Francois Thienpont and Terra Burdigala
About a month ago, a friend and wine producer, Francois Thienpont, came to town and we – Maslow 6 – thought it was the perfect opportunity to host an event in his honor. Keri was particularly excited. I had introduced her to Francois in Bordeaux in September of 2007, and she fell in love with the wines then. He’s visited us a few times in New York, but this was the first chance to gather with friends to taste Francois’s wines and hear his story. Of course, the story is always better when Francois tells it.
The wines of Terra Burdigala express the terroirs of Bordeaux’s Right Bank, where Francois’s family owns several estates, including Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, Chateau Pavie-Macquin, Chateau Charmes-Godard and Chateau Lauriol. Stephane is the oenologist behind many prestigious chateaux of the right bank: Canon La Gaffeliere, La Mondotte, Pavie Macquin and Clos Fourtet, as well as Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte in Pessac-Leognan. Francois and Stephane’s intimate knowledge of the right bank was the inspiration behind creating this collection of single estate wines from a variety of terroirs.
Terra Burdigala is the ancient Roman name for Bordeaux. Here, the soil composition in each particular site contributes to the ripening of grape vines. Proximity to the rivers, the slope of the hill and amount of sunlight and rain combine with soil composition to create many unique combinations throughout Bordeaux. The vineyards of St. Emilion and Pomerol form the heart of the right bank. Here, the best soils range from limestone to gravel mixed with calcareous clay, such as the famous molasse of Pomerol. In St. Emilion, where the Thienpont family owns Chateau Pavie-Macquin, and Terra Burdigala manage Chateau Peyroutas, the soils are limestone clay over a hard limestone base. These soils regulate the amount of water provided to the vine, allows the roots to grow as deep as possible and also retain heat, which warms the vineyards during the cool night hours. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the dominant grape varieties grown here, as the climate is slightly cooler and less influenced by the Atlantic than the left bank, and these varieties ripen the earliest of all the Bordeaux red grape varieties.
Soils in the Cotes-de-Castillon are sand mixed with gravel, and lie just to the east of the vineyards of St. Emilion. Similar soils exist in the Cotes de Francs, which lies to the north of the Cotes-de-Castillon and northeast of St. Emilion, but the soils here are less rocky. For both Cotes, Castillon and Francs, an intense interest in the fruity, yet accessible wines produced on these sandy soils has brought investment from many of the top names in Bordeaux, including the Thienpont family. Chateau Puygueraud, Chateau Lauriol and Chateau Charmes Godard, all in the Cotes de Francs, are properties owned by the Thienponts, while Chateau le Manoir de Gravoux, in the Cotes-de-Castillon is managed by Terra Burdigala.
Chateau le Manoir de Gravoux is situated on a clay and limestone outcropping that gives extra intensity and ripeness to the grapes. ‘La Violette’ is a particular parcel of vines within this property, producing wines with an intense floral, mineral and plum aromas, firm and dry tannins and gravelly minerality. The wines of the Cotes de Francs tend to be a bit heavier and denser than those of the Cotes-de-Castillon, due to the presence of more clay and less rocks in the soil. Chateau Puygueraud, a Merlot based wine from the Cotes de Francs, shows more black plum aromas, richer fruit flavors and deeper concentration and bigger tannins than the Castillon neighbors. The Cotes de Francs is one of the few appellations in Bordeaux that has an Appellation Controlee for both its white and red wines, and Chateau Charmes Godard’s blanc, made with mostly Semillon and aged in new French oak, is a great example of what the appellation can achieve with its whites.
Terra Burdigala also produces wines made from fruit purchased from various sources. The value driven La Vigne d’Argent, made predominantly from Sauvignon Blanc, is produced at a co-operative cellar where the wine-making is controlled by Stephan Derenoncourt to ensure quality at each step. Causse Rouge and Chateau Roc de Jean Lys are both wines made from grapes sourced from vineyards that are managed by Stephan’s team of viticultural specialists. The beneficial arrangement between the co-operative, the vineyard owners, and Terra Burdigala gives the growers the best money for their grapes and Terra Burdigala the best grapes for their money.
Francois’s goal is to make wines that reflect the land where he grew up, where his family has their homes and their livelihoods, and where his children will likely grow up. It is also a land known for the most expensive wines in the world, and wines that can’t compete with the New World for flavor and value. Bordeaux – a land with a rich wine heritage and some of the most unforgettable wines in the world – is also a land that produces a vast quantity of very forgettable wine. Francois hopes to make wines that will compete with New World fruit-driven values, by offering Old World terroir at the same value. Personally, I think he’s done a pretty good job. The range includes a crisp, dry white and an unctious, rich white; light, juicy reds to robust, hearty, tannic reds. The terroirs are well represented and the wines are balanced, never too high in alcohol, which makes them great with food.
