Moshe Cohen is based in Manchester, England. He had a small wine business from 1999 until 2007 when he decided to retrain in the medical profession and for the last 10 years he has been working as a self-employed physiotherapist. Here he shares his experiences making his own barrel of red bordeaux. Purple Pagers may access VINIV’s special Insider’s Guide to Bordeaux via the link at the bottom of this article.
October 2016. There I was, in the departure lounge of Brussels airport, waiting for my Bordeaux bound flight. Pinch myself moment #1. Making my own wine has featured in my dreams for as long as I can remember. The vision usually involved a Mediterranean vineyard and a picturesque village in the background. The rare, wilder dreams involved a collaboration with a successful (maybe famous?) neighbour that will mentor and inspire my budding creation.
But making wine in Bordeaux? Guided by the Lynch-Bages technical team? Pfff! Later that day came moment #2 when I had to pinch myself. Harvest was in full swing at Ch Ormes de Pez and I’m roaming the busy winery. A guy in jeans and a chequered shirt appears from an outbuilding. I ask whether he’s working here and he replies, with a big smile, ‘Kind of, I’m the owner.’ Jean-Charles Cazes could easily have been offended that this strange chap (me) is (a) wandering unaccompanied around his winery at the busiest time of year and (b) did not recognise him (after all, he’s made plenty of appearances in wine mags, galas, etc). But, thankfully, he wasn’t. He was clearly excited about the fruit this year, bleeding a tank full of macerating Cabernet Sauvignon. Only three days after harvest it was purple-black in colour and tasted intoxicatingly beautiful. ‘It’s going to be a great year!’ he exclaimed. ‘Phew’, I thought to myself, my gamble had paid off. I was thinking of joining the VINIV programme in 2014, then again in 2015, and finally everything aligned for me in 2016 and I took the plunge.
The next day I joined the harvesters at Lynch-Bages’ only planting of Petit Verdot, a two-hectare plot right outside the château (see picture top right). Very healthy grapes make for a very happy winemaker. Technical director Nicolas Labenne greeted me with a big welcoming grin and a hearty handshake.
Lunch at Lynch-Bages was a big open grill in front of the vineyard. A big négociant contingent was entertained by Jean-Michel Cazes, Jean-Charles’s father.
Jean-Charles joined our VINIV table (see here and here for more details of this innovative consumer winemaking facility in Bages), bringing with him a bottle of the 2014 Domaine des Sénéchaux Blanc from the family’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape property. His father joined us soon after with a magnum decanter of a mystery wine. He looked at me and asked me to taste and guess. (Pinch moment numéro trois!)
I guessed it was Lynch-Bages 2000. It was not far, a 1996… Showing now beautifully, with liquorice, cassis, cedar and tobacco, plenty of tannin still holding the entire structure. A good guess but no cigar.
Since I wanted to start the process of making my wine from the 2016 harvest, the only way to get a feel of the blending session was to taste samples of the superb 2015 vintage that were currently in barrel and make my ‘tentative’ blend.
The selection of vineyards available to VINIV amateur winemakers is an impressive collection of Cabernet Sauvignon plots from the left bank, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the right.
The Cabernets that caught my attention were from the tiny L’Enclos adjacent to Ch Cordeillan- Bages, the Relais & Château hotel owned by the Cazes family. Every vineyard can tell a story and L’Enclos has a special one. Cordeillan-Bages’s old swimming pool and garden were converted by M Cazes Senior to a rare, enclosed (hence L’Enclos) one-hectare Cabernet Sauvignon haven, protected on all sides by a 6 m-high wall of conifers. Perfect conditions to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon in even the most difficult of years. It’s complete with its own heliport, should you ever wish to hop there specially to taste the delights served by their new head chef Julien Lefebvre. (You should!)
Another Pauillac from a pedigree plot neighbouring Pichon Baron is the 0.75-hectare Grand Catelie, the property of Mme Linette Capdeville. The fruit here produces a textbook top Pauillac year in, year out.
The St-Estèphe offering, from an Ormes de Pez plot called Demi-Lune, showed typically austere fruit, tannin and powerful structure with perfect ripeness and acidity.
The Cabernet fruit from these three plots took care of 60% of my tentative blend. Then 30% Merlot from the right bank sites of Le Château and Grand Pontet were supplemented by a final 10% of a very aromatic, spicy and mineral Cabernet Franc from Le Barrail. All were excellent, full of verve, power, fruit delivery and excellent individual expression.
In between harvesting and blending I also managed a few winery ‘get your hands dirty’ sessions. There is a great satisfaction in doing remontage and délestage to must from one of your chosen plots three days after harvest, to discover it’s already dark purple-black. Extracting the fully extracted. Great fun!
