The Hallgarten HeadStart apprenticeship sees one individual experience all parts of the Hallgarten business within an 18 month programme. From the accounts team, to marketing, to spending time with one of our producer partners – it is truly a 360 degree experience! HeadStart apprentice, Alex Parsons, has just returned from Bordeaux where he spent a month with Estelle Roumage, at Château Lestrille. In his own words, here’s what he got up to:
“Hard graft! Long Hours! You’re going to be exhausted…!” Swiftly following by a smirk was what I greeted with for most of the time before I went away. A harvest – a vintage, however you wish to call it – has been a dream of mine to be a part of since I started getting into wine, and now was my opportunity.
Château Lestrille in the criminally underappreciated Entre-deux-Mers within the Bordeaux appellation, was the destination. Family run since 1901, Estelle Roumage heads up a small but truly extraordinary team that just don’t stop. Sylvia (Oenologist), Valerie and Donny (Winery) are patient and incredibly determined to get things perfect when they know they can. Patrick is part of the vineyard team and was very welcoming. Valerie and Patrick were especially tough to communicate with as my French is abysmal and they don’t speak English, though we did enjoy the occasional fist-bump and shouting the odd French term to our own amusement.
The very first day set the tone, really. Estelle greeted me at the airport, regaling me with tales of the harvest so far (I arrived towards the end of the white grapes being harvested). Early mornings – she had been up since 4am (local time) – and long days. In short, this month I was out there was not going to be a cakewalk.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever gone from an office job to a job where every day is a workout, but this was it. No one can prep you for the sudden change or for the realisations along the way, so let’s go through the realisations that I had while experiencing winemaking first hand in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever been.
1) Grape skins are heavy.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been surrounded by the pulped skins of about a million grapes sitting idly in the bottom of a tank. Moving them is one the toughest things I’ve ever had to do, other than trying to open my one-year-old niece’s hand when she’s holding something she shouldn’t. Not to mention the tank I was in was rendered frictionless by the time the juice has its way with it. Shovelling heavy grapes, trying to keep one’s balance, becomes a little bit of a circus act of which you are hot and sticky throughout.
2) There are a lot of grape skins.
Once all of them are out of the tank and filtered into the press to extract that last bit of juice from them, there must be someone on the press pushing or pulling them to equal the distribution, otherwise they won’t go in. Using a shovel and my will to live, I moved those skins, but they would not stop coming. It felt like years before the stream ended, not to mention the occasional moment where my stability was tested, and I almost fell in headfirst.
3) Le graisse c’est la vie.
To those of you who do not speak French – what I’ve recently discovered to be wonderful to listen to – this means “fat is life”. Butter, lard, any combination or derivations of them are essentially the way they live in this part of France. It’s a culture, a way of life, traditions and heritage depend on it, and it’s delicious, truly. The food that I was able to enjoy at the incredibly deft hands of Estelle was inspirational.
No matter how demanding things were physically or mentally, it was an experience of a lifetime and I do consider myself lucky for having been able to do it (I thanked Estelle and her family every day for the opportunity, and I will continue to do so until the day I die). I’ve been home for three weeks and my feet still despise me. It took me about a week to get used to it, and another two weeks for my body to realise it was used to it, and by the fourth week it wanted to shut down. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was unique, exciting, different and I cannot be more appreciative to Hallgarten or Chateau Lestrille for giving me the chance.
Scene One: Simpsons Wine Estate, Kent, October 2020.
Walking amid the vines in the Roman Road vineyard with Charles Simpson, we are interrupted by none other than Oz Clarke, here to film a piece for ITN news about the rise of English wine.
Clarke, who opened the winery in 2016, said: “I grew up around here and I know the Elham Valley well. It is seriously chalky, well protected and south facing – very similar to Champagne.”
In his book on English wine, Clarke states that he had been making speeches about the effects of climate change since the early 1990s “to deaf ears, frankly.” But he knew that Champagne was about one degree warmer than southern England. Yet Champagne had been warming up all through the 1980s and 90s, so didn’t that mean that England could now produce what Champagne did a generation earlier? And – unlike Champagne – English winemakers tended to make still wine, too.
Expanding on this, Clarke suggests that the effects of climate change and global warming could be catastrophic for parts of the world – but if there is “one place where climate change has completely transformed a way of life for the better, it would be in the vineyards of England and Wales.”
Later, in the tasting room, sampling the stunning Simpsons wines in advance of listing them, we are reminded just how far English wine has come. Are these chardonnays from Chablis or from England – they are simply amazing! Is this all down to climate change?
Is this because of the Heat?
Scene Two: Hallgarten tasting room, Luton, just about any time in the last five years.
