Tag Archives: Château Sigalas Rabaud

Women making Sense in Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bascules a Margaux

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

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

Lilian and Melanie at Mauvesin

Lilian and Melanie Barton-Sartorius at Chateau Mauvesin

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


The newest member of the Barton family

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

Fonbadet barrel

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

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

Prieure kitchen

Ladies who lunch at Chateau Prieuré Lichine

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

Margaux gourmand girls

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

Margaux gourmande

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


Talking wine tourism with Florence Cathiard at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

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

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

Mout at Sigalas

Tasting the semillon juice at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud before fermentation

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

Climens Tissanerie

La Tisanerie at Château Climens in Barsac

Climens sunset

Climens 3 vintages

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

Coutet Chapel

The chapel at Château Coutet

Coutet with desert

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

Pomerol bottles

Tasting with the neighbors in Pomerol

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

Emmanuelle Fulchi

Emmanuelle Fulchi explains the Saint Emilion terroir at Château Angelus

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


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.


The Sweet Spot.

The sweet wines of Bordeaux are too often overlooked. They were at the height of their fame and success in the 19th century, whereas now they are too often relegated to a dessert wine after dinner, when everyone is already replete, or as an optional add-on to a Bordeaux wine tour.

The wines have an undeserved reputation for being expensive. They are certainly costly, and difficult, to produce. Low yields, labour intensive, risky harvests, but they are rarely expensive to buy, certainly not compared to many Bordeaux reds. Sweet Bordeaux wines merit a closer look. Do get yourself to Sauternes, it has never been easier or more exciting. Add an extra day (or two) on your next Bordeaux wine tour – it’s nearer than Pauillac and no further than Saint Emilion and every wine tourist finds time to go there.

When I say Sauternes, I really mean Sweet Bordeaux. Did you know there are 15 different appellations in Bordeaux where sweet wines can be made? Some are really tiny and don’t make sweet wine every year. The first person to list them all in the comments below will receive a signed copy of my new book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’.

So what is so exciting? First the wines themselves: wine makers are producing sweet Bordeaux wines that are brighter, lighter and perfectly adapted to so many drinking opportunities, from aperitif, to fish, from roast chicken to blue cheese. Try them with spicy food and there are always the classic matches of foie gras and dessert – but be bold, don’t limit yourselves to the classics. The producers don’t – they will show you the way. The doors of Sauternes chateaux are now thrown wide open for amateurs and enthusiasts alike to sample the wines alongside all sorts of food options.


Sweet Bordeaux and fish? be more adventurous

The area is beautiful. The rolling hills of the Sauternes plateau, the vines of Barsac along the Garonne and the limestone slopes of Saint Croix du Mont, Cadillac and Loupiac on the right bank are often swathed in the legendary early morning mists, responsible for the noble rot and adding to the romantic atmosphere. In amongst all this there is a wealth of wonderful architecture, witness to the historic and prosperous past of the region and the success of these fine wines.


The beautiful morning mists of Sauternes

One such gem is Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, a 1er Grand Classé (a first growth) in the heart of Sauternes – just down the slope from Château d’Yquem (always the reference).

Dating back to the 13th century, this proud, fortress-like construction has always been an iconic part of the diverse architecture of the appellation. Renovations were under taken by the previous owners but under the new ownership of Sylvio Denz it is really enjoying a renaissance, with the opening in June of the Lalique Hotel as a 400th birthday present to the estate.


Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, now the home of the Lalique Hotel

Denz is no stranger to wine; he owns a wine auction house in his native Switzerland, vineyards in Spain and Italy and Château Péby Faugères and Château Faugères in Saint Emilion and Château Cap de Faugères in Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux. Lalique is no stranger to wine either. Rene Lalique was from the town of Ay in Champagne, (a Lalique discovery trail opened there this spring). He designed a collection of Yquem carafes and glasses in 1934, and a Barsac collection in 1939.

This is the third Lalique hotel, La Villa René Lalique opened in 2015 (a Relais & Châteaux 5 star hotel and 2 star restaurant) and Château Hochberg in 2016, both in Alsace where the crystal is made.


Make yourself comfortable at The Lalique Hotel

The decor at The Hotel Lalique in Sauternes is amazing, there is Lalique crystal everywhere; the door handles, the arm rests of chairs and sofas, crystal panels of the signature grape motif inlaid into the furniture, crystal vine leaf light fittings and chandeliers and vases and other objets d’art scattered around the rooms and check out the taps. It’s like a permanent crystal treasure hunt.


The crystal treasure hunt

A modern extension (glass of course) houses the restaurant; the ceiling is decorated with gold crystal Semillon leaves. More Lalique pieces grace the tables, including perfect replicas of the salt and pepper mills co-created by René Lalique and Peugeot in 1924.


Some of the beautiful crystal ‘objets-d’arts’ are for sale in the boutique alongside the wines of the property

It takes quite a chef to compete with all this and Jérôme Schilling, the former executive chef of Villa René Lalique, (two Michelin stars) rises to the challenge with a menu that plays with different ways of using Sauternes in preparing the food as well as serving it. In his opinion ‘Sweet wine brings other foods into the realm of haute cuisine’. I’ll drink to that.


The restaurant with its views over Sauternes

Lalique at Lafaurie Peyraguey is set to be an excellent showcase for Sauternes, if you were waiting for an excuse to get down there this is it.

