That Was Tough. Here’s a Poem

“Harvest”

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Day one of harvest - Poem 123

 

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The Pinot Noir – Domaine D’Edouard 2015

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Let’s go.

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Sunset in Vaux

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Pinot Noir – Looking Good

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Stomping Down – Bare Foot – “Just like momma used to make”

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Pumping Over

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My Back is Absolutely Killing Me and I Buried Scissors in My Hand. Day One: Harvest 2017.

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LE GRAPE ESCAPE

“A quick lunch of Cremant and we’re back at it.”

…He says. They 65 year old women doing harvest alongside me didn’t seem so daunted. It seems the younger amongst those in that Bourgogne vineyard didn’t know what was about to hit us.

So yeah my back canes and the balls of my feet might never recover but I have to say it was one of the coolest days of my life. I know. I’m a loser. Most of my mates would chuck the secateurs in the air, pull the shotgun to the sun and barrel the whole ordeal on the first vine. They’d probably reload and point it at me for getting them into it. It is hard work and utterly, robustly pointless if, and only if, you don’t have a peculiar desire to learn all there is to know about grapes. And winemaking obviously. There has to be an endgame. Mmmmmn. Can you say: “I need to get out more” whilst talking about working in a field?

Our first day is dominated by a word which is will likely go over-the-head of most and ironically relates to something that make most heads dizzy: “Cremant”. Now Cava, Prosecco and of course Champagne will be known to most in the UK… and more and more… English Sparkling Wine. Cremant is France’s version when it’s not made within the 34,000-odd hectares of Champagne.
It can be just as good if not better. Champagne, traditionally, is made from three grape varieties: Pinot Noir (yes, I know, it’s a red grape… they don’t keep the skins in contact with the juice so no colour is extracted), Pinot Meunier (also red) and Chardonnay.

The Cremant made at Domaine D’Edouard is made up of 50/50 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and we’re harvesting those today. I’d never laid my hands on either and they taste great. They’re not as large as table grapes (which tend to be a different species of grape altogher) and there are seeds in them but I happily munch them all day.
A pair of secateurs and a bucket: Two harvesters go for a row (these rows have 100 vines in each and take about an hour to get through).

The method is simple: Up to the vine, tear away at the leafy canopy and snip the bunch from the vine. You then check the bunch for any bad grapes (botrytis for example – I’ll explain in a later blog) and into the bucket it goes.

It’s physical work, lots of bending over the vine, lots of kneeling, lots of “O Putain” (French expletive: no translation necessary). I’m in agony by mid-day especially as it only took two hours for me to stab myself. There are seven rows of vines and then a break where the tractor, carrying a trailer filled with boxes, can fit through. The tractor moves up with us and every so oftem the shout comes out: “a vide”. We pass our full buckets over the vines and empty ones come back. Off we go again.
A quick lunch of Cremant and we’re back at it. 8-12, 2-5. It’s a long day and a shower’s in order but however exhausting and painful… it was pretty cool.

I stay behind to make the wine. That is bloody awesome and requires a forthcoming post of it’s own.

Now to that shower. And to bed. And to harvest day 2 in the morn.

 

PS: does anybody know if stabbing yourself in the palm with secateurs hurts the next day? Asking for a friend.

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Pinot Noir

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Gladiators: Ready?

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Crest of the Hill

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Under the Canopy

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A Bucket of Chardonnay. Nice.

First Day of Harvest: Tomorrow Morning. Hell…yes!

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“We’ll make wine. Wine from grapes. Those little things on the vine… you can turn them into wine. It’s awesome!”

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And so here we have it. The young lad from London Town arrives with his posh shirts, his RayBans and his Panama to muck in with the locals.

I am working at a domaine about five minutes drive from Auxerre, Cote de Bourgogne, which is near Chablis (near Beaune; it’s… Burgundy… in France for God’s sake). Domaine D’Edouard is run by a man aptly named Edouard. Perhaps it’s the other way round.

A Chardonnay, two Aligote’s, a Rose (made from Pinot Noir), a Gamay, a Pinot Noir and a Cremant (like Champagne but not from Champagne) and… breathe. That’s a tonne of different wines for a man who’s only had the estate for coming on 4 years.

He can do it. He is clearly driven, talented and has a great mixture of casual and professionalism. He will do well.

