Sustainability in Bordeaux: the Natural Order

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A large bee hunts for pollen amongst blooms of lavender at Ch-LEvangile
A bee on lavender flowers at Ch. L’Evangile
Sustainability is far more than just a buzzword in Bordeaux. Jane Anson reports on the initiatives – from rewilding to recycling – being championed by producers and properties across the region.

A vegan shoe company working with an ethical wine brand to make sneakers out of recycled grape skins pretty much encapsulates how quickly Bordeaux is updating its attitude towards sustainability.

This is a joint venture between Marie Viard-Klein, founder of Minuit sur Terre, and Mickaël and Camille Alborghetti of Ethic Drinks. All three are in their 20s and based in Bordeaux (although Mickaël is the grandson of a Burgundy winemaker). This is the first project they have worked on together, making use of grape skins left over after winemaking at an organic estate a few miles outside of Bordeaux that are dried, pressed and turned into the soles of running shoes.

CREATING OPPORTUNITIES

Everywhere you look, there seems to be another initiative springing out of the region to improve environmental and social sustainability. One of the most interesting, not yet launched but due later in the year, is Oenopedia from Artémis Domaines. This will be an open-source website created by the technical staff at all of the Artémis estates, from Ch. Latour in Pauillac to Eisele Vineyard in Calistoga and Domaine Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée, sharing their techniques and learnings from farming organically and biodynamically. The aim is for other wineries to also share best practice and knowledge, adapting according to individual locations and needs.

Vignerons du Vivant is a similarly collaborative initiative, started by a group of 15 winemakers including Jean-Baptiste Cordonnier at Ch. Anthonic in Moulis and Pierre Cazeneuve at Ch. Paloumey in the Haut-Médoc, as well as high-profile names such as Ch. Lafite Rothschild and Latour. These Médoc estates, which are united by their organic winemaking, were motivated to address the issue of unemployment in the region; the Médoc peninsula has one of the highest rates in France. “As châteaux based here,” Cazeneuve has said, “we wanted to find a way to match the needs of our vineyards with helping find work and training to people living around us who need the opportunities”.

In 2018, Vignerons du Vivant started out by employing 12 young people between the ages of 18 and 30. They were supported through their training in organic viticulture and agroecology, in most cases splitting their time between practical work on the estates and study in local agricultural colleges. As it approaches its fourth year, the majority of the original intake are now in full employment.

“Our aim is to equip them for the type of jobs that will be increasingly needed in winemaking,” says Cazeneuve, “and to show them the kind of opportunities there are out there for young people who have an understanding of ecology and sustainable land usage”.

BIRDS, BEES, FLORA, FAUNA

You’ll find initiatives at every level of Bordeaux winemaking; from the appellation of Bourg, which now ensures all estates must have a basic environmental certification by 2025 if they want to use the AOC on the label, to Francs and Castillon that are already over 50% certified organic or in conversion.

Agroforestry, permaculture and regenerative agriculture are also now a key part of the landscape. Domaine Emile Grelier in AOC Bordeaux Supérieur and Ch. Mille Roses in AOC Margaux are both brilliant smaller properties taking the lead in this. On both estates you’ll find bird boxes, beehives, trees for bats and flowers everywhere – as well as ongoing studies counting and classifying flora and fauna.

Agroforestry projects are also underway at Ch. Lagrange in St Julien, where they have recently counted 54 different bird species, 64 different types of biodiversity habitats, and dozens of different amphibians, mammals and reptiles across the estate, while over at Ch. Dubraud in Blaye, owner Alain Vidal has planted 1,213 trees over the past few years. Ch. Lafon-Rochet in St Estèphe has plans to plant 13,000 trees and shrubs by 2030, as well as 8km of hedges.

CHATEAU INITIATIVES

Lafite is involved in a number of projects – from Vignerons du Vivant to working specifically with refugees, largely from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea, helping them access agricultural work and training. On their own estates, large-scale biodiversity projects are underway in Pauillac, Sauternes and Pomerol.

“My father has encouraged biodiversity at Lafite since the 1980s, rewilding long before it became fashionable,” Saskia de Rothschild says with a smile, referring to Baron Eric de Rothschild’s restoration of wetlands to create a bird and wildlife sanctuary in a large stretch of land alongside the property.

“We now have an agroforestry project that takes us right through to 2030 that will see the uprooting of three hectares of our Pauillac vineyards to replant with trees and hedgerows.”

Winemaking is also being re-examined. Ch. Montrose and Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte are capturing the carbon dioxide released during the fermentation process and recycling it for various uses from vine treatments to bicarbonate of soda, while Montrose has also just announced a “first of its kind” climate and vineyard study to further equip it against the changing climate.

