the variations in the soil that can make all the difference to wine you need to get out there and take a closer look.

Welcome to Marquis de Terme for their unique ampelography tour. This unique tour was the deciding factor for their winning the Best of Wine Tourism award to innovation. Ampelography is the branch of botany specifically about the identification and classification of vines. Château Marquis de Terme is perfectly situated at the heart of the Margaux appellation, a classified growth of 1855 surrounded by other classified growths. The plots belonging to the vineyard are spread throughout the appellation over four different types of soil; gravels of different dimensions and clay, each identified thanks to precise soil analysis. Each type of soil is deemed best suited to one of the four different varietals that make up the blend of the chateau wines.

After all, blending is one of the signatures of Bordeaux. These Bordeaux blends are always mentioned during the tastings but why we blend in Bordeaux rather than creating mono varietal wines is not always made clear. If you really want to understand this, there is no better way than to go into these plots of vineyard and see for yourself.

On your bike!

On your bike then! Reflecting their environmental values, demonstrated by their ecological certification, these tours are conducted by a guide leading you across the vineyards of Margaux on bicycles. It’s a great way to understand the appellation as a whole and not just Chateau Marquis de Terme. Margaux is the largest of the ‘village’ appellations of the Medoc, known for the complexity of its terroir. Up close you will really see how different viticultural techniques are adapted to each plot, from pruning to harvesting dates, aiming to producing the best grapes possible.

Back at the chateau, wine making is explained, a tour of the cellars showing how the characteristics cultivated on each of the plots you visited are preserved through precision wine making and barrel ageing. And after all that pedalling you will have worked up a thirst for the tasting.

The original of this article was posted on the Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism Blog 

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.

Acaibo

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.

Amaino

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Golden Dolphin

Some of you might know that it was Sauternes that brought me to Bordeaux. Or rather, the fact that my husband to be was based there, running the family vineyard: Château Guiraud.

Hamilton moved from Canada to Bordeaux in the late 1970s to renovate the château. At the very heart of the appellation, this 1st growth of the 1855 classification was in a very sorry state; with trees growing through the buildings and the wine not living up to it’s status. Under the Narby stewardship of almost 30 years Château Guiraud, a 1st Classified Growth, was restored to its former glory.

One of the many ways Hamilton put the Château and the wines back on the map was by opening the doors to the public, welcoming visitors seven days a week, and opening a restaurant in one of the cottages belonging to the estate on the edge of the village.

Chateau Guiraud with the well that features in the story.

When the 1981, the first vintage under Narby ownership was bottled, Hamilton decided to add the symbol of the dolphin to the label. My father-in-law was in shipping and the dolphin, a friend to all mariners, had become the family emblem. As the Guiraud label was traditionally black and gold, the Golden Dolphin was created.

The Château Guiraud label with the Golden Dolphin

Visitors to the vineyard would often ask ‘why is there a Golden Dolphin on the label?’ Hamilton, being a bit of a raconteur, would get fed up of telling the same old story, and was known to embroider things a bit. So was born the myth of the Golden Dolphin.

The story went that a magical Golden Dolphin on its way up the nearby Garonne river lost its way and swam up the Ciron. The Ciron is the cool stream that is the source of the misty mornings in the region, the famous Sauternes micro-climate that encourages the development of Botrytis Cinerea, or noble rot. It is this noble rot that concentrates the sugars in the grapes, transforming and creating the unique aromas of these world famous sweet wines.

Morning mists from the Ciron

The story continued that this Golden Dolphin became trapped in the well at Château Guiraud and once saved, promised to come back every year to ensure an excellent harvest – I paraphrase a little.

The hero of the Golden Dolphin

On the birth of our grand daughter, Margaux, Hamilton decided to put pen to paper and write the story down for her. It became more embellished along the way; Margaux of course plays a major role in saving her magical friend.

Our son William and his wife Amy, both artists, illustrated the story and the Golden Dolphin book was born.

Encouraged by friends’ enthusiasm, we decided to publish, and you too can now learn the secret of the Golden Dolphin of Sauternes.

Available from Lulu and Amazon if you would like a signed copy please e-mail me.

