Our final day started with another exercise in blending, again a 2018 white, but this time the entry-level sauvignon blanc, La Perrière from the Cave de Rauzan co-op in the Entre-Deux-Mers region and another member favourite.
Thoughts on organics
Jean-Marie Maurier, the Chef de Cave, has been in charge of this industrial-scale operation for many years. It is fair to say that he has strong views on organic viticulture! He strongly believes in healthy grapes that are looked after well, but isn't a fan of the rules and regulations of organic. In 2018 there was significant mildew and it was emphatically not a year to be organic. He also pointed out that spraying with copper is allowed under organic regulations and at a level that he believes is excessive. Many of the people he knows (but does not deal with) used lots of copper and then when it didn't rain after the treatment, the copper residue remained on the vines.
Another exercise in blending
For the blending exercise Jean-Marie had prepared two semillons, five sauvignon blancs and a colombard. The semillon was picked in early August and its acidity was rather overwhelming. Again, various blends were tried involving all three grape varieties. The final result was 75% sauvignon (from two of the original components), 15% semillon and 10% colombard.
Jean-Marie and Gwen from the co-op with Tim in the lab-style blending room
Luckily we didn't have to taste everything !
The scale of the place was amazing
The barrel store! I have only ever seen barrels stored to a height of three before
Just as big on the outside and more like an oil refinery than a winery. We estimated that our total stocks of all our wine at The Wine Society (and we have a lot) would fit into these tanks with one or two spare for good measure.
From almost industrial-scale to family-owned Château Thieuley
2018 Château Thieuley Blanc in its 'raw' state
We then moved from the industrial scale co-op to Château Thieuley, hosted by Marie Courselle, one of two sisters who now run the property. Their grandfather bought the property in the 1950s and it now runs to 83ha, producing approximately 50% red and 50% white wine. We started by tasting the 2017 and 2018 whites which are 50% semillon, 50% sauvignon blanc.
The reds tasted were 2015 (currently for sale and a recent Wine Champion) and the 2016 which 'will be amazing in two to three years.' This is 70% merlot and 30% cabernet sauvignon. We also tasted their rosé which is mainly cabernet franc and a wine we don't often list as we believe that Bordeaux is not generally the best source of value for rosé wines.
Tim Sykes in the tasting room at Château Thieuley, Bordeaux
After the tasting we headed into the bijou Château, small (well, for a Bordeaux château anyway) but certainly perfectly formed, for lunch with Marie and sister Sylvie's parents. This was a treat as Mme Courselle is a superb cook. The family are friends with Helène Darroze who runs the 2-Michelin Star restaurant at The Connaught and who is one of France's top chefs. Mme. Darroze has been known to phone up Mme Courselle for culinary advice !!
Tartare of scallops which was sublime!
Pan-fried pigeon with delicious truffled mashed potatoes
We also enjoyed a simple and lovely fruit salad and a Pyrenean sheep's cheese bought directly from the farmer.
Our Final Visit
With lunch duly consumed we headed off for our final visit of the trip to Château Haut-Sarpe in Saint-Emilion. Our hosts were the owners M and Mme Janoueix, whose wines we do not currently buy. We tasted a number of different vintages from a number of châteaux that they own including La Gasparde, Château Queyron and La Croix in Pomerol. These wines were at a much higher price point than the others on the trip and Tim will taste further with samples back in Stevenage.
We then made our way back to the airport for the 20.30 Easyjet flight to Gatwick and our train journeys home.
Our steed waits for the Gatwick leg of the return journey
This trip was a complete contrast to my previous Bordeaux trip in 2016 but equally interesting and arguably more important to the majority of members of The Society. Once again it showed three things very clearly. Firstly, that the relationships with the châteaux are so important, often more important for the cheaper wines than further up the price scale. Seeing the passion that they have for their land and their vines was wonderful. Secondly, that the relationship between The Society, our buyers and our suppliers is second to none, and thirdly that the care taken to select the very best wines that the buyers truly believe in is a key part of what makes The Society the 145-year-old success that it is.
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