Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Grand Chai Bordeaux 2009 Bottling

This morning the Grand Chai Bordeaux 2009 was finally bottled. The great 2009 vintage has been talked about quite a lot, and I can be very proud to say we have managed to capture this terrific vintage in a bottle for our customers!

Today we also welcomed Magali Hawkins to our Chai team and what better way to say bonjour than a rustic French lunch at the Voyageur and a taste of the newly bottled 2009 Bordeaux? Santé!

In the afternoon Jean-Marc and I were lucky to taste some old vintages of Bordeaux to see if we can find some things to make a special mixed case. We tasted from 1991 through to 2004 and came across some lovely wines which just show how well traditionally-made Bordeaux can age. I am sure most of these were undrinkable in the early part of their lives, but now the vision of the winemaker can be realised and enjoyed.

After the tasting I drove out to visit a Chateau in Puisseguin St.Emilion appellation. I had ‘tip off’ from Bruno Dellac (Chateau Tertre de Bel Air) that they were making some interesting things, so I went to find out myself and investigate further and I’m very glad I did. I learnt quite a bit about the dynamic owner Francoise Lannoye and before I knew it we were on our way to her other Chateau in St.Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Ambe Tour Pourret. Delicious wines and very smart cellars!

Meanwhile the Dordogne cellar has been very active today with Petit Denis was racking the 2009 Grand Chai St.Emilion from barrel. It’s early days but the first taste this evening is very promising indeed!


Thursday, 20 January 2011

Chateau Geneau

This morning I was out very early battling through the dense fog that often forms in the region at this time of year and relying on the Tom Tom to aim towards the tiny village of Virsac.

Virsac is situated on the right bank of the Dordogne just before it joins the Garonne to form the Gironde. The fog was so thick the whole way only the GPS could tell me I was driving though St.Emilion, Pomerol, Lalande de Pomerol, Fronsac, Canon-Fronsac and finally into Bourg and Blaye country!

I was here to transport some wine (130 000 litres actually!) from the outstanding Chateau Geneau. The property sits on a limestone ridge with vineyards also on sandy clay below and is owned by the Motut family, the vineyard, cellar and sales are all managed by family. I finally arrived at the Chateau after almost bumping into my own wine tanker lost in the fog to be greeted by the very hospitable but lively Monsieur Motut hopping about trying to please everyone. His youngest son David soon arrived to help get things organised and Monsieur Motut (and his wild handlebar moustache) soon settled down.

Later David explained to me just how passionate the family and his father are about their wines and it is certainly evident on tasting the wine. Monsieur Motut kept saying was so happy about the wine being finally recognised and being sent to the UK that he wanted every detail to be perfect. This is a relatively small estate in Bordeaux terms and when Jean-Marc and I had a chance tasting of the young 2009 wine we blocked the whole production immediately!

When the fog at last lifted I could at last see the Chateau home, the wonderful restoration of the very old cellars and begin to get an idea of the surrounding vineyards.

I was transporting the wine back up river to the bottling plant in Rauzan close to the Chai so that the blend and bottling is made under the best and most efficient conditions possible, but with each transport being only 26000litres it was going to be long day!

The blend was finished late last night and bottling is to be in 10 days time and it is going to be another quality for price Bordeaux in the range - and believe me you get a lot of wine for your money!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


The beautiful weekend weather here in Bordeaux coaxed everyone from the city out of the woodwork to enjoy the sunshine. Bordeaux really is a magnificent city, and if you have never visited then I truly recommend you do so.

Libby and I strolled down the historic quai that once was once bustling with wine merchant boats but now the river is empty; although the beautifully and modern restoration of the old quai buildings has now brought a new kind of bustle – one of city folk, shoppers, old, young couples, skate boarders, dog walkers, roller bladders…. all kinds of people, and it’s great! We wandered down to the Chartrons area where we could see the magnificent new Bacalan-Bastide bridge construction beginning to surface from the now finished submerged foundations.

The bridge that is being built is quite a feat and the biggest of its kind in the world. The bridge spans the Gironde and has an immense section that can rise horizontally from a low river bank position up to a height high enough to allow tall ships to pass underneath, and I now have even more in depth knowledge, from visiting the wonderful bridge exposition on the Quai that explains the full project.

I also took the opportunity to have my photo taken at the early bridge building stage!

Further to this there is another exposition of world’s greatest bridges featuring all the most famous and historical structures which included our very own Le Pont Neuf de Castillon-La-Bataille that was blown apart by the allies the same time as the Chai roof was - and there is the Chai Au Quai connection to our Sunday day out in Bordeaux!