 

Villa Lacoste – breathless.

Finally I arrive in Provence.

I say finally as it was a last minute inspiration to add a few Provence days on the end of a recent Rhone wine tour. My friends (we’ve been touring together too long to call them clients) had decided to go and I tagged along for a few extra days.

I’m thrilled I did; thanks to a recommendation from Mary Dardenne of Decanter Tours I discovered a spectacular new wine tourism destination: Villa Lacoste.

Our timing was perfect. The vineyard and sculpture park of Château Lacoste are well established, but we were there just in time for the opening of their new hotel.

I have been known to be gushing in my praise before, but this place took my breath away. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I had been warned it was very contemporary. We arrived on a very busy Sunday afternoon. Driving through the sculpture park and past the art centre looking for the hotel, I wondered what we were heading for. So well hidden is the hotel that initially I thought I’d brought my friends to stay in a series of Nissan huts. Fortunately these were the new, Jean Nouvel wine cellars, not the hotel.

Around a bend, up a slope, hidden by trees and vines we discovered the spectacular new, purpose built  hotel.

Villa Lacoste amongst the vines and trees

Having just left the historical building of la Mirande in Avignon, (see a previous post) this was a big culture shock. The beautiful, ultra modern suites are perched high up the hillside with spectacular views of the vines, the valley and the art scattered across the 200 ha estate.

We enjoyed the warm welcome and undivided attention of their very first days. With everything brand spanking new, we had the impression of having the place almost to ourselves – but given the layout I think this would be the case even if the hotel was full.

The elegant suites are not exactly minimalist but their deceptively simple design is a show case for wonderful details: lots of contemporary art, complemented by curated books to learn more about it, as well as fresh fruit, local specialities and of course, a bottle of Château Lacoste Rosé to be sipped on the balcony looking at that view.

My suite at Villa Lacoste                                       Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The all white theme runs into the marble bathrooms each with their own terrace and an elegant olive tree over the bathtub.

The bathroom with it’s own olive tree             Photo Credit Wendy Narby

We dined in the Louison restaurant. Thanks to a photo shoot, Michelin star chef Gérald Passedat was there and it was like having a private chef. We were thoroughly spoilt.

The Couple by Louise Bourgeois high above our table at dinner.

 

Amuses bouches at Louison                                Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The food was spectacular. Excellent quality local ingredients, traditional recipes, all with an original and inventive twist, as exciting for the eye as the palate.

Olive Bread – more olive than bread                Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The art theme runs right though this place down to the smallest details. My friends liked it so much they returned for dinner the following night and were just as thrilled.

The crab…..                                                               Photo Credit Wendy Narby

and its provencal vegetables         Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Onion: the content and the container. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

There is also a more informal restaurant, a cool bar, a well-stocked library to browse the wine and art books, as well as a swimming pool to occupy the residents.

The next morning, after a power walk through the vines, getting lost amongst the art installations, breakfast was served on the terrace of the hotel. Suspended high up above the pool, as delicious as breakfast was, it was hard to concentrate on with such a spectacular view.

Breakfast with that view                                      Photo Credit Wendy Narby

After breakfast off we went to discover the sculpture park – driven in a shiny new Land Rover Defender. Another box ticked for the boys on the tour.

Irishman Patrick McKillen purchased this classic French Provencal estate in 2002. As well as renovating the chateau and replanting the vines, Mckillen has created a unique sculpture park with thirty major contemporary artworks spread throughout the vineyard. The art centre, created by Japanese architect Tadao Ando in 2004, holds pride of place at the centre.

The Louise Bourgeois spider at the art centre Photo Credit Wendy Narby

It is breath-taking – arriving in front of the centre you are welcomed by a Louise Bourgeois
 Crouching Spider sculpture, which seems to be floating over the water. It was here that charming young Irish art expert, Tess Rumgay, met us.

I highly recommend taking a guided tour. You can of course walk around and discover at your own pace with a well-edited guide and map but Tess’s explanations and insights made all the difference. We felt so much more intelligent and cultured at the end of the morning.