All the vines are organic and have been since long before he acquired what was a good but non-commercial affair. The guy before wasn’t as driven and perhaps didn’t have as much care for the wine: harvest wasn’t done by hand and sales were not a driving point.

They must be. You must sell the wine.

It has to be commercially applicable or else you’ll make no money and you’ll not move forward and you’ll stop. That’s simple. But there is a balance.

The majority: vineyards you see on British supermarket shelves, are made by capitalist money-stuffed suits who care about margin. They have people make the wine as cheaply as the circumstances allow and get as large a margin as they can. Satisfy the share-holders. It’s uniform shite. The few: they make the wine as well as they possibly can; nurture the grapes, take care of the harvest, study and continuously strive to change and improve. They care and then if they’re good vignerons (winemakers) they market it and doggedly stretch the country’s wine fairs to find distributors who take a chance on them and their plonk. This way they can, a few years down the line, get enough cash in to cover costs and continue doing what they adore (French word): making wine.

And so here I am contemplating my first day of picking. It’s Chardonnay tomorrow and I’ll be staying behind to watch, and hopefully help, those grapes being pressed and pumped into the tanks so the process “exceptionale” can begin. They’ll make wine. Wine from grapes. Those little things on the vine… you can turn them into wine. It’s awesome!

Cannot. Wait.

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Abbey of Saint-Germain d’Auxerre

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Auxerre

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Not a Terrible Clock.

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Auxerre Cathedral at Night

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The Pinot Noir at Domain D’Edouard. Ready to Go.

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Prepping for Harvest.

Noilly Prat and Some Oysters (Prawns).

“Stick that in you’re Martini Mr. Bond and you’ll be a happy, if not slightly wobbly, agent indeed.”

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I don’t like oysters. And it was all you can eat. All you can eat oysters. To my extraordinary delight there was a seafood menu and I went straight for the giant prawns. Because I don’t eat fish. I know; it’s a disgrace… and I still smoke. Whatever.

The prawns are brilliant. I’m sitting with what’s basically family and they’ve swallowed their share in their time (oysters; keep up). Filthy. They adore this place and I can see why. They rave about the oysters and my prawns were incredible. La Ferme Marine in Marseillan is a place to go. Even if you only like prawns. Awesome giant prawns looking out, past Corsica, at The Mediterranean Sea.

We head further into town and, a wander around the harbour front later, we arrive at a pretty impressive institution. It is the maker of France’s most infamous vermouth. It is Noilly Prat.
Vermouth is a fortified wine that is typified by the different botanicals that it’s flavoured with. Noilly Prat has made what can only be described as a fairly good version since 1813.

Our tour takes straight into the impressive cellar filled with huge oak casts inside. This aint new oak. These are filled with wine and then extra alcohol (In the form, usually, of uber strength wine) and botanicals and spices are added. Then fermentation takes place, with the mixture stirred every so often, before bottling.

We step into the courtyard holding much smaller barriques: this is what counts. The Noilly Prat operation is housed right by the sea and seawater continuously splashes all over the outside drums filled with the vermouth.
Through a museum carefully filled with Noilly Prat’s historical machinery and out we emerge into a café courtyard leading into a demonstration bar. We taste all four varietals made here. We taste them without mixer and they’re all superb. Stick that in you’re Martini Mr. Bond and you’ll be a happy, if not slightly wobbly, agent indeed.

It’s not wine but it’s made from it and I’m sold… if not on the oysters.

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Oysters at La Ferme Marine. All You Can Eat.

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Obviously go for the prawns!

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Noilly Prat

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Overlooking the Harbour at Noilly Prat

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La Voiture de La Noilly Prat

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Les Barriques. Outside.

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The Courtyard

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The Tasting

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The Bar

 

Home for a week: my trip so far.

“I saw my first ever vine (which is weird considering how much I drink from what they produce)”

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It’s my niece’s birthday and Mayweather is fighting MacGregor and I wanted to surprise my mum because I’ll be doing harvest over her birthday.

Jobs for the week: get on with revising for my wine theory resit in December, detail what I’m doing when I head back to France, not get too drunk when I watch the Mayweather fight. Or revise and detail, anyway.

Also I need to take in how cool that was, digest it and get my head straight for harvest.