Before us are rows and rows of wine samples, some in unlabelled lab-type sample bottles, and some in their finished labelled bottles. The tasting team take one last glance out of the window at beautiful downtown Luton and then begin the process of spitting and slurping as we make our selections.
This morning we face dozens of wines from France; some we accept, some we reject. But one thing is constant: time and again Steve will say: “This does not taste like Sancerre. This is too rich, it’s too fat.” They’re not necessarily bad or faulty, Steve says. “But they don’t taste like they used to when I came into the trade. Have the French forgotten how to make Sancerre?”
Or is it now just too warm to make Sancerre as we know it? And is this caused by climate change? The Heat?
Scene Three: Chateau Lestrille, St. Germain du Puch, summer 2021.
Estelle Roumage looks out over her vineyards in the Entre-Deux-Mers and explains to us how she is trying to cope with global warming.
“We are planning to plant other varietals in order to adapt to climate change, and avoid over alcoholic wines. We are aiming to introduce Castets in our future plantings, most probably in 2023.
“Also, one of the adaptations we have done over the past years is to not thin the leaves automatically on every plot, which was a common practice in the 90s and 2000s. We only do it now on the eastern side of the row (morning sun), or sometimes not at all.”
Estelle Roumage: coping with Heat!
Scene Four: The New York Times, October 2019.
The discussion moves into the mainstream when Eric Asimov brings the topic to the attention of his readers in a series of articles in which he discusses how climate change has affected the wine trade, describing how producers have experimented with adaptations, not only to hotter summers, but also to warmer winters, droughts and the sort of violent events that stem from climate change: freak hailstorms, spring frosts, flooding and forest fires.
“Farmers have been on the front line, and grape growers especially have been noting profound changes in weather patterns since the 1990s. In the short term, some of these changes have actually benefited certain regions.”
Places, like England, said Asimov, which were historically unsuited for producing fine wine, have been given the opportunity to join the global wine world. The Simpsons are certainly proof of that!
In other areas like Burgundy, Barolo, Champagne and Germany, where great vintages were once rare, warmer growing seasons have made it far easier to produce consistently exceptional wines.
But “even with such success, the character of these wines has evolved in part because of the changing climate — in some cases subtly, in others deeply.”
Is this what Steve is picking up with Sancerre?
Scene Five: Geneva, August 2021.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its long-awaited report on climate change. In summary, whether you accept that the human race is responsible for global warming, it is undeniable that the world is warmer than it once was. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the average global temperature has risen about 1.4° F, with about two thirds of that rise occurring since 1960. Though predictions vary widely, the IPCC states that in the 21st century average global temperature could rise by 11.5° F. If mankind acts, this rise could be reduced to 2° F. However, even at the lowest rise, the planet faces catastrophic, results.
The primary cause of global warming is the “greenhouse effect,” caused by burning of fossil fuels (which is the greatest contributor), widespread deforestation, the loss of natural “carbon sinks,” oceanic acidification, the use of landfills, and large scale cattle and sheep ranching, which infamously causes the release of methane, a non-CO2 greenhouse gas.
Not stated in the report – but highlighted elsewhere – is that one ultimate and terrible consequence of global warming could be a rising sea level. A five metre rise in sea level would inundate some of the planet’s greatest vineyards and wine producing regions with flooding. These could include portions of Bordeaux, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia׳s Swan district, and California׳s Carneros appellation. Added to the coastal flooding, more inland vineyards could face heightening levels of salinity in ground water which could affect vine growth. Earthquake is another threat, triggered by rising sea levels.
Scene Six: Glasgow, November 2021.
Negotiators from nearly 200 countries sign the Glasgow Climate Pact, aiming to turn the 2020s into a decade of climate action and support.
Nations reaffirmed their duty to fulfil the pledge of providing 100 billion dollars annually from developed to developing countries. And they collectively agreed to work to reduce the gap between existing emission reduction plans and what is required to reduce emissions, so that the rise in the global average temperature can be limited to 1.5 degrees. For the first time, countries are called upon to phase down unabated coal power and inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.
Scene Seven: Here. Now.
They are already happening. The consequences.
The wine map has been extended (witness Simpsons Wine Estate). Wine grapes have always grown in narrow geographical and climatic ranges where temperatures during the growing season average 12-22°C (54-72°F). But winemakers are growing grapes in places once considered too cold for fine wines. In pursuit of the best sites, wine producers are moving north in the Northern Hemisphere, and south in the Southern.
Producers are now planting vineyards at altitudes once considered inhospitable to growing wine grapes, seeking relief from long exposure to the sun, and – crucially – where the night time temperatures plunge. Today, vineyards in the regions of Salta, such as those of Piattelli, are at altitudes of over 6,000 feet.
