Horsing Around in the Vineyard
At Château Pontet Canet in the esteemed village of Pauillac, everything’s done the old-fashioned way, including the use of horses to plow the vineyards. But this equestrian effect isn’t sheer gimmickry: Technical Director Jean-Michel Comme explains that a horse-drawn plow inflicts far less damage to the vines than a tractor ever would.
The meticulously tended vines of Château Pontet Canet, the only “Grand Cru Classé” estate to produce its wines using entirely biodynamic methods. It began its conversion in 2004, a radical step forward for a region where many owners still fear that "going natural" might jeopardize their precious profits.
A Winemaker with a Message
Almost more philosopher than winemaker, Jean-Michel Comme draws a distinction between organic viticulture—which he equates with a “warfare mentality” that uses natural pesticides to “kill off” disease in the vines—and biodynamic methods, which, according to him, involve making relational adjustments within the vineyard to foster a harmonious, self-sustaining ecosystem.
The idyllic tree-lined path leading to Château Guiraud in Sauternes, home to some of the world’s most unctuous dessert wines. In 1995, the property became the region's first and only “Premier Cru Classé” estate to be certified organic by the French Ministry of Agriculture.
A Bug's Life
Château Guiraud recently installed a series of “insect hotels" throughout the property, which house such many-legged residents as carpenter wasps, beetles and earwigs—all natural predators that protect against undesirable larvae threatening the vines.
Château Guiraud is the only “classified growth” that produces its own vine plants. Here one of the estate’s intrepid workers grafts root-stocks for new plantings of Semillon vines.
Waiting for the Sun
Guiraud’s vines in the early morning fog, which typically burns off in the heat of the afternoon sun: ideal conditions for developing botrytis cinerea. This gray mold, affectionately known as “noble rot,” is a prerequisite for making Sauternes. As it gradually infects the grape skins, they shrivel into sugary sweetness, resulting in a golden elixir of unrivaled concentration and complexity.
These trendy new containers for wine hold about a glass and a half: the perfect sample size, especially for sweet wines like Sauternes, where a little goes a long way.
Setting a New Bar
A younger generation of drinkers within the city of Bordeaux now flocks to spots like Le Bo Bar: this forward-thinking wine bar not only focuses on the “natural” side of Bordeaux wine, but offers wines from other regions in France as well, which is pretty uncommon for wine bars in the region.
No Wine List, No Problem
Taking a few cues from the renowned natural wine destinations of Paris, Le Bo Bar skips the wine list. Customers simply choose a bottle from the shelf, where a vast assortment of liquid riches awaits pairing with the daily chalkboard specials.
The unforgettable charcuterie plate at Le Bo Bar. These salty meats were perfectly accompanied by a glass of the 2009 “Clos 19 Bis” Graves Supérieur, an ethereally light, faintly off-dry Semillon-Sauvignon blend produced by up-and-coming Bordeaux winemaker Vincent Quirac. Unfortunately, his bottles have yet to arrive on US shores.
A Family Affair
For at least four hundred years, Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion has remained in the same family, handed down from generation to generation. Xavier David Beaulieu, co-owner and current vineyard manager, proudly boasts that his estate has worked organically since its inception hundreds of years ago. (He qualifies this, of course, by conceding that no one would have used that term at the time).
No Chemical Dependency Here
Tufts of wildflowers run amok in Château Coutet’s idyllic vineyards, a testament to the microbial richness of their pesticide-free soil. “The more healthy and dynamic the soil,” the owner claims, “the more healthy and dynamic the wine.”
These chemically-sprayed vines from an anonymous neighbor’s vineyard reveal a stark study in contrasts.
The Back Catalog
The last remaining bottles of 1961 Château Coutet. If only we all had family cellars...
Lunch with a group of winemakers in a country farmhouse outside the village of Saint Emilion. These dedicated artisans hand-craft limited quantities of traditional, value-driven wines sourced primarily from the region’s lesser-known “satellite appellations,” which border more established zones of production. For a perfect example, try the 2005 Chateau de Bellevue Lussac Saint Emilion—mercifully priced even in this highly-coveted vintage.