Lead by example (Bordeaux, France – Day Four)

If you don’t work in the wine industry then Bordeaux can be one of the best wine experiences you can have. For one thing the old part of the city of Bordeaux is quite beautiful and offers many epicurean delights (although wine lists are very inconsistent and of course parochial). There are plenty of places to stay providing your budget isn’t too small, and it is quite easy to get around thanks to the buses and trams. Getting out to the wineries means renting a car or joining a tour which by all accounts are great with some tour being allowed to visit some of the top producers. There are thousands of producers to choose from and they are all relatively close to the city. The chateaus are often beautiful and the cellars are filled with flashy fancy equipment and plenty of new barrels. Speaking personally I find Bordeaux to be one of the most boring regions to visit, in no way impressing me and making very little attempt to impress me. For one the thing they have a very homogeneous and flat landscape offering one less influence on the terroir. As I have mentioned in the past fancy wineries and modern equipment don’t offer anything if you aren’t understanding and expressing your terroir well, which in most cases they are not (partly because in my opinion the terroir isn’t that good to begin with). I also feel they aren’t making respectful wines when they are doing pretty heavy maceration and new oak maturation, resulting in wines that don’t begin to drink until many years after they are released. The system of selling also is completely out of touch and arrogant in my opinion. There is a good reason why other regions in France and Europe get frustrated with Bordeaux, but at the same time their influence has been so strong on other producers around the world.
A lamp shade in the shape of the mouton of Mouton-Rothschild

My first appointment of the fourth day was yet another disappointment of the highest order as it was to one of the first-growth estates. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was initially only designated a second-growth grand cru estate in Bordeaux, and subsequently dedicated everything they could to gaining the recognition they deserved. They achieved this in , finally joining such illustrious estates as Latour and Margaux. Like many other estates in the region they have had huge impact on the world of wine, and have not only established other wineries in France and abroad but have partnered with pioneers in the Napa Valley and Maipo Valley in establishing iconic wines, both of which I visited last year. The reasons for my disappointment stemmed partly from the fact that due to their renovations I was unable to see anything of the winery, and they spent almost no time actually explaining how they make their wines, only on the prestige and history. I learnt about this mostly through a heavily produced promotional video that explained little and covered information I mostly knew. In spite of the fact that I had requested it in lieu of the winery being unavailable I didn’t get the vineyard tour I was promised, and thus learnt nothing of this either. Finally as you probably could guess the tasting once again was of one wine, this time the 2010 vintage of the chateau wine, which as usual was far too young. I am also aware that I sound like a broken record, but thems the brakes. Click here to read my notes on the wine.

Immaculate vineyards at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild

My second appointment of the day was much of the same; a winery I couldn’t see and vineyards I had to walk around myself. I was hosted by a few people of more importance and was thus able to squeeze some additional information out of the experience. Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is quite a mouthful and is usually shortened to Pichon-Lalande. Located opposite Baron Pichon-Longueville who I visited on my second day in Bordeaux, they are is a way the sister winery in the sense that the chateau was split between the male and female heirs of the chateau only just before the 1855 classification which saw them both achieve second-growth status which they retain to this day. Not surprisingly they are considered to be the more feminine estate both philosophically and stylistically. The chateau more recently was purchased by the family who own Louis Roederer, making this the fourth estate of theirs I have visited. Of course a sense of tradition and family are core to the continued philosophy, and this rings true to the several estates they own in Bordeaux that are managed by the same team. I was welcomed by Astrid Guillaume and also the technical director who was able to answer all of my probing questions about the viticulture and oenology of the estates. For the tasting I was able to look at the different estates from the 2011 vintage as well as one with a bit of age which was a nice change. Click here to read my notes on the tasting.

Chateau Pichon-Lalande

For my third appointment I visited another winery that is connected to one I visited earlier in the week. As I mentioned the Leoville estate – one of the first and greatest in Saint-Julien – was split many years ago between descendants with most of the holdings going to the family and a quarter being sold to the Barton family to create Leoville-Barton. A further division of the remaining three quarters occurred in 1840 the sister of Pierre-Jean (the Maréchal de Camps under Napoleon) inherited a small stake of the estate, and her daughter married the Baron Jean-Marie de Poyferré to create Chateau Leoville-Poyferré. In 1855 the estate was classified as second growth which it retains today, but the ownership changed quite soon after this with an oidium outbreak and financial difficulties. So like many chateaus in the Bordeaux region the current owners are not the original ones, with the estate being owned by the Cuvelier family since the end of the First World War. They were able to purchase the estate in part due to the effects of phylloxera which led the former owners to sell. The Cuvelier’s like many others were already experienced with Bordeaux having operated as merchants for almost 100 years. Leoville-Poyferre added to other Bordeaux assets such as Chateau Le Crock, but Leoville-Poyferre was and still is their crowning glory.

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre

I was welcomed to the estate by Anne Cuvelier, an actual member of the family who own the estate for an surprising change. Anne explained how much of the recent success has been partly to do with the consultation of famed Bordeaux winemaker Michel Rolland, and partly to do with the recent improvements to the cellars. One expensive but valuable addition to the cellars was the large optical sorter which has removed a lot of the manual work done previously. On the property vineyards were reworked, and new areas were developed mostly for planting cabernet sauvignon. Quality has only been improving and recently the 2009 Chateau Leoville-Poyferre was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker. The potential to produce an exceptional wine perfectly expressing the terroir has finally been realised after almost 100 years. Along with a few vintages of the Chateau Leoville-Poyferre I was able to taste a few others from other estates owned by the family, and you can read my notes here.

The large optical sorter being prepared for the 2012 vintage

Click here to see more photos from my fourth day in Bordeaux, France. My final day is spent back in Sauternes and Saint Emilion.

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