Winemakers are looking at different varietals, sometimes planting varietals which can withstand warmer temperatures (witness Estelle Roumage). In Bordeaux, where producers may use only use permitted AC grapes, seven additional grapes have been selected for experiments to determine whether they can be used to mitigate the effects of climate change: The four red and two white approved varieties are well-adapted to alleviate hydric stress associated with temperature increases and shorter growing cycles. The red grapes are Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan and Touriga Nacional, and the whites are Alvarinho and Liliorila.
It is undeniable that climate change will impact the costs of production. As we have seen, winemakers are already adjusting their practices and adapting their winemaking business for a warmer world.
But the big question is: will wine drinkers accept a new style of wine (witness Steve Daniel)? Will they happily quaff wines from grape varieties suitable for hotter climes, such as Nero d’Avola, Vermentino, Fiano, Vranec and Xinomavro? Will they accept a different flavour profile from their Pinot Noir grown in Burgundy? Or can they bring themselves to drink a Pinot Noir from England?
Forget the chocolate, forget the cake, a glass of dessert wine is exactly what you need! After the long Easter weekend, Hallgarten Head Start Apprentice, Amica Zago, has put pen to proverbial paper on all things sweet and luscious, as well as reminiscing about a trip to the world-renowned region of Bordeaux.
From I’m not talking about the thick, heavy, super-sweet dessert wines here, I’m talking about the elegant wines with rich and luscious honey characteristics. These are the true sweet treats!
Sweet wine encompasses a wide range of styles; including sparkling, late harvest, noble rot, passito, ice wine and this isn’t even all of them! There are so many countries and regions with numerous grape varieties (both white and red) and winemaking practices being used to produce these stunning wines. Now, I’m not going to talk about all of these because, well, we just don’t have the time! However I would recommend to try as many styles as you can, each one style is unique and all as wonderful as another.
After a trip to Bordeaux, my relationship with sweet wine had done a 180! Before my wine trip, I would have said I hated the style and if I had to taste it I would most definitely always spit! But, going to Bordeaux, the home of Sauternes, and tasting the sweet wine in a small restaurant in the heart of St Emilion, my life had changed forever.
Sauternes wines are great as an after dinner treat (either to replace a sweet or drank with lemon puddings and cheesecakes). The wine can also be drank when the cheese board comes out, the sweetness of the wine combined with the saltiness of the cheese creates a beautiful balance. However, Sauternes extends further than dessert. In France, it is often drank as a wine pairing to many starters, one of the main food pairings is with foie gras which many may not think of as a perfect pairing, but I for sure can tell you, it is one of the best food pairings I’ve ever had!
A Sauternes to indulge in is the Château Suduiraut, Castelnau de Suduiraut which is an excellent example of a great Sauternes with stunning candied fruit character and a hint of minerality. This is the perfect ‘sweet treat’.
Since visiting Bordeaux, I have tasted many different sweet wines from a range of countries and I am always more and more impressed by them. Whether I’m drinking them on their own, with a dessert or with a savoury dish, I am always surprised by how much I love them now after hating them for so many years! I can’t imagine going back to a time where I wouldn’t drink sweet wine.
Autumn is upon us and winter is not far around the corner, our November wine of the month is an SWA Silver Medal winner, perfect winter warmer that wouldn’t look out of place served by a warming log fire with a plate of mature cheese or decanted at the table alongside the quintessential Sunday roast.
In a nutshell:
A concentrated, silky smooth wine with berried fruits enhanced by spicy notes of cloves and subtle truffle flavours. Long and elegant on the finish
Based in Pessac Leognan on the left bank of Bordeaux, the elegant and noble Château de Rouillac is imbued with a historic past. In the 19th century Château de Rouillac was owned by Baron Haussmann, who produced a delicious wine which is said to have delighted Napoleon III. The current proprietor Laurent Cisneros and his family took up the reins of this magnificent property in 2009, passionately championing sustainable and environmental practices. The property has had a long association with horses and possesses beautiful stables; Titan their huge and impressive horse is still used today to plough the exceptional gravel soils in the vineyard. Renowned oenologist Eric Boissenot produces wines which are delicately blended with the utmost precision to reveal their optimum expression
The grapes were manually harvested. Fermentation and maceration of the skins took place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats, lasting for 20 to 25 days. During vinification daily pump-overs and punching down of the cap took place in order to extract colour and tannins; and impart structure and flavour. 100% of the wine was
transferred to French oak barrels, one third of which was new and the wine underwent malolactic fermentation; two thirds of the wine were aged in barrels of one year.
