Tue 28 Oct 2014

Losing One’s Bordeaux Virginity…

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The view fromo the front door of Château Rauzan-Ségla through the vines across to Château Palmer

The view from the front door of Château Rauzan-Ségla through the vines across to Château Palmer

So where do you go in Bordeaux when leading a group of eight people who have never visited the area before? Thankfully The Society’s Bordeaux address book is second to none, and so it was with great pleasure and anticipation that I constructed a 48-hour visit for my colleagues to try and cover as much ground as possible while still keeping things manageable.

The Society takes small groups of staff out to wine-producing regions once or twice a year. This experience really helps our team understand first hand what wine is all about – on this trip, deliberately timed to coincide with harvest time, we saw picking, destemming, sorting and pressing of grapes, together with pumping over of fermenting and macerating wine in vats, racking of previous vintages in barrel and bottling, labelling, packing and loading for shipment. In fact, we saw every part of the process. Quite a bit of tasting went on too!

Château Beaumont, our base.

Château Beaumont, our base.

On arrival at Château Beaumont which was our base for our two-night stay and has been a supplier to The Society for over three decades), we were greeted by Mary Dardenne of the CIVB’s Ecole de Vin who took us through a fun and interactive two-hour session comprising things historical, geographical, olfactory and gustatory to give the ‘newbies’ a good grounding in what Bordeaux is all about. Most have WSET qualifications, but many were gained in the dim and distant past, so it was great to get this instant refresher under our belts.

 

Julie, Debbie, Sue, Debbie Tracy and Cheryl on the terrace at Beychevelle

Julie, Debbie, Sue, Debbie, Tracy and Cheryl on the terrace at Beychevelle

After that we were able to go and scrub up before a sumptuous dinner at Château Beychevelle, a 3rd classed growth, just up the road in Saint-Julien. The view from the château to the Gironde is spectacular, and was followed by dinner where the wines poured by our generous hosts included Beaumont 2009, L’Amiral de Beychevelle 2006, Beaumont 2005, Beychevelle 2002 and Beychevelle 1983 – the latter is a grand and elegant old lady who still has a few more years left in her.

 

The famous bell tower of Saint-Emilion seen through the morning mist at Château Canon

The famous bell tower of Saint-Emilion seen through the morning mist at Château Canon

 

Up early the next morning to head to Château Canon in Saint-Emilion. A tour of the vat house was followed by an underground tour of the limestone quarries that are dug underneath the town of Saint-Emilion. A quick sip of the 2009 and the 2011 and we were off to see a long-standing partner of The Society, Vignobles Despagne in the village of Naujan-et-Postiac in the Entre-Deux-Mers region.

 

 

Bel Air Perponcher's very effective intruder alarm system

Bel Air Perponcher’s very effective intruder alarm system

The warmest of welcomes from brother & sister team Thibaut and Basaline Despagne was followed by a brisk walk across the vineyards past the watchdogs … er, I mean watchgeese (and very effective they are too!) to the Château Bel Air Perponcher winery where we watched the very last of the whites come in from the harvest. We also sampled the unfermented juice from three cuves – two of sauvignon blanc and one of semillon. The tell-tale characteristics – grassiness for the sauvignon, honey and oatmeal for the semillon – were already apparent, giving substance to the adage that winemaking starts in the vineyard.  After a hearty lunch with the Despagne office team, accompanied by samples of just about every wine they make, we visited the older Girolate vineyard (read Jancis Robinson’s article here) where they make their premium red (bought regularly by The Society en primeur), and where we also sampled grapes straight off 80-year-old semillon vines, which were deliciously ripe and rich, and rotting nobly to provide an experimental bottling of sweet wine.

The view across the Dordogne valley from Bélair-Monange

The view across the Dordogne valley from Bélair-Monange

Back to Saint-Emilion to another Bel Air, this time Edouard Moueix’s home property of Château Bélair Monange (named after Edouard’s great-grandmother). A tour of the historic cellars, with some very old bottles on show, was completed in the late afternoon sunshine with a beautifully ripe and elegant glass of the 2010, before heading on into Bordeaux itself for dinner at one of the busiest, happening  and best addresses in the city – la Brasserie Bordelaise. It was good to spend some time as a team without suppliers around, so we could all get to know each other a little better. The beauty of such a trip is that people from different departments intermingle, learn about each other and can work better together to members’ benefit on our return to the hallowed corridors of St Evenage.

Breakfast (alcohol-free) merlot tipple - Julie, Tracy, Debbie, Dave, Sue, Tom, Debbie, Cheryl and Etienne Priou

Breakfast (alcohol-free) merlot tipple – Julie, Tracy, Debbie, Dave, Sue, Tom, Debbie, Cheryl and Etienne Priou

Up at sunrise on the final day for breakfast, supplemented in the chai at Château Beaumont with a glass of newly crushed merlot served up by estate manager Etienne Priou – then a quick play on the real live Tonka toys before heading to Margaux for our last two appointments.

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Debbie in the cab of Beaumont’s brand new harvesting machine

Ben Sichel explains the finer points of winemaking at Angludet

Ben Sichel explains the finer points of winemaking at Angludet

The first was at the Sichel family’s Château Angludet. Winemaker Ben, the youngest of the five brothers (Allan, David, James, Charles and Ben) gave us a fascinating, informative and passionately presented tour of the winery. For me, the highlight was the tasting of three special bottles – each a single varietal wine from the 2008 vintage. At Angludet they blend cabernet sauvignon, merlot and an unusually high proportion of petit verdot (planted to 15% in the vineyard), and by tasting each of the elements in their developed state it was clear to see the various elements that make up the blend. Very educational, and not something I’ve personally seen (or tasted) before from any grower.

One of six sorting tables at Rauzan-Ségla - three for bunches and three for berries

One of six sorting tables at Rauzan-Ségla – three for bunches and three for berries

Our final visit was to Château Rauzan-Ségla, second classed growth, owned (like Canon) by Chanel. Dumbarton-born John Kolasa is the general manager of this chocolate-box château, and the wines we tasted and then drank at lunch alongside John, the pickers and sorters (Ségla 1998 in magnum and Château Rauzan-Ségla 1996) are exquisitely fine. It was a fitting end to such a whistle-stop educational tour of the world’s most famous wine region. The visit is one that the group (from member services, accounts, the buying team and the warehouse) will never forget. Seeing the operation in real time, meeting and talking with our loyal suppliers, has enhanced their view of both Bordeaux and The Society’s activities in Bordeaux, and will enable them to serve you, the members, just that little bit better than we already do.

Hats off to our Bordeaux buyer, Joanna Locke MW, and her predecessor in Bordeaux, Sebastian Payne MW, for maintaining and growing these key relationships so well for our mutual benefit.

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Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Bordeaux, France

Comments

  1. Bill George says:

    Do you have any vacancies?

  2. Stephen Booth says:

    all those wines and only 48 hours? Oh dear. . .

  3. Mike Dodson says:

    Ewan,
    I have suggested to you before that this is exactly what many of the members would love to do. The Society should have a wine experience offering; Burgundy, Champ. Rhone, Alsace, Tuscany etc.
    I am sure that it would be a great extension of your services.

  4. Rob Caird says:

    I agree with the previous comment. An organised trip like this would be very popular with members. It would be so much better that the occasional random visit to a vineyard.

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