Tag Archives: Bordeaux

The Malbec Maestro.

Having established himself as a pioneer of Argentinian Malbec, Hervé Joyaux, Red Winemaker of the Year 2018, has now focused his sights on the origins of Malbec in Cahors.

In the 1990s, Hervé Joyaux moved from Bordeaux to Argentina, taking with him his old world wine expertise and inspiration. After more than 20 years, he has created an internationally recognised range of wines under the Fabre Montmayou and Vinalba labels from both Mendoza and Patagonia. His role as a Malbec pioneer in Argentina was recognised this year when the International Wine Challenge awarded him the title Red Winemaker of the Year for his outstanding work and his championing of Malbec both in Argentina and on the global stage since the early 1990’s.

Malbec is now considered as the emblematic grape of Argentina, but this was not always the case. When Hervé first visited Argentina in 1990, just 10,000 hectares were planted with Malbec. By 2017 this had risen to 41,000 hectares, over a third of Argentina’s planted red grape varieties.

Hervé immediately saw the potential of older plots of Malbec in the Lujan de Coye and Valle de Uco and purchased some of Argentina’s oldest Malbec vineyards here (planted in 1908). He built his first winery, Fabre Montmayou, in Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo in 1992, surrounded by the very first 15 hectares he purchased. They have now planted more vineyards in the Gualtallary area of the Valley de Uco region and source exclusively old-vine vineyards in the best wine growing areas of Mendoza for Fabre Montmayou.

Fabre Montmayouwas the first winery to launch a high-end Malbec on the American market. Hervé’s wife, Diane, joined the team in 1997 and her passion for wine and her marketing skills have developed sales all over the world, creating a sound reputation for their wines.

Their adventures have taken them to Patagonia, on the southern point region of South America, where their vineyards lie between the Andes Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean in the Alto Valle of the Río Negro area.  At latitude of 39 degrees south, the climate is similar to the Northern Rhône, giving wines with a very complimentary style to Mendoza.

Today, the vineyards of Fabre Montmayou extend over 450 hectares, across Mendoza and Patagonia.

When Hervé and Diane decided to invest back in France, this passion for the expression of Malbec across different terroirs led them back to Cahors, the origin of the Malbec grape. In 2017, They became the new owners of the Vignobles Saint Didier Parnac, Château de Grézels and the Prieuré de Cénac offering them access to the range of some of the best terroir Cahors has to offer.

It is a very different challenge to Argentina, the climate, the terroir and the elevation, but it was this diversityof terroir that seduced them.

The challenge was all the more painful due to the inclement weather of 2017 where frosts destroyed a large part of their production. The 2018 now in the cellars is looking great, the dryer climate here meant mildew was less of an issue than in nearby Bordeaux and Bergerac.

The 2016 wines are Hervé’s first expression of Malbec in Cahors, where he was able to work with the specificities each soil gives to the Malbec, creating blends across his range. There is so much more to the notion of blend than simply bringing together different grape varieties. Here the different expressions that the diverse terroirs bring to a single variety are blended to create the wines.

Hervé simplified the soils into three main types for me: Le Cause is a high limestone plateau from the Jurassic period, with steep slopes rising from 250 to 350 metres above sea level (a bit different from Valley de Uco!).

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A valley, where the Lot River has deposited alluvium material as it meandered across the valley floor, surrounds this plateau. Between the two are a series of terraces on the slopes.

For such a successful wine maker Hervé remains very humble, he has worked closely with local wine makers to understand the interaction of the local weather and this diverse terroir so very different to Argentina.

Investment across these three emblematic terroirs of the region allow Hervé to create a range of wines, that are 100% Malbec, each a different expression of their terroir. Château Saint-Didier Parnac is located in the valley, Prieuré de Parnaclocated on the hills of the Cause and Château de Grézels located in both the valley and on the Cause.

Le Prieuré de Cénac

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The vines high up around the Prieuré de Cénac.

Visiting The Prieuré de Cénac, I immediately saw why Diane and Hervé fell in love with it. This is the highest of their vineyards, on a limestone promontory, 300m above sea level, with 360° views over the surrounding vines. It is unique and takes some getting to. Originally a priory where the monks lived, they certainly chose the right place to get away from it all. The wines of Le Prieuré are the flagship wines of Hervé’s Cahors collection.

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The range of wines from Le Prieuré de Cénac

The balance of fresh fruit and power is the signature of all the wines including the Prieuré de Cénac and the second wine la Mission de Picpus.

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The spectacular 11th century cellars under the Prieuré

The beautiful under ground cellar dating from the late 18th century, is a witness to the age of the site as is the Virgin Mary statue in its grotto at the crossroads of the Saint Jacques de Compostella route. This grotto is the inspiration for the name of their top cuvee, La Vierge de Cénac. At once an elegant yet powerful 100% Malbec, it is made from a specific plot where the presence of iron and manganese in the clay topsoil give a mineral freshness to the power of the Malbec.

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The vines of the Chateau de Grézels are around the fortress that gives them their name.

Chateau de Grézels is a medieval fortress high above the Prayssac River that takes it’s name from the Gréze. This old Occitan word describes the eroded pieces of limestone from the Cause plateau that have formed cones of limestone screeat the foot of the slopes. They cover the third terrace and are the deepest and best-drained soils of Cahors. Hervé is very excited by this Gréze as some of the most famous wines in the world come from this type of soil. It gives finesse to Malbec, whereas the clay-sand soils nearer the river give fruit and power. The vineyard surrounding the chateau also has plots ofland in the valley and on the Cause, where the red soils show the presence of iron. Some of these plots are ancient vineyards that were overrun by forest after the phylloxera crisis, and only returned to vines in the 1980s, as part of the on-going renewal of Cahors. When I was there Hervé was putting the finishing touches to the brand new cellar at Grézels fr the 2018 harvest.

The Château Saint-Didier sits in a meander of the River Lot, where the wide valley is covered with vineyards descending gently from the Cause to the river. Here the soil of the first terraceis made up of fertile alluviums, silty sands that give light and fruity wines. Just five meters higher is the second terrace; a limestone subsoil where the pebbles mixed with clay give the wine structure and depth. Higher still, the third terrace is stony and well drained with deeper clay where the fruit ripens easily giving density and definition to the wines.

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Morning mist over the Lot River, behind the cellars of Château Saint Didier.

The wines from Château Saint-Didier are made from a selection of plots across all three terraces. Here it is blending terroir he is blending, not varietals, to gain the elegance and complexity he is looking for.

