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Première Bordeaux - semaine prochaine- mardi matin
The next morning was yet another beauty. The day started with a 9 am. appointment at second-growth Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Lalande in the southern extremity of Pauillac. I allowed time for the anticipated roadway closure, as experienced the day before… correctly assessed. After several eye-opening games of French Roulette on the narrow by-pass roadway, I arrived at the coordinates that my host Astrid GUILLAUME had emailed me months before. I parked in front of the most splendid Chateau structure yet seen on this trip. Entering the visitor’s office early and asking for Astrid, I discovered she had given me coordinates for the “brother” property Baron, across the street. This was really a no-problem situation, because it was literally just diagonally across D-2 where the proper entrance for Lalande awaited. Astrid was there to greet me, and not at all interested in the proper GPS input for this facility which was offered…(twas just my OCD flaring up… I remained calm..)
She seemed a bit rushed, due to some reorganizing and renovation that was ongoing that morning, further complicated by the arrival of a tractor-trailer rig with its mobile bottling assembly-line, connecting to the side of the barrel storage building for commencement of that process for their 2009 vintage. Lalande was the only winery I encountered on this adventure which subcontracted its bottling process. It was just me scheduled for this early tour, so we whisked through many of the preliminaries as she barked out orders to some of the workers. Astrid was extremely hospitable and polite to me, however. I noticed right away that there were many more women in positions of importance than the others I had visited. The reason why may have been an integral part of the history of this estate.
The Pichon estate dated back to 1646, with the marriage of Anne de Longueville and Baron Bernard Longueville. Their second son, Jaques de Pichon-Longueville married Theresa de Rauzan, whose family owned vineyards in Margaux. These heirs continued in that tradition, purchasing plots in southern Pauillac in 1689. The property passed down through several generations to an heir named Joseph, who was proprietor during the French Revolution. It was the newly established Napoleonic Law which required property to be passed to all heirs, no longer just the eldest male. Joseph had five children; three were female and two males. Driven by differences of opinion about the styles of wine they would create, the two brothers would join with their allocations of vineyard property to establish Pichon-Baron, and the three sisters allied to form Pichon-Lalande. The brothers’ approach was to create big masculine wines and the sisters’ a softer, more subtle expression which exhibited their femininity. Sadly both fell out of family control by the early 20th century. Today, Pichon-Lalande has 90 hectares under vine, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot. Their second vintage is Comtess de Lalande.
Astrid had two vintages of Lalande for me to sample. One was their 2004 and the other was a barrel taste of the 2010. The tannins on the barrel taste were still a bit sharp, but it was obvious that this wine would progress into the Merlot driven softness exhibited in my taste of the 2004. Femininity of style remains the winery’s theme.
Departing the property, I noticed that the bottling trailer had successfully connected to the building, with the assembly line of 2009 bottles being filled and corked. It was interesting to watch this process, concentrated into a relatively small area. The sides of the trailer lifted up (similar to a mobile lunch wagon), offering weather protection to the operation, if required. Then, I snuck across to the Chateau (with no access signs posted) which was in the midst of a major remodel. It would need years of work (in my humble opinion) to match the beauty of the one that the brothers had constructed across the road. Baron would be my next appointment at 11 am.
I crossed D-2 and parked in the same location as before. Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Baron, the part visible from above ground had two modern plaster and stone buildings on either side of a reflection pool accenting the 19th century Chateau. As expressed earlier, this was the most (literally) awesome Chateau that I would see on this trip. I stood in front of it hypnotized, as stereotypically dressed French maids went from window to window, adjusting drapes and opening shutters in preparation for the luncheon for dignitaries which would soon take place that afternoon. I lusted to be inside for the visions of grandeur which no doubt existed in each hall and chamber. As my appointment time drew near, I broke away with a shudder. The visitor’s office was in the southern-most support building. I was greeted by awaiting staff and asked for the person with whom I had been communicating by email for the appointment. Céline remembered our correspondence, but told me I would be personally guided through the facility by Nicolas SANTIER, the Director of Public Relations. I continued to marvel at my first-class treatment as an American wine journalist.
Like clockwork, Nicolas appeared with a warm greeting and invited me to join him for a tour of the facility. We walked to a hallway and down a long stairway to what turned out to be a massive subsurface chamber below both of the modern buildings and the reflection pool in front of the Chateau. Baron was in the process of bottling as well, yet their equipment was owned. We walked above this ongoing process, and the view was educational. Each phase could be easily tracked as a particular bottle was followed through the assembly line. The vats for fermentation were stainless steel and the barrel aging was much like the others visited. Even though there were thermal benefits from being below ground, air-conditioning was still necessary because the thickness of soils above did not quite yield the required storage temperatures.
Nicolas explained that their vineyards were progressing toward becoming biodynamic as they continually sought ways to reduce or eliminate many pesticides, still applied by most of their competitors. They had not yet reached the independence level to become certified organic by the Appellations d'Origine Contrôlées. There are 73 hectares under vine, of which 60% is Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot.
After the tour of these facilities, we proceeded to a special above-ground room in one of the new buildings, dedicated to tasting. There I was offered samples of the 2004, 2009 and 2010 vintages. The 2010 taste was more refined in style and naturally more tannic. Time was definitely required. As we progressed to 2009, the wine was big and bold, with mellow tannins (definitely drinkable). That vintage will be a great acquisition for futures buyers. The 2004 was very enjoyable, but more the refined, softer style that I would have expected across the street at Lalande… definitely no slouch, however.
Nicolas then told me that he regretted that he had to depart my company, because he was the host for the luncheon that was being prepared in the Chateau. He informed me of several important dignitaries who would be attending. I smiled and raised my eyebrows, as if I recognized and was awed by these names. It seemed the polite thing to do. I really wanted to ask him if there was room for another plate at the table, but refrained. The balance of the afternoon was ahead of me, and I was looking forward to the line-up. My final visit of the day would offer one of the most interesting conversations that I have ever had about viticulture. Watch for the next segment. It will not disappoint.