French Wine Tour 2014 - June 24

June 24 – the final day of tour

We began with a visit to the legendary 1st Growth producer Château Haut Brion in the Pessac-Léognan appellation located in the suburbs of Bordeaux city. It was much closer to our hotel than anticipated and we ended up 25-minutes early for our appointment; so spent some time strolling among the vines. Our hostess Marie had hosted our group in 2005 and immediately recognised Virginia and I, which I thought very remarkable. We had been unable to visit in 2012 due to renovations so were delighted to be able to return this time with our group. Haut Brion loosely translated means top of the hill and grapes were originally planted on the estate in 1423.

The actual estate Château Haut-Brion dates back to April 1525 when Jean de Pontac married Jeanne de Bellon, the daughter of the mayor of Libourne and seigneur of Haut-Brion, who brought to him in her dowry the land. In 1533 he bought the mansion of Haut-Brion, while construction of the Château was begun in 1549. The estate has a fascinating history with ownership swapping hands many times over the centuries (see Wikipedia for a detailed overview of Haut-Brion history) with the current owners the Dillon family (Clarence Dillon was an American banker) having owned the estate since May 13, 1935. Manager Jean-Bernard Delmas retired in 2003, and was succeeded by his son Jean-Philippe Delmas. Prince Robert of Luxembourg who has acted as an administrator at Haut-Brion since the age of 18, became in 2008 Président Directeur Général of Domaine Clarence Dillon and remains in charge today. Although Prince Robert resides in Switzerland he visits and stays on the estate monthly and retains hands on interest in the management and direction of Haut-Brion.

Haut-Brion was the first Bordeaux producer to adopt the use of stainless steel vats in their winemaking in the early 1960's. They have developed a unique vat that can accommodate both fermentation and maceration on skins. The grapes are handpicked with first sort taking place in the vineyard, a second sort across the vibrating table followed by a final sort via an optical scanner. The process from reception to barrel is largely gravity controlled to ensure gentle handling. Pumping over skins in tank is controlled by computerised program to ensure precision timing. Post maceration the wine is straight to barriques, of which a significant number are constructed in their own cooperage located on the property.Marie took us to visit the cooperage to view barrel making in progress which we all found fascinating to watch; to see a master cooper at work was a treat. Like their fellow 1st Growth Estates they have a large library cellar and the oldest wine is from vintage 1848. It would be amazing to partake in a proper review of aged 1st Growth wines; I'll keep going back to Bordeaux and to Vin Expo tastings and one never knows. In recent times Haut-Brion has purchased Château Quintus in St. Emilion and another property alongside giving them a sizable holding on the Right Bank (Merlot dominant wines). Finally we arrived at the tasting hall where Marie had prepared a bottle of each of the 2007 vintage Château Haut-Brion and their sister estate La Mission Haut-Brion….

La Mission Haut-Brion 2007 – this was a challenging vintage and although the wine was balanced and very well made there was no disguising the more herbaceous elements that dominated in the palate. It had smooth texture/tannin with a good acid lift and coolness on the finish.

Château Haut-Brion 2007 – again reflecting stronger savour/herbal notes it was more concentrated with cassis, graphite, pan juices and plenty of warm richness; a fine wine from a not so fine vintage.

Phil Norman expressed the appreciation of the group for our visit in a very gracious and well considered thank you speech to our hostess Marie, who was noticeably appreciative of the gesture.At that stage the group hopped on the coach for a short ride back to our Bordeaux Hotel and the opportunity to grab a free afternoon in Bordeaux prior to our end of tour dinner that evening.

Virginia and I on the other hand were guests of Clarence Dillon wines Managing Director Gerard Blanloeil and International Export Manager Joan Mourgues at the Brasserie Bordelaise for lunch. We had so enjoyed our dinner there the night before and were delighted to return. They were great hosts/company, the food was excellent again and the wine selection from Clarence Dillon they had brought to lunch was superb. In amongst plenty of good banter we had some interesting business discussions; the fruits of which should be tasted by FWD Co. customers later this year.

We arrived back at the hotel around 3pm to catch a couple of hours rest and freshen/change for our end of tour dinner with Jacques Lurton and Theodore Mostermans at Château La Louviere 40-minutes away in the Pessac-Léognan appellation.

