Origins: The vines and vins of Bordeaux!

It is said that the AOC region of Bordeaux in France produces an average of 600 million litres of wine a year. That’s 600, 000, 000 litres, which basically equates to a serious drinking problem. Not wanting to be left out of such a party, we decided to pilgrimage to the UNESCO world heritage village of St. Emilion, to get the inside scoop on the worlds favourite tipple.

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Being the largest AOC region in France, Bordeaux is home to approximately 10,000 wine producers including Chateau Petrus (3 of its  £18,000 bottles were bought by one table at restaurant Marcus Wareing/Petrus in London). Bordeaux wines are mostly blends, predominantly Merlot with varying quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  As we drove through the idyllic and gorgeous landscapes, drenched in vines heavy with grapes ready to be harvested, we paused briefly at Petrus, in the region of Pomerol, who only produces a small amount of wine, using only Merlot. Petrus, however, seemed just like any of the exquisite chateaux we passed on our way to St. Emilion.

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Our first stop was at the small Chateau des Laudes, whose owner had refused classification from the appellation council and only sells his wine to individual buyers (only producing about 2000 bottles a year) and uses various classical techniques and methods. Here, the grapes are hand picked, then placed on a vibrating table to clean and then using air pressure, the grapes are shot into the steel vat so that they burst, rather than crush, hence avoiding excessive tannin release from the seeds. The juice is then pumped out and poured back on top of the mass to filter through again, mainly to gain colour. The juice is then placed in the wooden vats to ferment using temperature control and then barrelled, without filtration.

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Once the juice is barrelled and placed in the cellars for up to 2 years, after a few months the wine is pumped out and the sedimentation is thrown, the barrel rinsed and the wine poured back in. The blending is only undertaken when the wine has been matured and is ready to bottle.

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After our tour, we were taken to the tasting room where we had a Sauternes from a vineyard also owned by des Laudes, along with La Gatiniere and Chatau Galteau, also by the producers of Laudes. The Sauternes was sensational – not cloyingly sweet and syrupy, but perfectly balanced. Apparently in blind tastings, it came close to Chateau d’Yquem – I don’t know how true that is, but it certainly is a wonderful dessert wine. The Galteau had recently won gold award at the Bordeaux wine tastings, but the crowning glory, naturally, was the Chateau des Laudes 2009.

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After lunch in the village, we were whisked off to Chateau Fonplegades (many fountains – courtesy of the Romans), a sprawling organic vineyard producing about 20,000 bottles a year. A tour around the facility with its giant vats, the winemakers laboratory and even the owners private collection (just from outside I’m afraid!) and we were sipping some more fabulous vino.

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Just as  a note for this decade’s vintages, 2005 has generally been deemed an superior vintage, with the weather being textbook perfect, whilst 2000, 2001, 20003 and 2009 being the other good ones. 2011, however, has disappointed winemakers across the board and none feel that it is going to be a vintage worth storing or ageing. The 2009 I bought from Laudes needs to be stored until 2016, apparently for it to mature – if I haven’t got the patience, I was given the decanting cheat, which is probably what might end up happening.  We shall see!

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Our last vineyard was the Couvent de Jacobins – Jacobian Convent, the only one inside the village walls, and the oldest one in the village dating back to 1389 when the monks set up school and shop. It’s now run by a very friendly and lovely lady, who is the third-generation of her family to own the chateau (it’s had several owners over the centuries). Here we also saw winemakers at work, testing the density of various vats.  The magical thing about this Chateau is the enormous cavern underneath the chateau. The cave was a result of the all the limestone mining that took place to build the village and is now the store for the up to 40,000 bottles of wine from every vintage over the last 100 years, 11 metres under the ground! Back during the 2nd world war, the caves were also used by Jews as a hiding place.

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As our luck would have it, we were in St Emilion for the announcement of the harvest – a ritual whereby various winemakers, wine merchants, council members get dressed in red and march up the tower to hear the president of the council officially declare the beginning of the harvest. Let there be wine! Oh, and just as we were leaving, we came across a shop displaying a board with some rather nice wines!!!

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Bordeaux is a magical town and area, with St. Emilion being the jewel in its crown and a tour of the vineyards, talking to wine producers and makers, tasting wines made from grapes just a few metres away is a truly memorable experience. We were lucky to have an incredibly knowledgeable, friendly and jovial guide who comes from a wine producing family and who I would more than recommend to anyone wanting a tour of Bordeaux. His details are as follows:

Henri CHALLEAU
Bordeaux Wine Travel
85 rue des Pelourdes
F-33300 BORDEAUX
Tél: 0033 664 653 852

www.bordeaux-wine-travel.com
contact@bordeaux-wine-travel.com

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