Château Suduiraut in China: when wine meets art

I went to China in October  for an unusual and exceptional event.  I have had the feeling for a couple of years that the time was right for Chinese wine drinkers to discover the great wines of Sauternes. When I first started going to China at the end of the 90s, the wine market was in its infancy. I remember an early Union des Grands Crus tasting where very few people actually turned up. Fifteen years later when we put on an event of that sort in Shanghai or Beijing over one thousand knowledgeable people will be in attendance. The transformation of the scene in a relatively short space of time has been astonishing. But the primary focus has been on red wines, in particular the great Grand Cru wines of Bordeaux.

We decided therefore that it was time to launch the wine of Château Suduiraut in China, and after much reflection decided that an interesting and exciting way to do this would be to commission a work of art from a well known Chinese artist, that would be somehow inspired by Château Suduiraut and its wines and then in partnership with the artist launch both the wines of Château Suduiraut and the work of art, using art as a bridge between the two cultures of France and China.

After much research, we approached the distinguished artist Jiao Xingtao. He liked the idea and came out to Suduiraut.

Jiao Xingtao and myself at Suduiraut

Jiao Xingtao and myself at Suduiraut

He is an exceptional person, very likeable and a true free spirit and I liked him very much from the first. He enjoyed his visit to Suduiraut and a few months later came up with an outstanding piece of work inspired by Château Suduiraut and its wines.

 Jiao Xingtao with “The Golden Wine”, the sculpture he created inspired by the chateau and wines of Suduiraut

Jiao Xingtao with “The Golden Wine”, the sculpture he created inspired by the chateau and wines of Suduiraut

Inspired in turn by what he had done, we designed a special label for Château Suduiraut for its launch in China.  The label of Château Suduiraut uses the coat of arms of the Suduiraut family, which features two golden lions. Jiao had taken this and transformed the lions, modeled on the Chinese lions in the Beijing summer palace.

Close up of lions on the artwork made by Jiao Xingtao

Close up of lions on the artwork made by Jiao Xingtao

We liked this idea and used it on the Chinese label for Château Suduiraut, which is being produced as a limited edition for China in both 75 cl and Magnum format. The wine we chose for the launch was the outstanding 2009 vintage, which I consider to be one of the greatest vintages of Château Suduiraut ever, and so it seemed appropriate that it should be the wine to introduce Château Suduiraut to China.

Château Suduiraut 2009 limited edition label

Château Suduiraut 2009 limited edition label

Château Suduiraut 2009 limited edition box

Château Suduiraut 2009 limited edition box

Château Suduiraut 2009 limited edition magnum

Château Suduiraut 2009 limited edition magnum

We also had the name of Château Suduiraut translated into Mandarin.

 Château Suduiraut in Mandarin

Château Suduiraut in Mandarin

When spoken in Mandarin this sounds something like Suduiraut, but more importantly means Rising Sun (the first character) Golden (the second character) Château (the third character). I like this name very much. We are particularly keen to communicate in China around the idea that Château Suduiraut is a golden wine. It is exactly its colour, and in addition Gold has strong positive resonances in China as an imperial colour. Well, we can’t just let the red wines have it all their own way.

We had two launches, in Hong Kong and Shanghai, with a huge turnout of top journalists and wine and art collectors, including the great Henry Tang who has done so much for the world of wine in Hong Kong. I was slightly apprehensive about organizing these events as it was the first time we had done something like this, but it was a great success, very enjoyable, and I look forward to working with Jiao again in the future.

Jiao Xingtao and myself during the Hong Kong launch

Jiao Xingtao and myself during the Hong Kong launch

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20 years at Quinta do Noval

I arrived at Quinta do Noval as managing director on the 13th October 1993. For the past twenty years I have had the pleasure and privilege of looking after this wonderful place. So we decided to host a 20th anniversary party recently at Quinta do Noval on the weekend of 13th October.

The main feature was an extensive vertical tasting of Quinta do Noval Vintage and Vintage Nacional Ports, from 1955 through to the recently declared 2011s. It was the first time we have done such a tasting and as well as being a rather emotional experience for me, gave I thought a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable vision of the life of this great property over the past fifty years or so, as expressed in the wines that were produced during the different phases of Quinta do Noval’s history throughout this period.

A great range of decanters. Thanks to Andre Ribeirinho for this photo.

A great range of decanters. Picture credit: A.Ribeirinho.

We opened two bottles of each wine, and I felt that it was the least I could do to taste all of them before the tasting began.

Tasting wines before the tasting

Tasting wines before the tasting

I was thrilled by the number of distinguished journalists and sommeliers who turned up for this event. Tim Atkin was on line almost immediately with a great piece that writes more eloquently than I could about the wines:

What it takes to make great wine by Tim Atkin

Also Andre Ribeirinho via Instagram:

-          Quinta do Noval

-          Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional 1994

-          Quinta do Noval Colheita 1971

-          Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional 1963

-          Quinta do Noval Vintage 1955

The occasion of the event was the 20th anniversary of my arrival, but as I made clear in the rather rambling speech I gave at lunch, just slightly influenced by the fact that I had tasted all of the wines at least three times that morning, it is also the 20th anniversary of my collaboration with António Agrellos, Quinta do Noval’s brilliant technical director and blender, who is of course the person principally responsible for the quality of the wines we have made together since 1994.

António Agrellos

António Agrellos

It also goes without saying that neither he nor I did it on our own: Quinta do Noval has a great team of dedicated people, many of whom have been with us right from the beginning, and some who have joined us since then.

