Bred-in-the-Bone: Vigneron of the Year 2018, Château Court les Mûts, Bergerac Wine Region, SW France

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”.

References

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

Anyone for Rain Dancing in SW France Vineyards?

The vine leaves in SW France look beautiful at this time of year.   Most days when I walk beside the vineyards, I photograph the vines and marvel at the changing nuanced colours of the leaves; gold, scarlet, bronze, green, and by extension at the changing colours of the landscape.

I never tire of looking at the view; the winding road disappearing into the distance, the tall, ghostly coloured water tower on the hilltop and the sprinkling of farmhouses. The straight lines of vines marching up and down the undulating landscape which fascinate and remind me of David Hockney’s colourful paintings of the Yorkshire dales.

There is even a friendly cat of no fixed address that parades each day in front of the local cemetery.  I call him the Cemetery Cat.

At the same time as we enjoy the autumn sunshine highlighting the local beauty and warming us as we walk about, the local newspaper, Sud Ouest, is raising the alarm bells about the effects of climate change in the area, in particular the reduced rainfall.

Each day on the back page of the paper, there is a table showing the minimum and maximum temperatures in southwest France on the same day over the long term: 15, 30 and 50 years. The figures indicate that it appears that it is the minimum temperatures that have been affected;  in other words the weather does not get as cold now as it did 50 years ago in this area.   The newspaper also provides local 2017 climate statistics showing sunshine days are up and rainfall levels are down.  2017 is described as a dry and sunny year. The weather forecast for the next 15 days also indicates less rain than “usual” for this time of year.

The Sud Ouest local newspaper for Bergerac and Sarlat areas has a headline on Monday, November 13, 2017 that reads: Va-t-il falloir faire la danse de la pluie?     In other words, “Will we have to do the rain dance?”

Perhaps.

Certainly, some vine growers, aware of climate warming, are becoming concerned about the reduced level of precipitation at key moments in the vine production of grapes.   In July this year, for example, there was 50% of the usual rainfall for the month.

The newspaper references individuals in the winemaking community who are saying its necessary to start the discussion and debate about vine irrigation in France, where it is essentially prohibited due to the multiple authorizations necessary to irrigate vines and with few exceptions for specific reasons, e.g. newly planted vines.

Currently, when there is lack of water, the stressed vines search for water in the ground below by sending down deep roots.

Vine irrigation is a sensitive topic.   Some wine makers are concerned that irrigation will negatively affect or reduce the bountiful impact of vineyard ‘terroir “and lower the quality of the wines.  Many believe that marginally stressing the vines helps to produce superior fruit.     Some consider that France should allow vine irrigation as elsewhere in the world, where vine irrigation is well established. Others are concerned that irrigation will lead to increased production and affect the wine market and prices.       Additionally, irrigation in periods of reduced precipitation will place demands on water management in the area, another  consideration.

There is no question that the topic of vine irrigation in France will be on the table for discussion and debate going forward.   This is an important discussion to follow in the wine world.

In the bigger picture, the reduced level of precipitation and increased temperatures affect more than the vineyards and wine making.

So, what to do?

Back to the newspaper’s question about rain dancing.   Getting out the rain dancing shoes may be a good idea.   It’s certainly one approach. However, I interpret the suggestion of rain dancing as code for the fact there is no easy answer to these questions.   What’s interesting is that the local paper has taken the initiative to present a two-page article about the reduced rainfall this year.   It has specifically commented on the impact on the wine industry, which is a major economic driver for the area.

Beneath the beauty of the area and the elegance of the wines are challenging issues to be addressed.     Fortunately, there are imaginative, informed and creative wine makers in the area considering these issues and over time undoubtedly driving change in winemaking practices to accommodate environmental impacts.

Rain dancing?   Perhaps, but to a new or different melody.

References

Sud Ouest Newspaper, November 13, 2017 Bergerac and Sarlat edition.

Wine and Architecture: La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux, SW France: a place for play and culture

I am looking at this exciting modern architecture on the banks of the Garonne river in Bordeaux and my imagination runs away with me.