Sauternes is not a one-stop shop; there are plenty of other things that merit the trip.

When you are sitting at your table in the Lalique restaurant you look straight across the vines to neighbouring Château Sigalas Rabaud, another 1855 1st growth. You can’t miss the bright red parasols on the sunny terrace. I’ve mentioned Sigalas Rabaud before, due to the dynamism of owner-wine maker Laure de Lambert Compeyrot. Since taking over the family property in 2006, she has added two dry white wines to their portfolio, including a 100% dry Sémillon, and a ‘natural’ sweet wine (i.e. without sulphur). Called Le 5 It is a typical example of a move in the region toward brighter, lighter wines. She is just as dynamic in wine tourism, she has opened the doors of the traditional one storey Chartreuse, where you can happily spend an afternoon sipping her wines on the terrace: Sauternes – the perfect siesta wine.



The Terrace of Château Sigalas Rabaud

The most spectacular Chartreuse in the sweet wine region of Bordeaux is Château de Cérons, taking its name from the appellation with one of the smallest productions in Bordeaux.


Chateau de Cerons

Château de Cérons is a listed historic monument, built in the early 17th century on a gravel terrace overlooking the Garonne River.

Xavier and Caroline Perromat, who took over the family estate in 2012, will make you feel at home under the trees in their park overlooking the beautiful 12th century church. Settle in to enjoy a picnic with a by the glass selection of the dry white and red Graves that the property produces, their rosé and of course their flagship sweet Cérons.

If you want a more substantial lunch, Chateau Guiraud back in Sauternes has also recently opened a restaurant, La Chapelle, in the beautiful old chapel in the grounds next to the Château. 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.


La Chapelle de Château Guiraud


It’s not all about food and wine in Sauternes, you can also just hang out, literally. Château Rayne Vigneau, another 1st growth, sits right at the top of the plateau of Sauternes, considered by many locals to be some of the best terroir in the region. Their hillsides of vines run down from the fairy-tale chateau – still lived in by the previous owner of the vineyard – with views across the Ciron valley.

To get a better viewpoint, don a harness and hoist yourself up a 200-year-old Cedar tree, here you can sip your wine seated at a suspended table high above the vines. Or get up close and personal with the terroir on a horse back tour through the different soils that make up this beautiful region. Returning to the chateau, you can blend wines from the individual grape varieties to create your very own blend of Sauternes.

2014.06.28 Dégustation Perchée

Hanging out at Château Rayne Vigneau

Barsac and Sauternes are often said in the same breath. Barsac is one of the five villages that makeup the appellation, but the only one that has the choice to put its name on the wine labels. When you come you really should visit Barsac too. It is lower than the Sauternes plateau, closer to the Garonne, on a soil dominated by limestone with a thin layer of red, iron dominated clay and sand giving wines a lovely freshness – a trend towards which most sweet wine producers are now working. There are two first growths in Barsac: Chateau Climens and Château Coutet. Visit them both.

Tisanerie_993 © F.Nivelle

La Tisanerie at Château Climens. Photo credit @ F. Nivelle

Château Climens is owned and run by Berenice Lurton and she is passionate about Biodynamics. A visit to Climens will allow you to discover the wines but also get an understanding of biodynamics with a visit to her ’tisanerie’, a special plant and herb drying room dedicated to biodynamic preparations. Climens was one of the Bordeaux vineyards that produced no wine at all in 2017 due to the terrible frost early in the season.


Château Coutet

Nearby Château Coutet is also a must see. It is an impressive 13th century fortress with its own chapel and the cellars are in what used to be the stables of the Lur Saluces family, then owners of Château d’Yquem. The Baly family now owns and runs the property and they offer a warm welcome. What I really enjoyed was a unique way of understanding the aromatic complexity of these wines. With a local jam maker, owner Aline Baly has created a range of grape preserves from the emblematic grapes of the region, one from Sauvignon grapes, one from Muscadelle and one from Sémillon. There is also one made from Sémillon affected by botrytis, which really educates the palate as to how the complexity of these great sweet wines develops. Tasting each of these is a great introduction to how the different elements come together to make these special wines.


Discover the flavours of Barsac

One day is just not long enough to discover everything there is on offer. It is a good job there is a new hotel here If you wait a while, you will be able to enjoy more Sauternes hospitality at Château d’Arche. This Classified Growth has operated a hotel in the 17th century château since before I arrived in town. Now everything is getting an upgrade. The cellars first, they are investing over three million euros in an eco friendly winery, with a vegetal roof and wooden architecture to blend in with the surrounding area. This will also give them room to welcome visitors with an emphasis on discovering the unique viticulture needed to create a great sweet wine. The hotel will also be renovated with and there are rumours of a high-end spa. A little relaxation after all this activity? Watch this space.






Sauternes No 5

Chanel might own two vineyards in Bordeaux, Château Rauzan Segla in Margaux and Château Canon in Saint Emilion, but it is in Sauternes that you can find a wine called No 5. Those following me will know that Sauternes was my first love in Bordeaux – in so many ways. These Sweet Bordeaux wines may have an international reputation for excellence but that doesn’t mean they are always an easy sell. Why not? One reason is an image of being wines reserved for ‘special occasions’, as being expensive, and of not knowing exactly when and with what to serve them. Producers are trying very hard to make this easier for consumers.

