Monthly Archives: September 2017

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.

Chasing Chasselas.

In the 30 odd years that I have been coming to Switzerland, I haven’t always taken Suisse wines very seriously. That doesn’t mean I haven’t tasted and drunk my fair share over the years, but I haven’t really paid attention to what I was drinking. I wrongly assumed that Swiss production was dominated by white – perhaps because that’s what goes so well with the traditional dishes of raclette and fondue and I thought naming a wine Fendant rather odd, more reminiscent of a soft-centred chocolate than a wine.

Although I love the way the Swiss restaurants serve the wines by the decilitre in little table top decanters, allowing you to taste a little and then whistle up another few more ‘decis’ depending on how thirsty you are, not seeing a label does keep the wines rather anonymous. Another excuse for my ignorance is that Swiss wine doesn’t get out much. Only about 1% is exported; the Swiss are no slouches when it comes to drinking, 4th in the world of wine consumers, at 33 litres per capita per year, most of which is Swiss so only about 1 – 1.5% leaves the country. If you want to drink Swiss – you must come to Switzerland.

Thanks in large part to the enthusiasm of (and gifts from) fellow Swiss wine educators I have started paying more attention, so last week when Raphael Gross from the Cesar Ritz Hotel School, offered to take to some Swiss vineyards I jumped at the chance.

The whole of the Swiss wine growing regions could fit comfortably into the Medoc but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to understand. The diversity of varieties (over 240 although ‘only’ 75 appear in the official statistics) is mind-boggling. Names such as Petite Arvine and Humagne are strangers to those of us more familiar with the international varietals. Pinot Noir may dominate the red plantings (of which there is more that white) but it is Chasselas that dominates white wine production with 27% of total planting.

So Chasselas seemed like a good place to start, in France it is pretty much confined to table grapes, but its home is here on the Slopes above Vevey at Dézaley in Vaud. Vaud is the second largest wine region of Switzerland (25% of production just behind the Valais at 33%) and the scenery is simply breath taking.

The breath taking view of the Lavaux vineyards. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The soils are a mix of clay and limestone, spread along the middle of the slope, with a Southern exposure and sun reflecting up from the lake giving ideal ripening conditions.

The geography is definitely challenging – that view down to Lake Geneva might be spectacular but it doesn’t make it easy to work. The vines are all terraced, with walls built by hand by the original wine making monks in the middle ages and maintained ever since. Every thing has to be done by hand, tractors cannot work the steep gradients and even helicopters have been called into service for sulphating against mildew and for lifting the crates of hand picked grapes out during the harvest. More traditionally, and affordably, they use little containers winched up and down on cables, but the work is back breaking.

Help getting those crates of grapes up the slopes. Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Chasselas is known as Fendant when it comes from the Valais at the end of Lake Geneva, but here in the lovely UNESCO World Heritage site of Lavaux, it is known by the appellations based on local villages.

The Fonjallaz family has been growing grapes and making wine here since the 16th century. 17th generation Louis Fonjallaz made wine around the world before coming back to work with his father on their four ha vineyard, most of which are here high above Lake Geneva between Lausanne and Montreux. They have been around for so long there are lots of Fonjallaz in the tiny hillside village of Epesses – it’s a bit like Burgundy – where every cellar door seems to carry a variation of the same name.

The view over the vines of Calamin from the ‘Tasting Room’ at Fonjallaz.                               Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Louis Fonjallaz is a ‘viticulteur encaveur’ growing grapes and making thirteen different wines from this tiny vineyard but we were here for the Chasselas. We tasted the appellations: Epesses, Calamin Grand Cru and Dézaley Grand Cru, sitting in his ‘tasting room’, a pergola perched on the slope overlooking his vines of Calamin and the breath-taking view of the Swiss Riviera,

Louis Fonjallaz and his range of Chasselas.    Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Epesses is popular as an aperitif wine; its acidity being reinforced by a slight ‘frizzante’ or ‘perlant’, malolactic fermentation gives the wine a weight and mouth-feel that balances their floral character.

A closer look at the Chasselas appellations of Lavaux.                                                                    Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The designation Grand Cru on these wines depends not on just on site but on planting density, yields and winemaking specifications. Calamin, for example, is always a Grand Cru. The terroir of this 14 ha appellation being more soil than rock, thanks to an ancient landslide, this gives a more mineral personality to the wine with an elegant mouth-watering bitterness to the finish.

The Baronnie Dézaley range on sale at Obrist in Vevey                           Photo Credit Wendy Narby

The 55 ha Dézaley appellation, is known as the Balcony of the Lavaux, see the view above, and has now been official declared the origin of Chasselas. The Fonjallaz Dézaley belongs to the La Baronnie Dézaley association, a group of 11 producers that sell and promote their wines together in cases of 12 mixed bottles identified by a specific bottle, aiming to increase the reputation of these small production wines. Dézaley wines have a surprising ageing potential, Louis shared a 1999 with us, still fresh but with a beeswax character reminiscent of older Pessac Léognans.

A selection of Swiss wines at the Auberge de l’Onde.                                                                    Photo Credit Wendy Narby

We continued my education over lunch at the Auberge de l’Onde in St Saphorin. Here in the heart of the vines, Jérôme Aké Béda, (2015 Gault & Millau Swiss Sommelier of the Year), presides over a cave with an eclectic and international range of wines but remains an enthusiastic ambassador for the local Chasselas. My head was spinning (in a good way) after a whirlwind wine tour in a glass, of Switzerland from Chardonnay to Chenin Blanc from the Tessin to the Valais.

With Jérôme Aké Béda at the Auberge de l’Onde.                         Photo Credit Wendy Narby

Swiss wine discoveries are not only amongst the vineyards; the magnificent Beaurivage Palace in Lausanne has one of the largest wine cellars in the whole of Switzerland with over 75 000 bottles, and 3000 different wine listings including over 250 Swiss wines. Here, another Gault & Millau Sommelier of the Year, Thibaut Panas, will also be happy to share his favourites from the region and beyond in the feutré atmosphere of the bar or Michelin star Anne-Sophie Pic restaurant. It’s the perfect base from which to discover region.

The Bar at the Beaurivage Palace Lausanne.  Photo credit Wendy Narby

If you want to discover more, come and visit. The association Vaud Oentourisme groups together vineyards, local restaurants and other tasting experiences making it very easy. Swiss Wine Tourism is now officially a thing.













The sandy side of the Medoc.

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

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

The Medoc Peninsula Map Conseil des Vins du Médoc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surf’s up Soulac – Photo Credit Wendy Narby

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

One of the Soulacise villas seen through the eyes of local artist  Heidi Moiriot

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