Half-century up

I was 19 when I first went down to Bordeaux and got work in a winery. This year I’ll be 69. So to celebrate the 50th year? Err … fly back down there again. Love the place so devotedly, I do.

A first, post-malo, look at the ’13 vintage and happy to find something surprisingly good shaping up in the cellars. Intensive nursing care was what got us here! The vintage was born with many problems but with much love, devotion and great skill, the child – small though it is – looks promising. It just isn’t going to be a big boy, but we’ll love it to bits; Confreres will be happy with what they’ll get when its ready. Reminds me of the sort of wines we made back in the 80’s and 90’s, before our wines – like professional rugby players – seemed to swell in size.

Well done Aurélie and team. Next week the wine goes into barrels.

The 2012 coming out of barrels is excellent. At Le Chai all the whites are startlingly fresh and aromatic. Cool vintages do that. As we taste and talk in the dark barrel halls, outside in the blazing sunshine on the Quayside we see the Dordogne fishermen have set up a table for lunch. Four hours later they are still there. Not a lot of fishing done. Quelle vie!

Dinner at Le Comptoir

Dinner at Le Comptoir

We have invited Christian Moueix, his bubbly American wife Cherise, son Edouard (who now runs the business) and his gorgeous American wife Kelley to dine with us at Le Comptoir de St Genès. No-one knows more about the Bordeaux Right Bank than the man who built the fame of Pétrus (and other brilliant properties nearby) whom I first met almost 50 years ago. Very generous with his wisdom, he is.

They’re just off to California where their wine Dominus just got awarded 100 points by Robert Parker. “I did not like this vintage” says Christian, “far too strong! But now with 100 points it’s all gone crazy!” He shrugs. Like most French wine people, Christian does not like strong wines that put people to sleep. I remember him telling me about the problems giving after-wine-dinner speeches in New York when all the old guys are face down on the tables.

Anyway we did our best to impress him with our Castillon wines. (Presbytère ’09 and ’10). Understands we and others are trying to raise our region from ‘unknown’ to ‘great fame’ in the same way he and his father, after the War, raised the then little-known Pomerol to its current dominant status.

Great evening; too much wine; forgot to pay the bill and lost my iPad. Silly old fool.

Dinner next night was in central Bordeaux with two more major wine négociants. Word is that they’re all finding it harder to sell since the Chinese rather lost interest and went to Burgundy instead. Maybe this is good news for us. Softer prices?

These days Bordeaux is a superb little city at night. So many places to eat well. And drink superbly… in streets you’d never dare go down after dark in the old days. Stayed at the famous (in the wine trade) Hôtel de Séze where all my hopes of a getting a proper job with a top UK wine shipper were finally dashed half a century ago when the old sod was too hungover to bother getting out of bed to interview me. Guess he did me a favour, really.

Barbara's Shed

Barbara’s Shed

Back home Saturday Barbara drags me to Wyfold to work off the flab. Still so incredibly manual, are vineyards. Sunday’s then super sunny, so she whips me up there again with Martin and Arnold; her trainee vignerons. Martin our designer and Arnold who does the shipping have adopted a row of Wyfold and lavish it with care. Little problem with the new powered secateurs is Martin’s tendency to cut the wires rather than the vineshoots. Must be his old SAS saboteur training?

Pruning with Martin & Arnold

Barabara giving Martin and Arnold a pruning lesson

Arnold says even shipping wine from Moldova is easier than pruning Double Guyot. Anyway, Barbara’s Christmas present from me – what every girl needs; a nice shed – goes down well. Hot coffee taken in the sunshine to the sound of the whistling kites above and snoring dogs below. Good moment.

Wyfold Panorama

About Tony Laithwaite

Tony Laithwaite, founder of Laithwaite's, whose passion for wine is still going strong!