No 5 from Château Sigalas Rabaud

No 5 from Château Sigalas Rabaud

I’ve written about Laure de Lambert before, since taking over the family vineyard Château Sigalas Rabaud just over ten years ago, she has become a poster child for innovation in the appellation, it would see she is gaining momentum!
When she took over the property in 2006 this First growth of the 1855 Classification produced two wines, the ‘Grand vin’ Château Sigalas Rabaud and a second wine ‘Le Lieutenant de Sigalas’ AOC Sauternes – so far so classic.

On trend, she then introduced a dry white wine Le Demoiselle de Sigalas, a Semillon/ Sauvignon Blanc blend, since the terroir of Sauternes has become renowned for the quality of its dry whites. La Semillante was introduced to the range in 2013, having the unique signature of 100% dry Semillon and, although a small production, has already gained a reputation for its elegance.

Behind the scenes, Laure continued to experiment with sweet white production, looking to perfect the quality, year on year, but also to respond to a demand for an ‘easier drinking’ sweet Bordeaux.

The question she asked herself was how to make a ‘natural sweet wine’. Natural? To ensure the right balance between alcohol and sweetness wine makers typically introduce sulphur to arrest fermentation when they feel enough natural sugar in the must has been transformed through fermentation into alcohol, leaving the residual sugar that gives the characteristic botrytised sweetness to the wines. The use of sulphur also protects the wine against oxidation and ensures that there is no refermentation of the residual sugar.

A natural wine (i.e. without sulphur) means this fermentation will stop naturally, when it find its own equilibrium rather than being dictated by the wine maker. This means that the selection of a precise ripeness (sugar levels) of the berries is all-important. The wine still requires protection against oxygen to preserve the elegant fruit and flower aromas from the berries and the fresh acidity, which is such a perfect foil for the sweetness, but without the use of sulphur.

To pull this off, vigilance is needed from grape picking, during fermentation and right up to the point of bottling. Investment in cooling equipment insures this signature freshness is preserved and it is reinforced by a very slight sparkle. It’s taken Laure and her team a lot of time, trials and errors, and a lot of friends over for tastings, to create a wine they are happy with. The 2016 vintage sees the launch of the fifth wine produced by the family, what better name than No 5, especially as I find that Laure has more than a passing resemblance to Audrey Tatou in the film Coco.

At 12.5% alcohol it is below the level of a classic Sauternes and with just 60g of residual sugar per litre (about half the sugar levels of the grand vin) it is labelled under the Bordeaux Supérieur Appellation rather than Sauternes: light, bright, sweet and affordable. The perfect tipple for happy hour.



What to drink in the snow.

We’re snowed in. I’m not complaining, that’s what we came to the mountains for. Over the last 4 days it hasn’t stopped and it’s fabulous. Fortunately the cellar is well stocked. I drove over here from Bordeaux and managed to find room, amongst all the ski kit, for a few bottles. You can take the girl out of Bordeaux……..


So what do you drink in the snow? Here are 10 suggestions, Bordeaux biased given the supply chain, but not only.

Having a snowdrift by the front door is really useful for cooling wine so we’ll start with some white. If you are wondering how a chilled white wine can be warming, try Sauternes. 2001 is a favourite Sweet Bordeaux vintage and we just happened to have a bottle of Doisy Daene 2001, which is drinking beautifully. These wines really benefit from some bottle age, giving lovely caramelised fruit aromas and the characteristic saffron spice notes that are a signature of botrytis. Dry whites from Bordeaux are also a favourite so I’ll include the lovely Semillante from Sauternes 1st growth Château Sigalas Rabaud, one of the few 100% Semillon from Bordeaux. I haven’t found another yet – but I’m open to suggestions.

Perfect cooling condtions

Perfect cooling conditions

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte also seems an appropriate choice for the mountains; the owners, Florence and Daniel Cathiard, were both national ski champions before buying the property. The white wasn’t included alongside the red when it was classified in 1953 nor in 1959 but it has outshone the red in several vintages. The Sémillon-Sauvignon blend and barrel ageing makes for a white that just gets better with a few years in bottle.

But let’s not ignore the local whites. The Swiss love their white wines and use all sorts of varietals you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. A couple of favourites sampled this week are The Chasselas from The Dutruy Brothers at Domaine de la Treille from vines overlooking Lake Geneva. Thibault Panas, chef sommelier at The Lausanne Beau Rivage Palace, selected this ‘Cuvée Spéciale’. He should know as he manages one of the largest wine cellars in Europe with over 750 000 bottles and 3000 references of which about 250 are Swiss.

Chasselas chosen by The Beau Rivage Palace

Chasselas chosen by The Beau Rivage Palace

Then chosen for the name (but I didn’t regret it) The Fendant from Charles Bonvin (that’s his real name) called Sans Culottes – no knickers – haven’t got to the bottom (sorry) of the name but I will try and find out. Worked really well with a little locally smoked salmon trout.

What's in a name?

What’s in a name?

Then of course there are red wines – just what you need to warm the soul after a long day in the snow and the perfect match for the hearty cuisine of the mountains. Swiss whites may be the traditional match for the cheese fondues, but I prefer the ‘Chinese Fondue’ a take on beef fondue but cooked in beef broth rather that oil as a lighter alternative. This merits a lovely red. We washed ours down with a Château Beauregard, Pomerol 2011, another example of over-performance in an under rated vintage. The fresh acidity coped with those lovely cream sauces we dunked the beef in – not so light after all. My other local favourite food is Rosti, a type of hash browns covered in different toppings – think potato pizza on steroids. We chose Château Monbrison, Margaux 2015, a lovely wine from a great appellation in a great vintage offering excellent value for money.

