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St Emilion: Balancing modernity and tradition

On one of the few sunny winter days in February, Vincent Lignac, 38, is pruning the 5.3 hectares of his family’s vineyard Château Guadet, on the edge of the picturesque medieval town of Saint Emilion.

Vincent Harvest in the field 2013
Vincent during the 2013 harvest

Through the winter, rain or shine, Vincent single-handedly prunes each vine. “Life is about balance. And the same thing goes for the wine, it needs to be balanced.”

Up to one million wine tourists from around the world visit Saint Emilion each year to explore one of Bordeaux’s most famous wine regions, known for its famed red blends, heavier on Merlot versus Cabernet Sauvignon, the inverse of the Left Bank Medoc wines, giving a roundness and full bouquet to the wines.

While some elements of modern winemaking are used at Château Guadet, Vincent balances these with traditional practices including a 1929 grape press and 1920s-style thermoregulation cement vats (not unlike those Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Cheval Blanc has recently reintroduced in its renovated facilities), instead of computerized stainless steel vats. “The less technology, the fewer the problems. Of course the winemaking is more time consuming, but you can be much more accurate, as you have to do it all by actually tasting the wine.”

In a good year, Château Guadet produces 26,000 bottles under two labels, Château Guadet and Le Jardin de Guadet. Vincent says he could increase production by 25%, but prefers to prioritize quality over profits. For the 2013 vintage – a year when bad weather harmed many vines around Bordeaux – Château Guadet will produce only 10,000 bottles in order to maintain quality, despite high production costs.

Vincent grew up amidst the vines, visiting his grandfather’s vineyard on the weekends and holidays, when his father would help work the land and make the wine. Winemaking was always a part of his life and after competing his studies in viticulture and oenology at Montagne Saint Emilion in 1998, he explored other parts of the world as a winemaking consultant, living in and traveling to the US, Chile, Spain and Australia.

“The weight of my family history was heavy, so by going away I could relieve a lot of the pressure, which allowed me to eventually come back to St. Emilion.”

Just as Vincent’s grandfather passed on the winemaking responsibilities to Vincent’s father, Guy-Pétrus Lignac, a descendant of the family that owns the famous Pomerol vineyard of Château Pétrus, so has Vincent’s father passed on much of the decision making to Vincent. “He says, ‘Now it’s your turn, I’ve done enough.’ He’s happy to pass on the tradition to me.”

VIncent Pruning Vines Chateau Guadet 2014 (1 of 1)
VIncent Pruning vines at Chateau Guadet

In the competitive, globalized wine business, Vincent’s overseas experience makes him unique among his peers in Bordeaux. “They are curious because I’ve got something different, and they are quite happy to see a new face, somebody of the new generation.”

Because Vincent’s house sits smack in the middle of his vineyard, when he started a family, he also decided to go organic. “I didn’t want my children to live in a place where pesticides were used. Life should be about being in balance with nature.”

Vincent shares the tourgiving and winetasting responsibilities year round with his parents, who welcome visitors to their unique underground wine cellars and to taste their organic wines. “If I were a tourist, I would want to hear about the history, the passion. I’d really want to get the feeling for the place.”

Like Yasmina, Vincent also travels to promote Chateau Guadet wines, with their main two markets being Germany and Belgium, followed by Brazil, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, the US and Canada.

“I want to meet people in person and bring to them our story, which I am happy to tell them, so they remember us, and the wine.”

Tania Teschke resides in Bordeaux and is a candidate for the DUAD (Diplome Universitaire d’Aptitude de la Degustation) (Diploma in Wine Tasting from the University of Bordeaux. She is working on a Bordeaux Kitchen cookbook and photographs the vineyards of Bordeaux. For more from Tania Teschke visit her blog here. 

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