Day 2: Medoc
Château Meyre Cru Bourgeois with Pierre Alexandre Gazaille, Export Manager
In the town of Avensan, bumping shoulders with the famed Margaux vineyards, Château Meyre has been humbly getting on as the first AB certified organic Cru Bourgeois. This has been a major focus for them since 2008– a goal that has really come to epitomise their identity, as their dedication inspired several of their neighbors to follow suit and seek them out for consulting in the humid, challenging maritime climate of Bordeaux.
Certification was not without risk and many mistakes in the beginning. The biggest lesson they learned was that there is little to be done after a problem occurs. Prevention, not prescription, is the way of organic viticulture. It is also a substantial loss of yield that one must account for in their budget and overall pricing. They admit, they are about as high as should be acceptable from a Cru Bourgeois to be competitive (roughly 25 euro). They are one of 278 Cru Bourgeois for the 2014 vintage. The following AOCs may be eligible for quality assessment and inclusion into this prestigious classification, second only to the Cru Classé system: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe.
They are grateful for the trends they are seeing away from ‘Parker’ styles, as they openly admit their terroir cannot support the oak needed for high points. They use a light toast and only 30% new oak on their wines for 12 months.
Château Lamothe-Bergeron Cru Bourgeois with Anne Melchior
Without a doubt, this was the most innovative, educational and high tech of our Bordeaux visits. At Lamothe-Bergeron, we were taken on the typical tour they would give to any tourist. A mirror on the wall of the Château transformed into an image of the estate’s founder, telling us their history. Following a short visit to the vineyards, we were taken to the winery. Purple lights glowed from beneath the massive inox fermenters. It remained dark, and a video projection appeared on the tank. It walked us through their fermentation process as the whole, destemmed berries fell by gravity into the vessel to undergo a cold soak for 3 to 4 days, and the addition of yeast began the alcoholic fermentation with mechanized pumpovers (to mitigate worker strain) and no pigeage for a moderate extraction. We walked into the next room as glass separated us from the barrel room. It went dark again and a 3D hologram like image appeared in front of us. We were going to witness the process of blending– the rigorous sample process that is so crucial to Bordeaux red blends.
During our tasting, there were instructional sheets on tasting, maps lining the room and perfect white lighting for clarity. I was so impressed by their focus on education. They were giving their guests access to moments that otherwise might remain ambiguous as they went from one winery to the next. Now, they were given the privilege to witness the process. This is important to them, as it gives a consumer confidence. They have the perfect opportunity as well, as these are potential clients that have come to Bordeaux as an engaged consumer. Lamothe Bergeron is very active with social media. The millennials are their next audience, and they need to stay relevant and interesting. They are zooming in on the interactive, transparent and tactile sensibilities of this new generation.
Château Margaux 1er Cru Classé
Following a filling lunch from Lamothe-Bergeron’s exquisite chef de cuisine, we headed towards Château Margaux for a remarkably different experience from Haut-Brion. It was designed more as a compound of sorts, and workers were milling about. It was not as monastic, rather a bustling little village. One could imagine the importance this winery had on its community through the ages.
Over the years, they have tried to be ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. They experimented with screwcaps beginning in 2003, with no published results as of yet. In 2008, they established a small biodynamic plot. While this doesn’t go into their wine, they can learn more about how these practices would affect their wine should they ever convert. They were also among the first to sample the optical sorter. They tried this 4 separate times and were unsatisfied. They are back to traditional hand sorting in the fields and then by hand on a sorting table. This was the only winery I saw of this caliber that did not adopt the optical sorting machine.
They begin fermentation in inox then transfer to a barrel to finish out primary fermentation and malolactic fermentation. This act of transfer midway allows for better oak integration, as they use 100% new french oak. They incorporate 10-20% press wine, depending on the vintage (a little more if challenging for structure and reinforcement), and their wines reflect 90% Cabernet Sauvignon– more than anyone else we saw.
We were fortunate to try the 2007– a vintage that many have tried to ignore ever happened for its trials and tribulations. It was cooler, rainy and late to mature. They could not even harvest Petit Verdot for this reason, so it was uniquely 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It smelled gorgeous– of mushrooms and wet leaves… a touch of olive and evolution. You could taste the rain, but it didn’t dilute the character. It was charming and real– a testament to terroir.
Château Brane-Cantenac 2nd Grand Cru Classé in Margaux with Georgia Lytra, Research & Development
The moment I met Georgia, technical director/winemaker for Brane-Cantenac, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite visits. She spoke a mile a minute with a Greek accent and shortly into the tour conveyed her passion and major area of focus for her PhD surrounding sensory chemistry. SHe identified the compound responsible for mintiness in the wine here as well as what contributes to fruitiness. Now, she is hoping to identify the precursors.
Unlike Chateau Margaux, Georgia does prefer the optical sorter. It has received so many sunburned grapes that were so subtly damaged, their human eyes never could have caught it. The health of the skins is everything in creating the perfect texture and flavor of the wine, so this cannot be risked if there is a solution like the optical sorter, in her opinion. The oldest Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are fermented in large wooden vats, while the youngest are in inox so as not to mute the freshness. Young Merlot requires the porosity of concrete to achieve a fuller fruit profile. Though they innoculate with F33–a common yeast for alcoholic fermentation, they opt for naturally occurring yeasts for malolactic, as it underscores a cassis aroma that defines their style. From 250 plots, they do rigorous blending trials to make the final decision. This occurs before elevage. She explained that even lab tests showed that blending before revealed more integration of tannins and structural components in the wine. It was more stable. Those who blended before elevage as opposed to just before bottling were nearly 50% of our visits. It was clear that wineries are very opinionated about which is better for them after many experiments.
On a final note, they were working on something else that was quite unique– a 100% Carmenere. It was fascinating! It was quite smoky and stemmy on the nose, but in a very attractive way–the 2015. There was ripe black fruit to balance the pyrazines. They are experimenting with this grape in preparation of climate change. They are curious to know if it is a worthwhile variety to reintroduce. By employing integral fermentation inside the barrel, the contact area of skins increases, giving this wine an explosive purple hue and intense fruitiness. Very interesting indeed.