Libourne (Saint Emilion - Bordeaux)
The domaine (Vignobles) Pueyo makes a bit more than 7 hectares in surface, the vineyards (10 parcels) are spread over roughly 4 different locations around Libourne, and with the suburban sprawl that keeps gaining against agricultural land in the region of Bordeaux, several parcels are now alas surrounded by new (and often bland) constructions. Bordeaux, like Avignon for example seems to have been badly overbuilt along the lasr decades and driving through the area puts a big distance between the romantic image of the region and the reality.
The furthest parcel is located near Chateau Figeac near Saint Emilion. The history of the domaine began with Christophe's grand-grand-father with a continuous ownership of the family. When his father Jacques and uncle Jean-Paul took over the domaine it had only 3 hectares, after which it grew progressively through opportunistic purchases to neighbors when a parcel was available.
All the parcels are in the AOC Saint-Emilion and they have also a small production in generic Bordeaux.
We drove (in a Lexus, we're in Bordeaux) to the nearest parcels which are in the Sain-Emilion Appellation, this is in the immediate outskirts of Libourne in a residential suburb named Les Castors. Here like in Pessac-Léognan there is a competition between the vineyard and the suburban encroaching.
All the vineyards of the domaine is farmed organic since 2010 with the first organic certification in 2013. Their parcels are easily recognizable, these are the ones with grass and weeds, herbicide being much used elsewhere in the Bordeaux region (see picture on the left, shot also near Libourne).
Some keep some grass every other row like it's become fashionable but there's still herbicide on the rest and it may not make a big difference, the undersoil is probably dead. We pass also a vineyard that almost looked like it was alive and well, you could see with the plowing that there was a different approach, but Christophe says that in spite of this good work on the soil this Chateau (a Grand Cru Classé which we'll not name here) isn't organic and still sprays conventional chemicals.
The domaine Pueyo is the only one in Libourne to farm organic
The Dordogne river flows 200 meters from this parcel (pictured above), the cadastral name here is Gueyrosse, but they don't use this name on the label, they use Garderose which sounds a bit the same. The soil is gravel (graves) here. There are 8 rows of cabernet franc and the rest is merlot.
We then drove at a small distance from there, to a parcel with old cabernet franc.
Beyond the organic farming which is a good point in a region where a humid weather and the mildew pressure makes most mid-range wineries wary of working that way, the good point for Pueyo is that they have old vines, like about 45 average, and as a result their yields are in the range of 30-35 hectoliters/hectare (also on average).
Christophe Pueyo says that they don't do deep work on the soil, they also don't do the usual chaussage and décavaillonage we're now familiar with when visting organic vineyards. He says that through a simple and light plowing with blades (without turning over the horizon) they can preserve the microbial life of the surface. They tend to plow lightly under the row with a tractor and they leave the middle of the row with weeds and flowers, mowing them when they're growing too much.
They've not yet taken the biodynamics path but they began working with plants (herb tea for sprayings for example). In maybe 2 or 3 years they intend to begin work seriously on the biodynamic farming.
On their vineyard they now tend to uproot Merlot and replace it with Cabernet Sauvignon, because the cabernet fits well on these soils, which encourage early ripening, and on the other hand with the warmer temperatures these last few years the merlot tends to have become heavy and reach excessive alcohol levels in the wine. To counter the overripeness effect on the Merlot, Christophe says that at Pueyo they harvest this grape varietal earlier. Right now they have still 70 % of the surface planted with merlot, the rest being 25 % cabernet franc and 5 % cabernet sauvignon. Their goal is reach 30 % for the cab sauvignon and 25 %
for the cab franc, the rest in merlot.
These old vines of cabernet franc seem very happy in this grassy parcel, and I guess the people living in the houses nearby must be thankfull not to have pesticide sprayings all along the year (when people live right along a conventional vineyard there is a real health issue).
These are all massal selections and when they have to replace a vine they do it through marcottage (picture on right), this age-old technique when you let a branch grow, put it's end in the ground where it will grow its own roots (ungrafted though, that's why you have to keep the link with the originating vine to protect it from the phylloxera).
Asked about the weather and problems it may bring in the vineyard in this region these last years Christophe Pueyo says that in 2012 and 2013 they had a disease pressure to handle but they didn't loose grapes or volume because of that. He says that farming organic, even with the peculiar (often rainy and humid) weather of Bordeaux isn't that difficult. Asked about the suzukii drosophilia, he says they had some alerts at the harvest but he isn't sure this particular insect was responsible. He always had some parts of certain parcels attacked near the harvest by drosophilia but he isn't sure it was the suzukii this year, and there was no real threat overall.
On this picture you can see the well-lit, efficient vat room with the stainless-steem tanks, nothing fancy. The other room with cement tanks (see below) looks more like an old-time facility with the uninsulated roof just above.