Enlisting the help of expert climatologists and terroir consultants, they have set up 60 temperature and humidity sensors across the vineyard that will track changes over a number of years, and feed into vineyard management choices.

MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER

Even the packaging that the wines come in has become increasingly considered. Vignobles André Lurton at Ch. Bonnet in Entre-deux-Mers now prints its labels on entirely recycled paper that is made from wheat straw rather than trees. Ch. Meyney in St Estèphe last year released a “caisse eco-responsable” that saw a bottle of its wine presented alongside homemade tomato coulis, quince jam and honey from its gardens.

Meanwhile, Ch. Fleur Cardinale in St Emilion has printed instructions set into the interior of its wooden case for the just-delivered 2018 vintage on how to turn the case into a bird box. There are plans to showcase different upcycling suggestions with each new release, with input encouraged from wine lovers.

There is a clear sense that the momentum behind these initiatives is now picking up speed. A recent workshop held on the subject of sustainability at Ch. Guiraud saw winemakers attend from across Bordeaux. Agricultural engineer Hervé Coves reminded attendees that monoculture is not the natural order of things, and highlighted the many cross-benefits that different plants and trees can bring to vineyards by attracting birds and insects for natural pest and disease control.

Guiraud owner Xavier Planty intends to make this an annual event, “bringing together estates engaged in agroecology to showcase and share their best practices. It is now an economic necessity for us to move forward together”.

Category: Bordeaux Wine,Sustainability

Beyond Provence rosé

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Rosé is strongly associated with summer, and one particular style dominates: pale, bone-dry Provence. But beyond the well-known and familiar, there are a handful of exciting regions to explore. Barbara Drew MW turns her focus to the lesser-known rosé wines which should be on your radar this season. 

As the sun finally arrives, bringing with it warmth and the prospect of plenty of overdue celebrations, the entire European wine world turns its attention to a style of wine second only in seasonality to Port at Christmas: rosé.  

What is rosé? 

Rosé wine is often treated as a single, distinct style. However, in reality it covers a spectrum that spans the entire divide between white and red wines. Whilst white wines are made by taking white grapes, pressing them to get the juice out, and fermenting the juice without any skins, reds are the result of fermenting the juice and skins together, often for weeks at a time. Rosés can sit anywhere between the two, ranging from delicate wines with the faintest blush of colour, from almost no skin contact at all, through to rich, deep rosés, that are almost opaque.  

Some grape varieties lend themselves better to one style of rosé than another. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to give quite an intense colour to its rosé wines, and assertive red and black fruit flavours, whilst Pinot Noir normally results in paler wines, with light, fresh flavours. As a result, different wine regions tend to produce distinct styles of rosé. Once you’ve figured out which your preferred style is, finding it should be a doddle.  

Provence and Sancerre 

The first (and last) word in rosés tends to be Provence rosé: pale, peachy and ubiquitous. This is no surprise, given 90% of what Provence produces is rosé, accounting for over 40% of France’s rosé production annually. The main grapes here – Cinsault in particular – tend to produce very pale wines, and keeping skin contact during fermentation to an absolute minimum helps with that too. The result is fresh wines with light, fruity flavours and an incredibly smooth texture, the result of no harsh tannins extracted during fermentation.   

If this style of rosé appeals, then you can find something similar further north in the Loire. The Loire Valley, the longest river in France, produces a range of excellent rosés. Of the array of styles – some dry, some sweeter – found along this river, the best (in my view) are the delicate Sancerre rosés. Whilst most Sancerre is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, a tiny proportion of Pinot Noir is also grown here and turned into light-bodied reds and soft, pale rosés. And whilst the climate in this region has traditionally been cooler, leading to fresh, acid-driven wines, a flurry of warmer summers of late has resulted in wines that are fruitier and more rounded than in the past. David Sautereau – the winemaker behind our delicious Own Selection Sancerre – makes a fresh rosé with bright berry and floral aromas here.  Whilst this beautiful wine is light enough to drink on its own, it is also perfect with salads, particularly those with fruit woven through them (think peaches, tomatoes and burrata).  

For something a little more off-piste, and, indeed, paler still, from this region, Denis Jamain produces tiny quantities of a gorgeous vin gris in the village of Reuilly. Vin gris is a slightly unappealing term (meaning “grey wine”) that refers to an incredibly pale rosé that has been made simply by pressing red or pink grapes very firmly, to get a tiny kiss of colour, before instantly removing the skins from the juice. In this case, the Pinot Gris grapes, which can vary from a dusky grey to a rich lilac, lend the softest pink hue to the wine, as well as a tropical fruit character. A rare grape in this part of the world, this wine shows off the flavour complexity and unctuous texture of Pinot Gris to its best.  