Perfect with fondue

Perfect with fondue

Then of course there’s the chocolate. The Swiss are famous for their milk chocolate – all those cows? But they make lovely dark chocolate too. I love red wine with chocolate, a cabernet driven Medoc from a ripe Vintage, Château Pedesclaux, Pauillac 2009 worked really well with warm chocolate cake, but in this cold weather what really works for me is something more fortified; port or whisky. A Taylors late Bottled Vintage 2010 would be a good place to start and whisky is the perfect winter warmer. I enjoyed a lovely glass of Glenfiddich 10 year old at the bar of The Palace hotel on Saturday night – fortifying for the rather slippy ride home (I wasn’t driving – just saying).

Perfect Port

Perfect Port

So the tenth? Well 2 options; either a bit of fizz to compete with the sparkly snow. A glass of champagne cooled in the snow is always a winner. I’m quite taken with the wines of AR Lenoble, a small family champagne house producing wonderful elegant champagnes worthy of a great name. The second option? Cuddling up with a warming tisane. The local farmers collect mountain herbs here all summer, dry them and sell them in the local village shop – not sure quite what’s in there but it tastes delicious and makes you sleep like a baby. I’m hibernating now until the snow stops falling.

Mountain tisane

Mountain tisane




Happy New Year!

This seems like just the right time to take a quick look at where my wine adventures have taken me in 2016 and at plans for 2017. I thought I’d let some photos do the talking, although looking back through the images of the year it has been a challenge to choose just a few to sum up the last 12 months – so here’s a go, by theme.

A year in drinks: as well as wine, there was quite a penchant for cocktails in 2016, my girlfriends responsible for this know who they are!

Comparing the old and the new identities of chateau Quintus in Saint Emilion

Comparing the old and the new identities of Château Quintus in Saint Emilion

Bordeaux Bubbles on the banks for the Dordogne at La Maison de l'Amiral

Bordeaux Bubbles on the banks of the Dordogne at La Maison de l’Amiral.

A Medoc Wine line up for staff at PLCB Fine Wines and good Spirits Harrisburg

A Médoc line up for staff at PLCB Fine Wines and Good Spirits, Harrisburg

Tasting the wonderful wines at Eisele in Napa

Tasting the wonderful wines at Eisele in Napa

An intimate tasting at Chateau Angelus

An intimate tasting at Chateau Angelus

Who said the Bordelais always take themselves too seriously? Not the Courselle sisters at Chateau Theuiley

Who said the Bordelais always take themselves too seriously? Not the Courselle sisters at Chateau Theuiley.

A beautiful example of how well Sauternes can age at Chateau Doisy Daëne.

A beautiful example of how well Sauternes can age at Chateau Doisy Daëne.

Frosé with Bordeaux Clairet - perfect summer drinking

Frosé with Bordeaux Clairet – perfect summer drinking

And for something completely different Lactilium Vodka from milk by the team at Chateau Gruaud Larose.

And for something completely different Lactilium Vodka made from milk, by the team at Chateau Gruaud Larose.

A year of food: wine goes with food goes with wine and I have been lucky enough to experience some wonderful meals in some wonderful settings. Some meals have been haute cuisine, others a simple vineyard lunch, even wine dinners in the tropics. All have served as research for my next book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’,  which will be published in 2017, exploring how to stay healthy whilst drinking for a living.

Anniversary celebrations at Chateau Biac

Anniversary celebrations at Chateau Biac

Sunset Croquet at chateau Phelan segur

Sunset Croquet at Château Phelan Segur

Ready for dinner at Château Montrose

Ready for dinner at Château Montrose

A picnic basket ready for lunch on the terrace at Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol

A picnic basket ready for lunch on the terrace at Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol

A vineyard lunch at Chateau Guibeau

A vineyard lunch at Chateau Guibeau

Putting Bordeaux tutors to work on practical food and wine pairing during their accreditation.

Putting Bordeaux Tutors to work on practical food and wine pairing during their accreditation.

An after lunch glass of Chateau Sigalas Ribaud at the Belles Perdrix restaurant at Château Troplong Mondot that won it's 1st Michelin star in 2016.

An after lunch glass of Chateau Sigalas Ribaud at the Belles Perdrix restaurant at Château Troplong Mondot. They won their 1st Michelin star in 2016.

Lunch at the Chateau Haut Brion restaurant, Le Clarence in Paris

Enjoying lunch at the Chateau Haut Brion restaurant, Le Clarence, in Paris

Informal dining in a formal setting at Chateau Pichon Baron

Informal dining in a formal setting at Chateau Pichon Baron

from healthy

from healthy

A less healthy breakfast

to a less healthy breakfast

Settling for a happy medium

Settling for a happy medium

Healthy can be delicious at Viva Mayr

Healthy can be delicious – much needed detox at Viva Mayr in August.

Post cure retox!

Post cure retox!

