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How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – Why Clay could be Saint Emilion’s cornerstone – Chateau Laroze

We sent Sarah, who deals with our research and development, to Bordeaux to check out new areas of interest. This is the third in this series of blogs about her voyage of discoveries . . .

Sands over Chalky Clay at Laroze

We are always told that Chalky Limestone is the soil to look out for as it produces the best wines. However, I had my eyes opened when visiting Chateau Laroze. At this Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe it is ‘all about Clay’. As a farmer’s daughter, I’m well aware that Clay is rich in nutrients; you can grow crops beautifully on it provided you manage drainage properly. What I didn’t know is that Clay is produced from degraded Limestone that has been smashed into fine deposits over the millenia. In soil science Clay has a property that is much sought after. It has a very high CEC (Citation Exchange Capacity) which allows the soil to bring more nutrients into the vines.

The vineyard at Laroze lies across the foot of a gentle slope on the famous Saint Emilion Limestone plateau. The ground is made up of a sandy surface (Silica) over Chalky Clay sub soil (named ‘Marne de Castillon’). A 2-metre-deep layer of Clayey soil extends all over the vineyard. At Laroze a clever, deep drainage system runs metres underground; radically transforming the soil’s ability to drain and putting a stop to Clay’s tendency to water-logging and compacting.

Laroze’s owner, Guy Meslin, says the terroir here is interesting for wine: ‘Silica brings elegance, and Clay brings structure’. Beautifully spoken, educated, and supremely at ease amongst his vines, Guy Meslin is a charming and erudite man. He’s what I’d call a ‘hand’s on’ owner – the chateau is his life. Guy says, smiling, that ‘he belongs to the chateau’, not the other way around.

Clay may be the keystone of Laroze but Guy Meslin is its rock.

Chateau Laroze, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe

Guy inherited Laroze from his father and is a direct descendant of the chateau’s founder Nelly Gurchy. The Gurchys are an old Saint Emilion family who can trace their roots all the way back to 1610 when they were making wine at Mazerat, half a mile away from what was to become Laroze. Nelly’s husband, Georges, was a wine merchant and part-owner of Chateau Yon Figeac at one point in time. Widowed at the age of 46 in 1880, Nelly purchased three litle vineyards in 1882-1883: Camus La Gommerie (from the large estate of Chateau La Gommerie that was broken up after the French Revolution), the neighbouring vineyard of Lafontaine and also that of Chateau Camus. The vineyards were amalgamated and still sit in a complete block today (this is unusual in Saint Emilion where vineyards tend to be fragmented and scattered). The chateau, vat rooms and cellars were built in 1885 and Nelly named it Laroze (thanks to her love of roses).

Nelly certainly had a plucky spirit, she was quite an entrepreneur for the time especially as most businesses back then were run by men. She had a good eye for terroir – Laroze’s 65 acres are surrounded by those of Chateaux Yon Figeac, Clos des Jacobins and Premier Crus Beausejour Becot, Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse and Angelus.

Lady Laroze, the Third Wine of the chateau

Jump forward in time to the 1920s and the property was once again under a woman’s influence. Guy’s grandmother, Andrée, took over along with her husband Dr. René Meslin. Guy has great respect for Andrée as she worked tirelessly to ensure Laroze would survive so that she could hand it down to her children. Without her, Laroze would not have existed today. In 2011 Guy created a Third Wine, named Lady Laroze, in honour of both Nelly and Andrée.

After the Second World War, the estate was passed to Georges Meslin, Guy’s father, and in 1955 Laroze gained the status of Grand Cru Classe. Guy took over in 1980 and Laroze has continued to grow in quality. He instigated a biodynamic system 1991 – 1998 but switched to organic thereafter. Work on putting in the deep drainage network under the vines began in 1997 and was completed in 2002. Guy checks the collection point fed by the water from the vineyard drains to help calculate the hydric stress on the vines.

Chai at Laroze

Guy has also upped the density of the vines to 10,000 vines per hectare. This is very high and the reasoning behind this is that it stresses the vines. You might think that a stressed vine is a bad thing but in fact it’s the reverse. Vines grown tighter together in high densities have to compete with each other. They create stronger, deeper roots; develop smaller grapes and make less foliage. All the vine’s vigour goes into surviving. Deep roots ensure the vine sucks up every piece of nutrient it can locate. Less foliage means that the vine can focus on producing its grapes rather than leaves and tendrils. The grapes these vines produce may be small but they are concentrated; packed with goodness . . . perfect for making great wine. The only downside I can see is that you get lower yields but it’s a sacrifice winemakers make in order to achieve a top-quality product.