I saw my first ever vine (which is weird considering how much I drink from what they produce), worked on my first vineyard, drove my first tractor, visited three first-growth, drank wine directly from a tank taller than me and bought wine out of a bloody petrol-pump. I drove through three wine regions, discovered countless new appellations, published 17 blogs, travelled 1300 miles and built a swing.

I’m off. Revision to do and three harvests to plan.

After the break: a sore back and my first vintage. The 2017.

Mouton Rothschild: The Playboy Winemaker

“…the man gaining a reputation wasn’t a Peckham pilgrim at all.”

 

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Mouton Rothschild’s has it’s hand up as a pretty serious story teller. And there is one guy, in particular, who was a bit of a chap.

 

He’s a pretty cool lad.

 

Chateau Mouton Rothschild, having just been bought by – yes, you guessed it – a bloody Brit, did not enter into the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification as a first growth (only four were: Haut Brion, Margaux, Lafite and Latour). This was utterly confusing and thoroughly vexing to all involved there – who saw the lack of inclusion as, frankly, a spot of casual racism over the vintners anglo-jewish heritage. “Bloody racist frogs” they whispered under breath, or out loud (who cares, we’re not on the bloody list anyway). [this might not have happened].

 

Soon the chateau was in French hands again though and in 1920 a young man was sent out to live with relatives on some vineyard in the middle of nowhere after the outbreak of WWI. The estate was Mouton Rothschild and it had been in his family in the 1850’s. His father and his grandfather had shown little interest in either fast cars or hot women… or the wine estate. However, when a little older Georges Philippe de Rothschild decided he didn’t want to be a playboy racing driver any more either. His fake name was starting to wear thin… people were starting to guess that the man gaining a reputation wasn’t a Peckham pilgrim at all. He’d have to come clean or give it up. So instead of pursuing his career as a racing driver or a screenplay/theatre writer/producer – all things he had done with some success – he began dedicating more and more time to wine. 

 

This Frenchman was, by all accounts, an unusually outstanding gent and a humorous chap all-round. He liked the odd practical joke which occasionally got out of hand. For instance, he decided he was sick of people asking and assuming that Mouton means “mutton”  When guests and visitors chuckled and snorted, pointing at all the rams heads on the walls, pissed of their heads on last years vintage, he would smile and nod: ‘Mouton doesn’t mean mutton or sheep, but I am an Aries and that’s our sign so bugger you all – we’ll have the rams’. What seems like hundreds remain on the walls today.

 

After taking over the chateau Philippe de Rothschild decided upon a few things that wouldn’t just change the future of his own chateau; but also that of wine the world over.

 

He was keen on making the best wine possible but wasn’t happy at selling it all in barrels to people who’d bottle it as just any random wine. Instead… he decided to complete the operation himself – bottling it at the chateau– and selling it as Mouton Rothschild. It sounds perfectly reasonable now of course – but back then there was no precedent for this. Quickly it was obvious to all the other Chateaus that they’d need to follow suit. It was a choice made by a young, hungry, man that would change the wine world forever. And now he had the bottle; he needed a label – and we all know what he did with that!

 

Mouton Rothschild and Philippe in particular were lobbying the influential in Bordeaux for years in order to have that peculiar, clearly xenophobic,exclusion reversed. They were so intense and public with their outrage that they made the following motto: I wont give the Latin because you probably couldn’t care less and I can’t remember it off the top of my head believe it or not. The motto was “First, I cannot be. Second, I do not design to be. Mouton I am.”. Hardly inconspicuous. 

 

When the French succumbed and, in 1973, MR was added to the list of first-growths (one of only now five) they of course had to change the motto. They chose: ‘First, I am. Second, I used to be. Mouton does not change.’. Brilliant.

 

Philippe married twice – the second time to his long-standing mistress. Together they travelled the world collecting artefacts of wine which was eventually placed in a permanent exhibit space between the chai and the barrel room. Another thing we inherit.

 

He dedicated the rest of his life to continuing the growth of the Chateau Mouton Rothschild name. And fast cars and hot women.

 

An incredible man with a great story.

 

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The Man Himself

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The Chateau Grounds

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The New Chai

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New Oak Barrels: destined for the new 2017 label.

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Other wines owned by the estate.

 

 

 

 

Mouton Rothschild: Curtain’s Up On The New Chai.

“It is fairly decent.”