A year of teaching: wonderful opportunities to share my experience and knowledge of Bordeaux to the East, the West and of course in Bordeaux, with more successful Accredited Bordeaux Tutor candidates. I continue to learn just as much from their knowledge of other wine regions as I share with them the latest from Bordeaux. It’s been fun doing video tastings too, especially the live tastings with the Cru Bourgeois to the US.

The beautiful view over Lake Geneva was a bit of a distraction at Glion Hotel School

The beautiful view over Lake Geneva was a bit of a distraction at Glion Hotel School

Explaining the particularities of Sweet Bordeaux at the Bordeaux Wine School

Explaining the Bordeaux wines at the Bordeaux Wine School

The future of Hong kong wine service with students at the Hotel and Tourism Institute of Hong Kong.

The future of Hong Kong wine service with students at the Hotel and Tourism Institute of Hong Kong.

The latest Bordeaux Tutor Accreditation at Chateau La Louviere

The latest 2016 Bordeaux Tutor Accreditation at Chateau La Louviere

Teaching sales team from Southern Wines and Spirits in California.

Teaching sales team from Southern Wines and Spirits in California.

Medoc masterclass with Swires Group service team at Upper House Hotel in Hong Kong.

Medoc Masterclass with Swires Group service team at Upper House Hotel in Hong Kong.

Wine, Women and clothes: Bordeaux bootcamp tasting at Susan Graf Ltd.

Wine, Women and clothes: Bordeaux Bootcamp tasting at Susan Graf Ltd.

A year of writing: for those of you who follow this Blog I’ve shared some of the news from Bordeaux and things I’ve learnt and enjoyed on my travels. For those who don’t please join us, or follow me on twitter, instagram or the Insider Tasting Facebook page.

I also contributed to other blogs, including the Great Wine Capitals blog, profiling the Bordeaux Best of Wine Tourism winners but it’s also an opportunity to discover other leaders in wine tourism across the globe – more of which below.

I updated my book Bordeaux Bootcamp, the Insider Tasting guide to getting to grips with  Bordeaux basics, with the latest facts and figures and I’m now working on the final draft of The Drinking Woman’s Diet, reuniting my two passions of Wine and Wellbeing explaining how the two are not mutually exclusive. It will be in print in 2017.

Bordeaux Bootcamp, Second edition is now available on Amazon.

Bordeaux Bootcamp, the second edition is now available on Amazon.

And finally a year of touring: welcoming guests to Bordeaux. With more and more properties opening their doors my guests can now stay in their very own Bordeaux chateau, where I introduce them to the wine makers, movers and shakers, experiencing the Bordeaux vineyard lifestyle for themselves.

Chateau Le Pape, one of the many chateaux in Bordeaux you can make your own.

Chateau Le Pape, one of the chateaux in Bordeaux you can make your own.


Modern cellars at Chateau Pedesclaux

Modern cellars at Chateau Pedesclaux

and at Beau Sejour Becot

and at Beau Sejour Becot

The historical cellars at Chateau de Cerons

historical cellars at Chateau de Cérons

A new take on an ancient wine making technique at Château La Maison Blanche

A new take on an ancient wine making technique at Château La Maison Blanche

Time for a tasting at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Time for a tasting at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Francois Despagne gets closer to the terroir at Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne

Francois Despagne gets closer to the terroir at Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne

Flowering of the 2016 vintage.

Flowering of the 2016 vintage.



The Sauvignon blanc at Chateau Olivier - some of the first grapes to be picked in 2016.

The Sauvignon blanc at Chateau Olivier – some of the first grapes to be picked in 2016.

Hand sorting the bunches of 2016 Merlot at Chateau Villemaurine in Saint Emilion

Hand sorting the bunches of 2016 Merlot at Chateau Villemaurine in Saint Emilion

Some hidden treasures : The vaulted well dating back to the Merovingian period at Chateau Coutet in Saint Emilion

Some hidden treasures : The vaulted Merovingian well at Chateau Coutet in Saint Emilion


Alexandre de Bethmann shares another secret - the ice house at Chateau Olivier.

Alexandre de Bethmann shares another secret – the ice house at Chateau Olivier.

An itimate Cru Bourgeois taking lunch for Bordeaux tutors at Château Peyrabon.

An itimate Cru Bourgeois tasting lunch for Bordeaux tutors at Château Peyrabon.

Next year? More of the same I hope but also some new destinations and different experiences. Already on the itinerary are: tours in the Rhone and Provence, a distillery tour in Scotland, seminars and master classes in Switzerland, the UK, Hong Kong and the annual coast-to-coast US Road-show with an appearance at the Women for Wine Sense conference in the Finger Lakes. Lots of opportunities to for you to join me with and new destinations you might like to add to your future wish list?

The new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux - for your 2017 to do list. Credit Arnaud Bertrande

The new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux – for your 2017 to do list.
Credit: Arnaud Bertrande

I look forward to welcoming those of you coming back to Bordeaux in 2017 and some of you for the first time, or to sharing Bordeaux with you in classrooms or conferences across the globe.

Future projects include corporate and wine and wellness retreats amongst the vines and I’m excited to be working on an International Wine Tourism project sharing some of the best from other leading wine producing countries, more of which to follow.

Wine and Wellness - it's all about the balance!

Wine and Wellness – it’s all about the balance!

Please contact me for more information or stay tuned to the blog, I’ll be sharing my progress.

Thank you to everyone who has joined me this year, if you haven’t please do so in 2017, it will be a busy year with many opportunities for us to meet up, I hope to see you.

