|“It is always the adventurous who accomplish great things”|
|Charles de Montesquieu|
By Paige Donner
One early Spring afternoon on a recent trip to the Pessac-Leognan region of Bordeaux, I set off from my hotel on a bicycle in the sunshine. I had not gotten 10 minutes down the pretty grapevine-trimmed country road when the blue sky turned to gray and a drizzle suddenly manifested.
Leaving myself completely in the hands of nature in Montesquieu’s childhood region, I took the first gravel-lined road that seemed to lead up to one of the wineries that appeared to have people present. Not a moment too soon, someone spotted me just as the heavens poured forth the fresh Spring rain and ushered me into the vineyard warehouse where there was some serious bottling underway.
Once they perceived that I spoke English, the lady from the office was called over to welcome me. Her name ended up being Sandrine and she told me that I had wandered onto the Château Haut-Lagrange. Once I explained to her that I had just been out for an afternoon bike ride, she, with all manner of warmth and graciousness, offered to take me on a tour of the winery and allowed me to take pictures. Her English was impressive and she told me that with her husband she spoke Spanish.
She is the Château Haut-Lagrange co-manager and is the kind of person, that when you get the chance to speak with them, like on a rainstorm-Spring-afternoon, you really must count your blessings because not only did she tell me all about the vineyard, she also mentioned her favorite regional delicacy which are “acacia Beignets” or acacia doughnuts that you must eat fresh and which only come around once a year, in early May, when the acacia are in bloom.
Château Haut-Lagrange is nestled right in with all the other AOC Graves wineries that are so close you can, and ought to, bicycle to them. Though it is one of the newer wineries in this prestigious Bordeaux region, it being the life-long ambition and family-run enterprise of Francis Boutemy, whose grandparents were once winemakers of Bordeaux.
Graves is the only AOC to take its name from the soil. The soil is a mixture of gravel, pebbles, flint and other stony debris deposited by the Garonne River over the millennia. Pessac-Leognan is part of the Graves area and is the region where Château Haut-Lagrange is (also, Château Haut-Brion) but, technically, the vineyard is not AOC Pessac-Leognan since it was established in 1989, after the 1987 classification.
This is where it comes in handy to know your detailed geography of Bordeaux. If you only looked at the label of this fine wine that sells for about 14 – 20 Euro the bottle, white and red, you might miss the significance of the fact that it shares the same climate, terroir and soil as its neighbors such as Château Haut Bailly and Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte.
If there is a winery in Bordeaux that is high on my list of participating in a harvest, it is this one. Mr. Boutemy has engineered a grape-picking vehicle that allows the pickers to sit as it travels up and down the rows of vines. [Pictured Below].
The white wine is lovely and not afraid to show its fruit. Its top note is acacia. Yes, add that one to your tasting library. Its strong minerality comes through fully in the mouth and the winemakers here do not subscribe to overly oaking their whites. Only 6,000 bottles of this lovely 50% Sauvignon, 50% Sémillon produced. You must buy a bottle to taste it as they don’t have much stock left.
The red is cultivated from 7.5 hectares of Merlot (45%) and Cabernet-Sauvignon (55%). They lay a tier of the juice in new barrels, the rest they leave in the tank. Batonnage is in the barrel. Bottling comes 18 months after the harvest. The vintages available for tasting today are the ’06 and ’07. It is balanced, elegant, a good wine to accompany with raclettes, Indian food or spicy Antilles cuisine. 50,000 bottles. A good wine to keep for 3 – 10 years, depending on the vintage. It is a great buy. You are getting top Pessac-Leognan wine for about 1/3 of what most of the other bottles in the area sell for.
This winery is a must stop on your Bordeaux wine travels. Friendly, forthcoming Bordelaise wine folk, excellent wines and great prices. They want to talk wine with you.
Château Haut-Lagrange 89, Avenue de La Brède