Château Saint-Didier is also where the winemaking currently takes place for Prieuré de Cénac and the wines from the Latis and Calos brands, made in their dedicated cellar there too. The beautiful vaulted cellars of Saint Didier, built in about 1760 offer ideal barrel ageing conditions for the wines.

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The aging cellars of Château Saint didier.

The latest creation of Vignobles Saint Didier is Calos, a local name for the terroir of gravel on the slopes of the plateau. Hervé has selected plots from their vineyards along the terraces that give the best expression to the Malbec – these wines are 100% of the local grape.

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The labels of the Calos range are texture to highlight the importance of the terroir in the blends.

Calos offers a Reserve and Grand Reserve. The Grand reserve is bottled in a Burgundy bottle, emphasising the fact that it is a single varietal not a blend as in neighbouring Bordeaux. There has been a tension between Cahors and Bordeaux since medieval times so this is a cheeky nod towards Bordeaux, where Hervé originally hails from. The same wines are available in some markets under the name Latis, also available as a Reserve and grand reserve

Just as in Argentina and Patagonia where Hervé has a crafted a large range to expresses the diversity of terroir and climate there, his aim is to the same in Cahors. This range of styles and price points from the historic terroirs of the region allows consumers to discover and understand the diversity of the Malbec of Cahors.

His Cahors style of Malbec has finesse and minerality compared to Argentina where the consistent warmth, the cool nights and long growing season give fleshier, softer wines.

The generosity of Hervé Joyaux and his enthusiasm for Malbec, rediscovered in its home territory, shines brightly through these wines.  There is a wind of change in Cahors and once again this red winemaker of the year is at the centre of an exciting wine regeneration.

 

 

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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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La Tisanerie at Château Climens in Barsac

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Wine and dine your way through the Bordeaux vines.

In 2016 I posted about the Chateaux in Bordeaux opening restaurants to better showcase their wines. Given their success, and the increased sophistication of wine tourism in Bordeaux, more properties have since joined the party so here are a few updates of not-to-miss dining opportunities on your next Bordeaux wine tour.

Château Troplong Mondot opened the Les Belles Perdrix restaurant in 2012 when the chateau started offering casual dining for guests staying in their guest rooms. Chef David Charrier was awarded his first Michelin star in 2016. Under new ownership and management since 2017, the cellars and the restaurant are undergoing a complete renovation and will reopen the stunning terrace with some of the best views in the region, in 2021. In the meantime, you can sample Charrier’s cuisine if you book a tour of the vineyards. The sommelière, Celine, will take you on a tour through the vines in their Landrover to finish with a tasting of five wines accompanied by delicious ‘amuses bouches’ created by the chef.

Troplong defender

Rather than create a restaurant at the property,  Chateau Angelus, purchased  Le Logis de La Cadène in 2013, one of Saint Emilion’s oldest restaurants in the heart of the medieval town.  They won a Michelin star in 2017 thanks to the skill of chef Alexandre Baumard. It too, has a wonderful shady terrace for sunny days but a word of warning – wear sensible shoes, as it’s half way down a very steep slope!   You can also sample their cuisine on the go, this June they opened Les Paniers du Logis, a fast food outlet with a difference. All the meals are home-made; from local products and served in reusable glass bocaux (big jam jars), including delicious desserts, pates jams and of course bottles of wine.

Paniers du logis

Sauternes has now joined the party. This year saw the opening of the Lalique Hotel in Chateau Lafaurie Peyraguey. Under the new ownership of Sylvio Denz, the hotel opened in June this year – a 400th birthday present to the estate.

Jérôme Schilling, the former executive chef of Villa René Lalique, (two Michelin stars) runs the restaurant. Given the quality of both the cuisine and the service a Michelin star must surely be on its way. The rooms are beautiful too, so don’t worry about driving home; have that last glass of Sauternes!

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The foodie revolution in Sauternes started at the beginning of the year  with the opening of La Chapelle, a restaurant in the beautiful old chapel of Chateau Guiraud. As well as Château Guiraud by the glass, they have a really good selection of half bottles of Sauternes and Barsac on the wine list, a great way to taste your way across the appellation.

Malrome

Just across the Garonne is the Entre deux Mers, sadly overlooked by wine tourists, but the restaurant at Chateau Malromé might just be the thing to get them there. Chateau Malromé is famous for the previous owners; the family of Toulouse Lautrec. The impressive 16th century chateau has been completely renovated by the Huynh family and continues to welcome visitors to discover the home of the artist as well as the wines. The contemporary restaurant Adele by Darroze in partnership with neighboring Langon institution Maison Claude Darroze.  Opened in the chateau earlier this year it has a beautiful terrace off the main courtyard (we do like alfresco dining in Bordeaux!). Managed by Jean-Charles Darroze with Chef Sébastien Piniello the modern setting is perfect for a cuisine that reflects both local and Asian influences of the two families.

From here you can head back towards Bordeaux through the Cadillac region. This area, known for it’s sweet white wines, has vineyards that roll down steep slopes on the right bank of the Garonne River. At the top of one of these slopes look out for La Cabane dans les Vignes; a lovely wooden chalet dominating the most spectacular view of the Garonne valley amongst the organic vines of Chateau Bessan. Sibelle and Mathieu Verdier built this cabane so guests could taste their wines and enjoy the sunset – you can too now. Book ahead on Friday and Saturday evenings to taste their wines alongside tasting plates and enjoy the breath-taking views.

Cabane

Then there is the Medoc. I have previously mentioned Michelin starred Cordeillan Bages and the more relaxed brasserie Café Lavinal in the villages of Bages but if you want a light lunch in a unique setting you should call in to Chateau Marquis d’Alesme in Margaux. This classified growth, right at the heart of the village of Margaux, was purchased by the Perrodo family in 2006 who already owned Chateau Labegorce. Or at least they purchased the vines, the original chateau remaining in the hands of the previous owners. Starting from scratch to build a functional but beautiful winery, again inspired by their dual Chinese and French heritage, they decided to share their passion not just through the cellars and wine but also through a relaxed restaurant. Tucked away in the Hameau of la Folie d’Alesme, light plates of local specialities accompany a by-the-glass and by-the-bottle selection of the property’s wines including a not-to-be-missed chocolate and wine pairing.