Happy New Year!

Château Sigalas Rabaud – a family tradition

The same names do tend to pop up again and again on my blog – I don’t apologise for having my favourites and Chateau Sigalas Rabaud is one of them.

Chateau Sigalals Rabaud

Chateau Sigalas Rabaud

It ticks a lot of boxes for me:

– sweet wines are, of course, part of my Bordeaux history,

– it is tiny (just 14 ha – the smallest of the 1er Crus) so defies the perception of Bordeaux vineyards all being enormous estates.

– despite being a 1st growth of Sauternes from the 1855 classification it is still family owned and has been for 7 generations

– it is run by a woman who is also the wine maker.
I rest my case.

Chateau Sigalas Rabaud is perched on a gentle southern slope of the ‘terrasse du Sauternais’ where all the top growths of Sauternes are situated. The gravel topsoil, deposited over a clay subsoil by the Garonne River 600,000 years ago, gives the best of both worlds; gravel for ripeness, clay for water supply.

Less than 500 metres to the North West of Château d’Yquem, it is closer to the Ciron, the small cold stream responsible for the autumn fog, the key to the development of the fungus Botrytis Cinerea. Its slope exposes the grapes to a light breeze, drying the botrytised grapes in October, encouraging both the noble rot and the subsequent concentration of the natural sugars for these great sweet wines.

Morning mists from the Ciron

Morning mists from the Ciron

Being a family property has its challenges but also its advantages; it implies a notion of stewardship; a respect for the terroir and the long view of leaving a living soil to future generations, preserving the biodiversity. Through observation, ploughing the soil and the use of pheromones to repulse some pests means the property has vastly reduced any pesticide use and eliminated the use of weed killers.

Sauternes - a time consuming process

Laure de Lambert Compeyrot checking on barrel aging Sauternes

The feminine side of the property runs through its history Rabaud was founded at the end of the 17th century and passed down as dowry through one of the daughters. In 1863, Henry de Sigalas acquired the Château and his only son sold the biggest part of the property (now Chateau Rabaud Promis) in 1903, keeping only the “jewel” of the terroir, that homogeneous southern slope that makes up the property today. Henry added his name to the property and it became Château Sigalas Rabaud. There’s nothing new about vanity vineyards!

La Marquise

La Marquise

In 1951, Château Sigalas Rabaud was taken over by Henry’s granddaughter, Marie-Antoinette de Sigalas, who was married to the Marquis de Lambert des Granges. Two generations later, in 2006, Laure de Lambert Compeyrot joined the estate as technical director. She succeeded her father as manager, the Marquis Gérard de Lambert des Granges, in 2013 buying her uncle’s shares, to become the major shareholder of the château, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Marie-Antoinette de Sigalas, and bringing back a feminine signature to the estate.

Laure de Lambert Compeyrot

Laure de Lambert Compeyrot – elegance runs in the family.

Her two sons, who work in their own Bordeaux merchant house also, help out – the seventh generation of the family.

As well as Chateau Sigalas Rabaud Sauternes the property produces a second Sauternes, Le Lieutenant de Sigalas, and Laure is also one of the pioneers of the dry white revolution in Sauternes. Despite some resistance from the family she introduced La Demoiselle de Sigalas, the first dry white wine in the history of the property, named after the rather beautiful Marquise. As her confidence grew, Laure continued to innovate with the 100% dry Sémillon ‘La Semillante’.

The wines of Chateau Sigalas Rabaud

The wines of Chateau Sigalas Rabaud

This varietal is used in white blends throughout Bordeaux, dry as well as sweet although it is more often associated with sweet Bordeaux. It is rare to find a 100% dry Sémillon. It is quite different in style to the Sauvignon-led dry whites with more weight, a very floral nose when young and a potential for ageing.

See here for an interview with Laure and Jacques Lurton about the dry white wines of the property.

Often relegated to a dessert wine, Sweet Bordeaux wines are so much more versatile than we often give them credit for. Chateau Sigalas Rabaud, like many others in the sweet appellations, are turning their back on the heavier style of wine, crafting wines with a freshness and elegance that compliment so many foods.

Sweet wine doesn't have to be served with dessert

Sweet wine doesn’t have to be served with dessert

Or you could just sit back and enjoy a glass on it’s own – I know I do.

White on white

If you are a regular reader, you’ll know from previous posts I am a fan of Bordeaux dry white and in particular those from the terroir of Sauternes.
It takes beautifully ripe berries affected by noble rot to create the spectacular sweet  wines from the south West Bordeaux of the Bordeaux vineyards. Some wine growers pounce on this fruit before the treasured fungus attacks it, and make lovely aromatic dry whites from them.

Sémillon is the signature grape of the sweet white wines of Bordeaux, making up 80% of the blends on average complemented by Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes a little Muscadelle. Although this obviously varies from estate to estate and vintage to vintage.

Normally the dry whites invert the ratio and are dominated by Sauvignon, But not always.I have already mentioned La Semillante, the 100% dry Sémillon made by Laure de Lambert at Chateau Siglalas Rabaud in a previous post.

At the start of the 2015 harvest I interviewed her along with Jacques Lurton who, with his global experience of Sémillon, is acting as a consultant for the third year running on this wine.