Guy Meslin with the barrels

The other change at Laroze that Guy has instigated is to increase his Cabernet Franc. The vineyard is planted with 68% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Whilst standing in the sunshine in the vineyard Guys tells me that in the past Laroze grew more Cabernet Franc but these were pulled out and replaced with Merlot in the 70s. Now the reverse is happening and Guy is replacing his Merlot with Cabernet Franc, hoping to increase the percentage from 26% to 40%. He believes Cabernet Franc has been long neglected and deserves to be developed. Like Merlot, Cabernet Franc favours Laroze’s deep, cool Clay. It’s a grape that has an ancient foothold in Saint Emilion; it’s been grown here since the 1700s.

I had to smile at Guy scrutinising a grape plucked from the ripening Cabernet Franc vines. This close to harvest he tastes his grapes daily for ripeness. Giving his vines a wistful glance he turns and we head towards his chai. Steam is emitting from oak barrels being cleaned within and the heady perfume of fermenting wine is delicious. There are various sizes of barrels here and I asked why some were so large. Guy tells me that larger barrels have less surface contact with the wine inside and the different sizes give different nuances of oakiness to the maturing wine. The rows of barrels in the chai all sit on strips of earth in between the flooring so that they have contact with the humidity of the soil.

Chateau Laroze

In 2009 Guy invited Hubert de Boüard de Laforest of Chateau Angelus to join his technical team at Laroze to help build a higher profile with journalists, wine importers and distributors worldwide. Since then Laroze has become better known and its popularity is growing. Deservedly so. Nick has made frequent mention of Laroze on his blogs during his En Primeur tastings in Bordeaux as a wine to look out for.

Wine critics often mention the underlying minerality of Laroze in their tasting notes, Robert Parker in particular. Medium bodied but rich, layered and fresh, the vintages of Laroze I tasted were classic Saint Emilion in style; laced with ripe black Morello cherry, dried herbs and roasted coffee beans. Laroze is also an extremely good price for a Grand Cru Classe (circa £19 – £23 a bottle depending on the year). They say wines often reflect the qualities of their makers and in Laroze’s case it’s true. Still waters run deep – beneath Guy’s gentle conversation runs a fountain of knowledge. And beneath the serene surface of Laroze there is a great deal to discover.

NB Whilst at Laroze we also tasted wines from the surrounding area over a lovely lunch. Details and tasting notes will follow in the next blog in the series.

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How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – Where the bee sips, there sip I. Why you should check out Petit Chateaux.

We sent Sarah, who deals with our research and development, to Bordeaux to check out new areas of interest. This is the second in this series of blogs about her voyage of discoveries . . .

bee-annicheYou might think that the famous chateaux of the Medoc have cornered the market as the trailblazers of Bordeaux wines but you’d be wrong. Beneath the parade of grand chateaux and their much fanfared labels lies a power-house of energetic smaller producers steadfastly working to create their own masterpieces. These producers don’t often get their wines trumpeted about in the British press; nor do they get flashy write ups about their splendid chateaux.

Tasting-room-anniche
Tasting room at Chateau Anniche

More often than not you’ll find the smaller producers’ wineries are part of an old farmhouse. You may not feel as if you are walking on hallowed ground when you visit one (there are no splendidly furnished rooms or imposing architecture to goggle at) but instead you are very much aware that you’re entering into the beating heart of a workplace. A place buzzing with purpose and vigour. There’s a strange timeless feeling pervading the atmosphere as you realise that these people are following the same path as their grandparents before them. This is a place of wine. And if you have got it right; it’s a place of very good wine indeed.

anniche-sign
Anniche lies at the north end of the Cadillac AOC

Chateau Anniche is such a place. My visit there turned out to be quite a revelation and it’s made a lasting mark on me. We visited Anniche on Day 1 of my trip to Bordeaux and were still acclimatising to the intense heat. Stepping out from the blazing sunshine into the cool sanctuary of the little tasting room we were greeted by Lyndsey and Jean Luc Pion, and their son Pascal, the Maitre de Chai.