Francois’s philosophy, to let the terroirs speak for themselves and to make accessible Bordeaux wines that everyone can enjoy, ties in very closely to what we believe at Maslow 6. Wine should be accessible, wine should be fun, and wine should engage you. Go out and engage with wine this weekend! It’s cool and rainy out, perfect for a bottle of Bordeaux and a simple, grilled steak or a hearty braise of short ribs.
Wines tasted included:
Terra Burdigala La Vigne d’Argent, Bordeaux Blanc 2007: A super-crisp, mineral-driven white wine with grass and grapefruit, lemon and coriander aromas backing up the stony notes. High in acidity, but balanced by ripe flavors of grapefruit, fresh, delicate herbs, a touch of honey and wax from the Semillon, and a lemon-lime finish.
Terra Burdigala Causse Rouge, Bordeaux 2006: The Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes that are sourced for this wine come from a vineyard with an average vine age of 25 years. Extra vine age lends complexity and concentration. Aromas of cassis, black plum, cedar and stony earthiness are moderately pronounced and youthful – a nice blend of ripe fruit and earth. Soft and smooth on the tongue, with flavors of plums, cherries and cassis fruit mingling with underbrush, forest floor and stones, this wine comes to a medium-long, smooth finish.
Terra Burdigala Chateau Roc de Jean Lys, Bordeaux Superieur 2006: This red, made from 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc sourced from a limestone plateau vineyard in the Entre-Deux-Mers,is ripe and soft and round, with medium-plus tannins that are velvety and cocoa powder fine. Stephan Derenoncourt’s vineyard team ensures ripe, not over-ripe fruit from a selected plot within the Roques de Jeanlice estate vineyard, where they routinely pick 2 weeks later than their neighboring vignerons.
Terra Burdigala Chateau Manoir du Gravoux, Côtes de Castillon 2006: Heavy sorting of the grapes at the winery coupled with ripe, balanced fruit at harvest drives the quality of this elegantly styled Côtes de Castillon. Aromas of minerals, smoke and earth, brambly black fruit, red raspberry, plum and cedar fill the nose. The palate is smooth, with medium-plus tannins and acidity balanced by bright red and black fruit flavors, cedar and bramble.
Terra Burdigala Chateau Manoir du Gravoux ‘La Violette’, Côtes de Castillon 2006: A blend of 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc, this wine is silky and ripe, with a beautiful floral perfume of violets and underbrush, cedar, cassis and black plums, red raspberries and Christmas spices. Fresh acidity makes this wine juicy, while medium-plus, ripe tannins lend structure. There is a core of red raspberry and plum fruit laced with violets that balances it all.
Terra Burdigala Chateau Peyroutas, St. Emilion Grand Cru 2005: Perfumed on the nose, with aromas of black earth, stony minerals, black cherry and plum, herbs and flowers followed by a velvety textured palate with balanced acidity and tannins. Flavors of cedar, pencil lead, chocolate cassis, red raspberry and plum linger long on the tongue.
Thienpont Chateau Gravette de Certan 2004: This wine was tasted thanks to Keri Jackson, who pillaged her own cellar to bring this wine to the luncheon. This is a very classy wine, with elegant, silky tannins, ripe fruit and fresh acidity. The 2006, which was tasted a few days later with Francois, was rich and dark-fruited, with new oak flavors well integrated with the concentrated fruit and velvety, ripe tannins.
Thienpont Chateau Lauriol, Côtes de Francs 2006: Full-bodied, with rich, ripe black and red plum notes on the nose, chocolate, cocoa, black tea and smoky, spicy notes from oak and medium-plus, fine-grained tannins from both the grape skins and the oak. This wine is concentrated, ripe and balanced, with the oak and fruit flavors playing harmoniously on the nose and tongue. Flavors of chocolate, baked black plums, red cherries and sweet vanilla linger long on the finish.
Thienpont Chateau Charmes Godard Côtes de Francs 2003: A successful wine from a difficult vintage. Stephane’s attention to phenolic ripeness and sorting at the winery really paid off, as this wine displays ripe, round fruit and lush, velvety tannins. A generous helping of new French oak balances the rich fruit and lends its spicy, smoky, vanilla soaked flavors. 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc.
Thienpont Chateau Charmes Godard Cotes de Francs Blanc 2006: Made with 75% Semillon and 25% Sauvignon Blanc, the waxy, floral, roasted pear and baked yellow apple aromas of Semillon lead the way, with Sauvignon’s grassy, grapefruit and lime-citrus notes bringing up the rear. The rich, ripe fruit flavors are accented by vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg spices, which complement the fruit without overpowering it.