Chocolate ar Marquis d'alesme

If you are passing through Bordeaux and can’t make it to the vines (shame on you) the vines can come to you. Chateau Lestrille, a family vineyard in the Entre Deux Mers region, has its own wine bar in the heart of old Bordeaux. The dynamic owner, Estelle Rummage, opened the chateau to tourism years ago and now she has opened the wine bar Un Château en Ville’ to serve and sell her wines to the city dwellers and visitors. She produces a complete range from white and red to rose and also bag in box – there’s plenty to choose from, accompanied by tasting plates from oyster to cold cuts, toasties and cheese plates.

Chtx en ville

If you prefer grand cuisine there is La Grand Maison; the hotel and restaurant that really is a chateau in the city belonging to wine magnate Bernard Magrez. The excellent cuisine of this two Michelin star restaurant is created by Jean-Denis Le Bras under the watchful eye of Pierre Gagnaire.

London friends, if you can’t make it to Bordeaux, Bordeaux can come to you. Clarette opened in the spring of 2017, in a beautiful half timbered Marylebone townhouse, Clarette is the project of a young generation of wine lovers with deep Bordeaux roots: Alexandra Petit, of the Château Margaux family and restaurateur Natsuko Perromat du Marais (the Perromat family are from the Graves) are in partnership with Thibault Pontallier, son of the much missed director of Château Margaux, Paul Pontallier. Go for its relaxed, fun atmosphere and stay for the excellent by-the-glass wine list.

Clarette outside

Clarette by night

Another Bordeaux first growth in London is Château Latour. The smart private club; Ten Trinity Square has a Château Latour Discovery Room and dining room allowing punters to taste a unique collection of Chateau Latour by the glass as well as by the bottle, all accompanied by the cuisine of Anne-Sophie Pic who also has her La Dame de Pic  restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in the building.

Thanks to a recent tweet from fellow Bordeaux insider Jane Anson I have just learned there’s another one to add to the list: Boyds Grill and Wine Bar linked with Château Boyd Cantenac in Margaux. More research needs to be done – who’s with me?

 

 

 

 

 

Wine and Design – a new look at Bordeaux.

Occasionally I’m asked if I get bored with what I do for a living, after all, I have been sharing Bordeaux for over 20 years through wine tours and teaching. Well no, with over 8000 Chateaux to choose from and a new vintage every year, monotony is not on the cards. Sometimes, something brings a completely new perspective on Bordeaux, even after all these years. The Wine and Design tour did just that. Viewing familiar properties through another person’s eyes is fascinating.

It’s not news that Bordeaux has spectacular wine cellars; I have mentioned some in previous blogs, (Mouton, Pedesclaux, Marquis d’Alesme, Cheval Blanc) but on this Wine and Design Tour, thanks to Interior designer Abigail Hall, design and architecture took centre stage, with the wine almost an added bonus. Be reassured it wasn’t a dry tour!
Abigail’s passion for design and architecture is not a surprise; it’s what she does for a living. Designing happiness is her strapline and judging by her sunny disposition, she must be pretty good at it.

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Abigail Hall takes a close look at the design of Bordeaux doors.

The objective of the tour was to illustrate how, since the 17th century, architecture of both the city and chateaux has been used as a showcase for the wealth and the wines of the region. Bordeaux and its vineyards have been around since Roman times. Although only the Palais Gallien amphitheatre, from the third century, still remains in the city, la rue Sainte Catherine, supposedly the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe, follows the path of an old Roman road from North to South. There are still some Roman remains in the vines though, mostly in Saint Emilion.

Medieval architectural, built during the wave of prosperity following the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet and the resulting English thirst for ‘Claret’, is more abundant. The Cathédrale Saint-André, where Eleanor married her first husband Louis VII in 1137, and two medieval gates built under the English ‘occupation’ managed to escape the 17th century redevelopment of the city. In the Graves wine region there are some fabulous examples of medieval architecture. Graves is considered the cradle of fine wine making and many noble families had hunting lodges here in the Middle ages. Château Olivier is probably one of the most outstanding examples that is still a working vineyard.

Serious wealth arrived in the 17th century; Bordeaux was France’s largest port, and exhibited this prosperity for all to see by building the beautiful waterfront of Bordeaux. Bordeaux remains one of Europe’s largest 18th century architectural centres, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. At its heart, the beautiful place de la Bourse, built in 1755 by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, is reflected in Le Miroir d’Eau, the largest reflecting pool in the world, built in 2006. A marriage of old and new that we would see repeated in the chateaux and wineries.

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La Place de La Bourse

Wine bought wealth but wealth also bought wine and ‘new money’ created architectural gems throughout the region used as showcases for the families, their wealth, their power and their wines.
Designing showcases is one thing but wine cellars must be also functional places of work. Wine making really remains very traditional in Bordeaux, these new cellars may be made of ultra modern glass and steel but the basic functions of selecting, preserving, fermenting and ageing remain largely the same. There is even a trend towards more traditional methods such as gravity feed, eschewing pumps.

As soils are more precisely sampled and understood, smaller and more precise plots within vineyards are leading to precision viticulture. Smaller plots mean more and smaller vats in cellars, allowing this more precise expression of ‘terroir’ to be carried from field to cellar, to barrel and to bottle.
The challenge is for these cellars to showcase the wine as they open up to visits and wine tourism but also to marry this design to functionality. To keep up to date with the latest technology, without losing their historical soul.

Chateau Beychevelle in Saint Julien, known as the Versailles of the Medoc, is a perfect example. It is built in the classic Chartreuse style of Bordeaux architecture: a single story building with an ‘enfilade’ of rooms that go from the front to the back of the building, with towers at each end. Rebuilt in 1757 along the banks of the Gironde estuary, its gardens run down to the water.  When it was built, it was a representation of wealth and status of the Marquis de Brassier, over-looking the estuary which brought in the wealth and carried away the wines.

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The Spectacular interior decoration of the Salons at Chateau Beychevelle

Under the current owners, Grands Millésimes de France, part of the Castel and Suntory groups, the beautiful Chateau has undergone considered restoration to the bedrooms and bathrooms to make them as deluxe as the chateau is grand. The central salons have a programme of restoration with some fully restored and others still presenting the restoration work done in the twentieth century. Guests can now dine and sleep in this 17th century decor. It is the perfect base for the ‘Wine and Design’ Tour.

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The Wine and Design team overlooking the gardens of Château Beychevelle running down to the Garonne Estuary.

Once you leave the Chateau you are immediately transported into the 21st century: the brand new cellars innovative in both design and technology. Allowing design, technical wine making and a low carbon footprint to come together in the glass and metal winery – a stunning juxtaposition of old and ultra modern.

