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En primeur snapshot: why terroir matters

“What is this wine?” I thought to myself, after blind tasting the first growth Sauternes Château de Rayne Vigneau and noticing the delicious apricot and honey aroma and succulent fruit flavours matched with racy acidity.

Bordeaux, Place de la Bourse

When the list of wines was presented after the tasting I saw that the usual suspects such as Château Suduiraut, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, and a few others received typically high marks. Yet though I knew Château de Rayne Vigneau was a first growth, I hadn’t heard too much about it.

“When we bought the property, we invested a great deal of time and energy renovating it,” said Anne Le Naour, technical manager for the five Bordeaux properties owned by Credit Agricole.

The litany of what had to be done – soil samples, examining the parcels one by one to determine their individual nutritional needs, was exhaustive. It appears that the previous owner had the “quantity over quality” model in mind, and over the years the characteristics that had made this Sauternes a first growth in 1855 had become obscured.

Yet bringing the quality back up to its original standards was only one challenge, a challenge that could be overcome with money and attention. The other part of the challenge would be to let the Sauternes drinking world know that Rayne Vigneau was back up to first growth standards. In some respects, the challenge is continuing, yet the engagement of oenologist Denis Dubourdieu and a newly designed label are great first steps.

Château de Rayne-Vigneau. Source: Wiki

In many ways, Credit Agricole faces the same challenge with the four other Bordeaux properties they now own, including the fifth growth Château Grand-Puy Ducasse in Pauillac.

During a tasting of all the wines from the properties, I found the wines of very good quality though of different styles and terroirs. One theme all the wines had in common, however, was that each had its individual story to tell that must have been the factor that caught Credit Agricole’s eye. For example, Château Meyney in Saint-Estephe has a three metre deep vein of blue clay in the subsoil that is also found at Petrus.

Château Blaignan in the Medoc, a cru bourgeois, owes its quality to two limestone hills that offer various orientations and degrees of slope.

What’s truly interesting is that despite the miracles of modern technology, the importance of terroir remains a constant theme. The lucky châteaux owners included in the classification of 1855 may not have had access to high tech viticultural geology yet they certainly knew great terroir when they saw it.

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