Laszlo Meszaros and Christian Seely

Bringing the Hangács vineyard back to life at Disznókő

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I was in Hungary on Monday tasting the outstanding Aszú wines of the 2016 harvest with László Mészáros. Tokaj at this time of the year can be either extremely cold, or enveloped in thick mist, or both. But just occasionally there are days of early winter brilliant sunshine that reveal the full splendour of this wonderful wine region, and Monday was one of those.

View from Szt Tomas outside the village of Mád of the vineyard of Disznókő (centre right) and of the Mount of Tokaj in the distance
View from Szt Tomas outside the village of Mád of the vineyard of Disznókő (centre right) and of the Mount of Tokaj in the distance

One of the main reasons for my visit was to visit the site of Hangács on the slopes above the main vineyard of Disznókő, which we are in the process of replanting. This is a very exciting project for us. Hangács has not been planted with vines since the 1960s, when it was abandoned by the then state farm which favoured plantings lower down the slopes, because easier to work with large tractors. But this hilltop site is unquestionably among the greatest terroirs in the whole of the Tokaj region, and was cultivated for many centuries before the 1960s. In the 16th century there are records showing that this particular vineyard belonged to the Balassi family, in particular to the poet and soldier Bálint Balassi.

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László Mészáros, the talented director of Disznókő, clearly feeling rather good about the project, standing in the cleared hilltop site of Hangács, with the Mount of Tokaj and the Terézia chapel in the background.

The soil is clearly well drained, as it was quite dry, whereas most of the surrounding land further down the hill with heavier soil, was still heavy from recent rains. This close up shows the distinctive volcanic soil of the Hangács parcel.

the distinctive volcanic soil of the Hangács parcel

We shall be planting 22 hectares in total here, mostly with Furmint. It is a substantial declaration of faith in the long term future of the great Aszú wines of Tokaj and a deeply satisfying project for us to be undertaking. Something which was dying and had been abandoned will live again and in years to come once again produce great wines, as it did for many centuries.

Toasting the future of Hangács with a glass of Disznókő Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2008
Toasting the future of Hangács with a glass of Disznókő Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos 2008

Over the years we have increasingly focussed on the individual characteristics of the various terroirs that exist within the great vineyard of Disznókő. The Kapi parcel, not too far from Hangács, has notably produced some of the more remarkable Aszú wines that we have produced at Disznókő. We have every reason to believe that in future years Hangács will be among the greatest of Disznókő’s terroirs, and it is thrilling for us to be setting in motion the process of replanting this parcel and bringing it back to life.

The afternoon finished with a glorious sunset over the Hungarian plain. This is a special place.

sunset on hangacs vineyard

To know more in details about the replanting of Hangács vineyard, visit the website of Disznókő: http://disznoko.hu/disznoko-experience/replanting-hangacs-vineyard-the-next-big-project/

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The harvest is under way at Pichon Baron

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We are enjoying a magnificent Indian Summer here in Bordeaux, and with every day that passes the harvest of 2016 becomes more remarkable.

2016 was a year of contrasts, with an extremely wet start to the year, with record rainfalls until June, and then extremely hot and dry sunny weather until September. It was in fact so hot and dry that by the beginning of September we were slightly worried, as the grapes were not as ripe as we would have liked them to be at this stage. Counterintuitively, such prolonged hot dry spells can slow down the process of photosynthesis in the vine and thus impede ripeness in the grapes. At this stage we desperately needed some rain in order to get things moving again in the vineyard, and then a prolonged period of good weather to bring the grapes to full ripeness. We might easily have been disappointed.

Rain when it came was considerable, and in theory at least slightly later than we would have liked. But this vital downpour of 30 mm on the 14th September, followed by 5 mm on the 16th/17th had a very beneficial effect, and has been followed by a prolonged period of ideal weather: cool nights and mornings, and warm sunny afternoons. This has enabled us to take the harvest slowly, picking each parcel at the optimum moment, stopping for a day or two when necessary.  The merlots are now in, and look excellent, with deep profound colour, near record levels of anthocyanes, and perfectly ripe fruit. I have just been tasting the first wines with Jean-René Matignon and I cannot recall merlots with such concentration and structure here before.

