Bourdeaux Region of France – Part 1

The history dates back to the formative days when vines were planted for the first time by Romans in the Bordeaux region. In this article, we will take a look at different aspects of that region like winemaking, soil, contributions of Robert Parker, and much more.

Birth and Early Bordeaux Wine History

Romans were the first to plant vineyards after they conquered the area in approximately 60 BC. Their name for it was Burdigala. There are still a number of Roman ruins in the area. In the present day, whether you are on the Left Bank, the Right Bank or the Graves region, you will find ruins. The Romans were prolific builders and they built to last. The Palais Gallien amphitheater is in the best shape and the most complete of any of the ruins in Bourdeaux.

Fountain Detail Bordeaux
The history of the Bordeaux wine region dates back to the ancient Romans

Bordeaux, or should we say Burdigala was already becoming well known as a wine producing region as early as the first century AD. The wine was distributed to citizens and Roman soldiers in Britain and Gaul. Amphorae fragments that mention the Bordeaux wine have been discovered in Pompeii. There are still Roman ruins that vineyards have been planted around throughout the St. Emilion region. The Bordeaux region was superb for cultivating grapevines for wine production because it offered a combination of the correct soils, marine climate and an easy way to transport wine through river transport by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers to the Roman territories.

The Garonne and Dordogne merge to form the Gironde which flows to the Atlantic. From there sial to the various Roman territories. Using boats was far more efficient because they could carry far more than a wagon and usually could go faster as well.

It is thought that the Romans brought the first vines from Spain, especially likely would be vines from the Rioja region.

Bordeaux & England in the Very Beginning

In 1152, Eleanor of Aquitaine of the Duchy of Aquitaine married the Henry Plantagenet who would later become the king of England known as Henry II. During the royal wedding ceremony, Bordeaux wine was served. Because of this marriage, the English king controlled more of France than the French king did. In fact, the English king, Richard the Lionhearted, son of Eleanor, could not speak English. He only spoke French and Latin. Late in the 1300s, Bordeaux was already a large city and had become the capital of Aquitaine; second after London.

The city had the second highest population of the cities under the British Monarchy. In 1302,England started toimportBordeaux wine purposely for the king’s pleasure from St Emilion. During that time there was no wine trade in Medoc. The superior quality of Bordeaux wine, royalty and England form the epicenter of the Bordeaux history. The king of France exempted taxes on the trade of wine to help its advancement.

Bordeaux & England Marriage

The marriage between the two (King Henry and Eleanor Aquitaine) resulted in Bordeaux being owned by England for more than 300 years. The end of the more than a hundred years of war (116 years precisely) in October 1453 had already seen the wine lovers in Britain discover the Bordeaux wine.  Eleanor’s son Richard the Lionheart and King Henry the second had made the Bordeaux wine their daily beverage. The fact that Bordeaux wine was good enough for the king definitely meant it is good for the king’s royal officials. This saw Bordeaux wine sell publicly. Since then the trade of Bordeaux wine began to expand rapidly and taking the importance of trading with England to the next level. Twice every year hundreds of merchant ships from Britain sailed to Bordeaux to exchange different British products for wine.

Wine City Bordeaux
Bordeaux is most famous of the French wine regions

English Wine Industry and History

Our friend, Tenay of Calm Castle Home Staging was surprised to find that there was a growing English wine industry and so we decided that would be the topic of today’s post. English liquor has always been distinct in its taste and history. Until the last few years, English wine had only been a small segment for the United Kingdom, occupying a little over 1% of the total domestic market for alcoholic beverages. The cold climate of the country has been a hurdle to its wine industry. However, over the past few years, the wine industry has seen a significant surge and signs of growth thanks to global warming. Let’s start with the history of English wine and see where it has reached now.

The Beginning of English Wine

Winemaking was brought to England by the Romans, who even tried growing different varieties of grapes for this purpose in England and beyond. This practice continued from there on until the Normans came in. At that time, there were over 40 vineyards as written in the Domesday Book. Through the Middle Ages, England was the major customer of Bordeaux wines from France.

However, when the Methuen Treaty imposed a high duty on French Wine in 1703, the English wine demand shifted towards fortified sweet wines such as the Madeira and sherry from Portugal and Spain. What helped boost this demand is the fact that fortified wine did not get spoiled in the long journey to England from Portugal.

Wine production in England almost ended in the 20th century with the First World War as food and crops were the priority. For a brief 5-year period making homemade alchoholic beverages was declared illegal from 1960 until 1965. The homebrew fashion then gained popularity. Since then, English wines have been some of the finest, with a 2004 panel declaring the majority of the top positions in European wines to the English variants.

Wine Industry at Present

The wine industry has been strongly growing in England over the past decades, and it is expected to generate over 30,000 jobs in the UK alone. South England has had several plantings specifically for this purpose. In 2011, when the Duchess of Cornwall was elected as the UK Vineyards’ Association’s President, the industry received added prestige.

