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The methods may remain traditional but they use the latest technology. It’s not unusual to see drones flying over the vineyards searching for signs of disease while horses are ploughing more delicate plots. Keeping the best of the old and using the new.
This modern approach is obvious as you arrive at Chateau Pedesclaux. The 18th century chateau has been entirely enclosed in a glass framework; an original way of expanding the chateau to include a bright tasting room with the old pigeon tower on one side and offices with a view over the estuary on the other. Next to the château sits the impressive ultra-modern glass cellar completed in 2014. This high-tech cellar is not just aesthetic but the perfect playground for wine maker Jerome Juhé. Originally from the Dordogne, Jerome cut his teeth in the vineyards of Bergerac, Pomerol and Saint Emilion and honed his skill in another innovative cellar Château La Lagune. It was at hotel school studying mixology that sparked his passion for wines and spirits. Inside the cellar, 58 double-compartment conical, gravity-fed stainless steel vats correspond to the new plot-by-plot organisation of the vineyards. Refrigerated rooms in the reception area allow not just cooling of the grapes, prepping for a cool fermentation, but allowing time to manage the influx of grapes and glass lifts contain vats that allow the wine to be lifted up from one vat to another without stressing the juice.
Further South in the Margaux appellation, look into the ageing cellars of Château Marquis de Terme and you will see all shapes and sizes of containers, amongst the classic barrels are amphora’s and cement eggs - all signs of the experimentation that the cellar master and director Ludovic David is known for. No stone is left unturned in his desire to bring this sleeping beautiful of Margaux back to the standard you would expect of a classified growth at the heart of the prestigious appellation of Margaux. This more precise approach to wine making is reflected in the field; their approach to the science of vines - ampelography - is something they are particularly keen to share with visitors. Ride through the vineyard on a vine safari to discover the different plots of vines across the Margaux appellation and understand the intimate relations of vine and terroir; why the different grape varieties that make up the Chateau blend are planted in each specific plot.
Not far away is one of the oldest of the Medoc vineyards, dating back over 900 years: Château d'Arsac. It venerable age does not stop it housing an eclectic collection of contemporary art, in the vines as well as in the cellars. Just as this art collection includes the work of many artists, so do the wines are the work of many winemakers. Philippe Raoux has opened his cellar doors to innovation by inviting eleven different wine makers to the chateau, a different one every vintage, to create their expression of wine from the Chateau terroir. They are not only from Bordeaux; Italo-American Andrea Franchetti, iconic California Zelma Long, Argentinian Susana Balbo and South African Ntsiki Biyela are included in the line up. Each has brought their own signature to the wines of the chateau with a special release each vintage - The Wine Makers collection.
Château Lamothe Bergeron also reflects this history of innovation. The vineyards here go back to the Middle Ages but it is Jacques Bergeron who started innovating in the 19th Century when he created a style of grafting that still carries his name. Innovation is not just about wine making and grape growing; it can include finding new ways to share the passion of the wine maker with the wine drinker. The visitor experience here is high-tech. As you walk through the Chateau, paintings come to life telling the history of the Chateau. Visitors see detailed video explanations of the stages involved in wine making and a humorous video projected on to the glass panels of the wine cellar showing consultant Hubert de Bouard and the director Laurent Mery in action blending the latest vintage.
For another innovative visitor experience, travel to the right bank where on the boundary between Saint Emilion and Pomerol, Château La Dominique shows the modern face of Bordeaux, despite dating back to the 16th century. Clément Fayat introduced this sleeping beauty to the 21st century in 2012 by commissioning the architect Jean Nouvel to create a new technical cellar for the property. Clément then handed the keys of the estate to his sons for them to carry the project forward and they have. Finished in 2014, this shiny, red cellar is now a beacon for visitors lost amongst the vines of Pomerol and Saint Emilion and a Best Of Wine Tourism Gold winner for architecture. The exterior walls are covered in mirrored, stainless steel blades in six shades of red representing the stages of red wine ageing. They reflect the surrounding countryside, giving an inverted and fragmented vision of the vines and sky. As arresting as the architecture is, it is also a place of work. During harvest part of these metal blades slide open to reveal an ultra-modern wine making facility. The roof of this monumental cellar offers a unique view across the neighbouring prestigious vineyards. The floor is strewn with red glass pebbles representing the picked grapes fermenting in the vats below. As well as the panoramic view over the vineyards and the red glass pebble floor, it houses La Terrasse Rouge restaurant, a favourite among locals and wine professionals as well as visiting tourists.
Respecting the history while embracing innovation in wine making, architecture, wine education and food - it's a winning wine tourism combination.
by Wendy Narby, @insidertasting