Robust rosés 

For those who prefer their rosés a little more robust, look to warmer regions with grapes that are strong on fruit and alcohol. These lend themselves well to longer periods of skin contact during fermentation, giving more intense flavours and colour without adding tannins. Grenache, in particular, is a grape that works well for this type of rosé – found in the Southern Rhône and Navarra in Spain – making deep pink-orange wines with strawberry and citrus flavours, and often a kick of alcohol to boot.  

Less common in Spanish rosés is Tempranillo. This grape, more often found in the complex and silky reds of Rioja, can also be used to make a range of styles of rosé. In Ribera del Duero, south west of Rioja, Tempranillo is king. It tends to develop thick skins and intense flavours, resulting in strident wines of real character. By law, no white wines can be made here – so winery hands looking for something chilled to drink at the end of a long day during harvest turn to rosé (or, indeed, beer). Cillar de Silos, run by three siblings – Amelia, Oscar and Roberto – make an exquisite and deeply pink rosé from the windswept vineyards here, with bright strawberry and blackberry flavours. Fuller-bodied than the Loire wines at 14% alcohol, it is best served well-chilled with grilled meats and vegetables, or alongside the sweetness of a hard ewe’s milk cheese.  

For those looking for rosés from more unusual grapes, Italy has plenty to offer. Whilst rosé might not be the first style of wine one associates with Italy – our focus often being on the crisp, food-friendly whites or dense, tannic reds – the rosés often have exquisite herbal or mineral flavours, to complement their mouth-watering character. Try the redcurrant and hedgerow-scented rosés of Bardolino, or for something less tart, head further south. An excellent example is Graci’s Etna Rosato. Made on the slopes of Mount Etna from the spicy Nerello Mascalese grape, this wine has a wonderful balance of soft red fruit, a touch of pepper and a gentle creaminess on the finish. Pair with spicy Sicilian prawns and plenty of garlic.  

Shop our rosé selection here.

Category: Miscellaneous

Bordeaux 2020: five to watch

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Photograph: Cécile Perrinet Lhermitte, courtesy of Ch. Troplong Mondot

With so many châteaux making their best-ever wines today, it can be hard to know where to start. Max Lalondrelle, our Bordeaux Buyer, highlights five estates that should be on your radar when considering the 2020 vintage.

Ch. La Gaffelière

St Emilion | Premier Grand Cru Classé B

“In the face of global warming and high alcohol, La Gaffelière today is all about freshness. With 25% Cabernet Franc and growing, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Ausone, just next door.”

There have been vines at Ch. La Gaffelière since Gallo-Roman times. The arrival of the Malet-Roquefort family is a comparatively recent development; they bought the estate in 1705. Today, this is among St Emilion’s top properties, classified as a Premier Grand Cru Classé B since 1955. Situated next to Ch. Ausone, the property demonstrates the variety of St Emilion’s terroir: it sits in part on the limestone plateau, part on the slopes and part at the foothills. Limestone specialist Stéphane Derenoncourt has been the consultant here since 2004, taking over from Michel Rolland.

Ch. Meyney

St Estèphe

“Meyney is undergoing a rebirth: it’s consistently performing very well with the critics, and competing with the top wines of St Estèphe at a considerably lower price.”

Though it’s not a classified growth, Ch. Meyney occupies prime terroir in St Estèphe; it’s a single 50-hectare parcel of vines, next door to Ch. Montrose and overlooking the Gironde estuary. Meyney was once owned by the négociant Cordier, becoming well known for its iconic bottles. CA Grands Crus, the wine arm of France’s Credit Agricole bank, acquired it in 2004; Ch. Grand-Puy Ducasse in Pauillac is in the same portfolio. Director Anne Le Naour is one of the most prominent women in Bordeaux wine, and Hubert de Boüard of Ch. Angélus is the consultant. In Inside Bordeaux, Jane Anson writes that she would rank this a fifth growth by today’s standards.

Ch. Troplong Mondot

St Emilion | Premier Grand Cru Classé B

“With the new owners has come a completely new style, based on freshness rather than ripeness or boldness. Overlooking St Emilion, Troplong Mondot is a must-visit destination when we can travel again.”