anniche-maitre
Pascal Pion – Maitre de Chai

Chateau Anniche is such a place.  The Pion family have been making wines at Anniche since Napoleonic times and made their own wine barrels up until 1914. You can see that beyond the neat, whitewashed winery and ultra modern chai much older buildings sit clustered about. The land here stretches away under blue skies over ranks of vines growing on clay and limestone soil containing siliceous rock (quartz, chalcedony and flint).

anniche-vines
Vineyard at Anniche

Anniche is located in Haux right at the north end of the Cadillac appellation which sits along the right bank of the River Garonne. The Pessac Leognan appellation is directly opposite Haux on the other side of the river. Haux is known for its 12th century romanesque church and was on the ancient route of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The wonderful Abbey of La Sauve Majeure, just over a mile up the road from Anniche, was an important monastery and major halt for pilgrims up until the French Revolution.

Haux is a quiet place today though – few vehicles travel the road – and at Anniche the silence was only broken by the drone of bees and grass hoppers in the vineyard.Lyndsey keeps bees and the hives lie on the edge of the acacia wood and along the flowery meadows. Their honey is sold locally either direct from the cellar or via the Tourism Office and markets of Cadillac and Creon. Bees aren’t the only creatures in the vineyards, there are chickens and pigs – as well as visitors such as cattle egrets and roe deer. In 2014 tawny owls took up temporary residence in the chai.

pascal-olaf
Pascal and Olaf

Lyndsey tells me that the family think that the place name ‘Anniche’ is derived from a parcel of vines belonging to the property called ‘la niche’. ‘La niche’ in old French refers to a place where animals were sheltered. On looking up the origins of the word ‘niche’ I had to smile as in the 14th century it meant ‘dog kennel or recess (for a dog)’ and this is rather fitting . . . as Pascal’s loyal companion is Olaf, the wine dog. Olaf is a giant, he is huge! I think he must be a Leonberger – a massive, lion-like, breed of working dog. Lion-like he may be, with his shaggy mane and sandy coat, but he is gentle and pines when Pascal has to leave him. When we trooped into the Pion’s tasting room he stretched his vast body out and bowed a greeting, had a friendly sniff and pat on the head from everyone, and then accompanied us on our tour of the chai and vineyard.

Olaf
Olaf

The Pion’s vines cover an area of 72 hectares (177 acres) and are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc for their red wines. Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle are grown for their dry and sweet whites. Some of their Semillon vines are 122 years old. Pascal says that in the old days the whole village only ever produced sweet whites. Semi Sweet whites (moelleux) are Pascal’s passion but, as he says, you have to be a little nuts to make them. They are a labour of love; not only is Semillon the last grape to be harvested but it takes an inordinate amount of time to harvest it. Grapes have to be picked in order of ripeness and it can take an awful lot of grapes to make just one golden glass of sweet wine. To give you an idea, it’s said in Sauternes that Chateau d’Yquem produces only one glass of wine per vine.

The Pion’s pure nectar:

Anniche's Bordeaux Moelleux: Chateau Haut Roquefort
Anniche’s Bordeaux Moelleux: Chateau Haut Roquefort

Having tasted Pascal’s sweet white, Chateau Haut Roquefort (made from 100% Semillon), I can well understand his passion. It’s beautiful . . . a dark honied colour, tasting of nectar with a twist of bitter orange. Full of zesty acidity in the mouth, this style of wine is far from sticky or cloying . . . as my companions from the wine trade found out. Moelleux turned out to be one of their highlights and proved to be a real eye opener for some.

anniche-haut-roquefort
Chateau Haut Roquefort

Sweet white Bordeaux has hit the foodie radar recently with all sorts of delicious pairings being suggested, however I can’t wait to try Chateau Haut Roquefort with its namesake – the blue cheese Roquefort. It’s the classic partner for this style of wine. It could be a marriage made in heaven.

anniche-white
Chateau Anniche Blanc

The dry white, Chateau Anniche, is also predominantly Semillon but is blended with Sauvignon Blanc which brings a certain freshness and Muscadelle which adds potent floral aromas. I found it to be very smooth; quite a deep wine with flavours of lychee laced with lemon. I asked Lyndsey if she would send samples so that Nick could taste their range and he was most impressed. The dry white Chateau Anniche’s quality was so good Nick placed it on a par with the dry whites being produced from the Sauternes Grands Crus Classes. Needless to say these fashionable whites carry an expensive price tag; whereas Anniche’s dry white does not.