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The spectacular new cellars of Château Beychevelle

Another striking Medoc example of the old and the new is Chateau Pedesclaux, a little further north in Pauillac. Here the two are much more intimately woven. Glass is the perfect medium for a showcase and at Pedesclaux it is the Château that is encased. Instead of building a classic extension the owners, Jacky and Françoise Lorenzetti, built a glass case around the chateau incorporating the dovecote into the new tasting room. The neighbouring cellar is also modern: stainless steel, temperature control and gravity-fed technology over four stories, discretely half-hidden into the side of the gravel outcrop the chateau sits upon.

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The glass tasting room of Château Pedesclaux including the dovecote and spectacular Murano chandeliers

Sometimes you can’t always work with the old, the Perrodo family were presented with such a challenge They are now well established in the Medoc, already owners of Chateau Labegorce, they purchased Château Marquis d’Alesme in 2006. Or at least the vines of this prestigious classified growth, next to chateau Margaux, the original chateau remains in the hands of the previous owners.

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There are dragons in Margaux – attention to detail at Château Marquis d’Alesme

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The oriental theme continues inside – the moon door entrance to the barrel cellars.

They had to start effectively from scratch to build a winery. And what a winery: functional but also beautiful, it is inspired by their dual Chinese and French heritage: a Zen cellar to make, age and share the wine from the estate.

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The new Château Marquis d’Alesme – a zen attitude in the heart of Margaux

They share their passion not just through the cellars and wine but also through the sensory gardens and small restaurant. Wine and design bring together two different cultures through a shared passion.

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The elegant design at château Marquis d’Alesme insides the sensory gardens

Closer to Bordeaux, in fact almost downtown, Chateau les Carmes Haut Brion is another, if very different, example of starting from scratch. The previous owner is still living in the original chateau so the new owner, Pichet, commissioned Philippe Stark to create a very original new cellar for this 33 ha vineyard (6 ha around the cellars and 27 ha near Martillac for Le C des Carmes). The cellar resembles a ship sailing on water with the wine making cellar on top and the barrel underneath and a terrace and tasting room above it all.

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The spectacular Stark cellars at Château les Carmes Haut Brion

 

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And the contemporary dining room above the cellars at Château Les Carmes Haut Brion

We were not only interested in the cellars, Abigail is an interior designer after all, so what happens in the chateau is as important, if not more important to her. After all these ‘homes’ are often used to welcome clients and prestigious guests to share the wines made from the surrounding vines. Abigail walked us through The Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design in a neoclassical townhouse built in 1779. It is dedicated to the classic Bordeaux interior design of the period; Abigail identified for us, the key styles of the period that we would find again in the wines properties.

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Enter into 18th century Bordeaux at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design

Chateau de Cerons is one such treasure; hidden away in Cerons, the smallest of the Bordeaux appellations, known for it’s elegant sweet white wines. Since 2012, Caroline and Xavier Peyromat are bringing this family property back to life. A listed historical monument, built in the early 17th century in the classic Bordeaux chartreuse style (mentioned above), it is a bijou of 18th century architecture.

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Chateau de Cerons

The original interiors have remained intact over the years and we found the same plaster reliefs on the walls and fireplaces here that we saw in the museum in Bordeaux. But this is no museum.

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The original decorative details in Château de Cerons

The chateau is at the heart of a vineyard producing a range of red and dry white Graves as well as the sweet Cerons and is also the family home. A family that generously shared their unique piece of history, opening their doors to us we discovered the chateau, vines and cellars as well as having a picnic in the park accompanied with wines from the property of course.

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a picnic in the grounds of Château de Cerons

So bored of touring Bordeaux? Never. There is always something new to see and something new to learn.

The long & international journey of a wine barrel.

Wherever I am in the world Bordeaux seems to follow me around, usually as bottles.  There is usually a familiar wine on the list. Sometimes on the other side of the world I’ll discover something new from very close to home. But it’s not only bottles and the wine they contain that travel from Bordeaux. Barrels do too.

Barrels are an important part of wine making. Used judiciously, they can add complexity, longevity and power. Used less wisely, they can overpower a wine, masking elegance and subtlety. Barrels add aromas and tannins but also help the wine along its evolution, encouraging a slow and controlled oxygenation of the wine as air seeps in through porous oak. This allows the highly reactive tannins from the wine and the oak to combine, creating larger tannin molecules that seem less abrasive on the palate.

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Beautiful French oak barrels at Château Montrose

This influence of the barrel upon the wine depends on so many factors. I mention oak above, but it doesn’t have to be, I’ve seen other wood essences used. Acacia is one you will sometimes find in white wine cellars in Bordeaux.

For oak the source of the tree, how slowly it grew, where it grew, (terroir doesn’t only come into play with grapes) and the age of the tree all play a role. The slower the tree grows the tighter the grain will be and the better quality the oak.

An oak tree destined for barrels may be over 200 years old. This raises a few eyebrows at a time when sustainability is a wine buzzword, but be reassured. These French oak forests are owned and tightly managed by the French state, only released for sale by auction, plot by plot, when they are ready to be felled and systematically re-planted. Thanks to Colbert’s 17th century policy of planting oak forests for war ships to fight the English, the French forests are thriving. Ironic then that so much of barrel-aged Bordeaux wine now ends up on the UK market.

Despite increasing worldwide demand, supply remains controlled explaining why these French oak barrels don’t come cheap; anything from €600 to €900 a pop depending on the size and the aging of the oak.

Once felled, how the oak is prepared and aged also influences the flavours it imparts to the wine. French oak is split not sawn. This ensures the grain of the wood is respected so the barrels remain watertight.  It adds to the cost, in labour but also reduces the volume of the tree trunk that can be used for barrel staves. American oak has a less regular grain so planks are sawn meaning more volume can be used, this higher yield and ease of manipulation reduces cost. The flavour profile is different however. Several wine makers have described American oak to me as giving  more coconut than vanilla aromas that are associated with French oak. You will find both in many Bordeaux cellars.

After being split and prepared into staves the wood must be aged, for anything up to three years. Exposed to wind and rain in the unpolluted areas near the forest, inelegant tannins are washed away and transformed by microscopic fungus on the surface of the cut wood.

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Barrel staves ageing at Nadalie in the Medoc

Splitting also means that staves size will differ, assembling the staves to form a barrel is like creating a unique 3D puzzle for each individual barrel. Once the oak is matured barrel making begins. It’s a fascinating process that remains very manual – there is only so much you can mechanise. The key skills of heating the staves, whilst keeping them damp allows for sufficient flexibility to bend them to the rotund shape of a barrel. Then gentle toasting will impart the flavours to the wine; a raw barrel will bring very little to the party. Both these processes rely on the traditional skill and judgement of the barrel maker. It’s impressive to watch, I  highly recommend a visit to a cooperage if you have never seen this. The finished barrels are each a work of art.