Ranked a Premier Grand Cru Classé B in 2006, Ch. Troplong Mondot occupies enviable terroir atop St Emilion’s famed limestone plateau. Aymeric de Gironde, formerly of Ch. Cos d’Estournel, has led the estate in its new direction since 2017. Consultant Thomas Duclos took over from Michel Rolland the same year, producing profoundly fresh wines that encapsulate St Emilion’s recent stylistic shift. Its new owners, SCOR Insurance, have invested heavily here: there’s a brand-new winery, and the estate’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Les Belles Perdrix, has been temporarily closed to accommodate major refurbishment; it’s due to reopen this year.

Ch. Branaire-Ducru

St Julien | Quatrième Grand Cru Classé

“François-Xavier Maroteaux has picked up the baton from his late father, Patrick. With the new generation at the helm, the future of Branaire-Ducru is bright.”

Classified as a fourth growth in 1855, Ch. Branaire-Ducru makes pure and classic St Julien. The estate has recently passed from father to son: the widely respected Patrick Maroteaux – who had served at various times as president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux and the St Julien appellation – sadly passed away in 2017. His son François-Xavier has picked up the baton and continues his father’s legacy. The Maroteaux family bought the property in 1988 and have invested considerably in the vineyard and winery since. Superstar consultant Eric Boissenot advises here, as he does with many of the Left Bank’s top estates, including the Médoc’s four first growths.

Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot

St Emilion | Premier Grand Cru Classé B

“Julien and Juliette are a great couple, full of beans and with great ambition. They’ve led a complete turnaround at Beau-Séjour Bécot, they are the epitome of the St Emilion renaissance.”

This property has experienced some dramatic ups and downs in recent decades: it was classified a Premier Grand Cru Classé B in 1955, demoted in 1986 and promoted once again, as a Premier Grand Cru Classé B, in 1996. The terroir is outstanding, most of it atop the limestone plateau. Juliette Bécot and husband Julien Barthe represent the third generation of Juliette’s family here, along with her cousins Pierre and Caroline Bécot. Not so long ago, the wines were turbo-charged and Parker-friendly, ripe with lots of new oak and extraction. Under Juliette and Julien’s guidance, there has been a major turnaround stylistically. As at Troplong Mondot, Thomas Duclos consults here, having taken over from Michel Rolland.

Find out more about Bordeaux 2020 En Primeur.

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Ch. Les Carmes Haut Brion: vive la difference

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A small river that flows through the les Carmes estate is bisected by an impressive silver-prow of the boat-like Philippe-Starck designed winery
The impressive winemaking facility at Ch. Les Carmes Haut Brion, designed by Philippe Starck
We talk to Guillaume Pouthier, one of Bordeaux’s most forward-thinking and charismatic winemakers, about his quiet revolution at Ch. Les Carmes Haut-Brion.

Type “Ch. Les Carmes Haut-Brion” into Google Maps and you’re in for a surprise. From the air, this dollop of green – surrounded by a criss-cross of roads, houses and a sizeable university carpark – seems implausibly suburban. It’s not the setting you’d imagine for a deeply historic Pessac-Léognan vineyard. But then, there’s a lot about Les Carmes that’s not quite as you’d expect.

In the 400 years since Les Carmes Haut-Brion was established, Bordeaux’s sprawl has crept around its perimeter. Inside its wall, though, little has changed: the Grands Carmes monks established the vines in 1584; the estate was confiscated during the French Revolution; it was bought in 1840 by the Colin family, and there it quietly remained.

Then, just over a decade ago, property developer Patrice Pichet bought the estate. He enlisted Guillaume Pouthier, one of Bordeaux’s most forward-thinking and charismatic winemakers, as Director and – gradually – Les Carmes began to stretch its wings.

A PHILOSOPHY OF DIFFERENCE

Guillaume’s zeal and energy, along with his impressive winemaking pedigree (he arrived at Les Carmes from Rhône superstar M. Chapoutier), make for a formidable combination. “Les Carmes is so different to the Rhône, but I wanted to bring a new vision. I want to make great wine with a lot of typicity of the grapes, but also with a lot of singularity,” he says.

Guillaume uses one word more than any other when talking about his work at Les Carmes: “difference”. It’s at the heart of his gentle revolution. “This is a special place,” he says, “but it so important to show why it is a special place: to express what is different. We are not like other wines from Pessac-Léognan. The vineyard is close to Ch. Haut Brion, to Ch. La Mission Haut-Brion the most famous and best wines, but we don’t want to make a copy. I want to make a different wine that is the essence of this place.

“We’re in the centre of the city; we have a lot of Cabernet Franc; we make the wine with whole bunches; we make the wine only by infusion; we make the wine so that it can be drunk now and in 50, 60, 70 years. It is very different.” Indeed it is; there’s a lot to unpick.

