As true as it is said that you only get one chance to make a first impression, it is equally important to set the environment in which to be impressed upon. Below is an excerpt from my first trip with CRUSHPAD Bordeaux to the Médoc to meet Eric Boissenot, oenologist of the Grands Crus, Châteaux Latour, Margaux, Lafite-Rothschild…
Stephen Bolger, CRUSHPAD Bordeaux: So, what are you going to ask Eric when you meet him?
Me (embarrassingly unprepared): Ah. Well. I haven’t thought about it.
Me (several kilometers later and after considering several trite alternatives): I do have one question.
(fast-forward to the end of the meeting with Stephen, Eric and Cecilia Grallert, CRUSHPAD’s Viticultural Consultant)
Me (shamefully posed in English): What is the most important lesson I should learn about Bordeaux winemaking?
(after the laughter subsided from a winemaking question in the same vein of an ecology student asking an environmental scientist the one thing she could do to avoid melting the polar ice caps, I got my answer)
Eric (grossly paraphrased and oversimplified): Blending. Blending varieties to elevate, express and respect the terroir. Blending!
I recalled that answer at every future tasting opportunity. I’d ask, “What varieties did you use?”, “How much this or that?”. Thinking that I was gathering data points that I could later utilize. However, I never fully appreciated the complexity and Art until my visit with Rodrigo. (Not surprisingly, Eric also consults for Château Kirwan.)
Rodrigo Laytte is the Technical Director for Château Kirwan, which means he is responsible for all viticultural and oenological operations. Daunting task for most, but not so I suspect for Rodrigo.
Rodrigo’s philosophy, similar to that instilled in me educationally and beaten into me practically, can be interpreted as, for every extra hour in the vineyard you save beaucoup euros and undesirable manipulation in the winery later. Terroir is not something that can be added or taken away later. It is what it is and is not what it is not. However Décartes-ian or Seuss-ian that may sound, remember Eric’s lesson, the Art is in the blending.
After touring Kirwan’s chic new visitors’ center (Bordeaux is starting to get serious about oeno-tourism) and receiving generous viticultural, mechanical and oenological lessons, Rodrigo delivered a one-on-one master blending class.
First, we tasted barrel samples from Kirwan’s assemblage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, of this year’s vintage. Tasting barrel samples of wine this early in the process, pre-MLF, would tend to be overly acidic. However, Rodrigo’s fastidious winemaking allows him to co-inoculate so the wines have already completed MLF before they go to barrel. Generally, having only spent 2 weeks in barrel to this point, the oak influence was minimal. Black fruit aromas were prominent in the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot exhibiting their characteristic contributions of bell pepper and violets, respectively. The acids, alcohol and tannins of each sample were well balanced except for the slightly high alcohol evident in the Merlot. But, remember the lesson here, it’s about blending!
Next, Rodrigo blended the varietals in order of significance according to 2009′s assemblage. (Note: the 2010 assemblage won’t be decided for several months). Voila. High alcohol from the Merlot and bell pepper from the Cabernet Franc no longer perceptible and presenting a much more complex and interesting libation. Ah, now I get it. Or so I thought. Rodrigo would then present the final 2009, yet to be bottled, assemblage.
Having spent considerably longer integrating its individual parts into a greater whole, this was clearly more of a finished wine. Rounder and fuller with a longer, smoother finish. Detecting my need for an explanation to why the 2009 was so much fuller bodied than the 2010, Rodrigo demonstrated the appropriate use of press wine by adding the similar amount of press wine as in the 2009 assemblage to the 2010 that we had previously tasted. Ah, now I REALLY get it. Or at least I am starting to internalize the complexity and Art that is blending.
My single, simplified take away from the whole experience, “Good wine is grown, Great wine is blended.” What I was told by Eric, I was shown by Rodrigo.
A huge thanks goes out to Rodrigo Laytte and Château Kirwan for being so generous with your time and sharing precious knowledge with me.
Below is a collection of photos from my time at Château Kirwan. Enjoy.
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