The most elegant wines of the world, inspiration for the mankind, are produced and preserved in this part of Aquitaine. This land is dotted with beauty and historical domains, giants of excellence. The Bordeaux countryside appears as a marvel of landscape architecture: vineyards cited to perfection and remains of medieval towers, which only the heaven knows how they can stand still today. This is a reserved and mysterious land, self-confident and without excesses.
Our feet rest on the happy soil where the most prestigious wines the planet come from.
At the same time, in the same place, there is another Bordeaux, which is far from the sealed gates and the renown luxury. Rural villages, housing small and medium producers with earth in their nails, share the same terroir; you can knock on their door without warning and you can look for them in the fields if they don’t answer the bell.
This Bordeaux is far away from the canons of classical splendour, but I can assure you that the wines are not far away as well: you can find the same poetry of perfect vine rows even here. The place that gave birth to Ausonius still remains and a lyrical tone is perceptible in the air.
I felt that entering this Secret Bordeaux would offer even more. I needed to get into the other side of the heart.
We start from Saint Magne de Castillon, côte de Bordeaux, a village facing the Dordogne river, a few kilometres away from Saint-Emilion. We meet Château Beynat, who has celebrated his first hundred years in 2017. The story of this place begun with Léonard Nebout, followed by four generations, each with his own personality, aimed at constantly improving their wine production. We meet Alain Tourenne who today manages the property, along with with Nathalie Boyer, and the 17 hectares of which the domain is composed of.
It’s nice to talk to Alain; he was arranging the cellar when we arrived, but he dried his hands and welcomed us in company with two splendid English setters who guided us in the property. Alain was born and literally grown up in the cellar, he knows every inch of his rows and he is a true example of vocation for this job. His father and his uncle were both farmers and he began as a worker in a cooperative winery and later in a domain. He then became technical director of a wine delivery company and completed his career becoming an oenologist.
Some technical notes and tasting
In the heart of his vineyard, he tells us how they treat vine: they are biodynamic, a practice that has become the norm in France, since 2015. They do not use chemical herbicides and the soil is worked with mechanical tools to limit the growth of the grass. Spring season is dedicated to chipping and manually lifting the branches, in order to adjust them. In summer the leaves are torn to expose the grapes to the heat of the sun’s rays; this guarantees healthy growth and maturity to the vine. They carry out the green harvest, if necessary. The goal is to get 10 to 14 bunches per plant. The take advantage of a great, traditional instrument: the Bordeaux mixture of copper and sulfur against oidium.
We entered the cellar to have a wine taste: it was the time to perceive in the glass the harmony and balance we heard about. While pouring me the first wine, Alain told me:
Remember that wine, before becoming wine, was vine and vine is one thing with the earth, to which it is anchored. If you don’t recognize it in the glass, then something went wrong.
- Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux – 2015 (Blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc): grapes harvested by hand and selected berry by berry. Aged in a cement vat for 18 months. Intense and fine, strawberry and cherry present. Strong point: persistence.
- Castillon Cuvée Leonard – 2014 (Blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), produced from grapes coming from a 40-year-old vineyard. It is aged for 12 months in barrels: purple, dense both on sight and on the palate, gentle and soft tannins. At the end, comes the forest: black berry and wet stones.
- Terre à Terre Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux – 2016 (100% Merlot), produced from grapes from a 30-year-old vineyard. The grapes are manually harvested, the berries are macerated when whole/ with stalks and aged in Tuscan earthenware amphoras for 12 months. Thanks to the violet scent it is a fascinating wine and very sweet with red fruits aromas. Pleasant and dense. Production of 1000 bottles a year, depending on the harvest.
Entering the green and moist area of Entre-deux-Mers
Now let’s change area and reach the Entre-Deux-Mers terroir, where the landscape changes and becomes greener, forestry and humid: we are between the Garonne and the Dordogne, in the largest sub-region of Bordeaux wines, bordered to the east by the Gironde department. The vineyard surface is not vast and the area is renowned for the production of white (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle), rather than red wines. Only the first one carries the AOC “Entre-Deux-Mers” denomination, while the red is sold as a Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec).
