Wine Sense Season 1 Episode 113 (Bordeaux Reds): “Paint the Town Red”


NP This building is just magnificent. Is it
the original building? PP: Yes and no. The chateau existed since
the 9th century and probably at that time, there was an outpost, which was in charge
of looking after enemies coming from the river. And then there was another chateau built in
the 12th century, maybe another one in the 14th. That true castle surrounded by a moat
and an old fashioned castle, with cellars already, was actually destroyed in the very
early 19th by the new owner of Chateau Margaux who wanted to renew everything. So he destroyed
all the former buildings and built everything new, starting with the Chateau, the house,
but also all the cellars, even the houses of the workers, were all built at that time,
all designed by the same architect, and all completed within 5 years, which is really
amazing. NP: Okay so let’s jump back, not even a few
decades, let’s jump back a few centuries. Where did it all start?
PP: Well, everything starts from the ground. And in this case, from the soil. Chateau Margaux
together with a few other properties enjoys very privileged soil and climate. People started
to realize that while they were making wine for their own consumption probably. Since
the early middle age, they were growing vines of course together with other kinds of crops
and they realized that the wine which was made here was better than the wine made there.
NP: And that was the start of them recognizing that soil and terroir…
PP: …was more gifted. PP: And then they started building their tradition
of vine growing and wine making. And then the real sexy story really started at the
very end of the 16th century, early 17th century when the market opens and Chateau Margaux
was very soon recognized as one of the leaders in producing extremely fine and very expensive
wines. So since then, we constantly strive to push further the level of excellence so
there are 400 years of constant, I may say passionate search for excellence.
So all starts from the soil, people recognize that this is gifted soil, privileged climate,
they start working, they accumulate experience, they search excellence, and that’s what made
us what we are now. NP: Then tell me how did this history lead
up this infamous 1855 classification? PP: Well because one day, there was one of
the first international exhibitions in Paris. NP: Right, the Universal or World Expo.
PP: Yes the Expo. And then Emperor Napoleon III asked Bordeaux courtiers to promote the
French wines. He wanted to promote the French wines and he asked about an official classification,
so an official classification was designed and made by the Bordeaux brokers based on
the terroir. The brokers were asked to list the best wines and less good wines so once
again based on what they already knew since more than one century and based also on the
prices which the wines were commanding on the market at that period, they just listed
the wines, and they established 5 different levels — first growth, second, third, fourth
and fifth growth. And at that time, there were 4 growths which were listed First Growths
— Margaux, Lafite, Latour and Haut-Brion. NP: Then what does this 1855 classification
mean to us today? PP: Probably very much the same as it meant
for them when it was decided. Even more commitment towards excellence. Since we are First Growth,
we know that consumers expect us to produce excellent wines, even more. They are ready,
sometimes, to pay a very high price for that. So it’s a real commitment to excellence.
SEGMENT 2 NP: We’ve already seen the beautiful buildings
that did exist in 1855, but what I’m really excited to see is this new technology you
have in the new buildings. HL: Yes, it’s a new sorting table.
NP: A sorting table. HL: So we program for each variety. After,
we have the destemmer. NP: The destemmer? So it’s removing the stems
from the grapes. HL: and after, you have this machine. We program
it to have a certain color of grapes of berries, a certain size and shape, to the size of berries
we want. For merlot, it may be, we can have a bigger size than cabernet. Too big berry
of Cabernet, we don’t want it. NP: So you would actually program this by
grape, by single varietal, whether it’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot. So
you program by size, by color, and then it spits out the ones it doesn’t like and it
keeps the ones you approve of? HL: Yes.
NP: Yes? Oui? HL: Exactly! (laughing)
NP: Wow! It’s amazing technology to me. I love that it’s so advanced. I love that it’s
something that’s so different than what people expect.
HL: Yes, but we always use the best technology. Just as a tool. Just to make it better.
NP: Right. But it’s still soft of the grape which is what you want.
