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Bordeaux château to make pure Cab Franc

Château Civrac in the Côtes de Bourg is to produce Bordeaux’s first pure Cabernet Franc from this year’s harvest, having made the region’s inaugural varietal Malbec from the 2010 vintage.

Speaking to the drinks business in December, Mark Hellyar, owner of the property, admitted that he hadn’t realised there was either Malbec or Cabernet Franc at Civrac when he bought the estate in 2006, but having discovered the grapes in subsequent years he decided to make varietal wines to prove that Bordeaux is innovative.

“Around 35% of our 10-hectare vineyard is Malbec, but we didn’t know that when we bought the estate, and then last year we found six rows of Cabernet Franc,” he recalled.

Hellyar said he has made a 100% Malbec in 2010 and 2012, as well as from this year’s vintage, producing just 300 bottles for “private clients”, while he said that the 2014 harvest would yield his, and Bordeaux’s, first varietal Cabernet Franc.

Explaining the motivation to produce these wines, he said that it was an attempt to alter Bordeaux’s image.

“There is so much negativity now around Bordeaux, and by making 100% Malbec I’m trying to sell a message that Bordeaux is contemporary, and for a younger audience,” he said.

Continuing he stated, “Bordeaux needs to be perceived as more modern.”

Acknowledging that there is in fact “a lot of experimentalism in Bordeaux” he said that “being innovative within the appellation system is not easy” adding that his 2012 varietal Malbec will probably have to be bottled without any mention of the AOP Côtes de Bourg on the label.

“There is no scope for 100% Malbec in Bordeaux,” he pointed out.

This is despite the fact that there is more Malbec in the Côtes de Bourg than any other Bordeaux appellation according to Hellyar, and the fact that the sub-region has decided to highlight this facet with a new marketing campaign since the summer this year.

Using the slogan “the spicy side of Bordeaux”, the Côtes de Bourg is now drawing attention to the positive influence of Malbec in the blend – a grape renowned for its flavours of black pepper and spice.

Hellyar said that the appellation was previously basing its marketing on a Bassett Hound to signify loyalty, which he had openly criticised.

“I said it’s a dog, and a smelly one… I hope I had a bit of an influence in their [the Côtes de Bourg syndicate’s] decision to ditch the dog.”

Mark Hellyar

Hellyar described his Malbec as a “fruity wine with lots of alcohol, blueberries, tobacco and spice”. Continuing he noted that it is “very different to Argentine Malbec; mine is more savoury, more Bordelaise, more subtle, although it still packs a punch.”

As for the Cabernet Franc from 2014, he said he had 300 litres of the wine, and described it as “more floral and less tannic than the Cabernet Sauvignon, but with more structure than Merlot”.

He added that his varietal wines were “fun” and “a way of showing what we are capable of producing”, although admitted that the grapes may be better suited to blending.

“Maybe we have got it wrong as the varieties were planted to be blended and overcome difficult vintages, but in reverse-engineering them it is helping me understand each grape variety and that will help me put them together again,” he said.

But for now he said the approach was an important point of difference for Civrac and the region.

“I can say this is 100% Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux, try it, you won’t have ever tasted it before, and it’s the same with the Malbec.”

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