Armed with a half-bottle sample of ‘my blend’ filled for me by Max the cellarmaster, I returned home, full of enthusiasm to do the whole process again for the 2016 vintage in seven months’ time. Below is my tentative blend back home in my kitchen.
Return to Bordeaux, May 2017
The drive from Bordeaux airport to Pauillac was, as always, a happy occasion, marred quickly by the sight of swathes of brown shoots, burnt by the frost that had hit this part of the Haut-Médoc a week earlier. Some vineyards had no growth left at all. A total wipe out. Conditions improved the closer we got to Bages, with the last damage spotted in some Margaux vineyards.
The ‘Mash-Up’ events organised once or twice a year by VINIV are a great way to socialise, network, show off your blend, your label ideas, etc with other would-be winemakers from all corners of the globe and from every conceivable background. Some clients came as a collaboration of friends or partners and some as individuals. Everyone shares their own stories about their love of wine during the many social events organised over the weekend. Those who stood out for me were the warm and friendly businessmen and their families from India making their first barre, the comfortable temperature of the soirée in the vineyard of Cordeillan-Bages being a welcome contrast to Kolkata weather. Every winemaker had a fascinating account of how they had come across the VINIV concept. Bernice Liu from Hong Kong and Vancouver was perhaps the most seasoned and glamorous VINIV client I encountered. A famous Asian actor, she makes her wine expressly for charitable auctions, raising an impressive $250,000 on average per auction.
Hank, a retired American healthcare executive from Arlington, VA, was making six barrels this time, having recruited 14 of his friends to share the cost. Rob and Ian from Northamptonshire had left at home a third mate also collaborating on the project. In fact, VINIV do not need you there at all if you don’t want to participate in the blending process – although to me, it would be inconceivable to miss out on such a treat. I was glad that this year’s event was reduced to 25 participants; previous meetings were busy with 80 to 100 happy oenophiles.
In the absence of a parent ‘hosting’ château (the Lynch-Bages chai is being completely rebuilt and won’t be ready until 2019 – see Bordeaux 2016 – Pauillac), the VINIV team arranged a tasting of 14 separate plots from which fruit is sourced at Ch Ormes de Pez in St-Estèphe on a Saturday morning. A warm welcome from VINIV’s CEO Stephen Bolger and his technical team awaited us and a detailed presentation by the technical team followed. We were furnished with plenty of data collected during this intriguing 2016 growing season and harvest. The plentiful rain in winter, the very dry sumer and the timely rain in September followed by stable weather for harvest left most estates able to pick in perfect conditions.
This technical session was followed by lunch at Ch Beychevelle’s La Table de Beychevelle. This was followed swiftly (too swiftly for some) by the main event, the blending session during which every VINIV client was unleashed to work on his or her blend individually with a winemaker from the Lynch-Bages team. For that, we all headed to the slick, super-impressive, brand new Beychevelle winery, designed by architect Arnaud Boulain. The glass structure presents the winemaking facilities, almost in their entirety, to those who pass by on the D2 route des châteaux, which is slowly turning into a long, winding architectural fashion parade – but that is an entirely different story that merits its own article.
The blending session took place on the lofty first floor of Beychevelle, high above the immaculate avenue of stainless-steel tanks. I was working on my blend alongside Nicolas Labenne, Lynch-Bages technical director, and Carlo Cuomo, VINIV’s talented cellarmaster. The story in the glasses of 2016 samples was one of great finesse, elegance, freshness, voluptuousness, fruit expression and, probably highest for me, terroir differences.
Tasting the completeness of Cabernet fruit, I felt compelled to increase their involvement. So close geographically, yet so different in terms of terroir, L’Enclos and Grand Catalie now formed 65% of my blend. Can I possibly convince the AOC board that my wine is a Pauillac AOC? Maybe not… the 10% of Demi-Lune from St-Estèphe added cedary fruit, acidity and a backbone of tannins. Gorgeous reinforcement.
Then 5% each from two St-Émilion sites that are new to the VINIV portfolio, Les Terrasses (0.38 ha from Ch Croizelle) and La Pyramide (0.66 ha from Ch Tour Baladoz). Each added fully ripe, fleshy Merlot fruit that was deep, strong, spicy, woody (both plots mature in a high percentage of new oak) and tannic. Completing the blend was 4% of Cabernet Franc from the St-Émilion site of Le Barrail, adding spice and some leafy freshness.
Where is the missing 1% you may wonder…? It’s amazing what can be achieved by a friendly chat over lunch in beautiful surroundings. ‘I like to be a bit different from everybody else’, I leaned over and told my lunch companion. ‘Seven months ago I was here, helping to harvest your Petit Verdot. All I’m asking for is enough to make up 1% of my blend.’ ‘I’ll see what I can do’, was Jean-Charles’ reaction.
‘Good enough for me M Cazes, good enough for me.’