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Bordeaux Avec mes Amis — Sept
The next morning we were up again, before the chickens, as we prepared for our first visits in the Left Bank. The drive was formidable for our location, considering the traffic around the city of Bordeaux. After breakfast we departed, trusting Ms. G to lead the way. I began to become nervous as we headed in a northerly direction on the wrong side of the massive estuary. Possibly there was a newly constructed bridge which would allow our crossing. We entered the small town of Blaye and then veered in the direction of La Gironde, where the crossing had to be located. Indeed it was, yet there was no structure, only a ferry landing. I walked over to the posted schedule and was for a moment delighted to see that we were right on time for the next boat arrival. Then, I noticed there was an alternate schedule for weekends and holidays. As luck would have it, we were traveling on Wednesday, May 1, the French equivalent of our Labor Day. Thus, the next boat would not arrive until 10 am. with our first appointment scheduled for 9 am.
I had been so good, driving comfortable speeds so as not to upset the law-abiding, “take it easy” natures of my friends. There was less than an hour to go before our visit, so with some expletives yelled skyward, I transformed into Mr. Hyde. I programmed her back to the Bordeaux airport, knowing that this would take us down to the bridge we had originally crossed coming to Libourne. Once across the bridge, I could stop again and reprogram for our Left Bank destination. I drove like a demon, breaking speed-limits and passing restrictions. My passengers remained silent. We arrived in the parking area of our destination, Château Pichon Longueville Baron, only 7 minutes late. I rushed to the “Accuel” doorway and was comforted to discover that our host, Fabien, was a tad late as well, having celebrated the coming holiday a bit too much with his friends the night before. With a few deep breaths, Dr. Jekyll returned.
Château Pichon Baron is possibly the most beautiful Chateau structure in all of Bordeaux. The modern subsurface winery and storage chambers, between the service buildings and beneath the reflection pool, are sights to behold as well. We started our tour outside, in the front of the old Chateau, constructed in 1851. With the reflection pool in the foreground, this snapshot is widely utilized in numerous Bordeaux wine country promotional publications. It is uninhabited, but serves as a beautiful setting for formal dinners and luncheons, attended by the wine buying elite.
The vineyards contain 73 planted hectares, 60% in Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. They ferment grapes by plots in 40 separate vats. New oak is utilized, and the Grand Vin ages for 18 months. Blending takes place after 6 months of aging. Wine making, sorting and bottling all occur in these underground chambers. We were allowed to taste the 2008 vintages of their two second labels and the Grand Vin. I will report that the showcase vintage needs more time, or at least a bit of decanting to be considered ready to consume. Notes of spice, cedar and licorice were prominent, with oaky flavors of dark fruits.
As we departed for our second stop of the morning, Chateau Lynch Bages, the cloudy sky yielded rain. This was the longest continual shower that we would encounter the entire trip. Umbrellas and/or rain gear had been packed, but the early morning’s atmosphere did not offer a hint, so everyone was unprepared. We pulled into the parking area early and waited to see if it would stop. NOT. Lynch Bages had quite a compound, with a full service restaurant and gift shop on the premises. Fortunately, we parked a short way from the visitor’s entrance, awaited a lull and then bolted. Our female host, Morgan, was soon in our midst, and the tour of the facilities began.
She explained that in 1740, Thomas Lynch married the daughter of the owner of the Bages estate. He and his wife inherited the estate in 1749. Their second son, Jean-Baptiste was gifted the property upon his marriage and became a distinguished public servant of Bordeaux. No heirs followed, so the property fell from this family’s ownership to the Cayrou family. By 1855, it was awarded only a Fifth Growth classification. Vineyard management was handled by Jean-Charles Cazes following the First World War, and it has remained with his descendants. The property has yielded much higher rated vintages ever since being tendered to his family’s care. Besides the Grand Vin, the estate now produces a White Bordeaux and Muscat in the 100 planted hectares.
The interior of their facility, appearing modern in construction, had 45 impressive stainless steel vats for the red wine (utilized since 1975), and 4 concrete vats for the whites they produce. Sorting is done by machine. Juices and skins are pumped into the vats forming “the cap,” and the juice is pumped-over three times during fermentation. This cap of skins and pulp is pressed, with its juice also utilized in the final blending. Red wine is aged in 60 to 80 percent new oak for 16 months, and fined the old fashioned way with pasteurized egg whites.
We tasted the 2006 vintage. The sample had bold fragrance but seemed way too young for me to offer any assessments of final characteristics. The blending of this vintage was 79% Cabernet, 10% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc and the balance Petit Verdot. At the conclusion we were ushered to the exit of the touring route, which conveniently placed visitors at the entrances of the gift shop and restaurant. Go figure. Yet, this spot was a long run in the rain to our car. So, I volunteered to get drenched while the others awaited me to drive around and pick them up.
Hopes were high for our third and final visit of the day, Chateau Pontet Canet, since this was the place I had been schooled on the art of Biodynamic vineyard-care by their illustrated Vineyard Manager Jean Michel Comme. Most unfortunately, he was not on-site that day because of the Labor Day holiday. We were early, so our lovely host Violynne allowed us to share the tour of the property with another group. Without Jean Michel, everything was a bit less interesting, although keeping things in perspective, this experience was no “stick-in-the-eye.”
Violynne explained that Jean Michel scheduled everything in the vineyards from the lunar calendar. There are 5 horses which are utilized for tilling and harvest on 40% of the vineyard. We were told that Jean Michel’s policy of no pesticides, no green harvest and no pruning of vines during the growing season, allowed the natural processes of the vines to be preserved. All grapes are hand picked and hand sorted at harvest. Although traditional wooden and stainless steel vats are utilized, there is a program in place by which all of these will eventually be replaced by epoxy coated concrete vats. Wine is stored in 50% new oak barrels for 14 to 16 months.
Returning to the visitor’s entrance, there was a table which had been prepared for our tasting of the 2012 vintage, still in barrel. The wine was modest in fragrance and flavor, with soft tannins and the normal P/C minerality. It appeared to be suffering from the problems of the 2012 growing season, like many. We were then offered tastes of the 2007 vintage. It was planned for just our group, since we were “press,” but there was a sufficient amount available for the others as well. Although not the blockbusters of 2009 and 2010, this wine was much more substantial, with noticeable dark fruits and licorice, medium body and a moderate finish. It managed ratings in the lower 90’s with both of the major reports.
The rain and drizzle had halted, and since there was no fourth appointment scheduled for that day, we explored with “drive-by” type views of Chateau Montrose, Chateau Cos Estournel and Chateau Mouton Rothschild and then we headed southward to Margaux for a close look at Chateau Lascombes. I really wanted to let the guys experience that place, but it proved to be one of the casualties of inflexible scheduling. Lascombes is yet another beautiful property, with impressive ivy adornments on the Chateau. Its history relating to the Judgment of 1976 and the World Wars (Première Bordeaux articles) is truly awesome. After we all walked around the campus of this closed-for-the-holiday facility, it was time to be heading back to our lovely Chateau LaRoque homestead and the enticing smells/flavors of Christophe’s culinary creations for the evening.
Château Pichon Longueville Baron
Chateau Lynch Bages
Chateau Pontet Canet
Chateau Mouton Rothschild