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Different degrees of toasting give different flavour profiles.

With so many variables in the process, each having an influence on the final taste profile, most barrels are tailor made to suit a particular wine maker. It’s not unusual to see barrels from several different cooperages in a chateau cellar, each one bringing its own flavour profile.

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Barrel making – still a manual skill here at Boutes in Bordeaux

In Bordeaux barrels will be used for one to three years on average, depending upon the barrel policy of the wine maker. Their flavour profile changes with age. The newer the barrel, the more pronounced the flavours and the tannins it will impart to the wine. Vineyards producing powerful, often Cabernet driven, wines may use 100% new oak for their first wines. A more traditional Bordeaux approach is one third new, one third one year old and one third two year old barrels, combining new barrels with some already used for previous vintages. A producer making lighter wines may prefer older barrels if they are looking for the gentle evolution resulting from ageing in an oak container rather than a cement or stainless vat.

Blending defines Bordeaux wines and the use of barrels is part of this. Some wine makers will blend their wines before barrel ageing, others after or even during the ageing process. Blending just before bottling allows wine makers to profile the different lots of wine, adapting the choice of barrel to each lot (age of vines, different varietals). Other wine makers prefer to blend before ageing and rack from one barrel to another so the wine benefits from the complexity a range of barrels bring.

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Racking from barrel to barrel, here in the cellars of Chateau Phelan Segur,  increases complexity as well as removing sediment from aging wines.

What happens to the barrels once the wine makers have finally finished with them? I come back to my introduction – they travel. I have seen Bordeaux oak barrels in many places. New ones are exported directly to wine makers from California to South Africa, with French oak holding a premium for many wine makers.

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New oak barrels reading for shipping around the world from Boutes in Bordeaux

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A new Boutes oak barrel at Glenelly in South Africa

But used barrels travel too. They may go to other wineries. Rioja, for example, buys a lot of used barrels as much of their wine is aged for many years in older barrels looking to round out the wines through slow oxygenation rather than add powerful tannins.

As wine ages in barrels it soaks into the wood, staining it dark red and leaving a shiny deposit of tartaric crystals. This makes the barrel less porous but it also make the wood very attractive and staves from these older barrels are often up-cycled for decorative items such as bottle holders, and furniture – the limit is your inspiration.

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Wine and tartrate deposits make used barrel staves decorative.

 

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Barrel staves make a stunning cellar door at Château l’Evangile in Pomerol

If you replace the wine with a more powerful alcohol it acts as a solvent leaching some of the wine colour and flavours as well as the oak flavours and tannins into the alcohol. Whisky is always aged in used barrels, although once you get to Scotland they are referred to as casks. These casks come from all over the world. The thousands of barrels in the ageing warehouses (not cellars) are all shapes, sizes and colours reflecting their origins, be it Spain, Portugal, USA or France, making for a very different impression to the neat and tidy lines of barrels we see in Bordeaux cellars.

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Used casks waiting to be prepared and filled with whisky at Glenfiddich.

Those dark, rich aromas and mouth-feel we associate with whisky for example, owe a lot to the previous tenants of the barrel. Whisky needs long cask ageing; straight from the still spirit is white, taking its colour from the barrel. Sherry or bourbon casks are traditionally used, the decline in sherry’s popularity, reducing production has resulted in whisky distillers often financing sherry companies barrel consumption to ensure their supply.

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Whisky casks of different origins in the Edradour warehouse

Spirit producers are getting more adventurous, offering a diverse and growing range of finishes. A finish is when a spirit spends the last few months of its life in a different cask, often a wine barrel. It makes a difference. Compare different finishes and you’ll see a different hue depending upon the barrels used. Unsurprisingly whiskies finished with a Bordeaux or other red wine barrel will have a more ruddy colour than others.

Barrels are expensive new but after three years of wine ageing they are worth less than €100. Even so it helps if you can ensure the supply chain. Handy then that some wineries and whisky distillers belong to the same groups. At the Auchentoshen distillery near Glasgow I saw many Chateau Lagrange barrels used for their Bordeaux finish – unsurprising as drinks group Suntory owns both the winery and the distillery.

There is synergy in other groups too. Glemorangie is owned by LVMH and was one of the first whisky distilleries to introduce a complete range of different finishes including a premium Sauternes finish. No coincidence perhaps that LVMH are also the owners of Château d’Yquem. The residual sweetness of the Sauternes barrels – reminiscent perhaps of those sweet sherry barrels – imparts unique aromas and mouth feel to the whisky. On my last trip to Scotland last year I saw Sauternes barrels from Château Suduiraut used for the Sauternes finish at Tullibardine.

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The Chateau du Seuil Cerons finish limited edition Glenfiddich

It was a sweet Bordeaux finish that first took me to Glenfiddich. I was there to sample a Cerons cask-finished 20-year-old Glenfiddich in barrels of Chateau du Seuil. Glenfiddich continues to innovate; the latest addition to their experimental series is Winter Storm a whisky finished in Canadian ice wine casks. Again that residual sweetness.

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Winter Storm from Glenfidich: the love story between whisky and sweet wine barrels crosses the Atlantic.

Why not import the whisky to Bordeaux rather than export the barrels? Upon returning to Bordeaux, I found that this is exactly what Moon Harbour is doing, finishing whisky from Scotland in barrels from Château La Louviere while they wait for the first whisky from their new Bordeaux based still.

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Moon Harbour – Scotch Whisky aged in Bordeaux – whilst they wait for the first drops from the Bordeaux stills to age.

Whisky is not the only spirit that uses old barrels; Rum enjoys the influences of used barrels too. I have already talked about the joint venture between London wine merchant Berry Brothers and Rudd and Medine in Mauritius. This week, at a rum tasting in Mauritius, I tasted the delicious new Sauternes finish rum at the Chamarel Rhumerie. See what I mean when I say Bordeaux barrels travel?

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A Sauternes finish for the Chamarel Rhum from Mauritius

And what goes around comes around. The Balvenie Caribbean cask whisky is finished in – you guessed it – rum casks.

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The Blavenie line up including the Caribbean Cask

Even after all this there may still be life left in an old cask or barrel; furniture, planters or barbeque fuel perhaps? From fire to fire. The life of a barrel can be a long and winding road.

