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Published: September 19th 2016
Some people go gaga about this region. It’s good. But I am a Burgundy bloke. So I won’t let Bordeaux off lightly. (For writing class critics - another sentence ending in ‘ly’)
The Bordeaux region does produce good grape and a lot of it. But more of that later.
The city of Bordeaux makes a great first impression with its six-lane ring road called the Rocade on the city’s thirty-four-kilometre circumference. And just like the one on the Rome’s girth, it works like a dream when it flows. But when it’s clogged, who wants to sit in a 34-kilometre long carpark. Unlike many of France’s cities, Bordeaux is relatively modern, with great sporting infrastructure and well planned industrial and commercial zones amongst some fairly modern housing showing some upwardly mobile affluence. We are a bit museumed and cathedralled out, so we did not explore the city’s collection of neoclassical architectural show pieces. While the city boasts the longest shopping mall in Europe at 1.2 km, perhaps that’s its low point.
West of Bordeaux city, the Atlantic coast has a string of passable beaches, stretching from Cap Ferret to Pointe Grave. Good for this part of
the world and patrolled by lifeguards, not nearly as well-resourced as our own surf lifesavers; we saw one patrol careering along in a rusty old Lada with lifeguards standing on a platform at the rear of the vehicle. Where are our zealous, nanny state workplace health and safety tin-gods when there are revenue tickets to write? Surf at these beaches was generally calm with gentle waves curling to a height of maybe a foot before breaking right on the beach.
Over centuries big sand dunes have built up along the coastline. Some dunes we camped behind would have been in the order of fifty meters in height. Those dunes gave protection from onshore gusts but not from the sun. Shade is a precious commodity this summer and even though the French are better at growing and preserving shade trees than their Latin neighbours, a good shady tree has been worth stopping for.
Medoc is the sub-region at the northwestern part of the Bordeaux region. Medoc holds the reputation of being host to many better-known chateaux. I believe it has advantages similar to our McLaren Vale, feeling westerly winds at forty degrees latitude, sloppy wet winter, and then a
super-hot sun searing the fruit to super-dry levels at ripening time. We camped at a chateau. Chateau Ferre. Well, that means that we parked our motorhome in the parking area they have for degustation and retail sales. The title ‘Cru Bourgeois’ gets to dangle on Medoc region wine labels.
A chateau in the Loire valley is usually a grand mansion, usually, pre-Napoleonic era with vast grounds and huge oak trees with marks on them showing where ancient money once dripped into the local marquis’ pockets. But in the Bordeaux region, the word ‘chateau’ has a different, less extravagant, but more functional meaning. A Bordeaux chateau is quite simply a farm. Or more correctly a farm that grows grapes and produces wine. There are over 7,000 chateaux in the Bordeaux region producing around 2billion euros worth of vino. The red grapes grown are merlot (62%), cabernet sauvignon (25%), and cabernet franc (12%). There was no mention of Shiraz which is a travesty. Perhaps it fits into the missing 1%. Perhaps too, the absence of shiraz explains why 26% of the 900,000,000 bottles sell for less than 3 euros, and only 3% sell for more than 15 euros. But do not
worry. A chateau in Bordeaux might not the lavish, over the top structure of its Loire valley cousin, but driving around the region, the farm buildings, machinery and improvements gave us a clear impression that over time, growing grapes and producing wine makes money.
Yes they do grow white wine varieties too, mostly in the Sauterne section of the greater Bordeaux region. We did stay a night in Sauterne, one hot Saturday night. Fruit looked healthier, and the harvest prospects brighter in that part as compared to the red wine grape growing sub-regions.
But this year, not all is well in the region of Medoc, nor indeed for the 7,000 odd growers in Bordeaux. Poor rainfall at the required time and too much super in the scorching summer sun are pointing toward a pitiful 2016 vintage. The French word for grape is ‘raisin’. And in some parts of the region, that’s exactly what the fruit dangling under the vine looked like.
Things are changing in Bordeaux. I was not surprised to hear that following a trend toward consolidation of land holdings, today over fifty chateaux utilise over 100 hectares. But I was surprised to hear that about
100 chateaux are now in Chinese hands, following Chinese taking number one spot in their market with USA buyers now coming second.
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