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.”