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Fronsac is a hidden treasure, it enjoys the same 'terroir' as its famous neighbour Saint Emilion: limestone hillsides with spectacular views over the Dordogne river. The slopes are topped with clay; ideal conditions for the Merlot and Cabernet Franc blends that thrive here. It sits on and around 'The Tertre de Fronsac', a key position on the right bank of the major trading route that was the Dordogne, not far from the port town of Libourne. Charlemagne built a fortress here in the 6th century and the Duc of Richelieu also built a chateau here on the ruins, introducing the wines to the court of King Louis 14th. Sadly the combined effects of Phylloxera and a lack of a classification led to its demise.
Chateau La Dauphine is a property at the heart of the appellation. It dates back to the 16th century, its name is inspired by the visit of wife of the Dauphin of France 'La Dauphine' and the Chateau, built in the 18th century, still reflects all the elegance that you would expect for such a prestigious visitor. At once historic and ultra modern it's a classic example of how Bordeaux manages to combine the two with a circular cellar built for efficiency and a barrel cellar built into the limestone.
Making wine is not only about the technical process in the cellar, it's about the quality of the raw material influenced by a deeper understanding of the soil, or terroir, and adapting varietals, rootstocks, and agricultural processes to the soil.
When I first visited the property the process of soil analysis was starting with a series of troughs being dug from the top of the hillside down to the lower slopes. The 53 hectares of south-facing vines are in a natural amphitheatre over a 60m slope. The analysis identified a total of 14 specific soil types, between the clay-hard limestone plateau, known as asteriated limestone due to the presence of starfish fossils, the clay-limestone hillside and sandy silty-clay of degraded limestone at the foothills.
After ten vintages working with this intimate plot-by-plot knowledge, fermenting each plot separately in one of the 40 vats, their next step was to convert to organic agriculture. They were certified organic in 2015 after a three-year conversion period. Never one to stand still, they have now continued along the path towards biodynamic agriculture.
Thanks to their open door philosophy, welcoming guest for tastings, lunches and dinners in the property, Château de la Dauphine have already received two GOLD BEST OFs, in the categories of “Architecture & Landscape” in 2014, and “Restauration” in 2016.
They have now added another GOLD Best Of Wine Tourism award for “Sustainable wine tourism practices”, for their new Green Tour. This 'Visite Nature' will appeal to anyone looking to understand the challenges that face vine growers. The tour gives guests an intimate understanding of the ethical and environmental initiatives at the property.
Starting among the vines of course, you will understand the 'terroir'; the types of soil, the grape varieties adapted to them, the life of the vine and how organic and biodynamic culture interact with it all. There are now nine beehives to be discovered throughout the property, with bees thriving in this organic environment.
At the biodynamic workshop you will discover how the treatments are prepared in the 'dynamiser' and the ingredients used; and to see how the moon calendar used to decide when to treat.
As well as visiting the cellars and the chateau learn about aquaponics and the permaculture vegetable garden, the fruits of which are used by the chef at the chateau. A stroll through the aromatic garden will awaken the senses before the tasting served in a green 'cocoon' made of woven willow. As well as their organic wines taste their honey, their merlot jelly and anything you might have picked up from the vegetable garden. It's the perfect tour for green gourmets.