The dry whites from Chateau Sigalas Rabaud with the 1er Cru Classé Sauternes

The dry whites from Chateau Sigalas Rabaud with the 1er Cru Classé Sauternes

Jacques owns and make the Islander Estate wines on Kangaroo Island in Australia, as well as in Bordeaux and the Loire. Jacques is part of the Lurton family, a Bordeaux wine dynasty. He studied and worked with Denis Dubourdieux, known as the ‘white wine pope’ of Bordeaux – having been at the forefront of innovation in white wine making for the last 20 years when these wines really started to shine.

The dry white harvest at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud

The dry white harvest at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud

You might enjoy the conversation between two of the new generation from old Bordeaux families about how they are facing some of the challenges. It’s a long video but I couldn’t bear to cut anything out; they talk about the Sauternes too of course. This is such a perfect example of the dynamism and openness that now characterises Bordeaux.

Click here to see the interview with Laure and Jacques. With many thanks to Graham Booker of Avalon Images. http://www.avalonimages.fr/


Shaking up Sauternes

Is the future of Sauternes feminine? Is the future of Sauternes dry? Is the future of Sauternes fizzy? I thought that last one might get your attention.

Wine tasters often use the adjective feminine or masculine when describing wines; Feminine being used Merlot driven wines as opposed to more ‘masculine’ Cabernet driven wines. Then again, Margaux is often described as the most feminine of the Medoc appellations. Smooth, elegant, approachable are all rather feminine characteristics n’est pas?

Sauternes is also considered a feminine wine as, rather condescendingly perhaps, the sweetness of the wine is traditionally thought to appeal to a feminine palate. The history of Sauternes is feminine too. It was Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem, young widow and owner of Chateau d’Yquem who was imprisoned twice during the revolution but managed to keep the Château in the family.

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master of Chateau d'Yquem

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master of Chateau d’Yquem

The feminine tradition continues at Chateau d’Yquem as the current cellar Master is also a woman; Sandrine Garbay. Other top Sauternes properties also have women at their helm; Laure de Lambert Compeyrot is cellar master and co-owner of the smallest Sauternes Classified growth Chateau Sigalas Rabaud. In Barsac both Chateau Climens and Chateau Coutet have women at their helm. Chateau Coutet names the tiny production of  its top wine, produced only in exceptional years, Cuvée Madame, after Madame Rolland-Guy, owner of the property  from 1922 to 1977.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post in October 2012 that many consider this sweet wine terroir to be just as good for dry whites with many properties producing dry white from their vines. This trend continues as Laure de Lambert Compeyrot has added another dry white wine to her successful Demoiselle de Sigalas; La Semillante is a 100% dry Semillon made with wine maker Jacques Lurton who has become a specialist in producing wonderful aromatic whites (and delightful reds) from terroir all over the world. His Loire wines are worth searching out too.

La Sémillante, the new 100% dry Semillon from Chateau Rauzan Siglalas

La Sémillante, the new 100% dry Semillon from Chateau Rauzan Siglalas

So what about the sparkling? No one is yet producing sparkling Sauternes to my knowledge.  Florence Cathiard, owner of Pessac Léognan Classified Growth Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte,  has come up with an idea to get Sauternes in the sights of barmen men and mixologists with SO Sauternes®.

The Cathiards, along with the Moulin Family (owners of the Galeries Lafayette department stores) purchased Chateau Bastor Lamontagne in Sauternes last year along side Château Beauregard in Pomerol and Chateau Saint Robert in the Graves.

Presenting the new SO Sauternes® in a resolutely modern bottle, the idea is to pair with Perrier creating a cocktail to appeal to a younger generation perhaps not familiar with this venerable wine.  This takes Sauternes away from its dessert wine purgatory and puts in the limelight and in the sights of trendy Parisian mixologists, some of whom have added their own particular twist and cocktail recipe.

SO Sauternes and Perrier

SO Sauternes and Perrier

Shocking some might say, but other similar initiatives have now become mainstream;. When Cognac launched itself as a mixer there were a few raised eyebrows, now look at its success and the ‘swimming pool’ of adding ice to champagne launched by Moet has also become a staple of trendy beach bars in the summer months.

There is nothing new. One evening many (many) years ago, when my husband Hamilton first started selling Chateau Guiraud in the US, he was in a NYC hotel bar with wine guru Alexis Lichine who had taken him under his wing. Shocked when he saw New Yorkers ordering fine white Burgundy and topping it up with soda water to make spritzers he said so. Alexis, ever the pragmatist, said ‘Hamilton we should be so lucky they are drinking wine at all and not martinis, then years ago they all would be drinking Martinis’ – this was the early 80s after all.

We could say they same of Sauternes – so drink it in whichever way takes your fancy.

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.


Sorted !

After an interminable wait that had every winemaker’s eyes turned to the sky, the harvest is now finished in the Bordeaux vineyard and the red wines are almost all run off into barrels or undergoing Malo in tanks.

Fermentation at Chateau d’Aiguilhe in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

Pumping over at Chateau Lynch Bages in Pauillac

Emptying the vats after the running off at Chateau Haut Brion in Pessac-Leognan

Mother nature has kept everyone on their toes this year with what has been a challenging vintage (that’s the polite version!)

The first 3 months of 2013 were marked by cold and steady rain. A late spring with a dry April meant bud break was late (mid April) and the return of the cool weather and more rain made the late flowering difficult for Merlot which, although the most precocious Bordeaux red varietal, only started to blossom around June 10th, compared to May 31st in 2012.