For any spider lovers there is also an amazing random guest exposition on spiders! So with my bridge and spider knowledge up to scratch I was fuller equipped to buy an entire belly of pork which I then spent the rest of the day cutting up and cooking, eventually eaten with an also long awaited 2005 Grand Chai St.Emilion Grand Cru, both well worth the wait!


Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Secret Is Out!

Jean-Marc’s (I have to admit) original idea finally became a reality yesterday when our long awaited ‘La Part Du Boucher’ was officially blended.

Both Jean-Marc and I have over the last couple of years been holding back a couple of the best barrels (without telling anyone!) from each of the Chai red wines and to age them longer, with the vision to eventually blend different batches together. The different barrels of the blend have all been declassified from their original appellation to table wine, allowing us to blend the ultimate wine!

‘La Part Du Boucher’ is the term used to describe when a French butcher cuts the best pieces of meat off first to keep for himself and we have done the same with the wine. Fortunately for our Chai customers we have bitten off more than we can chew and the wine will now be up for grabs!

Yesterday’s racking was quite challenging and completely unorthodox as the barrels to make the La Part du Boucher are hidden all over the Chai! Petit Denis and I were up and down the barrel scaffold and in and out of the barrel stacks, racking out 1 barrel here and another over there all day.

Petit Denis has a saying that when you work in a couple in the cellar like this one of you is either the grenouille (frog) or the écureuil (squirrel), because one person will have to do all the climbing whilst the other stays down on the cellar floor soaking wet! I was the grenouille but I just wonder who will get prime place on the label!

In the evening, the egg white fining trials I set up yesterday were ready to taste. Egg white is used on red wines in tiny doses normally around 1-4 eggs per barrel to soften and remove excess tannins. However, in order to get the perfect dose winemakers always conduct fining trials consisting of a control wine and then the fining agent (in this case egg white) added to small bottles – at doses ranging from the minimum up to the maximum.

The egg white is then left to settle out (as it would in the barrel) overnight and the following day, with a lot of patience and concentration, each sample is carefully tasted and the best wine chosen. It’s a good job we have a long tasting bench in the office!


Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Le Grand Chai Bordeaux 2009

The 2009 barrel element of our Grand Chai Bordeaux was racked from barrel last week to our ‘NASA’ vat in the Dordogne. The conical vat shape has proved its worth as the sediment has settled out beautifully and thinly on the wide vat bottom, ready for today’s early morning transport to the bottling plant.

Petit Denis filled the two individual tanker compartments with CO2 to protect the wine whilst filling and the loading began. I then followed the tanker to the bottling plant to ensure a safe transport and, most importantly, a perfect unloading at the other end. During the week the other elements will join this part of the blend and I will make the final blend on Thursday ready for the bottling next week.

This afternoon we took a trip out to Chateau Tertre Daugay in St.Emilion to meet up with owner Alexandre de Malet Roquefort and visit the brand new cellars, which is home to our ‘L’Epiphanie Á Tertre Daugay’ wine. The last time I was here, all the barrels were in the make shift winery in the converted house and a huge crater outside was waiting to be transformed into the underground barrel cellar.

The cellar is now finished and it is quite something, with the circular top cellar housing the wood and stainless steel vats; and the naturally humid and temperature controlled barrel room situated directly below, allowing the use of gravity to fill the barrels at the most fragile stage of the wine’s life.

The tasting room is not quite finished so a table was set up in the winery where Tony, Henry, JMS and I tasted first the recently bottled ‘2008 L’Epiphanie A Tertre Daugay’ – a seriously rich and dense but fresh wine with lovely soft tannins; needs a bit of time though I reckon.

Chateau Tertre Daugay and its Grand Cru vineyards are situated on the far west corner of the St.Emilion limestone plateau overlooking the lower slopes of St.Emilion and the Dordogne River. This relatively small estate has a complex and diverse terroir (as do all the other estates) with the vineyards being fermented and aged separately. Tasting the wines from these plots made the second part of the tasting very interesting indeed.

The differences found from one vineyard to the next – just metres apart – is mind-boggling, and shows just how hard it is to make (and remember!) each tiny property. But this is exactly what makes winemaking so addictive! My notes on the 2009 vintage below from the different vineyards begin to show the individual characters that will be so important to making a truly magnificent final wine.