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Tom Shannon’s Drop – in action

And the wine? Well, sadly I didn’t have time to visit the impressive new cellars designed by Jean Nouvel, (the ones that look like Nissan huts). That’ll be for another trip. But we did taste the wine. As well as the tasting room and shop, there are several restaurants to choose where you can sample by the glass or the bottle. The art centre has a light and airy Tadao Ando restaurant running alongside the water. But, after all the contemporary art, we returned to the more traditional atmosphere of the original château courtyard for lunch. The Terrace restaurant serves fresh organic produce from the neighbouring kitchen garden, at tables laid out around the fountain, all served with a selection of the delicious still and sparkling rosés from the property.

The Rosé Fountain                                                Photo Credit Wendy Narby

There is so much to see here that it merits at least a couple of days stay, but do allow extra time if you can just to soak up the Zen atmosphere of the place. A quite remarkable wine tourism experience; it merits reflection.

Part of the warm welcome at Villa Lacoste    Photo Credit Wendy Narby

 

 

 

 

Getting technical

One of the challenges of being a wine educator is finding all the details about the different wines we share in the classroom. Every audience is different but as I am usually talking to the trade they love hard data.

Despite touring vineyards with groups and students for over twenty years, I still haven’t managed to visit all 7 000 Bordeaux producers, let alone discover all the many second and third wines produced by each property, and then there’s the negociant and cooperative brands. Of course, each vintage is different so it adds more fascinating complexity to the challenge. So many wines, so little time.

When I am in front of a class, be it in Bordeaux, Asia or like this month, in the US, having the technical details of each wine: the blend for that vintage, the oak treatment and even details such as picking dates are useful.

As a consumer, this nitty-gritty might not appear that fascinating, it is more the stories behind the wines; the people, the places and their history that really engages with consumers. The trade enjoys a good story too, but there will always be a few wine geeks in the audience that want to know the minute detail. Questions are often about how the blend changes each year compared to what is planted in the vineyard. After all, blending is one of the signatures of Bordeaux, and the differences from year to year reflect the changing weather of each vintage and how the wine maker has risen to these challenges.

Preparation is everything; I am supposed to be an authority after all! But how to find this information? Thank goodness for the Internet – many chateaux now share these specific details in technical sheets, vintage-by-vintage, on their web sites.

A tech sheet always comes in handy

Although it can be quite search to find the web site of some less well known properties, don’t be too harsh in your judgement of these smaller properties. They don’t have the financial resources or the manpower to spend the time and money on glamorous websites – they are busy out there growing the grapes and making the wine! Often an e-mail or a telephone call will see a tech sheet arrive in my inbox.

To learn more about lesser known vineyards, the app Smart Bordeaux – developed by the CIVB (Conseil des Vins de Bordeaux – The Bordeaux Wine Council) is a useful resource. By taking a photo of the label or typing in the name of the property, details will pop up. It is down to the chateau to enter the information though, so some carry more detail than others.

The Smart Bordeaux App

Other useful sites include the Cru Bourgeois site where you can search chateau details by name or by using the flash code on each bottle guaranteeing the authenticity of the Cru Bourgeois designation. The Wines of the Medoc site also collates useful information about each vineyard in the region, including harder to find brands and cooperative wines.

The Cru Bourgeois label can be read as a flash code to learn more about the wines.

Chateau websites are often designed more as a marketing tool for consumers rather than for the trade and geeky somms. More style over substance, although there’s nothing wrong with sharing the dream. Others offer a fascinating insight into the philosophy of the vineyard; Chateau Palmer, for example, manages to balance the dream and reality, it is a pleasure to visit the site even when I’m not looking for some specific piece of information.

The new website of Château Leoville Barton is another example showing there’s no conflict between tradition, history and a modern approach to communication.

Château Brane Cantenac has embraced technology, thanks to food and wine marketing an design specialists Taylor Yandell, with their recent mobile web site. Responding to the demand from itinerant geeks needing to access information on the road, it makes the tech sheets for each of their three wines available with a click, clearly showing those percentages by vintage in an easy to grasp graphical.

Château Brane Cantenac tech sheets – with a visual of the blend.

Bordeaux technology is not just in the vineyards and wine cellars; it’s on the smartphone in your pocket.