|La route des vins de Bordeaux en Graves et sauternes
The origins of the wines of Sauternes and Barsac are somewhat hazy. Some say that they are a product of chance, an accident of nature. There was a Marquis who, in 1846, having set off on a hunting trip to Russia, came back too late to give the order to start the harvest. The grapes, which everyone thought were ruined, produced the most remarkable white wine they had ever tasted. Myth or reality, who can say?
With the passing of time, wine makers have gradually managed to tame Botrytis cinerea, the fungus that plays a key role in the production process for these wines, and to appreciate the benefits of late harvests. The magic of this mysterious fungus has been combined with the art of growing grapes to create these exceptional wines.
Terroir and climate : an exceptional combination of favourable elements
Located in the heart of the Graves region, the spectacular countryside of Sauternes covers five communes: Barsac, Bommes, Preignac, Sauternes and Fargues. Dotted with châteaux and wonderful old houses, the vines extend over 2,200 hectares, including 650 for Barsac which has its own appellation.
The soil, consisting of limestone, silica and gravel, and the temperate climate, produce vines of exceptional quality. In the autumn, the Ciron, a tributary of the Garonne, brings morning mists that disappear later in the day under the heat of the sun. This daily fluctuation between humidity and warmth provides the conditions for the appearance and growth of the providential fungus: Botrytis cinerea.
Rare and precious :
These famous white wines are also known as vins d’or (golden wines) because of their rarity, one of the reasons for this being the modest size of the Sauternes-Barsac vineyards. More significantly, the production process for these sweet wines is long and complex, and subject, even more than other wines, to the caprices of the weather. It requires patience and a great deal of labour. Yields are low and subject to rigorous criteria. To obtain an idea of what is involved in the production of this wine, consider that each vine plant only produces two or three glasses of the precious liquid, and only one glass when it comes to the great châteaux! Such small yields and so much effort… all with a sole purpose: to favour quality over quantity and make the most extraordinary sweet wines in the world.
If one is travelling south, the large and beautiful wine region of GRAVES begins where the "Jalle de Blanquefort" river flows into the Garonne, just north of Bordeaux; it stretches down to just after Langon, further upstream the Garonne. The banks of the latter form the eastern boundary, whereas to the west the huge and splendid pine forest of the Landes serves as a protective border.
There are three appellations d'origine contrôlée (controlled appellation) in the GRAVES region: A.O.C. GRAVES and PESSAC-LEOGNAN produce red and dry white wines while A.O.C. GRAVES SUPERIEURES produces sweet white wines. A classification drawn up in 1953 and updated in 1959 identifies 16 crus classés (classified growths) consisting of red and/or white wines.
The oldest Bordeaux vineyard
It was here, at the gates of Bordeaux, that vines were first planted in the Gironde. Recent archaeological excavations have placed the creation of the vineyards at around 40 AD. However, wine production did not begin to flourish until the Middle Ages. It was then that vines were planted in Bordeaux itself and in the surrounding countryside.
The golden age began in the 14th century when the English developed a taste for “claret".
From the 15th to the 18th century, a family of large estates gradually formed with a reputation for producing good quality wines, which came to be known as the “vins de GRAVES", a name which became synonymous with the excellence of Bordeaux wines.
Terroir: an exceptional combination of favourable elements
GRAVES wines are the only wines in France to be named after the soil: "Las Grabas de Bourdeus" means literally “The Gravel of Bordeaux". The origin of this name and its long history serves as a reminder of the important role played by the terroir in the quality of the wines produced in the Graves region. These layers of gravel, made up of small stones and pebbles deposited by rivers, have a thickness that can vary from twenty centimetres to more than three metres. Indicating former courses taken by the Garonne, they began to form at the end of the Tertiary period and then built up over the Quaternary period with the passing of the ice ages. Reflecting the sun’s rays to just the right extent, the gravel gradually redistributes the heat to the grapes, thereby contributing to optimum ripening conditions.