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Following the death of her father Phillipe de Rothschild in 1988, Baroness Rothschild ended her career as a successful theatre actress to come and look after the winery. Not entirely tough is it. 

 

She made great moves during her years at the chateau to improve it and shortly before her death decided to leave something rather special… the new chai – a brilliant winemaking house. It is fairly decent. Her love of theatrics is visible everywhere. There are trap doors and even stage doors: upstairs internal walls can be moved to create the space for the equipment needed during harvest. 


The theatrics can be seen within the museum too. The lighting and design all create the perfect atmosphere in which she can exhibit all of the fantastic wine related items collected by here late father and his second-wife. It’s beautiful and definitely worth the trip.

 

A secret trap door opens within the main wooden archway at the front of the building. This is where the grapes are delivered. They move into a room which is vast, but not today; today you find a corridor leading towards the huge tank room. But during harvest these corridors can be pushed to the side to create the space needed to sort and manoeuvre the massive quantities of grapes that have just being picked. Pretty cool.

 

I am speaking here of the Chai and the spaces to hold all the art and the museum artefacts; because that’s the topic – and that’s what Baroness Rothschild spearheaded; but make no mistake: she was fantastic for the wine too. She set aside parcels of land for the Chateaux’s first white wines (named “Aile D’Argent”) and also MR’s second wine “Le Petite Mouton de Mouton Rothschild”. Both found strong markets and did very well. But it will always be her love of the arts that will have the most distinctive and the longest lasting mark for the name and certainly the visitors. She was keen for the history of the chateau to be seen and travelled with the exhibition throughout American and Asia to showcase the works.

 

The chai is beautiful and clever and unique. A great testament to a fantastic wine with brilliant history.

 

I was…. almost… happy that I was offered the art tour and not just one for wine!

 

 

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The Chai. Impressive.

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Holds the trap door.

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The trap door which open at the front.

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The removable corridors.

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The balcony above the tanks.

Mouton Rothschild: Behind the label.

…you can grab me a bottle for £375. Not bad. My birthday’s in April. Thanks in advance.

 

LE GRAPE ESCAPE

 

So. Believe it or not; I didn’t bag myself a private tour here.

However, they invited me to something a little different. Something which only Chateau Mouton-Rothschild are able to offer: a museum for it’s wine labels. Yea you heard me.

The tour is two-fold: first, you have a talk about the history of the vineyard, out in the vineyard: which is beautiful. We go into who’s owned it and what they’ve done. After this though, we move into the new, very clever, chai and into the gallery.

To get to the museum you walk on a floor suspended over the vast wine tanks. There are large balconies looking over them. These things are pretty tall and it’s impressive looking down on them; walking on top of them.

We are asked not to take photos in the gallery itself, as a fob is pressed to a receiver and the door is pushed open. This room holds all of the originals for the label artworks. The list of artists  is astounding. It began with friends of Philippe de Rothschild but the list soon got totally out of hand and it’s still pretty sought-after!

Here’s a few you might or might not recognise: Salvador Dali (not a pathetic start to the list!), Pablo Picasso, Cesar, Henry Moore, Chagall, Miro, Andy Warhol and Lucien Freud. To name but a few. And the original painting by Francis Bacon for the 1990 label… that’s here too. They’re all here. It is quite the sight.

And then there’s a museum. It fills the old barrel room and some of those things are pretty old.

So I came here to pick my vintage and admire the artwork and dream on. Mine’s by Hans Enri for the 1987 and you can grab me a bottle for £375. Not bad. My birthday’s in April. Thanks in advance.

The artwork itself: that’s priceless.

To have your own gallery for the label artwork is pretty punchy. It’s as unique as Mouton Rothschild’s history. It was quite the experience.

(No photo’s allowed in the gallery I’m afraid!)

 

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The balcony overlooking the tanks.

 

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The Crest. Mouton Doesn’t Change. In the new barrel hall.

 

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Which one tonight?

 

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My vintage. 1987.

 

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Francis Bacon’s Label 1990 

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The Gallery 

Back with Brandeau.

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“You go in, decanter in hand, put the decanter under a tiny tap, turn the handle and out pours vin. Extraordinarily fun – remarkably dangerous.”

 

LE GRAPE ESCAPE

 

I call him Brandeau, or Marlon or “connard” (I’m not telling you what that means!) because he’s a lad and that’s the name of the vineyard. Anyway. I’m back.