Some of the most famous varieties of wine made in England include a distinctive clone of Pinot Noir and the Wrotham Pinot. The latter is famous for the furry leaves and the high resistance that those have to diseases. Most English sparkling wines are made using grapes that are closer to the viticulture limits. Other varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Seyval Blanc and the Pinot blanc to name a few.

UK wine production
Source: IBISWorld.com

In terms of consumption, England continues to be a major consumer of foreign wines. However, with the recent growth that the wine industry has witnessed, this could change. Currently, over 2,000 are employed in this industry which is expected to grow by over 30,000 over the next few years. The English wine industry is also forecasting revenue of more than £658m ($852 million) by 2040. A total of 165 wineries and 500 vineyards in Britain do give an exciting picture of what we can expect from English wines in the coming future. For the wine-lovers, there are surely going to be a lot of varieties to look out for.

The Judgment of Paris

May 24, 1976. A red-letter day in the history of wine-making. Known as The Judgment of Paris, it marked a renaissance for wine lovers across the world. Most wine connoisseurs feel that the Judgment of Paris has made the wines of the world better. Here we have tried to recapture the tasting that revolutionized the winemaking business globally.

Blind Tasting

The wine-growing business was fairly monopolized by the French forty years ago. Understandably, when a blind tasting was organized between the premium French wines and the unheard wines of California wines the press and paparazzi were a no-show. That is, except for George Taber of the Time Magazine Paris, who qualifies as press, not paparazzi. Even though he, like everyone else, refused to believe that there could be the possibility of another outcome, Taber attended the event purely as a favor to the event organizers. Little did the former Time Magazine journalist know that the results would give him the story of a lifetime. In this blind tasting the judges had to rate wines out of a score of 20 points.

The wine world was left shocked as the blind tasting gave surprising results. The Californian wines had defeated their French counterparts in both red and white categories. This not only placed the Californian wines on the world map but also motivated generations of winemakers all over the world. The French were no longer invincible.

The Turning Point

The myth-breaking blind taste test was organized by Steven Spurrier, a French wine merchant of British origin. He and a panel of judges tasted 20 white and red wines in a blind tasting where they didn’t know which wine they were tasting. The results catapulted the Napa Valley onto the world wine map overnight. The cabernet sauvignon (1973) from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and the chardonnay from Chateau Montelena (1973) were the winners. The Judgment of Paris is also considered a turning point in history as it made winemakers all over the globe believe that they could produce wines to compete with the masters of the wine world. Although it was the American wines that beat their French counterparts, new vineyards sprung up in different continents and countries as a result of this victory. Interestingly, it also brought the winemakers closer to each other. While each region and vineyard still have their unique taste and flavor, the world of winemakers is more closely knit than ever.

wine tasting

A similar tasting had taken place six months earlier in New York City. Here too the American Chardonnay’s had defeated their French rivals. However, the French winemakers had insisted that the results should not be taken into consideration as the French wines had to travel all the way to America and the long trip could have led to their mistreatment.

30th Anniversary Results

In 2006, on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the infamous wine tasting competition, another competition was organized by Steven Spurrier. Both the Californians and the French felt they had too much to lose if they did poorly. So, the new French wines were tasted against each other and likewise the Californians. One person felt the French made a mistake because he felt these French wines were superior because the Californians had gone to bigger fruit, bigger oak and more tannin. The French wines were more sublte. However, there was a blind tasting as part of it. The French had said that the California wines were built for immediate drinking but wouldn’t age well. So, they got bottles of the exact same wines from 30 years ago. Reds only since the whites don’t last that long. When they did a blind tasting of these wines with 30 years of aging, the results were even more stark. Once again, the results proved that the American wines had won over their French counterparts. Out of the ten positions, the US had dominated, taking the top 5 positions. It further cemented the fact that great wines could be made outside of France as well.

Burgundy Wine Region in France

France is famous for wining and dining. So, it comes as no surprise that some of the most expensive wines globally, come from this country as well. The Burgundy region in eastern France is packed with small picturesque sub-regions, that each produces wine with a unique character.

Burgundy wine cellar France
Burgundy Wine Cellar

Wine Production

Burgundy wine is made mostly from 2 primary grape varietals – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir forms at least 60 percent of the overall production and the chardonnay grape varietal is usually around 37 percent. The remaining is divided among aligoté, gamay, and other grape varietals.

Wine production, primarily, works in three different ways in the Burgundy region – the négociants, the co-operatives, and owners who own both vineyards along with the winery. The négociants purchase grapes, or even wine directly from smaller producers and market these products under their own brand name.

The co-operatives for a closed group of organized grape cultivators who combine their resources to establish a winery for joint use. The last method is less common practice here and is attributed to the higher costs of owning and maintaining vineyards and wineries. 