La Cité du Vin

La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux

I can’t help thinking that this building reminds me of the Mother Goose children’s story of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, albeit a golden shoe when the sun shines upon it.   As in the nursery rhyme, there are even people in the “Shoe” as the building is a hive of activity of visitors engaging with the various exhibits about wine.

In all seriousness, it’s a building with a sense of liquidity, that reflects the curves in the river as the Garonne and then the Dordogne rivers join together as the Gironde estuary and empty into the Atlantic.  This waterway has been the key transportation link for centuries between the Bordeaux wines and their thirsty markets abroad, in particular the United Kingdom with its love of claret.

Architects Anouk Legendre and Nicholas Desmazières from XTU Architects in Paris have created this elegant building to showcase the international wine culture which celebrates and explores the place of wine in culture from the time of the Egyptians to the modern day.     It is said that not only does the colour of the building change daily and hourly with the weather but also with the changing light of the seasons, in the same way that the leaves on a vine change colour to mirror the seasons.

The mission of La Cité du Vin is to promote and share the cultural, universal and living heritage that is wine with the broadest possible audience.

It’s an ambitious focus but achievable in this beautiful and elegant city of Bordeaux whose very name is synonymous with great wine.   Building upon the City’s legacy of greatness, this modern conceptual building reflects the future orientation of the City and its wine industry.

La Cité du Vin is the initiative of the Fondation Pour La Culture et Les Civilisations du Vin.  It is heralded as a place of play and exploration – no wonder I recognize the playfulness of a children’s nursery rhyme.    All the senses are engaged as a friend and I explore the exhibits on display.

The founding principles of La Cité du Vin are:  passing on knowledge interactively,  experiencing things at your own pace, learning according to your own wishes.   These principles are demonstrated in the accessible way the information is presented.

Progress and technology are demonstrated in the Hi-Tech/Hi-Touch systems used to animate and personalize displays about wine districts around the world.   I am delighted to see film footage of the Okanagan Valley In British Columbia as the film illustrates wine areas around the world.

There are many interesting and fun opportunities to learn about wine, wine aromas, wine history, wine in the arts,  history – even Thomas Jefferson is present in the name of the Auditorium –  and,  of course, to enjoy wine tastings, wine and food pairings and even cooking classes. I look forward to experiencing these latter offerings on a future visit.

Cité du Vin

Thomas Jefferson Auditorium

One of the many great things about visiting Bordeaux is that it is very easy and inexpensive to get around using the modern, clean and efficient, Canadian, tram system. Getting to La Cité du Vin is no exception as there is a special tram station just outside the entrance.   In addition, the higher speed TGV train service has started between Paris and Bordeaux, making the journey in just over two hours.

At the end of our tour, which took several hours as there are so many interesting things to see and play with, we headed up to the tasting bar, Latitude 20, which has a spectacular ceiling made of wine bottles.  While tasting wine from distant countries, visitors can look out over the city rooftops.

Wine tasting room, Belvedere, Cité du Vin

Spectacular Latitude 20 tasting room with views over Bordeaux

La Cité opened on June 1, 2016 and excited interest and articles around the world.   Writers haven’t been quite sure how to describe this endeavour.  It’s been called variously: a wine theme park for adults, a museum, a cultural facility, an exhibition park, a museum-theme park hybrid, the Guggenheim to Wine, a cultural centre of wine, a world-beating wine museum, an over-the-top mega project, a playground for wine lovers.

La Cité du Vin is young and offers many opportunities for learning, for fun and entertainment.   In a way, it is refreshing that it defies precise definition and labelling.   For me, for now,  it will just be La Cité du Vin.

La Cité du Vin - experiencing the scale and colours

La Cité du Vin – experiencing the scale and colours

La Cité du Vin has an ambitious agenda of showing wine in the context of history, social customs, geography, geology, food and agriculture, oenology and the arts.    In this way, La Cité emphasizes all the reasons I am interested in wine as it opens the door to these subjects.

To quote La Cité du Vin text:  “…whether mythical, sacred, religious or magical, experience the culture of wine as a formidable epic which has shaped mankind and the way we live, which as been a source of inspiration in both past and present”.

Exactly.

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References

La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux    http://www.laciteduvin

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