Perhaps the root of Les Carmes’ difference lies in its vineyard’s DNA. “The variety of grapes here is unique,” Guillaume says. “You have a high proportion of 80-year-old Cabernet Franc. Normally, this variety of grape exists on the Right Bank – at properties like Ch. Cheval Blanc, Ch. Ausone, Ch. Lafleur. It’s very unusual – but very important for us, so we use Selection Massal.” Massal selection is a way of propagating vines that, unlike cloning, increases their genetic diversity. It means that the path ahead for Les Carmes’ vines and wines is one of increasing complexity.

LESS IS MORE

“The vision here is to make a picture of the wine each year,” Guillaume says. “We want to increase the definition each vintage – to increase the number of pixels in the image.” Contradictory though it may seem, Guillaume firmly believes that to dial up the “definition” and complexity in the wine you must do less, not more.

“I have to make the wine that nature has given me,” he explains. “At Carmes, we make the wine like in Burgundy. This is a very small place, eight hectares, so we put all the grapes in the final blend. It’s like Chambertin. The diversity of the place increases the complexity of the wine.”

Each year, the blend changes – not through a desire to achieve a particular style, but rather because of the quantity of fruit the vines produce: “The blend depends on the crop,” Guillaume says. “For example, 2020 is 40% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot.” Unusually for Bordeaux, all the grapes are fermented together – regardless of variety. “I simply take the grapes, put them in the vat and make the wine. If I do no more, everything is perfect.” 

Guillaume’s approach is notably “hands off”. He explains, “usually, during alcoholic fermentation you might pump over, or use pigeage, but for us it’s so different. We use an infusion: we put all the grapes in the vat right to the top, and touch nothing. You take just what nature wants to give you and no more.

“It’s hard, to sit back – it’s stressful – but it means you get the quality and structure and ripeness and softness in the tannin that’s really interesting. If the tannin is right, it means the wine is different: attractive and concentrated. Here, because we have a lot of sand and clay, and limestone subsoil, you can make a stronger wine if you want. It’s possible for me to have perfect density in my wine.”

BALANCE AND HARMONY

Les Carmes’ unusual urban location presents another curiosity for Guillaume. Here, thanks to the city microclimate, temperatures are higher and the grapes ripen earlier than in the rest of Bordeaux. “We pick 10 or 15 days earlier than outside Bordeaux, because the climate is so different.” To offset the potential for greater alcohol in the wine, Guillaume uses whole-bunch fermentation. “When you add whole bunches, you have more water which decreases the level of alcohol. For example, in 2020 we picked at 14.8 degrees, but after alcoholic fermentation – where we used 55% whole bunches – you have 13.7, a whole degree less alcohol.

“But, for me, what is important is not the level of alcohol, but the perfect balance and the harmony in the wine. I want to achieve the perfect balance between alcohol and acidity, but at the same time to increase the flavour and the texture of the wine.”

In his quest towards complexity, drinkability and typicity, Guillaume introduced clay amphoras in 2015. “I want to age the wine without adding anything,” he says. “When you put the wine in barrel you have spice and oak; it’s interesting for the complexity, but at the same time it’s not very pure. And for me it’s very important to be able to taste a pure expression of the wine so you can feel the grace, the sensation.” Around 10% of each final bottling comes from wine aged in amphora. “After two years, it still has the same nose as the day you put it in,” Guillaume beams. “It’s like you put something very powerful in the wine – juice and energy.”

This splicing of ancient ideas and modern techniques is also seen in Les Carmes’ new winemaking facility, which was opened in 2015. Above ground, the building is a glittering slice of Philippe Stark-designed architecture – a towering ship’s prow, bisecting the river Peugue which flows through the estate – referencing Bordeaux’s maritime history. Below ground, it’s a pristine chai, a temple to modern winemaking, but also to Guillaume’s hands-off techniques. Crucially, he explains, it’s a “passive” cellar: the temperature and humidity are regulated by the river which flows around it. “During the ageing of the wine we want a passive cellar. To make great wine with no intervention is very important.”

A VINTAGE TO BE PROUD OF

So what, then, did the conditions of 2020 mean for his wine? “It’s a vintage of conviction,” Guillaume says. “We had to adapt all the time. The first part of the season was very humid and then afterwards it was very dry. The hydric restriction was perfect: it created balance in the wines. It’s an amazing vintage, for us, it’s like 2016, ’18, ’19. For 2020, each detail is very important.

“I’m very proud of it, and the team who made it – when you consider the year, to make a wine in 2020 was magic. It’s the wine that I want to make; it’s the wine I want to drink. It’s not perfect,” Guillaume smiles, “but I try.”

Find out more about Bordeaux 2020 En Primeur.

Category: Miscellaneous