anniche-rose
Anniche’s Rose: Chateau Lalande Meric

The Pion’s also produce a brilliant Rose: Chateau Lalande Meric. On such a brutally hot day this was certainly the most refreshing wine from their range – a pale salmon pink, delicately tasting of strawberry with melony undertones. As a taster you have to swirl, sip and spit . . . this was one of those wines that made me regret having to do so. We didn’t drink it chilled but it was so balanced and smooth it made me wish I could sit there in the shade and sup the lot.

anniche-lalande-rose
Chateau Lalande Meric

Pascal talked of how Bordeaux Rose has changed over the past few years. Of course the Bordelaise have been making it for centuries but these days the demand is for paler and paler Rose. This is something Nick commented on in January (see What wines to watch out for in 2016 – Are our tastes changing?) and Pascal said that whereas they used to let the Rose soak on the must for 2 – 4 days (to soak up colour and flavour from the grapes) now they only allow 2 – 4 hours. The trick here is to achieve a wine with all the flavour and aroma that make it so attractive whilst keeping it on the must as short a time as possible to achieve the paler colour.

anniche-red
Chateau Anniche Bordeaux Claret

The Reds are Premier Cotes de Bordeaux and were wines I was looking forward to tasting. Nick has already highlighted the fact that you can find good clarets around the Cadillac appellation and Anniche’s Reds have a lovely tannic backbone; tasting of blackberry and prune with mint overtones.

It just goes to show that there is so much more to Bordeaux if you scratch beneath the surface. The wines we see here on supermarket shelves aren’t representative of the Bordeaux the French know and love. We miss out on so many little treasures. I was over the moon that Chateau Anniche was the first winery visit on our trip as it is exactly the place that Nick looks out for: A small producer who tries to associate modernity with tradition, judiciously applying new scientific methods where they can to help mediate with Nature and the elements in order to produce delicious wines in complete harmony with the environment. It was wonderful to experience it for myself first hand and my only regret is that I forgot to buy a jar of their honey!

You can find Chateau Anniche’s website and they also have a great Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/VignoblesPion/

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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 8 – The success story behind one of our finds: Chateau Lamothe Vincent

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the final blog in this series about his trip and his discoveries . . .

Chateau Lamothe Vincent Bordeaux Rose
Chateau Lamothe Vincent Bordeaux Rose

When we started out with Bordeaux-Undiscovered our idea was to bring good wines to the UK that French preferred to keep. So many little chateaux were making beautiful, high quality, wines that were totally unknown over the Channel here in the UK. Snapped up by locals ‘in the know,’ these wines were made by unsung heros following family tradition and innovating when and where they could. You’d often find these chateaux on fabulous terroir, sitting on ancient estates that had been worked generation after generation. With Nick’s insider knowledge of the fine wine market and willingness to track down hidden gems we stood in good stead to begin bringing you a treasure trove of wines kept under the radar.

Lamothe Vincent's range
Lamothe Vincent’s range

Many wine merchants have followed in our path but none go to the lengths we do to promote our discoveries. We have always believed that the story behind the wine is part of its enjoyment and with wine lovers wanting to know more and more about what they are drinking, how it is made and who made it, storytelling is vital. It’s also crucial for the little chateaux – they simply don’t have the money (or time) to tell their own story. Their budgets go towards their vineyards and equipment, not marketing and advertising. You will find that a wine maker is much more interested in making good wine than in selling it.

Chai at Lamothe Vincent
Chai at Lamothe Vincent

Word of mouth is important but when it doesn’t stretch beyond your own backyard you are stuck with a niche market. Getting the word out is our job and it’s one we take on with great pleasure.

My visit to Chateau Lamothe Vincent is a case in point. Nick discovered them in 2007 and we introduced their Bordeaux Rose to the UK. We were the first to bring their wines over here. Once introduced we found that other wine merchants soon caught on and followed our lead. Unlike some of our competitors we have no financial tie up with any chateau – we simply hunt for great wines for our customers and let the story telling do the rest.