1. Sud Ouest Haut Daugay: very fresh, classy ripe plums with violets
2. Cote Sud Daugay: sharper fruit, more tannin structure and wood showing (to re-taste)
3. Le Balcon Sud Daugay: (Fermented in wooden vats), sweet cassis fruit, long ripe finish
4. Castelou Daugay: fragrant lavender, fuller grape tannin and good acidity
5. Cabernet Franc (100%): perfumed violet, full round palate and spice

Let’s see how these get on over the next couple of months!!


Friday, 7 January 2011

A Happy New to all from Le Chai Au Quai

After a well-earned Christmas break from what was a very long harvest period, it’s full steam ahead once again at the Chai. The wines also seemed to enjoy the break and on tasting all the barrels earlier this week, certain white wines are starting to resemble the finished article. Now for the big bottling plan!

Jean-Marc flew in very early this morning and we spent the morning at the Chai catching up and making the vital bottling plans for 2011. After a good French lunch we headed to the tiny village of Saint Leger in the Entre-Deux-Mers to see an old friend Philippe Cazade at his 80ha family property Chateau Roc De Cazade.

Philippe is an extremely passionate wine guy and has lots of experience in all aspects of the wine trade, but has returned to his roots and is once again working alongside his mother and father to push the estate into a more modern era. However, he is still very old-fashioned when it comes to hosting people for tastings!

On arrival, the different samples from the vats and barrels were laid out with tasting glasses as is the norm, but Philippe does it the old way, and the open fire is soon blazing away burning with vine trunks and three large duck breasts are rapidly placed on the grill as soon as the coals turn white – even though we tried to explain that we had already eaten! Mother Cazade then suddenly appeared with a dish of prepared cepes that Papa Cazade had found that morning and before we knew it we were well into lunch number two!

Watercress salad (the lightest thing on the table) and an array of ripe cheeses followed just because it is. During the second lunch we tasted through his beautifully made white and red wines from 2009 and 2010. Philippe’s philosophy is not to make tiers of quality but to make simply one excellent red and white from his vineyards situated at the highest point of the Entre-Deux-Mers region.

It is an interesting view on making wine as many winemakers feel the need to make a ‘super cuvee’ but this almost often results in a fall of quality in the now ‘second’ wine due to the most complex and concentrated element having been removed to create the ‘super cuvee’. The result here however is a modern stylish Bordeaux that tastes way above the price it is sold at so if you like a true bargain keep an eye open for the 2009 Chateau Roc De Cazade.

After a quick tour around the cellars bumping into mother and father Cazade busy on the bottling line along the way!

We finally left (albeit a bit full) from chez Philippe and took the road out towards Langon and into sweet wine country. At Langon, just before Sauternes, we turned to head back towards Bordeaux along the east side of the Garonne, passing through Saint Croix de Mont, Loupiac and Cadiallac – every village peered down upon by a spectacular Chateau. We were here however to find not sweet wines and with a sudden turn inland and into higher ground we were back in red wine country.

Jean-Marc’s usual “I know a short cut because I am French” soon got us lost, but eventually we were back on track towards Chateau Camail, and another twist in the terroir creating not only new scenery but a change in soil. Those who think generic Bordeaux is all the same are very wrong indeed, as at every corner I turn there is a different soil and an individual micro climate, with new wine waiting to be discovered. I can assure sure there is plenty of life outside of the Grand and Premier Cru wines!

Chateau Camail is another ‘Petit Bordeaux Chateau’ (a term widely used for non classe chateaux found outside the famous appellations). It is certainly not a ‘Petit Chateau’ in physical terms as can be seen in the photo! The Chateau stands high on the ridge of the Premier Cotes de Bordeaux appellation where Florence and Francois run their family owned estate.

We tasted the 2009 and 2010’s (fortunately not accompanied by grilled duck) and Jean-Marc and I made a lovely 2009 blend from the different elements available. Once again, a ‘petit Bordeaux chateau’ proving to have an individual style, and another real gem to add to a range that is fast becoming a superb representation of the forgotten Bordeaux region.

I drove back across the Entre-Deux-Mers back to St.Colombe to pick up Tony and Henry for dinner at the Comptoir de St.Genes, where we were joined by Libby, Jeremy (our wine writer) and the Todeschini brothers Karl and Yann of Chateau La Brande. Remy the chef was in fine form as always and my palombe (white wood pigeon) salad was exquisite. We played the usual game of decanting some local wines and tasting them blind and a relieved Tony, Henry and Todeschini’s managing well to spot their own wines!

All tasting beautifully, the wines we tasted blind were:
Château La Brande 05
Presbytère 04
Château Verniotte 08

A long day and so much for the after Christmas diet, JMS and I decide we will start the diet next week!