Christophe Pueyo says that this area of Saint-Emilion here in Libourne (including the parcels we just visited) weren't until recently considered a qualitative part of Saint-Emilion. The fact is there is a part of the Libourne area which is not qualitative because its soils are sandy but in the parcels we visited the soil has 40 cm of sandy soil and underneath it's thick with gravel. The soil is this very draining and the roots go deep to find their nutrients and water.
There's no water stress for these vines although they have to find humidity at a certain depth.
Another important thing to say is that they don't take leaves down on the vines, because they want to keep the clusters hidden from the sun in order to keep fresh notes in the wines. Here in the region growers tend to systematicly thin out the leaves because they look for overmaturity. At Pueyo they also don't do green harvest, they trust the vines, considering that they will give more grapes at the beginning and then calm down [I guess that's also because they don't use fertilizers].
The sprayings at Pueyo are made with copper and sulfur, at very low doses but regular and often. All is hand-picked on the domaine, which has become very rare in the region, and by the way even on certain Grand Cru Classé you can see them resorting to machine-harvesting when the weather is tricky.
We walk into the facility, cooler temperature welcome (Bordeaux can be hot in april). We pass the vat room and reach a room with several wooden containers, regular casks, demi-muids (500-liter probably) and Stockinger foudres, this is a surface élevage cellar, pretty dry by the way for a cask cellar.
They began 3 years ago with the Austrian cooperage Stockinger, buying first 500-liter barrels. He discovered Stockinger through the experience of a friend, Thierry Germain who makes wine in Saumur-Champigny in the Loire. He likes the effect of these vessels on the wine, with a wood having thin, tight grain and going through a long drying stage (3 years) and using very light roasting when making the barrels.
Speaking of the vinification, all the grapes which are hand picked and go through a first sorting in the parcel go though another one here, on an automatic sorting table, then stems are separated from the grapes. Then they do cold-temp maceration (under 10 ° C or 50 ° F) before the first fermentation. When the cold maceration time is over they let the temperature of the grapes go up to 20 ° C (68 ° F). They just put a bit of SO2 at the beginning otherwise no lab yeast or other additive, no enzymes, no wood chips. They want to avoid the pumping over as much as possible and they don't do pigeage, they abstain from extraction methods that are too violent on the winemaking process.
After a month they let the juice flow and press the grapes (with an Italian model which you can see in the far on the picture on top).
They have 5 different cuvées here including the main cuvée of which much is exported, the Chateau Belregard Figeac. They also developped two upper cuvées including the Château La Fleur-Garderose, a cuvée focused on freshness, acidity and drinkability, it is made with a selection of vats and of élevage in wood without marked wood notes. The market for this wine began in several Paris venues like Septime, Chateaubriand, Frenchie, Bistrot Paul Bert, Lavinia.
Another upper cuvée is Chateau Belregard Figeac L'Excellence, a cuvée which is sold as wine-futures, much of it being shipped in Switzerland.
Jean-Paul, who is Christophe's uncle explains that the advantage of having created a second brand is to be able to sell to different types of customers in a given country without internal-competition problems.
The cement tanks above are for lower cuvées, there are 4 of them with volumes of 57, 44, 75 and 119 hectoliters respectively, and one of them is pretty old, it was built in 1940. They also have an underground cement tank like in the Muscadet (they don't use this one often but in case of a big harvest they prefer keep extra capacity). They don't use these cement tanks for the fermentations because the contact ratio (height & width) for the contact between the lees and the wine is not qualitative for the wine (he says it's a much better ratio in the stainless-steel vats), but for the élevage ciment is OK.
Half of the wine has its élevage in stainless-steel tanks and half in wood. The generic Saint-Emilion as well as the Bordeaux go into neutral vats , the Grand Cru having a steel/wood élevage. The total élevage time is usually between 1,5 year and 2 years, plus several months more in bottle. They also have remaining volumes of older cuvées and we spotted a pallet ready for shipping with cases of the vintage 2004.
__ We begin with tasting a bottle of Bordeaux 2013, this wine is sold out now. There's a light reduction on the nose, whith for me is a good sign. Christophe says that they vinify naturally and always keep a bit of CO2 in the wine. There's almost no SO2 in this wine, he says that the wine is exposed to oxygen all along the élevage, this way it stands well the contact with oxygen after bottling and opening, you can leave the bottle opened a couple of days, the wine will not spoil. This wine had a one-year élevage in both cement tanks and stainless-steel.
__ Vignobles Pueyo Lafleur Garderose Bordeaux 2014. A wine with acidity and still noticeable tannins to this date. Will be bottled end of april. the first wine in the range. No filtration. On this type of wine they may filter if needed, but here they didn't do it. Pleasant wine. Merlot and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. Around 12,5 % and 13 % alcohol. In 2010 the alcohol was higher. they noticed that thanks to the work on the soils they get more acidity and less alcohol in the wine. The weather in 2013 was more complicated with hail and other problems, the funny thing is that it tasted good actually.
