Lovely ones, I have a confession to make. Before this trip, I did not even know Bordeaux was a city. I simply thought it was a region that produces wines. I cover my shame with the thought that I’m not quite as bad as my American friend who thought Amsterdam was a country. Yet, what a gaping hole in all-round education, at least according to the French!
Surprisingly, thus, Bordeaux turned out to be a decently sized city – with awful traffic jams. Aside from the hopeless journeying through rush hour streets, Bordeaux seems to embrace progressive ideas almost in a hippy fashion – and most have to do with wine. For example, no pesticides or herbicides are allowed in Bordeaux, so one sees very few lawns and much overgrown weeds and flowery meadow-like patches. If you have a garden you have three choices: pluck the weeds by hand, pour boiling water over them, or let them be.
In old times, sheep would graze between the rows of vines. Now one either has sheep, plows the ground, or, again, lets the weeds be. Instead of poisons, Bordeaux and its farmers and wine growers grow forests and ensure biodiversity of those animals that eat insects and worms. Bats were reintroduced for this reason. During vine flowering season, the vines are sprayed with female pheromones that confuse male butterflies and insects who cannot find the females based on a scent gradient. They end up going into the meadows and forests where the eggs are also laid. Hopefully.
Surprisingly, with all focus on quality of the terroir and the wine, only very few Bordeaux wines bear an Organic or Biodynamic certificate. The winemakers must comply with about a million different stipulations in order to be able to call a wine Bordeaux + sub-appellations, and therefore they wish no further compliance to difficult rules. And if the harvest is at risk, many want to retain the option of taking to sturdier measures. In a world of high-performance farming and synthetic and short-term culture, it is refreshing to see that when it comes to quality wines, the market drive is for organic, natural solutions simply because people can taste the difference and are ready to pay for it. Thus, any Bordeaux wine bought in the store is most likely nearly if not completely organically produced. If only the same were true for most groceries!
Bordeaux winemakers make the wine their ancestors made. The regulations to follow to be allowed to use appellations on the bottle are an incredible catalogue of rules to adhere to. Crudely put, the end result should be that as a customer you know approximately what you get, year after year. Since the system is mainly for preserving tradition and maintaining quality and therefore brand equity, there is not much room for creativity in making a Bordeaux wine. Some bend the rules by for example adding only 1% of the second wine in the first (a Bordeaux is always a blend). Others make wines that only bear a Bordeaux label or break the rules so the bottle only says the wine is from France. We fell in love with a delicious little rosé from Chateau de la Grave that was bigger than its body: it had been matured in oak barrels like a white wine. This wine was not a typical Bordeaux but, oh, it stole my heart for as long as I had it in my glass.
The intricate system of what one is and is not allowed to do in order to make a Bordeaux wine got me lost, especially after the first glass. Fortunately, most of us only need to know where to find a bottle, and how to open it. Easy peasy, thank goodness.
(Bordeaux, France; July 2016)