Friday, July 24, 2009

Chateau de Crain, Entre-Deux-Mers

I had never visited this part of Bordeaux before and was surprised to see how lushly green it is with rolling hills and many ancient chateaux and fortresses. It was only a 20 minute drive from the restaurant to Chateau de Crain, and yet it felt like we had quickly entered another world. Entre Deux Mers is one of the oldest parts of Bordeaux and it seems to have a magical unspoiled quality – almost as if fairies might live in the fields and trees.

We found Chateau de Crain quite easily as there were signs posted, and even though we arrived 10 minutes early, the owner Marie-Cecile Fougere was there to meet us. I had specifically requested to visit a winery in this area, and was pleased to see that Marie-Cecile was dressed like a California winemaker – in jeans and a black long sleeved shirt. The winery is separate from the ancient chateau that looks like a fairytale castle from the distance. However, Marie-Cecile told us that it is drafty and vacant, and that she lives in a small house behind the castle.

The winery, which looks like an ancient stone barn, is apparently the oldest chai in Bordeaux with the estate being described in records in 1290. Marie-Cecile said they have 47 hectares of red and 11 of white. The red (merlot, cab, CF, malbec) is Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Superior AOC, as only white wine (SB, Sem, Sauvignon Gris, and Muscadelle) falls under the Entre-Deux-Mers AOC. The soil is clay and limestone, and we could clearly see the white of the limestone in the dirt road. She told us that there were huge caves under the vineyards where they had quarried for limestone, and that for many years the caves had also been used to grow mushrooms. However, now the estate only focused on wine.

In the vineyards the spacing is wider at 2 meters x 1 meter to allow for mechanical harvesting. They have around 5000 vines per hectare, and though on double guyot, the trellising appeared higher to me. Total buds per vine are 12. They hedge and de-leaf mechanically as well. Method: lutte raisonne, with a consultant from the coop coming in once a week to check for insects, disease, etc – rather like the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) process in the US.

In the cellars, they produce around 250,000 bottles of red and 60,000 of white. Marie-Cecile says that even though they harvest mechanically, she personally performs triage on all of the grapes as they enter the cellar. For the whites, she does 20 hours of skin contact at a low temperature; crushes using a pneumatic press, and then ferments in stainless for 1 month at 15-20C using a selected sauvignon yeast. The wine does not go through ML or see time in oak, but she lets it rest on the lees and does some battonage in tank. She fines with bentonite, assembles one month before bottling and filters.

The reds are destemmed/crushed and then go through 4-5 days of cold stabilization in stainless steel (inox) tank before adding Mediterranean yeast. She ferments at 22-28C with a total of 1 month maceration. She hires a man to do pigeage 2 to 3 times a day in the beginning, and then does remontage with a little oxygen to finish. ML is also finished in tank, and then she presses and puts part of the wine in large 300 liter American oak barrels. The Bordeaux AOC gets 1 month, and the Bordeaux Superior receives 6 months. She purchases 40 new barrels each year, and only wants a “touch of oak” on her wines.

We tasted out of tank, which was rather fun. Starting with the 2008 Chateau de Crain Blanc, it was still cloudy, but had a fresh grassy nose; minerality on the palate and a very high acid. Marie-Cecile said it paired well with oysters. We then moved onto the 2008 Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superior in tank and tasted different lots. It was enlightening to see the variation in each one. Some were filled with ripe fruit, whereas others were harshly tannic. At the end she opened a magnum of 2006 Chateau de Crain Bordeaux Superior which was a dark ruby with ripe fruit, a hint of spicy American oak and vanilla. It was rich with soft tannins, and I would enjoy drinking it with food. We tried to buy a bottle of her white, but she ended up giving it to us. How very kind.

Chateau de Crain is able to produce all of their wine with only 5 full-time employees and a few consultants. Marie-Cecile sells much of the red to Carrefour, as well as to restaurants in Paris, the Novetel hotel chain, and small wine shops in France. She exports 20% to Japan, UK, Germany Switzerland and Florida.

Heading Back to Sonoma, California – since we had enjoyed such a large and late lunch, we just made a green salad and snacked on pate, cheese and wine back at the hotel while we packed. When the alarm went off at 4:30am, it was difficult to get up. As we stepped out of the hotel, we were surprised to find it was raining. Amazing that we had a whole sunny and warm week in Bordeaux, and the day we depart, it starts to rain. Thanks for being so kind to us – Bordeaux!

The flight home was uneventful. KLM treated us well in coach and gave us wine from South Africa. We left Bordeaux at 6:15am on Saturday, May 9 and arrived back in San Francisco at 1:10pm on May 9. The weather was sunny and warm. My mother told us it had rained the whole time we were in France, and that yesterday was the first sunny day. Perhaps the sun was following us?

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