I love the place. I want it. Or at least something like it.

I’ve come back following the most ridiculous week away travelling up the other side of Bordeaux. I’ve been to some of the most prestigious chateau in the world but I have to say I’m glad to be back here amongst the vines, with the tractor and the… wine.

It’s early mornings with a lot of hard, physical, work with just a little break to get a croissant and a cup of wine down you, before more hard, physical work. Then we have lunch, which is normally something like a quiche with salad and… wine. The other helpers (like me they’ve signed up to a website like workaway or Helpx to come and volunteer here) go off for the rest of the day or chill out.

I have a little siesta and then jump on the tractor for a few hours or help label and pack some bottles into boxes and then onto palettes or help with one of the other items on the evidently endless list. It’s different for me than the other workers: they want a place to crash and some food in return for 6 hours work a day. I, in contrast, want to get as involved as I can. I want to learn: how to look after vines, why they behave in different ways, the biological structure, the processes of viniculture. I want to learn how to make wine: terroir de bouche. I help as much as I can. I want to learn from him. And we get on well. And he needs the help.

Oh. And I built him a swing. On a tree. Like the tree on his bottle. Because I’m a nice chap. Shame I’m not a brilliant swing builder.

At about 8 we have dinner – it’s always bloody good (especially when I get involved, obviously… I was “professional” bloody chef don’t you know! Sort of). Sophie, Julien’s girlfriend has just opened a restaurant bar about 15 minutes drive away – she’s left a job in a Michelin star restaurant to open it. She’s lovely and doesn’t abuse me much about my terrible French. Apparently saying English words in a mock French accent doesn’t count. So the food is superb. After dinner a bit more wine and off to bed.

Most of the vino is from the tanks in the chai. These tanks are more than ten-feet high. You go in, decanter in hand, put the decanter under a tiny tap, turn the handle and out pours vin. Extraordinarily fun – remarkably dangerous. Often we have others though. It seems winemakers swap wine frequently. It’s one of the perks. It’s a perk me want. But you can’t do that five times a week. You need to watch it. very rarely wine with the croissant, hardly ever at lunch, occasionally after exactly 5pm.

When I first got here I couldn’t believe the size of the vineyard and what needs to be done on it, the size of the challenge. This feeling still remains. But it’s seriously cool. There’s always something to do. And that something is always different but let’s just say I’m getting pretty good now on the old tractor. In fact: I’m on to the new one. You don’t even need to remove the bonnet to attach the jumper cables… just turn the key and it starts… amazing. I do like the old one though! Because I’m an old man and a little boy at the same time and it feels like I’m playing the role of the grumpy, tutting, farmer.

So unfortunately I’m off. Onwards on my travels and away from Bordeaux.

There’ve been tears (I turned up with suncream in my left eye and I just couldn’t stop crying out of it – I was thinking I’d tell them my dog had died or something because I didn’t know the French for suncream), there’s been a lot of hard work, a little too much boozing, and a hell of a lot of laughs. It will be a month I’ll never forget. And the next time I have a bottle of Grand Vin de Latour ou Margaux or Mouton Rothschild ou Chateau Brandeau I’ll think back to it with a lot of fondness. Hahaha!! Yea right. Well, maybe the Chateau Brandeau… I’ve got a boot full of the stuff.

A lot of crap happened in the last year. This month: I’m glad. Good riddance to the old ones. Onto the new.

It’s been special. I’ll be back. And sooner than I though… I’m back for harvest early October.

 

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A Web of Vines.

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Don’t Bottle it: Put the Label on Straight. (The Bloating Blogger is NOT in this photo).

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A Mime Show, Libourne.

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I Made a Swing. It Works. ‘Ish.

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The Old Boy.

Chateau Margaux: The castle behind the gates.

“Isn’t it absurd to walk out of Chateau Margaux thinking… “that was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen… but I’ve seen better?” This morning.”

