It’s impossible to talk about many new world wine growing regions and not see the influence of Bordeaux. Whether it be Napa Valley, Margaret River, Colchagua Valley or even Mendoza the foundation for these cabernet and merlot based wines was laid thousands of miles away in Bordeaux, France. Many new world wine regions have been or are still at the forefront of the industry trends. Why then has one of the world’s most recognized wine producing regions, the grandfather of many new exciting regions, seemingly fallen off the wine consumer’s radar?
Before we can dig too deeply into that question, let’s have a quick Bordeaux refresher…Red wines from Bordeaux are based on five grape varieties, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec. While Bordeaux is most know for long lived tannic reds, sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle are permitted as “Bordeaux Blanc” or “Graves Blanc.” The five red Bordeaux varieties have provided the template for many wine regions in the new world.
The Bordeaux region is centered around the Gironde Estuary in southwest France which is made up of two rivers. The confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers flowing toward the Atlantic ocean creates a maritime climate that has helped enable world class wines to be grown for centuries. The estuary splits the region into three distinct sub regions. The Left Bank is dominated by cabernet sauvignon though merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc and malbec all play a supporting role. The left bank is home to famed first growth chateau such as Latour, Haut-Brion and Margaux. On the right bank of the estuary temperatures are slightly cooler and more suited to merlot driven wines. The right bank has great diversity in soil type and its trade structure is more accommodating to smaller family owned operations.
In stark contrast to the chateau of the left bank, the right bank encompasses many small family estates and lesser known chateau and is home to the garragiste movement which brought winemaking on a microscopic level into the spotlight. The third sub-region is called Entre-deux-Mers which means “between two seas.” This region produces some refreshing whites from sauvignon blanc and semillon along with some relatively light bodied reds that are destined for co-ops and bulk wine labels.
Whether it be the left or right bank, the Bordeaux wine industry has been greatly influenced by two things; Premier cru classifications and wine brokers. We’ll save the classification minutia for a later blog piece but a 5 tier classification on the left bank and a sub-regional system (St. Emilion Cru Classe) on the right helped raise the reputation and pricing to mythical levels. This is great for those at the top of the heap but for the small family operations that were not included were forced to market their wines in a different manner. To make old school Bordeaux even more difficult to enjoy, most left back chateau have been selling all of their production through a complicated series of brokers. A chateau will sell all of their production to a broker who will in turn set pricing and sell to importers. Many chateau from the left bank and a very select few from the right bank sell their wine, in partnership with brokers, almost exclusively through En Primeur sales which means the wine is sold off before it is even in bottle. These practices disconnect the estate from the end consumers and also adds another mark up to already very expensive wines.
(Click on picture to enlarge)
So with all the static classifications, high prices and antiquated distribution models Bordeaux has persisted as one of the most well respected wine regions in the world. The wine industry is subject to fashions and trends just like any industry and it seems that Bordeaux has almost been lost to the next generation of consumers. Centuries of acclaim and consumption cannot be all wrong.
Bordeaux will have a resurgence and gain popularity with younger consumers but it won’t be because of the famous classified chateau. Estates that cut out brokers and make a commitment to a long term relationship with a forward thinking US Importer will be introduced to a wide variety of wine drinkers. These consumers are also more interested in wines with character and that are produced as purely as possible rather than the “house style” of a large chateau.
Who is Bringing Bordeaux Back? (Picture shown here is of Biodynamic vines at Gombaude-Guillot. )
Chateau Gombaude-Guillot is no stranger to going against the grain. While the Belevier family has been producing wine in the commune of Pomerol (Right Bank) as long as any of the family can remember, they acquired their current estate in 1868 and haven’t looked back. Claire Laval (Belevier Family) was one of the only female vignerons in the region for her entire career. She was also one of the first to embrace organic viticulture which is very challenging in such a humid climate. She sought out organic certification through Ecocert only to dive right into the deep end of biodynamics( see our earlier Biodynamics 101 blog for more info). Gombaude-Guillot is now fully biodynamic, native yeasts are used, fining and filtration are employed rarely .
These practices combined with half the production being aged in concrete rather than 100% new oak creates a wine the is truly alive and representative of the Pomerol terroir. This estate has as long a history in Pomerol as any of their neighbors but are not stuck in the past. They are willing to take risks and we can only hope more Bordeaux houses follow suit. Learn more about CHÂTEAU GOMBAUDE-GUILLOT https://www.kermitlynch.com/our-wines/chateau-gombaude-guillot/
(Click on picture to enlarge)
On the left bank it becomes even more difficult to find estates that are producing quality wines at reasonable prices that do not participate in the traditional Bordeaux brokerage hierarchy. Chateau Aney is a true breath of fresh air. By deciding to build a relationship with Kermit Lynch and the US wine drinkers rather than the wine brokers in Bordeaux they are reaching a younger generation that are more influenced by importer reputation rather than an individual estate’s century old classification.
The wines of Chateau Aney also speak to our current wine landscape in that their Haut-Medoc wine can be consumed upon release. While the wines of Chateau Aney are able to age elegantly, they strive for a more refreshing yet still complex style that sees much less exposure to new oak than many other chateau in the area. There’s no doubt that decades old cru classe Bordeaux can be a revelatory experience.
However, the contemporary wine buyer isn’t laying down thousand dollar bottles to drink in 30 years. They want an honest wine with character and sense of place that can be readily enjoyed with friends and family. Let’s hope Bordeaux can grasp onto these concepts and be the “go to” region it once was for both quality and value in the eyes of the next wine drinking generation.
Look for some of my other blogs here;