Chateau Lamothe Vincent
Chateau Lamothe Vincent

Lamothe Vincent is a small chateau that lies between Montignac and Castelviel in the Lieu Dit of Laurencon. With Saint Emilion to the north and Sauternes to the south Lamothe Vincent sits right at the heart of the Entre Deux Mers. This is a quiet, rural region steeped in antiquity and packed with hidden promise.

Lamothe Vincent Merlot
Lamothe Vincent Merlot

It’s a Bordelaise version of the ‘land that time forgot’.

When we first found Lamothe Vincent no one really believed that good roses and reds could come out of the Entre Deux Mers. As far as the UK was concerned this was traditionally a white wine producing area. However, we speak as we find. We pioneered the introduction of some lovely Clarets and Clairets from this area – and still do. It has since caught on as a tremendous source of good value, quality wines.

Unusual iron cradles for barrel rotation
Unusual iron cradles for barrel rotation

Lamothe Vincent is owned by the Vincent family who have been making wine since 1873. It has consistently produced distinctive, award winning wines.

The family’s love of the land lead them to adopt a ‘back to nature’ approach very early on; long before organic and bio dynamic techniques became fashionable bywords in Bordeaux. The Vincents are innovative and constantly quest to perfect their mix of modern and traditional techniques. For a small chateau they are remarkably in tune with keeping up with new developments in the industry whilst maintaining their principles in the vineyard. If you’d like to learn more about Lamothe Vincent check out our blog written in 2007 here.

Jumping forward to 2016 the chateau has pushed ahead on all kinds of fronts. In 2013 the chateau was awarded the HEV Certification ofHigh Environmental Value Farm’ – the highest French ecological recognition. The certificate takes account of the chateau’s biodiversity conservation, management of water resources and waste recycling, low dose organic fertilizers, photovoltaic electricity production etc. New winery buildings are currently under construction.

Lamothe Vincent's vineyard
Lamothe Vincent’s vineyard

The biggest story is its success in the UK. Already making waves back in France with their awards (several Coups de Coeurs in the Hachette Guide and mentions in Le Figaro); since its introduction over here it has been well reviewed by Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier, Decanter and Wine Enthusiast magazines. The awards have kept on coming and at the end of May they had gathered no less than 27 medals, 15 of which were Gold, for the 2014 vintage alone. Not bad for a back water estate that we discovered all those years ago!

You can check out Chateau Lamothe Vincent’s website here.

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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 7 – Focus on a Fourth Growth: Chateau Beychevelle

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the seventh in this series of blogs about his trip and his discoveries . . .

I’d been looking forward to visiting Fourth Growth Chateau Beychevelle in Saint Julien on my trip to Bordeaux and I wasn’t disappointed when I finally arrived.

This chateau is Asia’s darling and thanks to its beautiful buildings and gardens it’s affectionately known as ‘the Versailles of the Medoc’ in Bordeaux.

Chateau Beychevelle
Chateau Beychevelle

Asia’s love affair with Beychevelle began in 1988 when the Japanese group Suntory bought into the estate. Beychevelle received a further boost in 2011 when the French wine & spirits merchants Castel became co-owners with Suntory. Castel are an internationally renowned business with excellent contacts in China. They partnered with Changyu winery back in the 1990s and together they produce their Sino-French premium wines under the Chateau Changyu Castel label.

1982 Label
1982 Label

Beychevelle’s emblem, the single sailed boat with a griffin figurehead, appeals to the Asian markets thanks to its resemblence to a Dragon Boat. If you look very carefully at the emblem on the bottle labels you can see a shift in design starting in 1988 after Suntory bought into Beychevelle. Prior to this date the sail boat depicted looked more like a Viking Longship but after 1988 the boat’s bow and stern became more curved to mimic the Dragon Boat.

2007 Label
2007 Label

The sail boat emblem harks back to Beychevelle’s heritage. The chateau takes its name from the French ‘Baisse-Vaille’ which means ‘lower sails’ as the chateau once belonged to the Admiral of France Jean-Louis Nogaret de la Valette, Duke of Epernon. The ships lowered their sails in homage to him as they sailed past the little port at the bottom of the chateau’s gardens on the River Garonne. The label symbolises this by depicting a ship with sails lowered. Incidentally the Admiral is a distant ancestor of the actress Audrey Hepburn.

