Visiting an estate a second time after several years is an interesting update and for this second visit at La Conseillante we had the chance to be guided by Bertrand Nicolas who is one of the two managers of this family-runned winery (the other being Mrs Marie-France Nicolas d'Arfeuille). Mr Nicolas is a doctor and he shares his time between the winery and his patients. We begin with a walk from the Chateau to the chai across the vineyard where I shot pictures of the vine shoots earlier in the day. He begins with explaining the differences between the soil of La Conseillante, of Petrus and Cheval Blanc. Cheval Blanc on the other side of the road has a majority of Gravel and the rest in clay, with 60% Cabernet and 40% merlot. La Conseillante has the opposite, with 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet. Petrus on the other side, has a 100% clay soil and 100% Merlot. It is no mystery if each grape variety has a specific planting-location, because when planted on the adequate soil, the Merlot or Cabernet vines will express themselves best and it will translate in the wine. He shows us then where the clay vein crosses between two parts of La Conseillante : from the grass road seperating the two plots, we see such a different-looking soil that it looks as if stones had been deliberately trucked onto one of the vineyards. Part of this clay vein that runs through La Conseillante, is composed of a particular element that may have a direct imprint on the wine taste : the "crasse de fer", a red-brownish color type of iron dust. Even if a direct link has yet to be proven, Mr Nicolas says that according to the tradition, the strong violet aroma in La Conseillante wines would be directly linked to the high concentration of iron clay in the soil. Thats why the color of the bottle capsules is purple (violet means also purple color in French) since 135 years at La Conseillante.
As we arrive to the chai, we notice that the Merlot plot that had just been planted in front of the facility when we visited in 2005 has now reached a reasonable size. See the picture on my first-visit-post to compare the size (we also had such a nice weather then).
After the uprooting of the previous vines, this plot had been planted for a couple of years with barley, like the plot in the background which belongs to L'Evangile (the red buildings in the far). The vineyards of La Conseillante, L'Evangile, Pétrus and Cheval Blanc are nearly overlapping each other and a single step make you walk unsuspectedly from one to another no fence or sign being in the way. Phacelia is also sometimes planted on recently-uprooted blocks because it has the particularity to be able to cure the soil from potential diseases that affect the vines, like viruses. Instead of using chemical products that would harm the soil's life, they use other vegetal species with know properties, like barley or wild poppy because they root deep into the ground. Phacelia kills virus-vectors worms like the nematodes. Barley feeds off bad elements in the subsoil and phacelia distills something in the ground that kills off these potentially-harmful nematods. With less of these virus-harboring worms in the soil, the soon-to-be-planted vineyard with get a healthy start which will allow the vineyard managers in turn to avoid the spraying of chemicals. For this new plot, they left the phacelia for 2 years. Ideally the block should not be replanted with vines for 4 years to have a correct disinfection of the soil but this would be a costly investment in regard of the loss of production during that period, and 2 years makes a not-too-bad compromise.
The vathouse : they try to vinify in batches as much as possible and each year brings different volume ratios. For example in 2005, 2006 and 2007 they had exactly the same number of clusters left on the vines but ended up with different volumes at the harvest.
In the foreground (2nd picture above) you can see a "peristalic pump" which allows a very soft pumping of the wine. Pumping is a delicate issue in a winery as it has been discovered that an inapropriate type of pump can seriously damage the wines. Some vintners even decide to work without pumps and move the wine just by gravity.
About the choice of the casks, it depends of the millesimes : a good millesime will mean the use of 100% new casks and the other years 70% to 80% new casks. They also work with several cooperages (4 or 5) and wood originating from different forests because depending of the batch or the plot they decide after tasting the wines which type of wood or toast is better suited for each: for a given plot which gives a powerful wine they will match the adequate cooperage and type of toast, for another lighter wine they will avoid risking a shock with certain woods, they will just try to soften its tannins and settle their choice on a different type of cask, and these choices are of course reviewed every year.
In march, the chai master prepares some 25 samples for a preliminary tasting. Blending samples are prepared and blind-tasted to foreview the better plot/batch combinations. The people who take part in this crucial tasting are the director Jean-Michel Laporte, Gilles Pauquet (the enologist), the chai master (Patrick Arguti), Mr Bertrand Nicolas and Mrs D'Arfeuille (the owners board), every one saying what he/she likes or not. The resulting wine will be presented as the La Conseillante futures. Of course then the wine is only 5 months old then, compared with the 16-18-months elevage which comes next. That's why they take many precautions to avoid an expected turn in the wine, and that's the full-time job of the chai master. The only filtration they resort to is a single "grille". The wine goes in the cask at the end of the year. The malolactic fermentation is completed in the vats, not in the casks. they tried once to have it completed in the casks but where not convinced about the results 10 months later.
__La Conseillante Pomerol 2007. This sample-bottle was filled from a cask 2 days before by chai master Patrick Arguti. This wine will be bottled some time near april 2009. Very nice nose. Vanilla. Suavity. The summer of 2007 was tricky, he says, the weather was not very good for maturation, and 3 weeks before harvest they were almost 2 weeks late on the grape maturity (they kept tasting the grapes and analysing them), and no better weather expected. Then, some sort of late summer fell on the region and in the matter of 10 days the situation turned around. In short, even if it will not be a powerful millesime like 2005 or 2006 (you don't get that every year), they are optimist for the wine. He tells us about 2004 which also had suffered during summer and samely benefited from a beautiful late season. So, this wine will be more on the fruit and freshness than extraction, loke elsewhere in the region. I spoke to the director Jean-Michel Laporte who considers this millesime (2007) as superior to 2002 and 2004 because they could get a bit more volume than in these two years and will keep the nice freshness of 2004's. By the way, 2004 was his first year at La Conseillante and this 2004 wine was considered by some as lacking a bit in the middle-mouth. 2007 having suffered from the same weather handicap than 2004, he adapted his vinification and the type of wood to correct this problem.
__La Conseillante Pomerol 2004. Superb nose. Mouth : lots of smal black fruits. Liquorice, blond tobacco, English gingerbread. Lots of pleasure, very nice. 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet here (may vary a bit every year with the yield-differential between Merlot and Cabernet on given year).
La Conseillante produces 45/60 000 bottles a year and exports 75% of its wine. This year, La Conseillante is producing the 1st edition of its "second wine", named "Duo de Conseillante", but we did not taste it.
La conseillante wines are exported (70%) around the world, in the UK, the US, Canada, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Japan among others.