Grilled duck breast, roast beef or mature cheese. Decanting is recommended.
No matter how often you visit this place, it still beguiles you. The transition from the dreary detritus and strip malls of the Bordeaux conurbation to the wealth and imperious Proustian splendour of the Medoc is almost seamless.
From each side of the D2 the vines stand tall, straight and proud, in immaculate rows, lining the gravelly earth like bearskin-clad grenadiers parading for some local dignitary, or, more elegiacally, like the massed white headstones of a battlefield cemetery.
For the anoraks, it is one legendary châteaux after another.. “Oh, look, there’s Latour, don’t see that every day, do you… oh, hang on, there’s Pichon Longueville on the right… and there on the left is Lafite Rothschild…” It’s as if a sports fan was able to travel down one road with all the world’s famous stadia on either side. Oh, look, there’s San Siro, oh, and over there is Yankee Stadium, oh wait, there’s the MCG…
Our first destination is Château Preuillac, a Cru Bourgeois estate in the Médoc, near the village of Lesparre. Our host is Ken Lee, a Bordeaux-based Singaporean consultant whose schoolboy looks mask a hard business edge, and who spends the entire journey on his mobile phone, chatting away in a mixture of Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese and Malay, but who – touchingly – ends every conversation with a “bye bye, bye bye!”
Preuillac is an imposing château. Built in 1869, and formerly in the hands of the Mau family, it has been refurbished and renovated by Ken’s new owners and is ripe for re-assessment. Standing in the 30-hectare vineyard (split roughly between cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a smattering of cabernet franc), winemaker Nathalie Billard explains that the estate lost 10% to April’s devastating frost, but considers they were lucky.
Then we move on to Nathalie’s pride and joy: three new 160 hectolitre foudres, newly commissioned by her, which have joined the existing decades-old foudres and which will act alongside the oak barrels to fashion the wine. Here, they are looking for classic claret, and a brief tasting of the 2015s and 2016s shows they are on the right path; the ’16 in particular is a really, really elegant wine: dark berries, beautiful young fruit, broad, rich, complex, obviously young, oaky. With a bit of luck, it will be spectacular.
But, sadly, this is a whistle-stop tour, and we have to jump in the car, where Ken’s colleague, Dimitri, drives us through the Bordeaux rush hour to our base, Château Senailhac, a drop dead gorgeous, all-singing, all-dancing, bells and whistles, full monty of a château, complete with personal assistant, and ours – and ours only – for the
full week. Sinking into a 19th century chaise-longue, I tell Bev that I feel like James Bond. “So that means you must be Pussy Galore.” The website promises an “Unforgettable Stay.” Blimey!
Next morning we head out east to the right bank. You are struck (as ever) by the difference between this hillier landscape and the flatter Medoc we visited yesterday. Here, it looks as if everything has been thrown together in an artisanal, higgledy-piggledy way, a bit louche and in need of a haircut, more rambling than the formal stand-to-attention correctness of the Medoc. It wears its wealth lightly. Mind you, it also has more surprises: Cheval Blanc looks like a spaceship which has landed in a fold in the hills and is now floating on a sea of vines.
Our first appointment is at Château Mayne Blanc in Lussac Saint-Emilion. Chatting with chief winemaker Jean de Cournuaud, we hear more about the frost – but this time the news is much more devastating. They lost 90% of the crop. “All of our vineyards north of Libourne were lost.” He pauses. “But, life goes on.” In the winery he proudly shows us his fermenting eggs – the first in Bordeaux. “The main advantage is that they allow for a very soft pigeage.”
We taste a selection of 2015 and 2016s (these to be mostly blended out of tank in January) We purr with contentment, and the Cuvée St Vincent in particular has a fabulously rich nose, with serious dark and broody tannins. Firm, not harsh. Long, long finish.
We approach Libourne from the “wrong side” – the east – rather than the more usual approach across the bridge, and this throws me completely, until the Dordogne and the familiar quaint quayside come into view. Thirty minutes away in Fronsac, Château Puy Guilhem is a 14-hectare vineyard with a spectacular view of the spire of the Saint-Emilion Monolithic Church.
Winemaker Pierre Sallaud discourses on the difference between Fronsac and Canon Fronsac, both of which are made at the property. “Well, actually, there actually isn’t a great deal of difference. The Canon Fronsacs should have dense tannins and be slightly bigger, whereas the Fronsacs might be slightly softer and lighter.”
