Chateau Coutet Saint Emilion Grand Cru - an environmental history.

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by Wendy Narby

Chateau Coutet is right at the heart of the historical centre of Saint Emilion, part of the classification from 1955-85. It is surrounded by other classified growths on the south and south-westerly facing limestone slopes and plateau of the appellation.

An historical vineyard in so many ways, the preservation of the natural environment that this history has allowed is what earned the property its Great Wine Capitals award for sustainability in 2016, a Best Of Wine Tourism in the category “Sustainable Wine Tourism practices”.

Chateau Coutet has been a family run property since the 14th century and after 400 years of ownership by the David Beaulieu family, four generations now live at the vineyard.

The property has always been organic. It may have been certified organic in 2012 but they have never used herbicides, pesticides or insecticides at the property. The result is that, as well as quality in the vineyards, there is a unique flora and fauna with rare wild tulips (Tulipa Radii Roman and Tulipa Sylvestri) alongside spring orchids and gladioli.

Whatever time of year you visit the property, the family will be happy to share this unique flora with you. Maintaining this biodiversity is one of their priorities, thanks to old oak groves amongst the vines.

It's not just flora; the woods and ponds are home to rare tritons, salamanders and fresh water prawns, all of which you may be lucky enough to see as part of the tour when you visit as well as ducks, geese and a rather possessive gander.

Saint Emilion is known for its history and was classified a UNESCO heritage site in 1999. Some of the reasons for this can be found at Chateau Coutet.

Hidden in the woods at the heart of the estate is a unique archaeological site: a vaulted well dating back to the Merovingian period (5th-8th century).  Built over the spring and under a 17th tower, it was discovered nine years ago, when flooding over the vines and the memories of a grandmother lead to the discovery of the old silted up retention and drainage ditches. It took volunteers four years to clear the area.

Close by, crossing the 16ha vineyard, is a Gallo roman road leading from Dordogne waterfront to the town of Saint Emilion; it is still used by walkers and joggers today.  

There is more recent history; the chateau has a chapel dating from 1840 consecrated by an envoy of the Pope in 1892.

This history goes deep into the vineyard too, including the varietals. 60% of the vineyard is planted in Merlot most of which is the historical and rare Merlot à queue rouge (red stemmed merlot) maintained thanks to massal selection within the vineyard.  Complemented by cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon there is also, more unusually, 7% of Pressac (the local Malbec). Horses are used to plough the most delicate plots.

This long and fascinating history is reflected in the launch of a new cuvee this year, inspired by finding of a bottle of 1750 Château Coutet buried under the mud floor of the cellar under the chateau. The unique bottle was sealed by a glass emery stopper in the shape of a heart - leading to lots of romantic speculation on its origin.

Adrien David was so inspired by the find that he decided to re-edit this bottle thanks to the work of a craftsman 100 miles away, who made wooden moulds of the original bottle. The first wine to be bottled in this unique bottle will be the 2014 vintage. Previously there has only been one wine produced at the vineyard, no second wine, so this cuvee is something new for them; a small production of only 200 bottles, selected from plots of 90 and 70 year old vines, worked using horses rather than tractors and using historical techniques of wooden fermentation vats, selecting by hand, crushing by foot,  

Some of the most delicate plots are ploughed by draught horses.

But they are not just looking to the past; on the contrary they are making this unique chemical free environment available for research, including solar powered weed control. They have made the land available to the agronomy school of Bordeaux that is studying its micro bacteriology.

From horses to solar powered robots, it's a true marriage of the old and the new.

So if this inspires you to visit, either for the history, the unique biodiversity, or of course the wine, you're in luck.  They are open to the public all year round and have been since 2013.

The family offers two visits including one for the fitter and more adventurous guests that covers a walk not just through the vineyards but also the woods including the fauna, flora and the history. Of course, there is a well- deserved tasting at the end of the hike.

 A tasting at Coutet's tasting room