 We are now moving on to the cabernets. This was how things looked on the great plateau of Pichon Baron yesterday, Thursday the 6th October.

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The grapes are very healthy, already ripe, and analyses show levels of anthocyanes reminiscent of 2010. They taste wonderful now, but will benefit from just a few days more of these ideal conditions to achieve perfect ripeness and concentration. Next week will be grand cabernet week. We will continue to take our time, and should finish by the middle of the following week, around 18th October, somewhat later than usual. The proof, as always, will be in the tasting when the world comes to Bordeaux next spring to taste the wines, but here at this stage we are extremely happy with what nature has given us over the past few weeks, and we believe that a great vintage is in the making.

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Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port 2001 and Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2014

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I was in the Douro valley last week, where the harvest is under way. After a very wet start to the year, we then had one of the hottest and dryest summers ever, so it has been a year of contrasts. Harvest continues in excellent conditions, and we will know more about the final quality of the wines in a few weeks time, but it looks good so far.

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Here is a picture of early morning harvest at Quinta do Noval last week, cagettes in the foreground, taken from the promontory at the end of the Roncão valley, which is the midpoint of my morning run, with the Douro and some of Quinta da Romaneira in the background. This is one of my favourite places in the world. The vines here are Touriga Nacional, which we planted in 2000 and which are already giving wines of outstanding quality.

But Quinta do Noval was a good place to be anyway last week as we launched two great Ports on the same day: our Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2014 and our Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port 2001.

Click on the links above to read what I wrote about these wines on the Quinta do Noval website.

Chateau Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Medoc - Philippe Remond

A successful Marathon for Pichon Baron

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Last Saturday was the 32nd Marathon du Médoc. As usual, we fielded a strong Pichon Baron team, of widely divergent sporting experience and ability, but all animated by the same enthusiasm for the event.

We were thrilled that one of the members of the Pichon Baron team, Freddy Guimard, won the race, with an excellent time of 2:25.

Chateau Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Medoc - Freddy Guimard

This was the first time that Freddy ran with us, and his first Marathon win. He is the French champion over ten kilometers, and clearly a superb and determined athlete, but also entered magnificently into the spirit of things here, happily trying wines from Pichon Baron, Suduiraut and Quinta do Noval at dinner the night before.

I would like to say that these wines had a performance enhancing effect, but if this were so, it would be hard to explain why my half marathon time the next day was slightly longer than his complete marathon victory time.

Château Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Médoc - Freddy Guimard
Freddy running past our property, wearing a crown and his tee-shirt Pichon Baron
Chateau Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Medoc - Freddy Guimard
Freddy with some Victory magnums of Pichon Baron after the race

Freddy was with us because our long standing friend Philippe Rémond, many times winner of the Médoc marathon, who has run in the Pichon Baron team for years, and who trains the French running team today, brought him to Pichon with a group of friends who run regularly in our team. It is both an honour and a pleasure for all of us at Pichon that this star of French athletics should be a regular visitor to the chateau and a lover of Pichon Baron and its wines.

Chateau Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Medoc - Philippe Remond
Philippe Rémond with the Pichon Baron team before the race. My son Charles (in my arms) enjoyed the ambiance but decided not to run this year

Also in the Pichon Baron team was Yves Bruneau, the butcher of Bages, pictured here passing Pichon at an early stage of the race, as you can see from the fact that not many glasses have yet been poured.

Chateau Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Medoc - Yves Bruneau
Patricia Doré encouraging Yves

Yves arrived in second place in the veterans category, and we were very proud to have him in our team.

Chateau Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Medoc - Christian SeelyI came past somewhat later. This picture gives the entirely misleading impression that I am walking, whereas of course I have merely slowed down in order not to bump into Ruth Santry who is taking the photograph. The great thing about any picture taken during a race is the huge number of people visible in the background. This means they have been running even slower than me, or if you like, I am winning this part of the race. The several thousand people who have gone before rather more rapidly are of course not visible.