 

LE GRAPE ESCAPE

 

After Chateau Latour, I head to a brasserie for a plat de jour in Pauillac: I’m killing time before I drive down to Margaux which is just south of St. Julien. These three: Margaux, St. Julien and Pauillac stretch up the right hand side of the left back of the Gironde estuary for about 15 miles. These are the big boys of Bordeaux. All you can see are vines and massive castle after massive castle. The wines produced in these appellations are the household names of wine and the money involved is staggering. Not just for a bottle… but for the land. A hectare of vines here will cost you £1.5m upwards. For one hectare! Latour has 90. It was a good buy; you might say.
I am about to visit one of the most recognisable names of all. Chateau Margaux.
As I approach the turning into the Chateau’s long road, flanked by tall and foreboding trees, I pull up. Surely I’m not allowed to drive down there? There are barriers sticking up only just wide enough to fit a car through. A family of tourists have parked along the main road and are walking. I check the instructions on my last email. “Turn left and drive up the row of plain trees,. Follow the signs for “Parking – Voitures”. Up there it is then. I swerve in and out of those not fortunate enough to hold the golden ticket.

You drive up the long driveway flanked by the trees and the vines on the other side and you’ve the Chateau directly in front of you behind big, locked, ornate gates. This is where the current owner lives when she’s in Bordeaux. It’s not a bad holiday home. Its stunning.

The car park sign takes me into a walled courtyard and my visit begins.

Somebody is joining me on the tour. Perry is a former CFO for a few American start-ups and is looking to get into wine over in Sonoma, CA, USA. This is the first time he’s looked around a top French winery and his awe matches mine. They really are quite impressive and Margaux’s magnificence emulates that of Latour: though it is very different.

Having just been at Chateau Latour I was obviously going to draw comparisons and would inevitable favour one over the other. I did, and I was a little surprised by which one.

The castle behind the gates was built in 1812. The previous one was pulled down after somebody waved at it and said “not bloody grand enough” and wine has been documented as being grown here since the 15th century. Next to the chateau is the chai (where liquid gold is made). It is in the form of another courtyard with buildings on three sides and a walled entrance on the other. We don’t enter through this way. Oh no. We’re taking the new entrance.

Further away from the house, on the other side of the courtyard, is a new build extending from the eastern wing of the early 19th century complex, and was designed by, yes you guessed it, a Englishman. Norman Foster (formerly a knight and now Baron Foster of Thames Bank) and Partners were given the job of bringing Chateau Margaux into modern times. He was also charged with refurbishing the existing barrel room and installing a vinoteque and tasting room.

One of the most celebrated architects, his list of works include Millennium Bridge, McLaren Technology Centre (The F1 Team!), Wembley Stadium, a couple of Apple stores (Hangzhou and Istanbul) and Yacht Club de Monaco: all highly contemporary. And there is no getting away from it: Chateau Margaux’s new design in highly contemporary too. Too contemporary, some might think.

We walk into a room with stainless steel tanks. This is where they make the white wine. I’ve never seen one myself, a Margaux blanc – they produce very little – it is sauvignon blanc, named Pavillon Blanc and is very good (I’m told). I’ve still not seen one.

Our meander leads us past an agglomeration of winemaking apparatus. We head through a glass corridor and into the original chai (where the wine is made). Here we find a room lined with a mixture huge oak tanks and stainless steel ones on either side. This leads us into another. It’s the same. But only oak ones this time… Bordeaux does love a bit of oak. Massive barrels on either side of you destined to be filled with the must of 2017. “Must” maketh the wine. “Must” is unfermented grape juice longing to be fermented and to become Chateau Margaux Grand Vin 2017. From here we head out into the courtyard and into the cooperage.

The cooperage, where the cooper makes barrels out of new French oak from forests in central France, has been moved from the other side of the courtyard to be repositioned in its original place. It’s Chateau Margaux’s attempt at trying to bring it all back to how it once was. Which a lot of people are doing in wine now. But that seems strange here: they’ve done it with the cooperage but they’ve not done it with the wine and they’ve just added a very contemporary outbuilding and underground barrel room, tasting room and vinoteque all created by a man who’s notoriety comes from modern, ground-breaking architectural designs. Putting a cooperage back in its original setting does not sign off “back to 1815”, back to the good old days, all by itself.

So here is a world famous Chateau whose mindset must surely be: try to show we are keeping with tradition and respecting what is here as much as possible, whilst also proclaiming “we are always moving forward, not stuck in the past, but ever-evolving”. Which I don’t like. I’m a traditionalist.

Which is why… wait for it… yep… I prefer Latour.