We taste the ’09 Fronsac – there is really generous fruit, still young, tannins beautifully integrated. Superb claret. This, and the ’10, is ready to drink now, but the later vintages we taste – the ’14s, ’15s and ’16s – are even better. I compare the ’14s: the Fronsac has very sweet fruit, rich and already drinkable, medium weight, very good balance. Good gutsy wine. The Canon seems younger in its development, more spritzy, with tannins that are still harsh. Apparently, I’m not the only one who prefers the Fronsac to Canon Fronsac: Pierre tells me that James Suckling does, too.
The following day we taste at Château Plain Point, undergoing renovation and set to be spectacular. The more recent wines are much better than the older
vintages. Back in the Entre-deux-Mers, then, and to Château Plaisance, where we are entertained by an affable winemaker, Ludovic Labarrere, who shows us some wonderfully forward 2016 Bordeaux and Cotes de Bordeaux wines.
The 2015 Bordeaux is beautifully ripe, kicking way above its weight. I prefer this to the Cotes du Bordeaux, which seems a little tougher, less obvious and less chatty. Meanwhile, the 2016 Bordeaux is a bit of a wild teenager, vivacious young fruit not yet set. I get raspberry syrup, vermilion. And, from somewhere in the near distance, quince.
We’re on a mission to source good value wine from lesser-known appellations, so next morning we drive up to Blaye and I get lost.
The last time I was here was about 15 years ago. Château Solidaires used to be famous for white wines, and the tank sample of Montfollet le Valentin (60% Sauvignon/40% Semillon) has a gorgeous melon and spice nose and lovely minerality. We’re after more of this, so we amble over to winemaker Jacques Chardat’s chic and modish house on the edge of his vineyard, where he and his wife Sabrina put on a marathon tasting and then roll out a stupendous four-course lunch.
This epic repas floors me, but just as I’m wussily starting to flag, I spot Jacques’ collection of vinyl stacked next to what looks like some very expensive hi-fi kit. Jacques, who is obviously a bit of an ex-hippie, spots my interest – “Formidable!” – jumps up and puts on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy at full blast. This is the first time I’ve been accompanied by Robert Plant at a tasting – and, God, it’s loud.
Suddenly its Knebworth 1975 all over again, as Jacques launches into some kind of jerky, staccato dark Parisian blues jive and belts out “Let me take you to the movies, Can I take you to the show….”, while I do my frenzied air guitar bit à la Jimmy Page. Meanwhile, MW Bev is trying to ask extremely serious and relevant questions above the racket: volatile acidity, yields? while rolling her eyes at our antics. What on earth possessed her to invite me along?
“Every time I went into the vineyards I felt physically sick. I just kept staring at row after row of ruined vines. I felt like weeping.”
The next day we are with Estelle Roumage of Château Lestrille, standing in one of her vineyards in the Entre-deux-Mers, while she recalls the night of 26-27 April when the frost took away virtually her entire crop. In our job you sometimes forget just how fine a line winemakers have to tread, even in traditionally rich areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Estelle provides the backbone of our Bordeaux range and is exactly the type of producer we love to work with in other parts of the wine world but which are hard to find in Bordeaux. She has the quaintest of operations. She shows us round her vineyards in her battered and much loved 2CV, then drives the short
distance back to her house and winery, which stands to one side of the D20 route de Creon, with her boutique wine shop on the opposite side of the road. This is where we taste.
The Lestrille 2010 has a lovely spicy nose, excellent dark fruit flavours and chunky weight. The Capmartin 2010 is lovely and soft, fleshy, plump, almost sybaritic; a Botticelli of a wine.
The next day we drive around the rocade to Pessac Leognan and our final call at Château de Rouillac. As we get out of the car we stare in wonderment. It is not quite Versailles, but it’s not far off.
One of the first owners was Baron Haussmann, who acquired it in 1864; the luminous facades, the square courtyard with its appointments, the stables, are all his. In 2009 businessman Laurent Cisneros fell under Rouillac’s spell and set about bringing the estate back to life, showing the same determination as he did when playing professional football for Cannes alongside Zinedine Zidane, before turning his father’s small heating company into a thriving multi-million euro business.
Laurent has spared no expense in lavishing attention on the property and delights in showing you round the distinguished house, the state-of-the-art winery and the stables. And it is here that we meet the real star of the show: Titan, the mighty dray horse who ploughs the land (Laurent believes in sustainable farming.) Bev, taking one look at him, looks like a schoolgirl at her first pony show. And now it is my turn to adopt a dignified mien. Yup.
Back at the winery, the wines are looking beautiful and I predict greatness in the near future. A 2015 white shows soft nuances of toast, butter, lemon, and on the palate its class is obvious. The 15 red shows a classic nose, with a touch of vanilla, plum and cigar. Very stylish. The whole place is.
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