Chateau Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Medoc - Marine Castel, Nicolas SantierWe served Les Griffons 2014 at Pichon, in wine glasses of course, to all the runners who felt like a restorative at kilometer five. Nicolas Santier and Marine Castel were among the volunteers who looked after the several thousand runners who took us up on our offer.

Chateau Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Medoc - Pichon Baron volunteers with musiciansTo serve wine correctly to so many people is quite a logistical operation. Here is the magnificent group of Pichon Baron volunteers, to whom all thanks are due, together with the musicians.

It was, as always, a great day, a magnificent celebration of life and wine.

Chateau Pichon Baron - 32nd Marathon du Medoc - Philippe Rémond, Christian Seely, Jean-René Matignon Here I am at the end, clearly relieved that the running part is over, enjoying the post marathon lunch with Jean-René Matignon and Philippe Rémond.

© Château Pichon Baron – images: Ruth Santry

Brexit and Bordeaux

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A number of people have asked me for comments on how the recent Brexit vote might affect the traditional strong relationship between the Bordeaux and London based wine trades.

I thought it might be useful to try to put this into context here. Inevitably after such a huge upheaval, there is enormous uncertainty. But a closer look at the situation provides grounds for reassurance.

Inevitably there will be some short term turbulence, chiefly linked to exchange rate volatility, but personally I do not foresee major long term disruption. England and Bordeaux have been trading closely together for many centuries: the British market has a special place in the hearts of Bordeaux producers; and Bordeaux equally has a special place in the hearts of British wine drinkers. That special relationship, which existed for hundreds of years before the European Union, will endure. As an Englishman based in Bordeaux, and a producer of several Bordeaux wines, and equally as an Englishman who fell completely in love with Bordeaux and its wines a long time ago, I feel well placed to say this from both sides of the question. This feeling is reinforced by many conversations I have had both with fellow producers in Bordeaux, and with many fellow English lovers of the wines of the region. I am stating a personal conviction, but also relaying the results of many conversations with people on both sides.

It is also a fact that Bordeaux’s leading export markets are generally outside the EU anyway.

The figures for exports of all Bordeaux wines over the past twelve months show that the UK is fourth in value terms. The other four in the top five: Hong Kong; USA; China; Japan are none of them in the EU. This has not prevented Bordeaux from exporting to them.

If we narrow the analysis and take a look at the top six export markets for premium Bordeaux wines (over 15 euros per bottle ex cellars), it is again worth noting that five of them are not in the EU, and again the UK, in fourth place, is the only EU member (they are in order of value in Euros: Hong Kong; USA; China; UK; Switzerland; Japan).

There is perhaps a medium term political risk linked to the possibility of tarifs being imposed on imports and exports to and from the UK in an initial heat of political bad temper, but this would both be sad and also would benefit only New World producers who would seize the chance of increasing market share in the UK, and I think and hope that far sighted and rational politicians in Europe will do all they can to avoid such an outcome, which would obviously be negative for Bordeaux and indeed for all European wine producers.

One of the things that I love about Bordeaux is that it is an outward looking, global trading city, that long ago accepted the challenge of travelling the earth in order to promote and sell the wines of its surrounding vineyards. The market for the great wines of Bordeaux is a global one: Great Britain is a vital traditional and at the same time modern market for our wines, with an illustrious history, a dynamic present, and no doubt a glorious future ahead as one of the principal markets where the great wines of Bordeaux are appreciated. It is important that the wine drinkers of the UK should know that they in their turn are thoroughly appreciated by the winemakers of Bordeaux: our wines have been drunk in England for centuries and will be for centuries to come. In spite of any short term difficulties, we have a great past and a great future together.

Château Pichon Baron
Château Pichon Baron

 

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Château Suduiraut

 

Château Petit-Village
Château Petit-Village