As if our tour of Bordeaux could get any better, on our last morning, we got ‘down to the dirt’ with Château Smith Haut Lafitte’s winemaker Fabien Teitgen, who highlighted the nuances of the terroir and the challenges of organic and biodynamic winemaking in Bordeaux. To sum it up in one sentence: it’s all in the soil! This Château is also one of the few in Bordeaux to still have its own cooper, producing a mere three barrels a day. No rest for the weary. To select the wood for their barrels (100% french oak of course), Fabien and the cooper head deep into the forest to literally lick and chew on wood and bark to select their materials. If that is not an indication of the meticulous nature of Fabien’s wine-making process, we don’t know what is.
We concluded our heavy hitting tour with a visit to Joanne, one of the major negociant houses of Bordeaux. This business is owned by the Casteja family, whom we met in Barsac at Doisy-Verdrines. Top Bordeaux wine is sold like stocks in a unique trade system, where wine from Chateaux named as Grand Crus Classés (great classified growths) are purchased as ‘futures’ when they are still in barrel. We had the opportunity to visit one of the warehouses where these wines are stored once bottled and learn about the role of a negociant in the Bordeaux trade from the lovely Casteja brothers, Olivier and Eric.
The exterior of the Joanne warehouse is like any other – nondescript. However, inside is a different story. Soft lighting illuminates pallets of wine from the most famous Chateaux – Haut Brion, Mouton Rothschild, Latour – that are stored in beautiful wooden cases, stacked from floor to ceiling, and the walls are adorned with massive pieces of wine-inspired modern art. This space houses hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock, not to mention the wine owned by Joanne that is still in barrel at their respective Chateaux. Our hosts explained the intricacies and politics of the trade over a casual lunch, as we poured ourselves glasses of their generous offerings from the region. This was the pinnacle learning experience that tied the whole tour together.
After lunch we headed back to the hotel to collect our bags and begin the long and treacherous journey back to real life. Throughout this incredible week, our travel companions had become a second family and it was time to bid them a teary ‘au revoir’. Our expectations had been far exceeded. A huge thank you to James and Sondra Cluer of Fine Vintage for all of their efforts in coordinating this week and making it happen. We still go to bed each night wishing we could wake up in our room at Les Sources de Caudalie on Day One and hit repeat. Truly an experience of a lifetime! (co-written)