Beychevelles' beautiful architecture
Beychevelles’ beautiful architecture

Writing about Castel’s purchase of a 50% stake back in 2011 Nick commented that as Beychevelle is now the jewel in Castel’s crown, and with their contacts in China, he was expecting to see ever greater demand for this lovely Saint Julien 4th Growth. He wasn’t wrong. Beychevelle is booming. It’s price doubled in 2009 thanks to Asian demand for the ‘Dragon Boat wine;’ coupled with 2009 being an exceptional year. The price hasn’t dropped much since and averages at £72 a bottle depending on the vintage.

Whilst at the chateau I was told that all of their wines from the 2015 vintage were sold within 15 minutes of them being released.

The wines were snapped up by the Negotiant Barriere Freres. This isn’t surprising. Barriere Freres are part of the Castel Group and are a formidable arm of their international supply chain with offices in Shanghai.

Trading in Asia has its risks and Beychevelle has had to use anti-counterfeiting technology to avoid fake Beychevelle lookalikes in China. They use a system called Tesa PrioSpot, produced by Beiersdorf – the company behind Nivea – which gives each bottle a unique code that can be traced back. They also fought, and won, a trademark dispute concerning their Grand Bateau boat emblem in China.

Beychevelle's range
Beychevelle’s range

Tips:

Chateau Beychevelle is one of the most popular Classed Growths in the Medoc but the estate does produce more affordable wines that are easier to acquire:

  • Grand Bateau is the fruit of a collaboration between Barrière Freres and Chateau Beychevelle. This is more affordable than the Grand Vin at circa £11 a bottle and as it is made by the same winemaking team it is a shrewd choice.

  • Chateau Beaumont – Owned by the same group that owns and manages Chateau Beychevelle, the Castel group and Suntory, this is a top tier Haut Medoc. It’s also a stunning chateau in its own right and wines here are circa £13 a bottle.

    Tasting at Beychevelle
    Tasting at Beychevelle
  • Les Brulieres – Beychevelle owns 12 hectares of vines 5 km away from the chateau’s vineyard that fall into the Haut Medoc appellation. Being further from the Gironde estuary, they benefit from a cooler climate. This is an organic vineyard and Les Brulieres’ blend consists of just two grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Vinified and aged in a separate winery, it is produced with the same level of care as Chateau Beychevelle and Amiral de Beychevelle (Beychevelle’s Second Wine) but costs around £17 a bottle.

  • The Second Wine Amiral de Beychevelle – This is more approachable when young which means that you can drink it earlier than the Grand Vin (which takes time to mature and develop in bottle). Circa £27 a bottle.

As you can imagine, since its purchase Beychevelle has benefited from huge investment. The latest redevelopment is a 16 million euro project building a new glass walled winery that makes the winemaking facilities visible from the D2 Route des Chateaux that runs through Medoc. The barrel room is also being renovated and the visitor centre and tasting room are being moved into the 18th century chateau building itself. The left hand side of the chateau is being converted into a 13 room hotel for visitors.

New buildings at Beychevelle
New buildings at Beychevelle

I spent a while with Director Philippe Blanc on the balcony talking about the redevelopment that is taking place. The reasons behind their choice of a glass walled winery was that they did not want to detract from the chateau by trying a newbuild in an 18th century style, so they decided to opt for modernity. They commissioned architect Arnaud Boulain and Atelier BPM to work on the design. The glass opens up the winemaking process to the public and it’s interesting concept. Philippe has compared it to being able to watch a chef prepare a meal; in a like manner the public can watch a wine being made. The vats are already in place and will be used for the 2016 vintage.

We were told Philippe was very keen to progress Bio Dynamics within the chateau and that currently 33% of the production has been converted using this technique with plans on increasing the amount of hectares. Improvements have not just been confined to the chateau’s buildings but have also been implemented in the wine making process – Beychevelle used optical sorting for the first time in 2015 vintage on 33% of the crop and intend to continue with its progression.

Beychevelle's elegant interior
Beychevelle’s elegant interior

After tasting a superb selection of Beycehevelle’s wines we had a fabulous lunch during which Philippe was very keen to hear opinions on his wines that we had with our meal and in particular listened to the younger guests views. Beychevelle’s hospitality was immaculate and an absolute treat.