The rain between June 17th and June 23rd caused millerandage (development of berries without pips which remain tiny) and coulure (badly fertilized flowers drop without giving any fruit). These phenomena cause a substantial decrease in the potential quantity of the harvest.

Summer finally arrived in July, sun and heat set in and the 330 hours of sunshine in one month equalled the 1991 record. However the summer was marred by thunderstorms and hail. During the night of July 18th hail fell on a very small zone in the Medoc and then again on July 25th and 26 on the entire region.

Uneven developement of the Merlot grapes necesitated a lot of sorting

Despite the summer warmth the development of vegetation remained delayed by 15 days. August was also sunny (42 hours more than average), with temperatures close to the norm, but again marred by thunderstorms with a devastating hailstorm on Friday 2nd of August. 15 000 hectares were hit by the hail, 7000 of which were shattered at 80%, representing 6% of the total Bordeaux vineyard. Concentrated in the Entre-Deux-Mers region this has created a dramatic situation for some producers whose yields are extremely low or non-existent this year.

By the 3rd week of August the Véraison (change of colour of the berries) was underway, leading to a harvest date predicted as 8 to 15 days later than average, based upon the late flowering date.

So at the start of harvest there was cause for concern but as usual with a vintage like this the picture was very varied from region to region. Bordeaux is a big place so the scene is very different depending upon the appellation and the different varietals. Terroir has played a part, better-drained soils with exposure to winds being an advantage in a damp growing season. Merlot has suffered most from the cool, damp spring – being early budding and flowering with a greater sensitivity to the Millerandange and Coulure (see above), the development of many bunches of Merlot has been uneven.

However the grape growers have not contented themselves to simply follow the weather patterns. Their actions throughout the year in preparing for the vintage have had an obvious effect on the quality of the grapes on the vines.

Selection in the field

Careful deleafing and green harvesting has allowed the air to circulate around the bunches of grapes and reduced the incidence of mould on the Merlot in these plots. Interestingly the argument for organic production has also been debated this year. With this humidity, vines are susceptible to mildew and later to bad or grey botrytis. However some plots that have been under organic culture for several years seem to be showing a greater resistance to mould and other diseases that flourish in these conditions. This is a good thing, as, under organic agriculture, the farmers cannot treat their grapes with systemic molecules. They are only allowed to use the Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate and lime), which unfortunately washes off with the next rainfall, making for expensive and repetitive treatments. With the vintage approaching, organic treatments are limited to a powdering of talc to soak up some of the excess humidity. There is also the possibility that anti fungal treatments thicken the skins of the grapes meaning they ripen later. Those not using these treatments were at an advantage this year. Ripening was difficult and late, especially for the Cabernets  with not everyone brave enough to wait for fear of more rainstorms and the spread of more rot.

Selection bunch by bunch

September continued to be wet, with an especially heavy storm on 28th bringing 30% of the month’s rain in a few minutes and although temperatures were up slightly (½ degree) creating an almost tropical feel in some areas, and more rot, the average levels of sunshine were down over the month.

Merlot is currently the most widespread grape in Bordeaux (65% in 2012) and it suffered this year; fortunately the Cabernets tell a different story. The late development this year left many fearing that the Cabernet, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon, would struggle to ripen. But whereas the Merlot has only a short window of opportunity for harvesting, the Cabernets, thanks to their thicker skin, are sturdier and can wait. Fortunately the sun decided to shine early October giving some warm days and cooler nights – perfect for Cabernet – for those who could wait either because they had nerves of steel or a cooler windier terroir that slowed down the development of that pesky rot.

Selection berry by berry by hand at Châtheau Olivier in Pessac-Leognan


and by Optical Selection at Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint Estephe


There were some beautiful healthy bunches

and some very scary ones

Talking of mould, it may strike fear into the hearts of red producers but sweet white wine producers are delighted. The Noble Rot (Botrytis Cinerea) developed well on the Semillon and Sauvignon grapes in the sweet wine areas. The first tries (selections) gave cause for producers to be cautiously optimistic after their trials of 2012 despite some isolated hail in the village of Illats mid harvest. The later tries where not quite as concentrated but again careful selection and blending will produce some beautiful sweet wines in 2013.

The developement of Botrytis on Semillon at Chateau d’Arche in Sauternes 

Beautiful botrytis at Chateau Sigalas Rabuad in Sauternes

Fermentation starting at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud

The dry whites are also safely in the vats now and although the volume may be lower than a normal year, producers are happy with the quality of their crop.

Beautifully healthy Sauvignon bunches at Chateau Latour Martillac in Pessac-Leognan

What is encouraging is that new technology is at hand to help the wine maker in such a vintage. Having done the best they can to ensure the quality in the field has been, inevitably in such a vintage, a need for strict berry selection prior to fermentation.

Having done the best they can to ensure quality in the field, producers keen to maintain a reputation for quality also employ a strict berry selection, prior to fermentation. Whether in the field, or at the cellar door, new technologies such as selection tables, optical selectors and tribae help this labour intensive process.  It must be heartbreaking to throw berries away but it is the price to be paid when faced with the challenges that such a vintage presents.

What is sure is that 2013 will show lower yields and it will be well worth a visit to the futures tastings in April 2014 to see how the wine makers of Bordeaux have risen to this, their latest challenge.