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Old casks have a second life in artwork by a Glenfiddich artist in residence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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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.

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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.

To Bio or not to bio?

And it is a question. Organic vine growing is increasing all over France and in Bordeaux in particular; Aquitaine is the third largest region of organic vines right behind Languedoc and Provence. In 2012 organic production in the region increased by 3% compared to 2011 with 735 organic wine producers cultivating 9752 ha and with another 4276 ha in conversion (a three year period). Most of these are in Bordeaux, and of these most are on the right bank.

But not everyone is convinced that this organic trend is a good thing. One of the issues raised is copper residue. Producing organic wines is particularly difficult in Bordeaux due to the humid oceanic climate and the fungal diseases (mildew and odium) that thrive in these conditions. Copper sulphate and lime (known as Bouilli Bordelais or Bordeaux mixture) is the traditional method for treating these diseases and is permitted in organic agriculture. It’s great for roses too.

Although the amounts of copper permitted for use in organic agriculture are less than in traditional agriculture, (4kg/ha/year of metal copper compared to 6kg averaged over five years for traditional agriculture), some argue that, as other options for treating are limited in organic production, it encourages use of more rather than less copper. The rain also washes this mixture off the vines, so re-application rates are high in a rainy year. More sophisticated synthetic treatments absorbed by the vine can continue to combat the problem despite the rain but are not permitted under an organic regime.

However several organic growers have mentioned to me that after several seasons using organic and especially biodynamic methods, they see the plant defending itself better against these diseases as the vines develop their own natural resistance the result being the need for less treatment.

Intensive use of copper has toxic effects on soils especially in light sandy soils. Formerly, doses of 30kg/ha/year were not uncommon, so this new regulation is a huge improvement. Organic producers of course agree that it would be better to stop using this heavy metal completely and research is under way to use other organic fungicides like sulphur or potassium bicarbonate, plant extracts and clay.

One of the issues in a region like Bordeaux, along with the humid oceanic climate is of course mono-culture (vines represent 50% of the agricultural area of the Gironde). The concentration of vines in the region leads to the rapid spread of diseases such mildew, odium, phyloxera and new problems such as Esca. Now the Asian Drosophila are also raising concerns amongst growers. Prevention is always better than cure and part of the ecological and organic movement is to increase biodiversity to combat this, which is a type of poly-culture in itself. You can see this in Bordeaux for example with the planting of wild flowers, in land lying fallow in between planting as well as elsewhere in the vineyards and the creation of hedgerows.

The importance of Biodiversity in the vineyard.

The importance of Biodiversity in the vineyard.

The notion of biodiversity is also about preserving the genetic diversity of the vines. Although only 6 red and a few more white grape varieties are currently permitted in the production of the AOC wines of Bordeaux, it was not always thus. Over the years, the range of varieties and of clones of vines planted has reduced. Through massal selection of vines from existing plots for grafting onto rootstocks for new plantings, many properties can maintain their unique vine profile, hence increasing both their complexity and their specificity. This technique pioneered by properties such as Château Haut Brion and is now more and more common for properties working closely with the specialised local vine nurseries. Some properties such as Smith Haut Lafitte have their own nurseries; theirs is safe from any genetic contamination on the “La Lande” island on the Garonne River. Château Guiraud created a vine conservatory in 2001, housing a collection of hundreds of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc vines from different vineyards that are used for research on massal selection. From this stock they produce 40,000 vines each year used by themselves and other Bordeaux vineyards.

Vine clones ready for planting

Vine clones ready for planting

There has been an organic wine label in Europe since August 2012 with a corresponding logo. This Europe-wide label includes regulations for cellar management and winemaking as well as grape growing. Previously in existence wines had to be labelled as wine from organic grapes rather than organic wines – a subtle difference but an important one for purists. This new label obviously only allows the use of organic grapes but also limits the use of wine making additives (including S02) and sets the permitted organic wine practices.

The new European organic wine logo

The new European organic wine logo

Producers also have the option to use the AB (Agriculture Biologique) logo, which covers all organic agricultural production. This is not to be confused with natural wines for which, as yet, there is no legal European definition but which implies one produced using organic (or biodynamic) principles with a minimum of technological intervention.

Chateau de Seuil in the Graves uses both the AB and the new Organic Wine logos on their label

Chateau de Seuil in Graves uses both the AB and the new Organic Wine logos on their label

However, not all organic wines producers use the logo. It is not obligatory. Some producers choose to be organic as a part of their philosophy but prefer not to mention it on the label. Too much information on the label? Managing expectations? Or perhaps they just feel that their brand and what it represents speaks for itself.

Many producers feel that the certification either does not go far enough or perhaps too far, in the damp climate of Bordeaux where the threat of mildew and odium are never far away, a slip up or a need for treatment in a tricky vintage (2013 springs to mind), means you are back to the drawing board for another three years.

Organic is not just for classified growths, on the contrary it is very much a grass roots movement (no pun intended) as the majority of properties certified as organic are not classified. There are a few notable exceptions, which brings welcome attention to the trend such as Chateau Pontet Canet in Pauillac was certified organic in 2010 and Chateau Guiraud in Sauternes in 2011. Chateau Fonroque in Saint Emilion has been certified biodynamic since 2005 and neighbouring Chateau Fonplégade is organically since 2013, the owners also have a organically certified vineyard in Napa to name a few.

And it is not just organic; sustainable agriculture and biodynamics are also part of the Bordeaux eco-mix and there are certifications for both.

Sustainable agriculture is a vague term open to many interpretations but is a notion that has a powerful impact on consumers. There is a Terra Vitis certification in France that committed growers can adhere to. Pheromone traps and sexual confusion in the vineyard, ploughing, modelling of diseases and close measurement of climate that allow a much reduced and more targeted use of agrichemicals are all techniques associated with sustainable agricultural methods.

Pheremone wires on vines at Chateau Sigalas Raubaud in Sauternes

Pheremone wires on vines at Chateau Sigalas Raubaud in Sauternes

Biodynamic viticulture takes organic culture a step further, often characterised by the process of burying cow horns full of manure or using the cycles of the moon there’s unsurprisingly a lot more to it than that. Practitioners consider the vineyard as a complete organism in itself and only use biodynamic treatments on the vines, mainly home made herbal concoctions, self-sufficiency being a key part of both organic and biodynamic principles. Biodynamic certification is subject to European regulations by the independent organisation Demeter and also Biodyvin the international union of biodynamic wine makers, the wine sector leads the biodynamic sector in France; in 2012 more than half of the 450 certified biodynamic French farms were vineyards.