It was a wonderful weekend, very relaxed and happy. Among the highlights for me were :

- Finding Jancis Robinson up and dressed and writing an article at 5 am as I came out of the kitchen with my morning pot of Assam and then drinking a cup of tea with her by the fire in Quinta do Noval’s drawing room before the rest of the world woke up;

- Running in the Douro a bit later that morning with Victoria Moore who wrote up an entirely fallacious account of the run in her blog which made me out to be some kind of heartless fitness freak;

- Caroline Furstoss decorating a director’s chair for me with a 20 years message;

The director’s chair decorated by Caroline Furstoss

The director’s chair decorated by Caroline Furstoss

Sitting on the chair. Picture Credits: Andre Ribeirinho

Sitting on the chair. Thanks to A. Ribeirinho for this photo.

- A kiss and some nice words from Ausenda, Quinta do Noval’s talented oenologist, who has been with us from the beginning, and with whom it is a daily pleasure to work;

- Maria Joao the cook at Quinta do Noval presenting me with a surprise 20th birthday cake;

- And finally a speech from António Agrellos at dinner on the final evening, in English, certainly the first time he has ever done such a thing and I guess I will have to wait for the thirtieth anniversary party before he does it again.

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First impressions of the 2013 harvest at Domaine de L’Arlot

The team of Domaine de l'Arlot

The team of Domaine de l'Arlot

A few weeks ago I reported from Domaine de l’Arlot where I tasted the wonderful 11s and 12s with Jacques Devauges, and shared a vineyard breakfast with the Arlot team on the first day of the harvest.

Here is a short film of Jacques giving us his very first impressions of the 2013 harvest, while they were still ongoing.

If you have trouble watching this video, view the web version here

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Beginning of the harvest at Domaine de l’Arlot

I was at Domaine de l’Arlot last week for the first day of the harvest. The day before I spent the morning with Jacques Devauges tasting both the 2011 and 2012 vintages, his first two at the property. Both showing very well indeed. I was particularly struck with how good the 2012s are.

It was a strange year, with many problems, particularly at the beginning, when rain during flowering led to serious coulure problems, and as a result tiny yields in general. There was also serious mildew and oidium pressure during the spring and summer, so it was a constant struggle to save the grapes and keep them healthy. But the resulting wines are outstanding. Jacques’ theory is that vines had to work so hard to resist the various pressures of the year, that the result was a concentration of energy in the grapes which is observable in the final wines.

The Arlot 2012s certainly have a lively and energetic character, and remarkable density and purity. There is quite a lot of tannin in this millesime, but perfectly enveloped in some wonderful many layered fresh and vibrant fruit. I liked the wines a lot. Alas there was not very much, but I think that what there was will come to be considered as a great vintage, however unlikely that outcome might have seemed while we were battling with the elements during the year.

Jacques Devauges taking wine from barrel

Jacques Devauges taking wine from barrel

In the afternoon a pre harvest visit of the vines revealed an exciting quality potential in 2013 as well, with very healthy ripe grapes, practically no botrytis so far, and only a few days to full maturity. These are moments when one realises the extent to which we are in the hands of nature: just a few more days of wonderful weather of the sort we had for my visit, and we should have something great in the cellar.

The harvest began on Thursday morning, in the small parcel planted with white vines that is known as Montre Cul, for the simple reason that when you are working there you are giving passers by a good view of your posterior. Here is a picture of Jacques (on the right) giving a demonstration of this, and also one of the team, happy to be beginning such a promising harvest in such beautiful conditions.

Jacques Devauges harvesting in Montre Cul

Jacques Devauges harvesting in Montre Cul

Grape pickers in Montre Cul

Grape pickers in Montre Cul

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Marathon du Médoc – 29th edition

This was the 29th Marathon du Medoc, and we had a great Château Pichon-Longueville team this year.

Château Pichon-Longueville team

Château Pichon-Longueville team

This annual event is one of my favourite moments of the year, a chance to celebrate the idea that an enthusiasm for wine is not only compatible with, but part of a healthy and balanced life. The thousands of fit and happy runners who participate every year, enjoying judicious sips of wine at regular stops at the chateaux along the route are joyous proof that the puritans have got it all wrong.

Château Pichon-Longueville was at Kilometre 18 this year and we were besieged by enthusiastic wine tasters. As usual we offered the 9,000 runners a taste of wine (Les Tourelles de Longueville 2011) in proper wine glasses.

Jean-René Matignon, Directeur Technique du Château Pichon-Longueville, dans le rôle du serveur volant !

Jean-René Matignon, Technical Director of Château Pichon-Longueville, in the role of flying butler !

This operation is quite a logistical challenge and fortunately we have an enthusiastic group of benevolent volunteers who man the tables each year, happy to participate in the generally euphoric and celebratory atmosphere of the day.

La joyeuse équipe de bénévoles

The enthusiastic team of benevolent volunteers

We had some distinguished runners this year in the Château Pichon-Longueville team, notably Victoria Moore and Jamie Goode, who was running his first marathon, and whose coverage of the event can be seen on this link: video Jamie Goode.

avec Jamie Goode

with Jamie Goode

I ran with Jamie and with Port lover and expert Axel Probst, who is an ex Luftwaffe pilot and living proof that regular consumption of Vintage Port is perfectly compatible with being terrifyingly fit.

avec Axel Probst

with Axel Probst

We stopped at most of the chateaux to verify the quality of their offerings, purely for professional reasons, and had a great morning. It should be admitted here that I only ran the half marathon, having decided a few years ago that the first half was rather more fun than the second. Of course I have my duties as host at Château Pichon-Longueville to attend to also, so it would be quite irresponsible to run the whole way. But I am full of admiration for all the runners who finished and who proved by their presence and by their performance that an enthusiastic enjoyment of great wine is perfectly compatible with a condition of perfect physical fitness.

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