Chateau Margaux, Tuesday 7th October
Finally, we finished day 2 with a visit to the iconic First Growth, Chateau Margaux. No doubt the First Growths are the pinnacle of the world’s wine growing, and the glorious chateau exudes the heritage and centuries of tradition espoused in Margaux’s sacred terroir by a long line of some of the most talented wine makers ever. The history of the estate can be traced back to the 12th Century but it wasn’t until the arrival of the Lestonnac family in the 16th Century it became recognized for its wine production. In 1771 wine from Margaux became the first claret to be sold at Christies and it is of public record that Thomas Jefferson was also an aficionado.
Margaux today is wholly owned by Corinne Mentzelopoulos and, similar to the other First Growths, is a global super brand. The chateau, itself, has been undergoing a refurbishment designed by Sir Norman Foster, one of the world’s most notable modern architects. The new buildings will be revealed next summer.
The harvest was also near completion at Margaux and our host observed that September had transformed their opinion of the vintage at the end of August. “The unexpected warmth of the last month has been extraordinary and the climate conditions were similar to that of 1996 – in fact 2014 could well be likened to a modern day ’96. The levels of sugar are very high and the acidity quite high, the vintage is expected to be at the least very good.” We left Margaux with another positive view on 2014 and look forward to tomorrow, starting with Chateau d’Yquem, the jewel of Sauternes.
Chateau Pontet-Canet, Wednesday 8th October
With the bell tower of Angelus behind us and after a reviving lunch at Café Lavinal in Pauillac, where some excellent foie gras was perfectly accompanied by a velvety Sauternes, we arrived at Pontet-Canet. We were warmly welcomed by owner Alfred Tesseron and his niece Melanie to the chateau, which nestles in the Pauillac appellation near Chateaux Lafite and Mouton, to witness a bio-dynamic harvest in action.
With the harvest in its final week Melanie escorted us through the vines, alongside the working teams to explain Pontet-Canet’s bio-dynamic approach to producing fine wine. Alfred redesigned the harvest process in 1999 and much of this practice exists today with the grapes gathered by hand, and carried by the team of seven magnificent horses into the highly labour-intensive sorting rooms.The simplified practices used ensure the condition of the grapes is protected, keeping them uncrushed and not engaging processes like pumping over to avoid the risk of oxidation.
The introduction of horses in the management of the vineyard a few years ago was more than a romantic vision or PR angle, it is key to the ideology Pontet-Canet adopts in the optimum maintenance of their terroir and vines. Ulysse, Univers and five other magnificent Postier Bretons, who also enjoy the odd grape, are used with adapted devices to help work the vineyards and assist with the harvest. Melanie walked us through the team sorting the grapes and down to the vats and there were smiles all around. Pontet-Canet too has enjoyed and benefitted from the extraordinary September weather and you can feel the suppressed excitement. Melanie’s view; “It’s early days but 2014 is looking very promising and we are very happy.”
Chateau Angelus, Tuesday 7th October
The forecast for our second day on the 2014 Bordeaux harvest was heavy showers and exquisite wine and the day commenced with sunshine in the vines at Chateau Angelus. Home of the de Bouard family since 1782, Angelus has been considered one of the top Right Bank estates since 1989 and in 2012 was awarded the accolade of Premiers Grands Crus Classes A, one of only four St Emilion estates to be so honoured.
We were privileged to meet the extremely charismatic owner, Hubert de Bouard and his daughter Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal, who was appointed executive manager of the estate in 2012. That same year Angelus received its upgrade to Premiers Grands Crus Classes A and the vintage bottle has been especially commissioned with its 21.7 gold carat label due for delivery later this Autumn. Stephanie pointed out the extraordinary detail of the wonderful 10million euro refurbishment of the chateau by renowned architect Jean-Pierre Errath completed earlier in 2014.
With the 2014 harvest nearing completion both Hubert and Stephanie feel the vintage is looking extremely promising, with Stephanie going as far to say that they are very excited and the quality could be approaching 2010. Without a doubt Angelus sparkled in the sunshine this morning and following the optimistic statements on 2014, corraborating those received at Haut Brion yesterday, we headed towards the Left Bank with great expectations.
Chateau Haut Brion, Monday 6th October
At Vin-X we believe in quality not quantity (however when quality is found bring it on!), so we were very selective about the visits we planned for this week in the heart of the world’s greatest wine making region at this key time in their calendar.
September has seen “magical weather” as quoted by a key wine maker in Bordeaux and the harvest at First Growth Chateau Haut Brion is well underway with the Merlot nearly complete and the Cabernet now commenced. This is in part due to Haut Brion’s location within Bordeaux’s city boundary where the temperatures are generally 2 degrees warmer than the conditions at the other First Growths further north.
As a consequence Haut-Brion is normally the first of the region’s key chateaux to harvest and the press therefore look for the first indicator on a Bordeaux vintage here. It seemed therefore the logical place to start our tour of the First Growths during the 2014 harvest with a meeting with the uber-charming General Manager, Jean-Philippe Delmas.
We walked through this most beautiful chateau, breathing in 2014 as the grapes were being brought in and sorted feet away from us. Jean-Philippe’s opinion on the vintage was “it is still too early to provide a firm view, however the excellent conditions in September bode very well and the first tests would position the 2014 at Haut Brion to compare between the 2008 and 2012 vintages. Again the whites could be outstanding.” Obviously we are at the earliest possible stage to get the first hints of vintage quality but already the Bordelais are smiling suggesting “good things are to come from 2014”.
We then travelled to the Right Bank and drove through the vineyards of Pomerol to the medieval village of St Emilion where we were warmly welcomed at Chateau Troplong Mondot to dine at their exquisite restaurant, Les Belles Perdrix (tipped for a Michelin accolade in the New Year). Having enjoyed a bottle of the excellent 2004 Troplong we now look forward to visiting Angelus in the morning then back over to the Left Bank to Margaux tomorrow
Welcome to Peter Shakeshaft’s blog! I will be adding articles written by myself and the Vin-X team on current wine investment events!