HL: Yes. NP: Right. Yes. Exactly. Well, why don’t we
go check out the rest of the building? HL: Okay. HL: This is the new vat room. We have an old
one and this one is new. We have some oak tanks and stainless steel ones. Usually I
prefer the wood for the best — old vines, and the best, for me, for the best Cabernet
Sauvignon from the top of the hill. And the others, maybe the bigger stainless steel tanks
are more for young vines to make Second Wine. What we need in the wood is micro-oxygenation
so it’s more for wines that age longer. NP: Gotcha. So it’s important that there’s
more oxygen coming through the wood than would through the steel.
HL: Yes. NP: Okay. Makes sense.
NP: So you have another barrel room that has some unique qualities to it as well. Let’s
go have a look at that one! NP: Alright, so there are a lot of barrels
in here, but what’s the unique thing about this place?
HL: It’s a place where we try to have a natural climate without air conditioning. So we have
air coming from the soil, going in the pipes from the soil. The air in the soil is at the
same temperature all year. And it’s very well insulated. And we also have humidity coming
from the soil. NP: I noticed that. I was just going to say
it kind of feels like we are outside. HL: If a cellar is too dry, there is too much
evaporation. We need a certain amount of humidity. NP: And then that does what to the barrels,
which does what to the wine? HL: If it’s too dry, we say the wine dries
up a little bit, so it’s more tight so we need this humidity. IF it’s very dry, it can
dry the wood, and after it leaks. NP: And we don’t want to lose any of that
wine! HL: No.
NP: Tell me your favorite vintage. HL: My favorite vintage? It’s ’61.
NP: And the reason? HL: Because it’s an exceptional vintage. (laughing)
NP: Oh I’m sure. I’m sure it is. NP: Favorite food pairing?
HL: Um, I like with veal. NP: Sounds good. I am hungry so let’s go try
that vintage and maybe some veal! INTERVIEW 3: Chateau Desmirail
NP: Well thank you Denis, for having me here at Chateau Desmirail.
DL: You’re welcome at Desmirail. NP: Merci. I wanted to speak to you about
something that consumers don’t usually get to hear about which is the “en primeur” pricing
that happens 6 months after harvest? DL: Yes, about 6 months after harvest.
NP: So tell me how this system works. DL: People buy the wine before the wine is
ready to drink. NP: So critics come in, critics and merchants,
and they taste your wine, they evaluate it, and then you set the price?
DL: Yes, we set the price. NP: And then they put their stamp on it and
say “Yes, we like this.” DL: Yes, the book them.
NP: So they book them, meaning they purchase the wine.
DL: Yes, they purchase. NP: And then, it’s a system that’s how old?
When did this system start? DL: It’s a very old system. Before, you had
“sur souches”, they bought it even before the harvest.
NP: Okay, so “sur souches” is when they actually bought it while the grapes were still on the
vine. DL: But they stopped in 1961 because we had
hail, and the harvest was very small, so the winemaker had to pay back!
NP: So it’s like being a stockbroker, you’re buying futures into the wine market.
DL: Yes. NP: Then this kind of strategy, this “en primeur”
strategy, really works well for the wine that you’re producing, which can be drunk quite
young. DL: Yes. Surely. It’s a wine that you can
drink when young because it’s round, smooth, with a lot of Merlot inside.
NP: So that works perfectly for the end consumer who is wanting to just walk into a wine store
and get the product right off the shelf. They don’t have to worry about thinking about this
intimidating French wine they’ve just purchased and not know how long to age it for.
DL: Yes, to put it in the cellar, to wait for it for a year. They can drink it when
they buy it. NP: My last question for you is about food.
What would be your favorite food pairing to go with your 2006 Chateau Desmirail?
DL: I would say a red meat with 2-06. NP: Sounds great. Santé!
DL: Santé! NP: Merci. BT: From where we are here, we are seeing
Lafite is just below. Lafite-Rothschild. You’ve got Mouton-Rothschild there. And you’ve got
Pontet-Canet which is just there. So from this spot in Saint Estèphe, three of the
major chateaux from the area. NP: Not a bad place to be.
