The Sadoux family, father and son, both called Pierre, are leaders in the wine region of Bergerac.
I’m not just saying that.
They have been elected Vigneron of the Year 2018 in the Guide Hachette, the French guidebook for wines and champagnes. It’s not the first time they’ve been recognized in this way.
Five generations have been in the wine business including a grandfather/great grandfather who was a ‘tonnelier’, that is a barrel maker or cooper, a key artisanal occupation in the wine industry.
I think of this family background as expertise that is bred-in-the-bone: formal oenology education enhanced by family mentoring. Similar to an excellent apprenticeship program, it’s probably the best way to learn and achieve mastery in a chosen field.
It’s this mastery that I hear when I listen to both Pierre Sadoux, father and son, describe wine–making approaches at Château Court les Mûts in Razac de Saussignac, Dordogne, SW France.
On a sunny December day with autumn sunshine playing on the vine leaves that are multi-coloured from soft faded green to gold and scarlet, we head off to Château Court les Mûts to meet with Pierre Sadoux fils/son for a tasting of their suite of wines.
We’ve been enjoying their wines for several years now. I find it interesting to revisit the winery and have a refresher on their range of wines as well as learn more from Pierre about their approach to wine making.
It’s the skill in blending different varieties that is one key to the traditional AOC wines made in the Bergerac Wine Region, as it is in the Bordeaux Wine Region to the west of the area. Single varietal wines are not produced here. The blending of the different varieties and the decision making that goes into that process to create a wine is one of the key differentiating factors in wines from different chateaux in the same region. The wine subtleties arise from the different percentages of individual wine varieties used by different wine makers to make a particular wine type.
It’s a bit like several people making The Best Chocolate Cake but each person changing the mix of ingredients with the result that the individual cakes taste different yet still calling each one The Best Chocolate Cake.
The Sadoux family make a range of seven wine categories: Bergerac Dry White, Bergerac Rose, Bergerac Rouge, Côtes de Bergerac Red, Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux (semi sweet) and Saussignac, a late harvest wine.
We taste our way through the range starting with the dry white and finishing with the Saussignac late harvest.
It’s in the discussion with Pierre of each wine we taste that his wine mastery comes to the fore. His detailed knowledge of each parcel of land; its history, soil structure including the varying depths of clay and limestone, and suitability for specific grape varieties is expressed with an intensity and concentration that commands attention. As he is talking, I can see he is seeing each parcel of vines in his mind’s eye, as he tastes the different wines and talks about the different elements that went into creating the particular wine. I know where the Malbec parcel is that he talks about and walk past it frequently.
Pierre describes the fluctuations in the grape harvest timing and quantities due to weather patterns, topography, rainfall, and all the interventions of nature, which are only some of the challenges facing a wine maker. He gives one example of the unpredictability of the weather as the April hailstorm damage that could affect one area of a particular parcel of vines but not the whole area. The hailstorm was devastating for some vine growers throughout the region and because of its time in the growing season, its effect will be felt over several years..
Wine production including the blending of the various varieties permitted under the AOC regulations for the Bergerac Wine Region is a major topic of discussion.
We take our time tasting the range of wines. I enjoy the crispness of the 2016 Bergerac Sec white wine with 40% Sauvignon Gris, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. Good with fish; I also like it as an aperitif wine. The 2015 Cuvée Annabelle with 30% Semillon, 25% Muscadelle as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris is more of a gastronomique wine suitable with a range of dishes.
In the red wines, anyone who enjoys the Malbec in South American wines will enjoy the Côtes de Bergerac red wine with 40% Merlot, 35% Malbec and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dedicated Malbec fans will really appreciate L’Oracle 2014 which is blended with 60% Malbec, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. This rich wine with depth and resonance of black fruits, pepper, chocolate and toast will give pleasure for several years. Pierre tells us he believes his 2014 reds will age particularly well as they have more structure than the 2015 year, which has been heralded as a great year.
As we prepare to leave Château Court les Mûts, I remember to ask Pierre about his spouse Annabelle and the jewelry she makes from specially treated vine stalks decorated with pearls, crystals and various stones. He tells me she will be exhibiting her jewelry at the upcoming Saussignac Christmas Fair. I have bought several pieces of her unique jewelry already and always receive positive comments when I wear them so a visit to the Marché Noël will be in order. Annabelle sells her work through different craft fairs across France.
For me, this wine tasting and visit to Château Court les Mûts is about more fully recognizing the breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding of soil, land, terroir, as well as the vine growing and wine making processes that a successful wine maker must have. That’s not factoring in the marketing know-how that is also required and essential in an increasingly competitive global industry. It’s a formidable mix of knowledge, skills, temperament and in this case, legacy.
It’s not unusual to find multi-generational wine making families in the Bergerac Wine Region as in any agricultural area.
The expression bred-in-the-bone may be known to some as the title of a book by the late Canadian author Robertson Davies: What’s Bred in the Bone. That’s how I first became aware of it. It is an expression quite widely used by authors and means, “firmly instilled or established as if by heredity. “ It is traced back to a 15th century phrase: “what’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh”.
Château Court les Mûts http://www.court-les-muts.com
Les Bijoux Caprice de Vigne – Annabelle de Groote. Phone + 06 11 60 66 71
Guide Hachette www.hachette-vins.com