Constant experimentation is a signature of Bordeaux wine making, both in the vines and in the cellars, and nowhere more so than in the sustainable/organic/biodynamic sector. Few properties would launch into a new method of culture or wine making without experimenting first.  For example 3ha of the 78ha that make up Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande are currently farmed organically and 3ha are biodynamic. Chateau Margaux is also experimenting and Chateau Latour has also been switching to biodynamic methods as can be illustrated by the horses often seen ploughing the vineyards.

Chateau Smith-Haut Lafitte has instigated it’s own Bio Precision approach, aiming to match the innovative viticulture and vinification techniques respect of the environment, promoting bio diversity through hedge plantation, use of natural grass, production of organic compost, horse ploughing, etc. They carry this through into the new ‘stealth’ wine cellar mentioned in a previous post. So there is clearly no conflict between organic and high tech.

Experimentation is the cellars too. Château Pontet Canet has been certified organic since 2010. They started in 2004 with 30ha and were so convinced they went 100% as of 2005, although with weather conditions in 2007 they were obliged to spray so it back to the drawing board until 2010. They then experimented in the cellars introducing a few concrete eggs or ‘amphorae’ in 2010. As of 2012 they now use 35% amphora for aging the wines alongside 50% oak barrels and the remaining 15% in one-year old oak. These amphorae bring the notion of terroir right into the cellar; the concrete is mixed with gravel stones for the Cabernet and with limestone for the Merlot along with the yellow clay from the vineyard.

The amphorae in the cellars of Chateau Pontet Canet

The amphorae in the cellars of Chateau Pontet Canet

As I mentioned above the right bank has the greatest concentration of organic properties and it is an area that has been a hot bed of innovation in wine making technology as well as agricultural methods since the late 1980’s.

It reminds me of how when the ‘garage wine’ movement first started in the right bank with a lot of more established producers showing disdain for the ideas but now later harvest dates, cold soaks and selection tables are common place throughout Bordeaux – we are seeing a similar thing with organic agricultural techniques, more and more producers are reducing chemical loads, ploughing, using lighter tractors, growing green crops between plantings and using pheromones in their vines to control the vine moths through sexual confusion. This last practice is also open to some criticism as again not everyone is convinced that having large concentrations of insect pheromones in the air is necessarily a good thing.

Some properties may not be certified or searching certification but the theories and methods introduced by the certification are taking a hold and the results can be clearly seen as you drive around the vineyards. Non certified properties use many of the sustainable, organic and biodynamic principles such as Chateau Clinet in Pomerol, where owner wine marker Ronan Laborde talks of gentle farming methods and uses the biodynamic practice of tying the vines rather than trimming. This works perfectly on the vines that, as of 2004, they raised by 10-15 cm to obtain a larger leaf area to favour the ripening of the grapes. A programme that took 2 years to complete.

'Living' soil at Chateau Clinet

‘Living’ soil at Chateau Clinet

It’s now common to see more ploughing going on between vines to control weeds but also to aerate and bring the soil back to life. This is done more and more by horses. Chateau may either have their own horses such as at Chateau Latour, Chateau Pontet Canet or Chateau Troplong Mondot or by using specialist companies that provide the horse drawn ploughing services. Chateau Cheval Blanc uses such a service and yes, when I was there, it was a white horse pulling the plough.

Ploughing at Chateau Pontet Canet

Ploughing at Chateau Pontet Canet

Francois Despagne, owner of Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne, classified growth of Saint Emilion, is one of the most passionate viticulturalists I know in Bordeaux and is certified sustainable by Terravitis and had several experimental plots on the vineyard under organic before converting and becoming organic and is now experimenting with bio dynamics. His brother, Nicolas, owner of Chateau la Maison Blanche up the road in Montagne Saint Emilion, is a passionate advocate of biodynamics.

Bending the vines rather than strumming them - a practice once limited to biodynamics is now seen more often in Bordeaux vineyards

Bending the vines rather than strumming them – a practice once limited to biodynamics is now seen more often in Bordeaux vineyards

Certification is an expensive and complicated process and not all growers have the money or the manpower necessary to implement it, even if they agree with the philosophy. The CIVB (Conseil des Vins de Bordeaux – The Bordeaux wine council) has devised a way to help such properties. The System de Management Environmental (SME) is a process whereby the cost of a consultant and the certification process is shared between the CIVB and a group of wine makers or chateaux. The members also appreciate this collective initiative as an opportunity to exchange notes and share problems they encounter along the way. Currently 141 wine producers have reached the ISO 14001 environmental certification through this system and another 300 are currently engaged in the process, including wine merchants and cooperatives as well at chateaux, altogether totalling 12 500 ha of Bordeaux vines.

There are other interprofessional schemes; Bordeaux was the first vineyard to have a collective Carbon footprint project for the « Bordeaux Wine Climate plan 2020 » launched in 2010 with the objective of 20% less green house effect, 20% energy savings, 20% renewable energy, 20% water savings by 2020 in line with the European objective of cutting its emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, The Bordeaux objective is -40 000 t.eq C by this date. It was 203 000 t.eq C in 2010. On-line Carbon foot print calculator is freely available for the Bordeaux wine community so they can measure and adapt their carbon footprint accordingly.

So where does this leave us? In 2012 over 40 400 ha of farmland were certified organic in France with another 24 351 in conversion (a 3 year programme). This is about 8% of French vines but also 6% of French organic agriculture – so wines are well ahead of the trend and the prognosis for 2013 was over 51 000ha.

Being ecologically responsible might give wine makers a nice warm feeling, but what is the motivation? With the majority of vineyards in Bordeaux being family owned, ecology is taken very seriously as chateau owners often consider themselves caretakers rather than owners, with a responsibility to hand down a healthy vineyard to future generations. Is there a price premium? In certain markets there is but it also gives access to new markets and helps differentiate products in what is a very competitive market, especially in mid-range priced wines. Does the organic or biodynamic product taste better? Well the jury still seems to be out although research shows there seems to be a higher concentration of some tannins as well as having an effect on alcohol levels. However, to produce both organic and biodynamic wines, requires attention to detail and this is clearly one way to ensure great quality.

But what about the market? Wine only accounts for 10% of sales of organic food in France but it’s on the increase; 15% a year from a turnover of 413 M € in 2012, a third of which is sold directly from estates – so better margins for producers. Market data provided by Agence Bio in 2011 gave the revenue from organic wines as 360 million Euros at 4 per cent of all wine sold in the country. This was a higher share of organic than for the total food market, where organic food sales constitute just 2.3 per cent.

