Their visit introduced Nicky and Liz to some potential new producers – as well as the opportunity to learn about new production techniques from some of our long-established and much-loved names.
Château Fonplégade, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé
LIZ: This was a prospecting visit: we've bought Fonplégade's wine in previous vintages but not recently, and with the property enjoying a renaissance since its current owners took over in 2004 and a tip-off that they're doing interesting things, Tim decided to pay a visit.
The vineyards sit in a location with impeccably good credentials with Château Canon La Gaffelière right next door and Châteaux Canon and Angélus just around the corner.
South-facing vineyards of Château Fonplégade are fantastically located with impressive neighbours – Canon la Gaffelière, Angélus, Bélair-Monange and Canon
They've clearly made massive financial investments in the meticulously maintained vineyards (worked on organic and bio-dynamic lines) and state-of-the-art winery, as well as the glorious château itself which is the home of the American owners. They use two of the best-known wine consultants, Michel Rolland and Stéphane Derenoncourt – seemingly no expense is spared. Despite the huge recent financial investment, the wines they produce and sell are still well priced – this is clearly a long-term investment and a labour of love.
Château Thieuley, Cave de Rauzan and Château d'Aiguilhe
Château Thieuley in the mist
NICKY: When we arrived in Bordeaux in late December, we were greeted by an impenetrable mist that persisted throughout our three-day visit, accompanied by temperatures that barely lifted above freezing. 'It's good for the vines,' I was told. That was some consolation.
The vineyard landscape in December is very stark and characterless, quite different to the summer months which I'm more familiar with, but work in the vineyards was still evident. I was heartened to hear that these days, workers are equipped with the latest technology in mechanical pruners, but I didn't envy their seemingly endless task, especially given the weather conditions.
As always with these visits, our tours of the winemaking facilities at the various producers was fascinating and sometimes surprising. There were a few eye-openers for me. At Château Thieuley, for example, I discovered the oxoline barrel system, a sort of racking with rollers for easy batonnage (lees stirring).
Oxoline barrel system at Château Thieuley
At Cave de Rauzan, where we buy the La Perrière white Bordeaux, I saw an impressive mobile bottling unit in full swing, and also discovered oak staves are used for adding a subtle oak flavour.
Mobile bottling unit in action at Cave de Rauzan
Oak staves used for adding oak flavour, stacked up at Cave de Rauzan.
And the state-of-the art facilities at Château d'Aiguilhe, in the Côtes de Castillon, I thought we'd stumbled into the control centre of the Starship Enterprise!
Winemaking facilities at Château d'Aiguilhe
Although the 'guard dog' for this futuristic property looked remarkably earth-like and came in the form of a rather feisty sheep that approached our moving car with an un-nerving confidence.
Château d'Aiguilhe's 'guard dog'
There is always something to learn from these trips and one of the things that both Nicky and Liz came back with was a desire to return to Bordeaux itself, not just for the wine but for the splendour of the city itself.
If you're tempted too, check out our Vineyard Visits page for some information on producers to call in on in the region and even some where you can stay too.