We now tate from the upper cuvées, first in bottle then in casks :
__ Lafleur Garderose Grand Cru Classé 2012. Bottled since last year. 50 % stainless/50 % wood. They'll not make a 2013 with this cuvée because the volume was very low and not qualitative enough. There will be a 2014 but it will be bottled in a year. Here 95 % Merlot 5 % Cabernet Franc. Nice freshness with power too, very nice.
Speaking of the wood they introduce the 500-liter barrels with the idea to keep them 10 years or more (they used to keep the 225-liter ones 3 years) and with the Stockinger foudres they will check how it works on the wine and possibly extend their use. Even if they got these Stockinger wooden vats only 3 months ago, they already could check the difference when tasting the same cab franc from new 500-liter, one-wine-old 500-liter and from these two foudres, he says it is very interesting to follow the different evolution of the same wine, the vertical architecture of these foudre definitely brings a plus on the wine.
We taste wine from the barrels now, the 2014 (from several vessels that will be blended later).
__ Lafleur Garderose Grand Cru Classé 2014, new 500-liter demi-muids, a large-capacity barrel, and only the Merlot part here. There are wood notes, Christophe says, but it is not very marked for me. I notice a saline side in the wine, but that may be the acidity. The ratio of new oak don't weigh much because of the blending with older wood and with the stainless-steel part.
__ Lafleur Garderose Grand Cru Classé 2014, merlot from a one-wine-old 500-liter Stockinger. The fruit is more forward here indeed but the nose is discreet. Christophe says that they have perspective now on the way these 500-liter Stockinger interact with the wine and he feels they give length to the wine instead of width.
__ Lafleur Garderose Grand Cru Classé 2014, the cab franc part from a one-wine-old 500-liter Stockinger. Very interesting year for cabernet, Christophe says, because of the very nice and dry weather in the late season that allowed them to wait for their ideal maturity (in Bordeaux you often rush to pick because of the rain). Nice wine.
__ Lafleur Garderose Grand Cru Classé 2014, the cab-franc part again but from a new 500-liter Stockinger. I feel this saline feel again, this may be related with the new wood but there is no creamy notes. The malolactic fermentation took place in the stainless-steel stage, before the wine went into the barrels, and after that there's no racking during the rest of the élevage in the wood, they don't move it.
We now taste from the Stockingers (the oval foudres, when we think to Stockinger we usually refer to this type of vessel), but the surprise is that although looking perfectly identical in the design, only the one at the bottom is officially a Stockinger (made in Austria) but the one in the foreground is made by what seems a subsidiary based in neighboring Hungary, from what I understood, the name of this cooperage is Confidence, I'm not sure of the spelling. Christophe says that the Hungarian version costs less but it's distributed by Stockinger as well. I didn't find anything about this Stockinger subsidiary on the Internet, I just found a company named Kalina, I'll post more if I learn something about it. They noticed that the wine doesn't taste the same in the two oval foudres, the other one being made maybe with a different type of oak found in Hungary. They'll see after a year how the two taste differently.
__ Cabernet Franc 2014 from the Hungarian foudre. Nice tannic chew, I hope they'll not filter this wine, I like it that way. They say that with the élevage to come they hope not to have to filter them as they will keep sedimenting.
__ Cabernet Franc 2014, from the Austrian Stockinger. Nose more open here maybe. Neither has a wood imprint. Christophe notices that there's a dryness feel at end of the mouth though. Christophe says that they'll keep thes foudres for a long time, possibly for ever, they'll just be carefull when cleaning the inside, they'll filter the city water to avoid contaminating the barrel with the chlorine of the tap water.
We also tasted older bottles,
__ Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Belregard Figeac 2005, when the domaine was not yet organic. Nice generous nose with notes of faded flowers, fruit too.
Christophe says that they're thinking to possibly buy more surface, first because there's a demand for organic wine, and also maybe to try different wines, other than classical Bordeaux, like if they planted chenin for example (which would be labelled as table wine of course).
__ Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Belregard Figeac 2010, bottled since 2012. Nice aromas too, faded roses and fruits. This is the beginning of the conversion to organic farming. More powerful wine, the vintage was warm and sunny. More 14 % than the 13,5 % on the label but Tastes well. What they noticed when they turned to organic farming is that while before there was a time lag between the technological maturity (which happened earlier) and the phenolic maturity, after the conversion settled in, the two maturities tended to happen around the same time. And the wine gained in the acidity/minerality feel. .
We had the luck to meet Christophe's grandfather who is a living example of the French paradox and the famed benefits of Bordeaux wine, be it through anthocyanin or resveratrol. He told us himself that he has been drinking Saint-Emilion every day all his life and he is now 93...
Pueyo wines are exported in the U.S. (Rosenthal), in Brazil (Airports & Duty Free), in Norway (Better Wines), Denmark (Vinrosen), Switzerland (Schuler), Germany, Belgium, Holland and Japan (enoconexion - Mr Ito came twice here).