The recent publication of 3rd edition of Le Guide des Vins en Biodynamie, by Bordeaux publisher Editions Feret, is perhaps a good indication of increased interest.

What does the future hold? European organic wine certification remains a work in progress with an update expected in August 2015. The various private certification standards are seen as a base for further evolution of pan-European standards looking at themes such as: biodiversity in grape production, soil fertility and soil life, alternative approaches to pests and diseases, sustainability of grape production, wine processing and storage, quality and source of organic wine ingredients, of yeasts quality both including wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentation, limitations on additives including a possible total of sulphites, further limitations on processing techniques, limitations on tools and equipment, etc, etc.

In 2011 8% of French vineyards were organic (61 000 ha) compared to about 6% of the EU as a whole (interestingly enough the UK showed the highest percentage at over 16% – but I know it’s a tiny surface area compared to France) it is notable that the organic vineyards have exhibited far higher growth rates than the overall organic farmland.

In a global context, Europe is by far the largest player when it comes to organic vineyards: Europe’s 260,000 hectares of organic vineyards constitute 89 per cent of the total area under organic vines worldwide and represent 3.7 per cent of all vineyards. Major producers outside Europe are the United States (almost 12,000 hectares in 2008) and Chile (4,600 hectares).

As mentioned above, just like all wine makers organic wine makers love to experiment and the organic wine movement seems to be particularly good at participatory R & D, in both the field and wine cellars. Subjects such as lowering copper input are being looked at in this way and they are also working with other agricultural products where copper use is an issue see http://www.co-free.eu

Everyone benefits; wine is a relatively prosperous agricultural sector –not everywhere (that includes parts of Bordeaux) and it is also a competitive and dynamic sector and research into issues of organic wine benefit other agricultural products too. I think this is where the future lies, along with more closely aligned legislation with export markets so different organic producers from around the world can sell as organic in their various export markets.

The 2015 review of the organic wine certification is around the corner – it needs that time lapse to have a couple of vintages under our belts especially in Bordeaux when wines are often bottled between 24 and 30 months after harvest – exciting times ahead for gentil farmers.

 

Did you miss me?

The touring season has started again and it’s great to see so many wine enthusiasts, both amateur and professional, here visiting Bordeaux.  As my feet aren’t touching the ground neither is my pen touching the paper (or fingers the keyboard!)
I’m sure you’re missing me!

A new place to taste?

A new place to taste?

However whilst spending my days in and around the vineyards of Bordeaux I’m seeing more and more new things to share with you.

 

New vats

New vats

New cellars

New cellars

 

Very new cellars

Very new cellars

Old cellars

Old cellars

From technical innovations, beautiful new cellars, new places to eat, taste, and stay, new wines to try, new marketing initiatives to share and apps to play with.

Not so typical Bordeaux

Not so typical Bordeaux

 

New wine alongside old favorites

New wines alongside old favorites

Hang on I’ll be right with you!

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration for your 2014 visit to Bordeaux.

 If you are planning a visit to Bordeaux this year, here are a few ideas I’ll be suggesting to visitors.  

Stay somewhere (very) different. I’m constantly suggesting lovely places to stay in and around Bordeaux on this blog but this year why not stay somewhere (very) different? I previously have posted about staying in tree houses and vats but if that is not cutting edge enough for you, try staying at Chateau La Romaningue in a bubble or even in a gypsy caravan.

Learn to cuisine like a chateau chef. More and more Chateaux are happy to open not just their cellar doors but also their kitchens where you can learn the secrets of Bordelais cuisine and food and wine matches at the source.  Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint Estèphe, Chateau Gruaud Larose in Saint Julien  and Chateau La Pointe in Pomerol all offer cooking classes and workshops followed by lunch to sample your success with a glass or two of the chateau wine. Lunch or dinner at Chateau La Lagune in their sumptuous kitchen is an opportunity to see Chef Catherine Negre at work. Check out some of the recipes here to whet your appetite or start practicing at home.

A table in the kitchens of Chateau La Lagune.

A table in the kitchens of Chateau La Lagune.

Shop ‘til you drop. More and more Chateaux have great shops, selling  not just wine and vinous paraphernalia but other cool gifts. In the Entre deux Mers, call in at Chateau Lestrille in Saint Germain du Puch to see owner Estelle Roumage’s eclectic selection of gifts and French specialities.

Shop at Chateau Lestrille

Shop at Chateau Lestrille

Just down the road in Grezillac at Chateau Ferret Lambert, Valerie Lambert has created a wonderful space showing various collectables and renovated French country furniture and bric à brac.

Look for treasures at Chateau Feret Lambert

Look for treasures at Chateau Feret Lambert

You if like you can even stay for lunch, dinner or even overnight in one of her guest rooms. Chateau Biac is opening its new tasting room this year on a unique oriental theme as befits the Lebanese owner Youmna Asseily.

Get off the beaten track. Have you noticed that a lot of the above recommendations are in the Entre deux Mers? That leads me to my next suggestion. Yes the classified growths of the Medoc, Saint Emilion and Graves will always be on visitors wish lists but try and find the time to visit the lesser known appellations of Bordeaux: the Saint Emilion Satellites, the Côtes and the Entre deux Mers. Here you will find the smaller family owned properties where the owners and wine makers will be on hand, often with bed and breakfast and table d’hôtes to add to the welcome.

A cellar lunch at Domaine de Claouset in the Entre deux Mers

A cellar lunch at Domaine de Claouset in the Entre deux Mers

Be a culture vulture. Bordeaux has some great museums and art galleries. If contemporary art is your thing, do not to miss the amazing Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez  created by the Chateau owner in the centre of Bordeaux. Many chateaux use the summer months to not just show their wines to visitors but also to show-case up and coming artists. Chateau Kirwan, Chateau Palmer, Chateau d’Arsac, Chateau Paloumey, La Tour Bessan and Lynch Bages are some of the properties that welcome artists to their cellars each year.

An art installation in the cellars of Chateau Kirwan

An art installation in the cellars of Chateau Kirwan

Learn how Bordeaux works. There’s more to Bordeaux than just the Chateaux,. To understand how the wine gets to Market, visit a negociant. Cordier, and Millesima both offer great visits to discover how the ‘Place de Bordeaux’ works and on the banks of the Dordogne, a visit to Le Chai au Quai can show you a hands on wine making experience.

Le Chai au Quai on the banks of the Dordogne

Le Chai au Quai on the banks of the Dordogne

See you there soon.