Chateau Beychevelle’s website can be found here.

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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 6 – Why Family Matters! Knowing ‘Who’s Who’ Can Reap Rewards

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the sixth in this series of blogs about his trip and his discoveries . . .

Chateau Haut Bergey
Chateau Haut Bergey

Bordeaux has a vast network of connected wine making families; some of whom have histories stretching back centuries. It pays to know who’s who as you can often find wonderful wines from the extended families of renowned wine makers, top chateaux owners and negotiants (Bordeaux wine merchants) at a lesser price than their more well known brethren. A case in point are the Garcin-Cathiards of Chateau Haut Bergey in the small appellation of Pessac Leognan.

Sylviane Garcin-CathiardHaut Bergey was purchased in 1991 by Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard. Sylviane is Daniel Cathiard’s sister and comes from a successful family of retailers. Daniel, a former Olympic ski champion, inherited the family’s small supermarket chain in 1970. Within 20 years, he had transformed it into the tenth largest mass distribution group in France, with 15 hypermarkets and 300 supermarkets. At the same time, he launched and developed a chain of sporting goods shops – Go Sport – in France, Belgium, Spain, and California. His group employed 9,000 people. In 1990, Daniel and his wife Florence sold all their business interests to buy Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. It could be said he was returning to his roots – his grandfather was also a negotiant . . .

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte traces its history back to the 14th century and is now world famous for its fabulous red and white wines thanks to the Cathiards. They have also developed a thriving wine tourism business based at the chateau which offers a luxury hotel, a Michelin star restaurant and a wine therapy institute. Mathilde (Daniel and Florence’s daughter) is responsible for creating the household name Caudalie – a health and beauty treatment and range of products based on the grape seeds left over from the must from making the wines. The Cathiards hard work and phenomenal success with Smith Haut Lafitte have lead to them being in the top 50 of the wealthiest winemakers in France.

Haut Bergey
Haut Bergey

Like Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut Bergey was a chateau ripe for rebirth. Haut Bergey also has a long history. It dates back to the 15th century.

In 1700 it was bought by Sir Jean-François de Cresse, a member the Bordeaux parliament. Within 24 months, he had expanded the vineyards to 100 hectares. In 1850 a new chateau was built, featuring the beautiful fairytale towers that rise over its rooftop. But, over the years, parcels of the vineyards were sold off and those remaining lapsed into non production. This all changed when Sylviane spotted the sleeping chateau.

Dining Room at Haut Bergey
Dining Room at Haut Bergey

Why family matters!

With an eye for excellent terroir and chateaux with bags of potential, plus their extensive knowledge of the markets, the Cathiards have a recipe for success.

Not only have both chateaux been brought bang up to date via major investment and modernisation but both have benefited from the introduction of renowned winemaking consultants.

Soils in Haut Bergey's vineyard
Soils in Haut Bergey’s vineyard

When Sylviane purchased Haut Bergey she enlisted the expertise of top oenologists Michel Rolland and Jean Luc Thunevin, followed by Michel Rolland (who also consults for Smith Haut Lafitte).

Both Daniel’s Smith Haut Lafitte and Sylviane’s Haut Bergey lie on superb gravel based soils in Pessac Leognan; a little appellation north of Graves which lies close to the city of Bordeaux.

Home to First Growth Chateau Haut Brion and several top chateaux; Pessac Leognan produces both stunning Red and White Bordeaux. Haut Bergey is located in the village of Leognan and Haut Smith Lafitte lies in neighbouring Martillac.

Paul Garcin at the tasting
Paul Garcin at the tasting

Sylviane has successfully resurrected Haut Bergey and has now passed the reins over to her children, Paul and Helene Garcin. The wines are meticulously made and are considered to be some of the best value priced wines in Pessac Leognan.

Being less well known and missing out on the high profile that Smith Haut Lafitte commands, Haut Bergey’s wines do not command the same price.

Smith Haut Lafitte’s wines average £64 a bottle. However under Sylviane and her family’s care Haut Bergey has performed better than anyone could have expected and is one of the over-achievers in Bordeaux. Circa £19 – £29 a bottle (depending on the vintage) they offer wonderful value for money as the quality is exceptional.

You can find Chatau Haut Bergey’s website here – it’s well worth a look!