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 . . .
There are some amazing places tucked away in Bordeaux that turn out to be quite a revelation. If you’re a follower of this blog you’ll have often heard Nick refer to ‘Cinderella’ chateaux that have risen from the shadows of obscurity to bask in new found glory. Chateau des Fougeres Clos Montequieu is no Cinderella; if anything it is a ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
Newly awoken by Dominique Coutière, owner of Biolandes, this chateau has an aristocratic past and a bright future.
I was keen to visit the chateau for three reasons: the first being its wine (which is fairly new on the market – the first vintage under new ownership was in 2012), the second being its connection to Biolandes (a company which produces and supplies essential oils and extracts for perfumes and aromatherapy) and the third being its connection to Montesquieu (the French philosopher).
The drive up to the chateau swings through a small park spaced with well-placed specimen trees. The grounds had a peaceful atmosphere and I had to resist the urge to explore – there was a feeling that made you think discoveries lay behind each new view. I shouldn’t have been surprised at such graceful settings for the gardens were developed by the Bordelaise nurseryman Jean Alphonse Escarpit (1829 – 1899) who helped to design the Jardin Public park in Bordeaux. The gardens had a note of familiarity, probably because Escarpit followed the ‘English-style’. He liked sweeping curves, bousquets (little groves) and the different tones of green and blue you can find in the foliage of trees and water. You get all of these at Chateau des Fougeres – the land gently undulates down from the chateau with trees standing like islands in the close-cropped turf. There are signs of old water features in the grounds and I wished I could have wandered about outside more. It’s very beautiful.
However the task in hand was a tasting of Graves and Pessac Leognan whites and reds held inside the chateau. Rather fitting as it happens, as Montesquieu was an ambassador for the local Graves wines – he did much to build their reputation throughout France and in Britain. Born into an aristocratic family Montesquieu was a lawyer, philosopher and satirist and became the first great French man associated with the Enlightenment. His theories later became an important part of the American Constitution.
Inside, the chateau houses the Montesquieu’s family heritage and its decor hasn’t been altered in any way. When Dominique Coutière bought the chateau from Baron Montesquieu in 2010 he promised not to change anything. He did have to modernise the plumbing, electrics and heating systems. The pavillion tower roof held a huge water tank which fed down to household but this had to be removed because it leaked and flooded the house out. The central heating system was quite innovative for the time and was an oven in the cellars that piped hot air up to the floorboards above! The house is full of Second Empire furnishings and we were given a little tour round the rooms. Although steeped in history it still felt very much a family home.
Chateau des Fougeres belonged to Montesquieu’s brother. Montesquieu himself lived a stone’s throw away at neighbouring Chateau La Brede and its said that two brothers used to wave at each other from the balconies on their chateaux. The estate is an old one, dating back to the 1500s, and is on the site of a medieval castle known as Milheras in the local dialect. The current chateau was once a Carthusian monastery and Gaston de Montesquieu used it as a hunting lodge. He was responsible for converting the rectangular charterhouse into the building we see today. He also gave it the name of Chateau des Fougeres – a French translation of Milheras, meaning ‘Chateau of the Ferns’. It’s always been a wine producing property and in 1756 it was owned by a Bordeaux wine merchant until it was brought back into the Montesquieu family fold in 1867. Gaston increased the size of the vineyard to nearly 200 acres and planted it with Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Today the vineyard covers 35 acres and is planted with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Dominique has the reputation of a man not used to doing things by half and is very ambitious for Chateau des Fougeres, in which he has invested heavily. The winemaking installations are constantly being improved in order to yield a product that is faithful to its soil and to its history.
The consultant oenologist who works with them on their reds is world renowned Stephane Derenoncourt and their whites are made by Olivier Bernard’s top flight team at Domaine de Chevalier nearby.
Dominique’s jump from essential oils to wine isn’t an odd leap to make. Perfume and wine have a lot in common: both rely on the ‘nose’ of their creator, be it the perfumier or the wine maker, and both use a process of transformation – from grape to wine and from flower petal to essence. There are plenty of precedents in Bordeaux; the most notable being Chateau Rauzan Segla which is held by the owners of the perfume ‘Chanel‘ and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte’s ‘Caudalie’, which has a range of perfumes inspired by the fragrance of the grape flowers and vines.
Chateau des Fougeres produces two reds: Chateau des Fougeres Clos Montesquieu, AOC Graves and their Second Wine Rouge Fougeres (which translates as Red Fern). Being recently born (the final improvement plans for the vineyard come into effect this year, 2017) neither of these wines are much known in Europe and are only available at a few outlets. However, the world’s critics have already taken note and the 2012 vintage of the Grand Vin received a score of 92/100 from James Suckling and won a Silver Medal at the Concours de Vins d’Aquitaine.
Sleeping Beauty has awoken and although its price is reasonable at the moment (circa £15 – £20) I’d expect it to rise as word gets out.
Whites to note:
We tasted a range of wines in the airy dining room watched over by portraits hanging on old, red, faded silk wall-papered walls. I couldn’t help wondering if the resplendent gentlemen crowned with powdered wigs depicted in the pictures above us had quaffed the same wines long ago. They would have probably been astounded at the seriousness involved in tastings nowadays.
The stand out white wine for me was Chateau Couhins Lurton – a pure Sauvignon Blanc from Graves. It was exquisite. My tasting notes on this white were circled with stars; it was by far the best white I tasted on the tour. The price is circa £20 – £25 a bottle. This chateau is part of a portfolio owned by the negociant Andre Lurton and their charming export director Laurent Belisaire had also brought Chateau La Louviere along for us to taste – another lovely white at around £18 – £20 a bottle. A branch of the large Lurton wine making dynasty, Andre Lurton’s portfolio is well worth looking at and you can find a list of their chateaux here.
I also enjoyed the white from Chateau Le Sartre. It was very modern in style and so fresh it reminded me of a white Burgundy; minerally and full of zesty green apple. Le Sartre was a well-known chateau in the 19th century and was rediscovered in the late seventies by the Perrin family, owners of Chateau Carbonnieux. It sits on good terroir between Chateau des Fougeres and Domaine de Chevalier in the Pessac Leognan AOC. Both red and white vary from £12 – £20 a bottle depending on the vintage and supplier.