BT: Not a bad place to be. BT: You can have the best soil everywhere
in the world, but if you’re not working it, you’ll get nothing. Soil is nothing without
man. So we are doing the pruning during the winter, during the spring season, we are repruning
also. We are really paying attention to the vine to make it suffer. In order to get a
good grape, you need to make it suffer. We are also doing some green harvest in order
to concentrate naturally the berry. Here, the soil has been worked but only upper soil.
What is important is the soil below. NP: And so what do you have underneath here?
BT: Underneath, we’ve got gravel, clay and then 20 meters from here, limestone. The terroir
here is very compact. NP: How does that differ from the terroir
of Margaux or Pauillac? BT: Well, for example, Margaux has a terroir
that is not as dense as this one. It’s a terroir which has more sand than here, there is less
gravels, so the wines you have will be less concentrated, will be more, how do you say,
elegant. Here we are making wines that are quite tough, that are quite show off because
they show off as a young person, like a young person, in the young years. But 10 years from
now, 20 years from how, the wines will be still showing off.
NP: Okay, tell me why you choose to use stainless steel instead of the barrels.
BT: There is a purity. It’s kind of having the best of each century. On one side, you’re
working the vine the old way with very ancient thinking. On the other hand, you’re working
your wine in a very untraditional way, a new way of thinking. But keep in mind that the
way you’re making your wine is almost the same as a hundred years ago, but you just
vinify it into something new. Lynch Bages NP: So this was all the equipment they used
back in the day when the classification system was published. So tell me then, what happened
before the classification system to get that system as famous as it is?
JB: Well, actually, the wines were always classified into classes or tiers according
to their price. The trade, the brokers, they would use a very simple classification system
to put the different wines, different brands, into tiers according to their price. This
has always been done since the 17th, 18th century. And the only thing is that in 1855,
the list was written and the authority of the Chamber of Commerce of Bordeaux was nothing
else than rewriting of previous classifications. NP: So back in the 17th, 18th century, they
were still pricing these wines into tiers and this is how this system actually became
formalized into what we know. JB: It’s a very effective tool to simplify
the offer, the global offer. They would go to Saint Petersburg or Amsterdam and say if
you want wines of 2nd class, 3rd class, 4th class, they would classify their wines, their
offer, into classes according to price. And of course, price corresponding to quality.
NP: Of course. That would be the perception. JC: The wines that were made in the better
areas belonged to 4 communes, the most important communes. From south to north — Margaux,
St Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe. These are the 4 communes. Pauillac, for instance,
has 18 classified growths out of 61, so almost one third are in Pauillac.
NP: Right. Right. And you’re one of them. JC: And Lynch Bages is one of them, which
makes us very happy. NP: Exactly. I believe that. JC: There are basically 4 communes that have
the most of the classified wines. From south to north Margaux, then St. Julien, Pauillac
then St. Estèphe. And Pauillac, where we are, we are very proud that on the little
commune of Pauillac, we have 18 of the 61. NP: What do those 18 have in common here in
Pauillac? JC: They have in common the soil, which is
the soil of the commune, which is alongside the river on the width of about 1 mile, not
even 1 mile. It’s very concentrated. What strikes the visitor in the area is the concentration
of great names he finds on the very small piece of land about 20 miles long over 1 mile
wide. And that corresponds to a specific terroir, a specific soil that can be found only in
this area, on these 4 communes. NP: So describe that soil to me.
JC: The soil is sand, coarse sands and gravel, little small pebbles.
NP: Which allows for drainage, which is important. JC: Very good drainage, which makes sense
because we need that to make the vine happy. Vine is Mediterranean plant that is happy
with very dry soil, but a combination of moderate climate, never too hot, never too cold, rather
humid, that favorizes the finesse of the fruit. It’s very important for quality of the wine
that the vine would be under what we call “hydric stress”. If vine is too happy a plant,
it grows very well in North Africa or Middle East, but it’s not where you find the best
wines. NP: Would it be fair to say that the 1855
Classification put Bordeaux on the map? JC: Yes, it was a very efficient and powerful
tool for the public to understand how Bordeaux is structured. To understand the names, to
remember the brands, to know where they come from, to make a close relationship between
the terroir that is unique and the wines that you find on the shelves of
the shops. It took 200 years to come to what
we know today. But it was well made over the years and very useful.

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