The winegrowers of this region confess that red wine is more profitable on the market. The area is famous for having adopted a method of vine growing similar to the one employed by the Austrian Lenz Moser cellar; this method is thus called Lenz Moser high Training System. This method consists in leaving space to the vine both on its sides and in height; this facilitates the mechanization work in the vineyard.
Insides the Vigneron’s home! After all, everyone is capable of visiting the Château –
We arrived in a strange place, far from the real world. A beautiful house with tuff walls and windows shutters painted in a very bright green and in contrast with the grey light of that rainy day. This vision was like a painting in which bright colours are surrounded by paling contours depicting the sultriness and the humidity typical of river locations. This place is called Mouliets and Villemartin, a difficult name to remember indeed!
This place is nothing but the home of Christian Jacquement, a curious man, who has truly lived a thousand lives: mathematics teacher, lover of tectonic-movements, father of seven children, a self-taught vigneron. He created all these projects following the inspiration of the moon, an element that more than any other shapes his wines. In fact, Christian does not conceive any other way of making wine outside of biodynamics. I must admit he succeeded very well.
I have also to admit that, perhaps, we could commit ourselves to experiment this technique in Italy as well; wine is not so bad in our country and diversifying a product is one of the highest forms of corporate dynamism, when not affecting the identity of the company itself, of course. Before starting the tasting in the garden, we passed by the rear of the villa, where there is a Goji berry plantation, whose orchard was brought directly from the Himalayas. Christian is in fact the first and best-known French producer of this powerful antioxidant. We tasted one berry and we immediately realized how different is nature from what we buy in the city every day (I assure you it was the last controversy in this article).
We stand in the garden, among sneaky cats on rocking chairs, oriental furnishings, imported travel memories, creepers, giant wasps that contribute to the biodiversity and a pretty girl who reads books about biodynamic agriculture: it’s not a Bosch work, it is a natural microcosm with a primitive charm.
We were only a few kilometres away from inaccessible wine estates and we were into contact with a secret Bordeaux, with its human side: this was what I desired from this trip.
I have to reveal a secret: Christian’s wines are produced in another place, Château Franc la Fleur, a small vineyard planted in 2001 that does not reach 2 hectares, under the appellation Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux. The three typical Bordeaux vines are present: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
The first harvest took place in 2004, the grapes are manually harvested, even the pressing is manual and carried out twice a day during the alcoholic fermentation. The maceration lasts 3 weeks and vinification takes place in stainless steel tanks. The aging phase is in 225L or 400L barrels and lasts from 12 to 24 months, depending on the year.
We have tasted five wines belonging to different vintages. They are all endowed with singularity by virtue of the biological method, which allows that every bottle, every glass, every mouthfeel has something different to say. However, there are common denominators: intense ruby color, red fruits, vanilla notes transmitted from the barrel period. Melting tannins.
- Château Franc la Fleur 2013 (70% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon), aged 12 months in cask, bottled in November 2014. There is the whole range of red fruits and a graceful tannin.
- Château Franc la Fleur 2014 (65% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon), aged 22 months in cask, bottled in August 2016. Usually Bordeaux wines are an investment to be consumed in the long run, but this is really ready to drink. We do not know what it could reserve in the future, but the present is already very generous on the aromatic level: very intense fruity notes.
- Château Franc la Fleur 2014 Cuvée MOUNA 100% Merlot, aged 22 months in barrels, bottled in August 2016. Isabelle Mouna laughs amused on the label. Indeed, she has good reason to be happy with such a wine. Ah, Isabelle was Christian’s mother-in-law; a very proud, Christian says, a lady belonging to other times and tasting of caramel and red fruits.
- Château Franc la Fleur 2010 Cuvée MOUNA 100% Merlot, 19 months’ maturation in barrels, bottled in August 2012. The label was designed by the artist Robert Keramsi. Isabelle is even more delightful: this year she won the bronze medal at the Aquitaine Organic Wine Contest.
Only at this moment we learnt about the production site in Saint Magne de Castillon, not far from the house. It can be visited and tastings and food-wine pairing can be organized. We did not care, we had already tasted the wines and we were given the opportunity to get in touch with the producer in the domestic estate, among his affections, his certainties and cats sleeping under the shade of trees in his garden. We couldn’t have known such wines better. Otherwise, we might not even perceive their truest aromas.