There is a comprehensive contrast in what the owner decided to do, when he too, felt his notorious Chateau Latour needed a spot of renovation. They too dug down – directly under the courtyard – and yes the vinoteque is all dark wood and mood lighting – but it seems that every decision they made was about keeping the look. Yes, the tanks are all brand new and have tanks remotely from a control room upstairs, and there’s an extremely impressive aluminium panel that tells the vigneron the exact temperature for each tank, how full it is, the temp of the room and it’s humidity – all changeable, all mod-con. But the room that holds them is of the same long-established style.

So Latour have, seemingly, tried to keep things as they always have been – whilst also understanding that there have been some fantastic breakthroughs in technology that can help improve, and remove some of the risks to, winemaking.

And this follows through with the wine and, most importantly, how the vines are worked. Whilst Chateau Margaux, and 96% of other vineyards make “conventional” (terrible word!), Chateau Latour and the other 4% are going back to how wine was made here hundreds of years ago. This was a time when pesticides didn’t exist, fertiliser wasn’t made in a lab and vines didn’t look like steroid injected body-builders protruding from barren, lifeless rows of brown soil.

I must quickly mention that Chateau Margaux have whole plots of vines that they use for testing. So they make organic and biodynamic wines to try them out and research with them. They don’t sell these, of course.

“Conventional” would suggest to me traditional – in wine it doesn’t – it means “normal, regular, typical”. And it is bloody typical: spraying vines with who-cares-what to demand, through chemicals, that it doesn’t get ill and that it gives you massive bulging ripe grapes from which you can make loadsa-money. Who cares what’s in it and and how you got there, you’ve got 70,000 bottles worth £4 each. Or more. Or much much much more.
Organic is harder. It’s riskier, it’s more time consuming and it’s likely to give a lesser yield. It’s how it’s been done since before 4000BC, it’s the techniques developed during the Roman Empire and is how the Benedictine monks worked when they brought vines up to France. That sounds “conventional” to me. You can’t spray whatever on it. You can spray tightly controlled doses of natural compounds, mixed into the water over the vineyard. The amount is calculated over five years: therefore if you have a good year with little disease on the vines, you spray only a tiny amount – having a bad year – spray it a little more. The amounts are strictly controlled and it must be natural – it’s just copper, effectively. This means that the vine looks more unkempt, the ground beneath it is not barren soil, but instead is teeming with wild flowers and insects of all varietals. This creates a lot more man-hours because you have to properly tend to the plants, creating the right canapé, ensuring breeze can pass through and dry the vine if it rains and generally tough, hands-on labouring. But you end up with a grape that has come off a vine that you’ve respected and is almost entirely unbleached. I know which wine I’d prefer.

Maybe I’m being an old man – it’s downhill from thirty – but I prefer a chateau to keep it’s history, and winemaking techniques, as close to what they’ve always been as possible.

The barrel room is incredibly impressive, as is the underground barrel room next to it. It stinks. I like the smell. It’s a musty damp. I’ve still not worked out why some smell more that others and others hardly at all. The second year barrel room – where they move the wines to continue ageing – leads into a small, minimalist tasting room with a glass wall at the end. Behind the glass: the vinoteque. All those old bottles of Margaux. Behind this wall… some of the most highly desired wines in the world. It is highly impressive. But it’s seems very flashy, very… footballers vinoteque. It’s like if Wayne Rooney bought a winery and paid a top architect to make it as impressive for his mates as possible. It looks great. But you wouldn’t think you were in a chateau whose beginnings and heritage harks back to 1815.
We taste.

As we walk out, no longer accompanied by our guide, Perry asks me which I preferred, Margaux or Latour, and why. I explained the above and said I’d buy Latour all day long (if I could) but you’d never refuse a bottle of the big M now, would you?! We exchange numbers and I hope to catch up with him in LA next year.

Isn’t it absurd to walk out of Chateau Margaux thinking… “that was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen… but I’ve seen better?” This morning. Hahaha.

It was perhaps the most incredible day. Ever.

 

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Chatea Margaux

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Stainless Steel Tanks for “Pavillon Blanc” in the new building – by Norman Foster and Partners

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The Chai

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The Chai

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From Inside the Courtyard

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The Cooperage

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The First Year Barrel Room – (The barrels on the right are brand new and waiting for the 2017)

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The Vinoteque

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The Tasting