Sep 21 2011

From Japan to Bordeaux, Chateau Lagrange Saint Julien

Published by at 10:53 pm under Bordeaux

Getting started the 3éme Cru Classé

Chateau Lagrange in the St Julien AOC is one of the largest of the class growths, with 115 ha of vineyard land. Yet back in the 19. century the property was even bigger, the economic crisis and phylloxera decimated the vineyards not to mention some parcels where sold off by the previous owners. With Suntory on border a highly quality focused approach got transmitted, into every detail of winemaking which starts in the vineyard and end at the consumer. In the middle of the 80’s a new fermenting room was build and while Mr Bruno Eynard the manager of the chateau says the approach of the winery is modern yet true to the terroir, they’re trying to vinify each terroir, vineyard plot in a separate vat.

The aim is to work much more accurate is present and with the big vessels this might be rather difficult but the wish is one vat for each plot of land. Create a link between different terroir and vinification processes is the key. Today 31 of 60-120 hl vats are housed in the chateau yet within 5-10 years the above message should become reality when they’re working real time terroir by terroir.

And the in the practice

For example: an old vines Merlot can give a very powerful wine, but the tannins are not elegant enough, perhaps even square, there should be a vinification which keeps the freshness and tannins rounder, softer by enzyme, skin contact, the use of lees or simply decrease of the fermentation temperature. Or extracting more colour in water and not in the alcoholic juice.

Merlot appreciates the punching down method, which is considered softer as the pumping over was Mr. Eynard explaining. Today they have only 8 vats and it’s done manually, yet in also this can change in the future.

The shape of this conic looking vats matters when you make pipeage and delestage and you’re going to empty the vat and then re-fill it with juice the pomace moves much slower up in this shape.

The work starts in the vineyard and when the grapes arrive at the winery the work just kicks off. The grapes are picked in small boxes which fit roughly 8 kg of grapes, you wish to avoid any unwanted crushing in the vineyard and oxidation. With 150 ha to pick it’s more logistical problem then anything else. You have to co-ordinate in a short period of time many people and the more than 1500 boxes. 20 years ago the harvest was shorter, 12 picking days. Today it can be even up to 20 days of work in the vineyard during harvest. The optical sorting table does add a bit of help in the XXI. century, however.

In Bordeaux people do not appreciate the green part, the stalks of the grapes as much as they do in other region, let’s say Burgundy for instance. The thought here is the stalks give acidity and if not entirely ripe also harsh and unwelcome tannins. “The balance should come from the tannins, not from the green bits” says Bruno. He further reckons that the disadvantage of pipeage, punching down the cap, the protection of the pomace from oxidation with Nitrogen is more difficult to manage. In the near future 80 small vats should be enough to vinify each terroir separately. Blending happens in the big vats and racking in the small barrels.

To eliminate the risk of Brett co-inoculation and MLF happens simultaneously. To use osmotic concentration and vacuum as to eliminate water (or simply concentrate via technology) it’s more like insurance, then anything else was mentioned briefly. Saignée the French term for “bleeding” is used for the Merlot and important every year, as the size of the berries are fairly big. Increase of phenolics and probably flavours compounds as well, the finesse of the tannins are important, not the quantity as they have enough of this in Bordeaux.

The crucial questions when to pick and the land

Simply by just tasting the grapes, that’s not enough. There are many factors influencing this. The theoretical side will depend on the availability of the pickers, the possibility of rain, winemaker’s perception and the tannin of the seeds. Later is ever more often discussed, scientific analyses are more often conducted. Polyphenol analysis, maturity of the seeds, enough anthocyanins and the colour. The seeds are might even more important these days as sugar and acidity. To reach 13% alcohol that goes quickly said Bruno, “luckily enough we have Cabernet in the Medoc, this helps”.

There is no or little limestone in St Julien and there is also less clay for Merlot. The temperature variation between day and night is important, the sea is fairly close. Gravel is the major soil type, clay is at the bottom of the hill, not always the best terroir in this case. Land is cheaper in the Medoc as in St Julien by roughly 25%, here the average price of 1 ha can be as high as 1,2 million Euros.

The process…

MLF happens in tanks during skin contact and maceration when the “second fermentation” is over SO2 is added and the aging can start. There are quite a few samples blended together (around 70) in February just a couple of months before the en primeur tasting. Racking happens every 3 months, egg white fining takes place when necessary.

Six coopers work for the winery, but always the same, 60% is new barrels, around 1000 barrels are purchased every year. Filtering only prior to bottling, two filtration 5 micron and 1 micron.

There are 4000 barrels and 3 wines are aged at the same time in the cellar, only French oak is used. The chateau wine spends 21 months in barrel, as this is “stronger” and has more tannin. An interesting fact is that the second wine these days is “stronger”, has more polyphenol content, etc. as the main wine of the chateau 20 years ago. Comparing the polyphenol contains of an 85’ vintage, it was about 55 points, today the second wine has 65-70 points. Therefore also the longer aging requirements, the tannins should become softer during this light oxidation.

The character of St Julien and drainage

There are no different communes in the AOC, it does have the 11 classed growths, densely cultivated but does not have any first of fifth growths. 80% of the land belongs to the classed growths, and only 20% is Cru Bourgeois and so on. The style: somewhere in the middle you could say, elegant, pure fruit, medium full bodied (not as full as Pauillac or St Estephe, but fuller as Margaux) a touch of velvetiness along the texture beside the purity. The gravel is responsible for the drainage as there is little sloping effect. Under the vineyardw, not visible an entire system of drainage, some terra cotta or PPC tubes and pipes. They channel the water into collection points such as little streams. There is lot going on not just above the surface but also under, as you can imagine. St. Julien really exciting, Chateau Lagrange with quality control, precision and vision.

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