Bordeaux: Legacy Refreshed Slideshow

The world’s most famous wine region is constantly renewing itself

Bordeaux: Legacy Refreshed

Each time I come to Bordeaux — as I did recently for Vinexpo — I fall in love again. An industry dinner at Château Margaux, which itself has redone its cellars, reflects the grandeur and tradition. Then, visits with a cross-section of wine producers in the Médoc, Barsac, Saint-Émilion, and Entre-Deux-Mers showed me yet again the vigor and freshness that provides the needed acidity to balance Bordeaux’ fruity legacy.


View from the Top

Allan Sichel heads his family wine production and marketing business, Maison Sichel, and is vice chairman of CIVB — the Bordeaux association of wine producers. In an interview at Vinexpo, Sichel noted, “Today, younger consumers are more open to trying different wines, but they still want the security of a good wine” — such as Bordeaux.

Château Makeover

At a tour of its new winery followed by lunch, Château Pédesclaux managing director Emmanuel Cruse claimed, “The cellars are the most technically advanced you can find in Bordeaux — perhaps in the world.” A gravity flow winery is not new, but having a special elevator to move vats from one level to the next is out of the ordinary.

White Knight

Denis Dubourdieu does it all: teaching, consulting, and making sweet, red, and white wines. But it is his use of extra skin contact with white grapes — a scary practice for many winemakers — that has elevated the quality of Bordeaux white wine. At his Château Reynon, he tells me, “You have to be very careful with the skin — it’s both the best part and the worst part of the grape.”

Super Grapes

Véronique Barthe is literally the first woman born into her family in the seven generations it has owned Château la Freynelle. So naturally, she took over when her father retired. Intellectually curious, she likes to experiment with different yeasts and vineyard practices. She is also anxious to plant new experimental grapes being developed to better cope with climate change.

Not by Wine Alone

Diversification into wine tourism and local promotions is common in California but fairly new to Bordeaux. Estelle Roumage makes some exquisite wines at her family’s Chateau Lestrille, but she and her husband have also opened a food and accessories boutique with frequent food tastings (truffles, for example) to add additional revenue and sell more wine locally.

Targeting America

Stéphane Dupuch makes wine at Château Saint-Marie and also heads the Entre-Deux-Mers winemaking association. Over lunch, he says, “I am investing heavily in the U.S. market in part because our prices are now very competitive.” Once known for bulk wines, the best producers in Entre-Deux-Mers now make white table wines that are among the best in Bordeaux.

Vins de France

The dynamic Courselle sisters of Château Thieuley — Marie and Sylvie — make all shades of Bordeaux: red, white, rose, clairet, even a crémant or sparkling wine. But like a few other Bordeaux estates, such as Palmer and La Lagune, they also utilize non-Bordeaux grapes, making a delicious chardonnay and a gutsy syrah, both sold under the “Vin de France” label.

Rosé Future

Unbeknownst to many, Bordeaux makes some delicious rosés and slightly darker clairets, and they want to jump on the American bandwagon with pinks made mainly from merlot and cabernet sauvignon. At Château Landereau, owner Bruno Baylet believes so strongly in a rosy rosé future that he has just planted a new malbec vineyard just for making pink wines.

Saint-Émilion Meets Sonoma

Like a few Bordeaux winemakers, Pierre Seillan makes wines on two continents, partnering with Barbara Banke and the late Jess Jackson at Vérité winery in Sonoma and Château Lassègue in Saint-Émilion. At a tasting in Lassègue’s new cellars, Seillan poured a retrospective of the first 10 Lassègue vintages and seven different Vérité wines, each of which rated a perfect 100 points.

Quantity & Quality

When Patrick Jestin, CEO of the Dourthe brand of blends and château wines, purchased Château Pey de la Tour in 1990, he immediately started high-density planting for better quality in the 30 acres of vineyards behind him. Like other large Bordeaux producers, Dourthe has leveraged its financial status to improve vineyard practices and buy needed equipment for their cellars.

Luxury Crus

The Despagne family has been a leader in the Entre-Deux-Mers both in winemaking innovation and in environmentally sound ISO production. Now, Thibault Despagne wants to establish a grand cru quality wine at the family’s Château Tour Mirambeau under the Girollate label. “We want to make a first-growth wine in Entre-Deux-Mers,” he proclaims.

Next Gen

Philippe Bardet of Vignobles Bardet, a pioneer in environmental management of vineyards, invited me to dinner at his home overlooking the Dordogne River in Saint-Émilion, where his sons, Paul-Arthur and Thibault, help with winegrowing and marketing — a renewal scene experienced all across Bordeaux The two even started a new brand — Château du Paradis.