China tour. A glass of Château Pichon-Longueville on the Great Wall

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I am in China at the moment, both for the launch of our new distribution agreement with Cofco, and also accompanying Ch’ng Poh Tiong on the annual three city tour of China he organises each year, 128 years of Bordeaux. We had an unusually formal signing agreement with Cofco, who are taking on exclusive distribution of Les Tourelles de Longueville, Castelnau de Suduiraut and the wines of Mas Belles Eaux. Here we are at the signing ceremony in Beijing.

Signature of a new distribution agreement with Cofco

I have been coming to China for some time now, first visit having been in 1995. The transformation has been astounding, large parts of the cities literally unrecognisable after only a few years. From the wine point of view there have also been huge changes, with sophisticated wine shops and bars appearing on the scene, and wonderful restaurants, both Chinese and all varieties of international with remarkably extensive wine lists. A lot has happened in a very short time, but I am sure that in ten years time we will look back to today as having just been the beginning.

A year ago we recruited Stephanie Lim, a great wine professional, as our full time representative here, an indication of our belief in the future here. We had some time free on Saturday and so decided to take a bottle of Pichon to the great wall to drink to the future in Asia. We chose a very steep part of the wall to climb, so found ourselves alone at the top, having to take a picture of ourselves, so here is first a picture of me with a glass of Pichon on the Great Wall.

Christian Seely with a glass of Pichon on the Great Wall

And here is a picture of Stephanie, naturally more in harmony with her surroundings, and much easier on the eye.

Stéphanie Lim with a glass of Pichon on the Great Wall

Why launch this blog?

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Today we finally go live with this blog. Welcome and thank you for taking the time to visit.

As MD of AXA Millésimes I am responsible for a number of vineyards, in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc, Hungary and Portugal. I spend a large part of my time visiting them all, and I hope that this blog format might be an interesting way of revealing to interested wine lovers something of what we do, and of the life of the vineyards and of the people who devote their time to looking after them.

I shall try to post something regularly, and I very much hope that these postings will stimulate some questions, to which I shall try give useful answers, the aim being to make it as interactive as possible so that you can have a real feeling of accompanying me to the vineyards and get some feeling of  what goes on, and what is involved in the elaboration of  a Grand Cru wine.

We are going live now following the 2009 harvest. It has been a great year in Bordeaux, for the reds, Right Bank and Left, and also in Sauternes.  It was also a great year in Burgundy, of which more later. I started writing up a couple of things when I was in Portugal during august, so I post them up now, below, backdated as it were. But as from now, postings will go up as and when they happen.

I hope you will enjoy the site, visit regularly, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Christian Seely

New Douro Tasting

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In London to present the 2007 red wines of Quinta do Noval at the New Douro tasting at the Tate Modern. I managed to escape from behind my table from time to time and so taste all the wines there: this sort of opportunity arises rarely in the region of production, so I try to make the most of it when I can. There were some very exciting wines on show: 2007 was a lovely year in the Douro, both for Vintage Ports and for the unfortified wines.

Paul Symington gave a presentation to the assembled visitors about the Douro region, the theme of which was that it is quite possible, though unusual, for a great vineyard region to be able to produce two different world class wines: Vintage Port and now unfortified Douro wines. To re-enforce the message, we showed the 07 Vintage Ports after the red and white wine tasting.

I find the emergence of the new Douro wines, both red and white, an immensely exciting phenomenon. I have now spent nearly sixteen years working in the Douro, at Quinta do Noval, and also more recently at Romaneira, and I lost my heart to the region a long time ago. To see red wines being produced that express the Douro terroir, as Vintage Port has done for a very long time, is a huge pleasure. More than anything, these new wines have given the Douro a new vitality and dynamism, as they make it possible for small winegrowers to establish themselves independently, something that is very difficult to do with Port wine.

The result has been the emergence of a new generation of Douro winemakers, establishing their reputations on the world stage with wines produced under their name or that of their quintas, and this can only be positive for the region, and of course for wine lovers everywhere. Although I cannot claim to be very small or very young, we would probably not have acquired Romaneira for example, had the project only been to produce Port wine: one of the principal attractions of the Romaneira vineyard is its potential for the production of Douro red and white wines. At Noval, we are certainly not giving up the day job, and the production of great port wines is and will remain our principal reason for existing, the red wines of Quinta do Noval, and the Cedro do Noval play an increasingly important role in the life of the Quinta. So in general: exciting times in the Douro Valley.

Harvest at Pichon

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Harvesters in front of Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

2009 harvest of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the plateau at the heart of the Pichon Baron vineyard

These pictures show the harvest of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the plateau at the heart of the Pichon Baron vineyard. Very old vines on deep beds of gravel give Cabernet of wonderful finesse and purity. With the very low yields that we practise here, and the precision of the work that takes places in the vineyard, beautiful wine is made from these vines every year, but some years are more special than others, and it looks as though 2009 will be one of those. Summer was hot and dry, and by the beginning of September we were beginning to be just a little worried: was there enough water in the soil for the vines to continue to do their all important work in the last few weeks to bring the Cabernets to full maturity? And then we had a weekend of rain, that put everything right. Slowly and steadily over the past few weeks the Cabernets have been ripening before our eyes. We knew that the Merlots were spectacular, but to make it a great vintage the Cabernets had to come round. And they did. You will see the results in the 2009 wines, which I think will be among the greatest of Pichons.

Grapes being harvested on the Cabernet plateau with the towers of Pichon in the background

 Grapes being harvested on the Cabernet plateau with the towers of Pichon in the background

Here you see the grapes being harvested on the Cabernet plateau with the towers of Pichon in the background. Watch this space: the 2009s will be something special.

2009 harvest at Pichon

To Suduiraut for the first day of the Sauternes harvest

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We have already been through the vineyard for a first trie of unbotrytised grapes to make the S de Suduiraut, but today was the first day of the main event, the picking of the botrytised grapes.

First day of the 2009 harvest at Château Suduiraut

Here is a picture of the first bac full of partially botrytised grapes, with, if you look carefully, the chateau of Suduiraut in the background. We have one of the finest potential harvests on the vine that I have ever seen, with wonderful ripe grapes, beginning to turn golden brown, just ready for the arrival of the botrytis. These first days we go through the vineyard to pick the bunches where botrytis has arrived early, but we are still waiting for the main event, the full blown arrival of Botrytis Cinerea, provoked by misty autumn mornings followed by clear cool sunny days, ideally with a good wind in the afternoon to dry things out! A lot of things need to go right in Sauternes to make a great year, but so far 09 is shaping up just fine.