Climate

With a predominantly continental climate, the Burgundy region experiences a very short span of summers and the winters are usually cool. In reality, these are not ideal conditions for grape growth. In addition to this, the frost and hail that comes with the advent of spring can prove to be fatal for flowering vines.

Burgundy France vineyard
Burgundy Vineyard

Soil

While the climate might not be favorable at all times, the soil makes up for it. Soil found in the Burgundy region vineyards is rich in minerality and adds extensively to the character of the wine. This is poor soil for most crops but it seems grape vines that struggle produce better wine. Which is probably a strong factor why winemaking is an important tradition for this region. In fact, in July 2015 the patchwork quilt designs of Burgundy vineyards were given the status of being a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Classification of Burgundy Wines

If you are interested in purchasing fine quality Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from Burgundy, then it is important to understand their wine classification,

  • Grand Cru (1%) – these wines are produced from the region’s top plots or climats. Overall, there are more than 30 Grand Crus and 60% of this production is that of Pinot Noir. These wines command unbelievable prices due to their powerful and complex taste.
  • Premier Cru (10%) – there are around 640 Premier Cru climats in Burgundy that produce this classification. These wines are slightly more intense than the Village wines.
  • Village Wines (37%) – the Burgundy region includes nearly 44 villages like Chablis and Macon and these wines are produced here. These wines are named after the towns from which the grapes are sourced.
  • Regional Wines (52%) – these wines are light and lively and are not produced from any set wine region.

Interestingly, Burgundy is not the largest wine-producing region in terms of volumes. However, it is still one that generates truck-loads of revenues in comparison to any other region in the world. This is because of its 1% of Grand Crus that are so exclusive and expensive. It is this 1% that attracts wealthy buyers worldwide who want to have bragging rights that they have some in their cellar.

The History of Château Pétrus and Its Wine Pétrus

Château Pétrus is an 11.4-hectare wine estate located in the Pomerol appellation of Bordeaux, France. Its production of red wine is mainly made from Merlot grapes. The estate is owned by Jean-François Moueix and his children.

While Pétrus is famous as one of the world’s rarest and most expensive wines, it had quite a humble beginning.

Pétrus History

The history of Pétrus is not well documented but records show that it dates all the way back to 1750’s, making it one of Pomerol’s earliest established vineyards.

The name Pétrus comes from the hill of Pétrus, where it is located. However on a more historical note, the property belonged to a Roman named Petrus during the ancient Roman times. This is evident in the wine’s logo which is a Greek counterpart of St. Peter, “Petros”.

Voisin to Loubat and Moueix

Like many of the Bordeaux estates, the then 7-hectare vineyard was sold and resold countlessly over the past years. From Pierre Voisin to the Brilhouets, it was eventually sold to the Arnaud family in 1770. The Arnaud family owned the estate for more than a century. By 1917, they had to sell the property and a shareholding company was setup. In 1923, Madame Loubat, owner of the famed Hotel Loubat in Libourne began to buy the estate shares. Eventually, she became the sole owner of the property in 1945.

During this time, Madame Loubat shared a contract with Jean-Pierre Moueix of the wine making house named Ètablissements Jean-Pierre Moueix. It was their partnership that gave Pétrus its international reputation today.

Ownership Turnover and Expansion

When Madame Loubat passed away in 1961, her niece, Mme Lily Lacoste-Loubat and her nephew, M. Lignac inherited Pétrus. However, she also left a share to Moueix, ensuring his continued influence on the estate and its wines. Three years after Madame Loubat’s passing, M. Lignac sold his share of the Pétrus to Moueix. It was in this year, 1964 that he brought in Jean Claude-Berrouet, who was the winemaker for the whole Moueix portfolio.

In 1969, Moueix added 5 hectares to the once 7-hectare vineyard, vastly increasing its size to 11.4 hectares. After his death in 2003, his son, Jean-François Moueix inherited Pétrus. Meanwhile, his other son took charge of the production. Meanwhile, Olivier Berrouet inherited his father’s place as Pétrus’ winemaker.

Jean-Pierre Moueix was once the owner of Chateau Fonroque in St. Emilion. When he discovered that negociants disliked his wine, he established his very own negotiant company to help sell his own wines. It was out of need that the largest, most important negociant companies for Pomerol was born.

Today, their portfolio boasts of ownership in La Fleur Pétrus, Hosanna, Trotanoy, Latour-Pomerol, La Grave and Lagrange. Pétrus has been described by connoisseurs as having an otherworldy taste. Rich, powerful and concentrated, it has characteristics of truffles, chocolates, Asian spices, and ripe, creamy, black fruits. It’s no wonder a 750mL bottle of this wine costs an average of $2, 630. That is a lot of money for a bottle!

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