Bordeaux Safari - Day 1
A small group of eager wine lovers are picked up from the airport and driven direct to the magnificent Chateau Le Pape in Pessac (a recently renovated Chateau owned by Chateau Haut Bailly) surrounded by vineyards. The interior has the classic grandeur of Bordeaux heritage chic mixed with all the modern comforts and a permanent butler Herve on hand for all your needs, other than that, you have the entire Chateau to yourself.
With the incredibly lavish and top Pessac producer Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte a stones throw from our own Chateau we got straight into our main purpose of the visit and had a vertical tasting of Smith Haut Lafitte white and red over an evening meal at their intimate restaurant. My favourite was the 2010 Blanc which really is a benchmark for Bordeaux white wine with incredibly consistent quality and super fresh despite 8 years of age.
Bordeaux Safari- Day 2
First morning of the trip and we are up bright and early and straight into our morning talk on vine disease (a growing phenomenon throughout the whole of Europe and having huge implications on the great terroirs of the world. Before long we are in the vineyard with all the gear (and not much idea) pruning the vines of Chateau Haut Bailly under the watchful eye of their head viticulturist and leading pruning educator Marco Simonit.
Lunch is a well earned feast in the grand dining room of Chateau Haut Bailly with head technical director and winemaker Gabriel Vialard. Jean-Charles Poinsot the chef at Haut Bailly is an incredible talent and the exceptional lunch was perfectly balanced with Padre Haut Bailly 2011 and Chateau Haut Bailly 2001. The full vertical of top Chateau Haut Bailly 2003, 02, 98, 90, 08 was enjoyed for the evening feast from the same chef but within Chateau Haut Bailly’s intimate dining room with proprietor Veronique Sanders a really unique experience! That afternoon we worked with technical director Gabriel Vialard on topping up the barrels in the cellar room before tasting different barrels to understand the different styles of cooperage and why it is important to have varying styles to manage the effect of the oak on the final wine. After day 1 it is impossible not to have a clear understanding of the style of Chateau Haut Bailly and the many elements that painstakingly go into producing each bottle.
Bordeaux Safari - Day 3
Day 3 and we are working with horses in Chateau Pape Clement. The Chateau is truly spectacular and after introducing ourselves to the horses we were attaching ploughs and working the vineyard, man and horse working in harmony. Horses in the vineyard are more than just a romantic throwback to traditional methods but a preferred method to protect against compaction of the soil from heavy modern machinery.
Man and horse had worked up an appetite by lunch. Whilst the horses had to make do with the stables we got to sit in the palatial dining room of Chateau Pape Clement amongst Hermes China and a vertical of Pape Clement Blanc and top red vintages 2010, 2009 and 2005. Some of the guests decided to spend the afternoon kipping in the tropical gardens of the Chateau whilst it was back to work for the rest of us in the winery cleaning and steaming out barrels following racking.
The evening is one of those pinch yourselves moments. We are driven to the heart of Bordeaux city centre, a UNESCO heritage city so architecturally beautiful it takes your breath away, full of 18th century palaces, opera houses and bustling open squares buzzing with life. After a quick aperitif on the square we arrive to the Michelin starred Garopapilles for our first growth dinner. All 5 of Bordeaux’s top left bank Chateau- Lafite, Haut Brion, Latour, Mouton Rothschild and Margaux all in different vintages fighting it out through a 10 course dinner extravaganza. An unbelievable once in a lifetime experience. My preference on the night had to be the Lafite 2006 and the Latour 2002 (a really magical vintage for Latour). A night like that had to end with a bottle of Yquem. In the early hours we were all very merrily singing as we headed back to our Chateau.
Bordeaux Safari - Day 4
Heads slightly dusty we awake to the distant noise of propellers getting louder and louder. Im not sure I’ll ever get a chance to say this again but it was our helicopters coming to collect us to take us to to breakfast at Chateau Pichon Comtesse.
With not a cloud in the sky the views of the medieval Chateaux from 300 metres above is spectacular. Such incredible array of Chateaux dotted in between vineyards hardly look real from the sky and it is great way to really understand the size of the left bank and the proximity of each of the great vineyards from each other and their distance from the Gironde river.
It’s not long before we land at Chateau Pichon Lalande and we are greeted by vineyard director Francois Taris who informs us of their biodynamic project applying organic techniques to the vineyard in order to make the vineyard as sustainable as possible. Before long we are dynamising a horsetail preparation before strapping on sprayers and walking up and down the the vineyard aisles spraying the vines to protect against mildew. I feel better already!
We visited the winery and were met by Nicolas Glumineau the big boss at Chateau Pichon Comtesse and his team. Arriving in March is always an exciting time as the wineries are busy blending their latest vintage prior to the En Primeur tastings in April. We were so fortunate to get first hand experience in the blending process tasting Cabernets and Merlots from different plots and identifying which ones should go into the final blend. The additions of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are the equivalent of the salt and pepper seasoning of the blend. It was amazing how much the wine could change by altering the blend by 1 or 2 percent. By the end we had the final blend of the 2017 and it was exceptional.
Following another fantastic lunch in the Chateau looking out over the vineyards of Latour, tasting incredible vintages of Pichon Comtesse 2009, ‘05, ‘96, 85, 82 it was another rare opportunity to understand the character and style of this great winery. This was our final long lunch of the trip and I was sad to be leaving but it was time for our helicopter ride back to the airport for our flight home. The 4 day trip was a whirlwind experience of extravagance, insight and understanding that will stay with me forever. It is the ultimate experience for any Bordeaux wine lover.
If you are interested in the next Bordeaux Safari (November 2018) click here…