Jacques is one of three brothers that are heirs to the property owned by their father who purchased it in run down condition several decades earlier. In his lifetime he has transformed it into one of the most outstanding estates Pessac-Léognan, offering some of its finest wines at seriously fine value prices. There is little noticeable difference to the 1st Growth properties when it comes to the calibre of winery equipment and facilities, the real difference being in the terroir. Their cellar hall and tank rooms are superbly equipped and maintained.Château La Louviere invented the water bath grape sorting process that was recently adopted by Château de Pressac in favour of optical sorting.

We exited the cellars and walked through the beautiful grounds to the rear of the Château where a table had been set up under the trees and wait staff met us with a glass of Château La Louviere Blanc, which was largely made from Sauvignon Blanc but is more elegant and restrained by comparison to a typical Marlborough style. In that it had lots of yellow fruits delivered in a deliciously textured palate with stylish acidity and a quietly assertive finish; perfect with Foie Gras, salmon and sea foods. The sun was still fairly high in the sky (darkness does not come until 10pm in Bordeaux at this time of year) and warm on our backs as we stood under the beautiful stand of trees and soaked up the wine and the glorious moment; it was a privilege and joy to be with old/new friends enjoying superb hospitality with such historic earth beneath our feet.

Jacques then led us inside the Château for a tour pre dinner. After three decades of getting the estate to producing the calibre of wines he had envisioned; Jacques father then poured all his resources into refurbishing the Château, which had to be restored in keeping with strict historical regulatory requirements. It is not lived in to preserve its restoration but walking through it one can only imagine the immense sense of pride and fulfilment it gave its owner and likewise these days the Lurton family.

We returned to the ground floor where two large round tables had been set up for our dinner with Jacques hosting one and Theodore the other. I took the opportunity to sit alongside Jacques as it had been two years since we had caught up personally and he is a great guy who I am privileged to have as a friend.A three course dinner unfolded, with which we savoured the finest white and red wines of the estate and believe me these are exceptional wines, modestly priced. The white from the 2013 vintage had great balance, intensity yet restraint. The 2006 Château La Louviere Rouge was elegant yet quietly powerful with superb texture/tannin feel and a juicy coolness to the warm rich palate… very stylish red indeed.

After the first course it was time for me to recant the tour, to also thank Jacques for hosting our group at the family Château and finally Theodore for putting the succession of outstanding Bordeaux appointments and luncheons together for our tour. My final duty of the tour was to announce the winners of three special awards to members of our group for their particular contributions to the tour. They had no knowledge that Virginia and I had been surreptitiously monitoring everyone during the tour. Virginia had purchased three Vintura wine aerators pre tour and had them engraved as follows…

The first award of ‘Speech of Tour' which was a challenging decision, given the many superb thank you speech's delivered by our group members throughout the tour. In the end it was Cathy MacKinlay's two excellent speeches that were both thoughtful, engaging and interspersed with well delivered French language.

The second award was for ‘Wine Aficionado' – the group member who was most passionate about the tasting and learning about wine throughout the tour plus asked the most interesting questions. Royce Everett was a clear winner in this category… he completely immersed himself in every aspect of our many exciting visits and tastings.

The third award was for ‘Personality of Tour' and again there were several strong contenders. In truth everyone contributed to making this such a special tour. This award acknowledges the group member who not only adds to everyone's tour experience apropos his/hers engaging personality but their total demeanour towards everyone, their willingness to roll up their sleeves and help others in the group and through their behaviour and actions adding value to everyone's tour experience; Rex Howe was the deserved recipient.

Virginia and I were quite humbled when Rex, followed by others in our group thanked us both for hosting the tour having made it so very enjoyable for them. However the group made the tour such a success through their total appreciation of the rare opportunity to visit wine and dine at such revered properties. They embraced the passion of our various hosts, were respectful and engaging towards them, had plenty of fun and laughs and formed a strong bond as a group making it an absolute pleasure for Virginia and me to lead them through France.

Finally… my principal job on tour is to engage the group with our hosts, focus on the various tastings, give the group a daily heads up on where we're going and a bit of background before we arrive… and also select the wines for our numerous lunches/dinners. The majority of kudos for the tour must go to Virginia who makes all of the arrangements for our visits, accommodation, internal travel and meals. It is a huge task requiring around 3-months of work before we even depart NZ let alone the management and admin responsibilities whilst on tour. It all went like clockwork and that was well appreciated by the group entirely.

During a few quiet/spare moments on tour we laid the foundations for a 2015 wine tour to Spain projected for late May through to mid-June. If you would like to know more please contact and she will note your interest and send you the expressions of interest letter followed later by an interim itinerary and projected pricing.

C'est la vie, and it was exceptional.
Au revoir, Jeff & Virginia