Matthieu’s Farm

ger­rie lim learns about the joys of cre­at­ing an ac­claimed Bor­deaux leg­end

Prestige (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

matthieu bor­des, wine­maker at Château La­grange, tells me he re­mem­bers our very first meet­ing, a few years ago at Vin­expo, when we were in­tro­duced by Héloïse Au­bert, a mu­tual friend and no or­di­nary fel­low Borde­lais wine­maker — she was (and still is) mar­ried to his best friend. Many cor­dial ex­changes have since en­sued, since Bor­des fre­quently vis­its Hong Kong; his Asian trav­els are abet­ted by his es­tate’s cur­rent own­ers, Sun­tory Hold­ings, the Ja­panese bev­er­age be­he­moth and co-pro­pri­etor of his Saint-julien ap­pel­la­tion neigh­bour Château Bey­chev­elle.

Bor­des has only ef­fu­sive praise for Sun­tory, not least for how they in­vested se­ri­ous money to re­vamp the third-growth, left-bank es­tate in 1983, leav­ing it in the good hands of three Bor­deaux leg­ends: Its then-wine­maker Mar­cel Du­casse and his two em­i­nent con­sul­tants, Eric Bois­senot and the late Émile Pey­naud. The present out­put com­prises three reds — the flag­ship grand vin Château La­grange; a se­cond wine, Les Fiefs de La­grange and lately, a third wine, Le Haut-mé­doc de La­grange, whose cur­rent re­lease is the de­but 2012 vin­tage made mainly, though not ex­clu­sively, for the Chi­nese and Ja­panese mar­kets. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing these — and un­usu­ally for a Mé­doc es­tate — is a white wine, the lesser-known yet very good Les Arums de La­grange.

Of his own grand vin, Bor­des says his per­sonal favourites are the 1990, 2000 and 2009. A con­fessed worka­holic (“For sev­eral weeks dur­ing the har­vest,” he once quipped. “I dis­ap­pear into the vat room and peo­ple look for me in my of­fice and ask if I still work here”), he was pre­vi­ously the wine­maker at Château de Rouil­lac in Pes­sac-léog­nan, Château de l’hos­pi­tal in Graves and two Cru Bour­geois estates, Château Loudenne in Saint-yzans-deMé­doc (now owned by Moutai from China) and Château Coutelin-merville in Saint-es­tèphe. Thus, a grand cru crafts­man he’s be­come and jour­ney­man no more, though I sense him still en­thralled by the jour­ney.

I un­der­stand there Is an In­ter­est­ing con­nec­tion with your fam­ily name and your château, as If It were pre­des­tined for you? Yes, Bor­des means “farm” in the old French lan­guage and “La Grange” means “the farm”. I ar­rived at the Château the end of 2006 but only be­came gen­eral man­ager and wine­maker in Septem­ber 2013, just be­fore the har­vest, when I re­placed Bruno Ey­nard. I was the as­sis­tant man­ager when Mar­cel Du­casse re­tired, af­ter which Bruno Ey­nard be­came gen­eral man­ager and I be­came his as­sis­tant. I took over be­cause he was fired that July — there are lawyers in­volved, so I still can’t tell you any­thing more — but any­way, I am now 42, so I was 10-years-old when Sun­tory bought the es­tate in 1983. How did I know then that this was meant to be?

I’ve en­joyed your 2009 grand vin, which I found con­sis­tently great on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions. did you know go­ing In that It would be that good?

Let me tell you, I will never for­get the 2009 — I was so ner­vous that I started smok­ing again! I had quit smok­ing for five years and when it came to the 2009, I re­ally didn’t want to blow it. I had this feel­ing when we started the wine­mak­ing, I couldn’t be­lieve how good it was pos­si­bly go­ing to be so I started smok­ing again. But when the grapes were un­der­go­ing fer­men­ta­tion, I started to re­lax

be­cause I knew for sure that it was go­ing to be what we call a “rock­ing-chair vin­tage” — the wine would just make it­self and it was go­ing to be a beau­ti­ful vin­tage. How do you see your­self com­pared with your other fa­mous neigh­bours in saint-julien, like châteaux gru­aud-larose and tal­bot? Most of the time, I pre­fer La­grange to both and only in 2004, I would say, did Gru­aud-larose make a bet­ter wine than us. In a blind tast­ing, when you drink the wines en primeur, La­grange tends to do bet­ter than our neigh­bours be­cause of the level of acid­ity — there is al­ways a ph close to 3.6 or 3.65, where most of them are usu­ally 0.1 higher (mean­ing less acidic) and for me, it’s al­ways a bit crispier. If you taste the wines 10 years later, La­grange is reg­u­larly one of the best, in the top five of the ap­pel­la­tion, usu­ally, among the 11 clas­si­fied growths in Saint-julien. The wine re­ally needs to age longer be­fore drink­ing, a min­i­mum of five to six years. you’ve of­ten cited an­other of your neigh­bours, léoville las cases, as a favourite. How do you com­pare?

For me, Léoville Las Cases has one of the best ter­roirs in Bor­deaux, cer­tainly the best ter­roir in Saint-julien. Léoville Las Cases is more pow­er­ful and deeper than us, as a wine, but with re­gard to fruit and the level of acid­ity and po­ten­tial for age­ing, we are very close — es­pe­cially when you com­pare the weaker vin­tages be­cause La­grange is well known for be­ing con­sis­tent. yes, crit­i­cal con­sen­sus is that you’re good even in the dif­fi­cult years, like 2004, 2007 and 2008. That’s true. For ex­am­ple, I re­mem­ber that 2007 was a very chal­leng­ing vin­tage and Las Cases was bet­ter dur­ing blind tast­ing, but La­grange was just a few paces be­hind. The thing is, you can be the best wine­maker in the world but you can’t change your soils. You

can com­pare the value, though, since one bot­tle of Las Cases is five or six times the price of La­grange, so it’s about what you hope to get for the money. On that note, I’ve al­ways won­dered why your flag­ship wine re­tails here for Only hk$600- plus. surely your wine Overde­liv­ers for the price?

I think so. That’s about right, about $600, a rel­a­tively friendly price, which I can’t in­crease very high be­cause we’re the largest among the clas­si­fied estates in the Mé­doc. We farm 118 hectares on a sin­gle piece of land, of which 67 per­cent is Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, 27 per­cent Mer­lot and six per­cent Pe­tit Ver­dot. When Sun­tory came in, we had 56 hectares in 1983 and Mar­cel Du­casse then planted an­other 60 or so more hectares. We pro­duce about 25,000 cases of La­grange each year for the grand vin and for the se­cond la­bel Les Fiefs de La­grange, it’s close to 35,000 cases. This means you can’t set the price like a Mou­ton Roth­schild or a Pétrus, that’s im­pos­si­ble. We should be 30 to 50 per­cent more ex­pen­sive, if you con­sider the qual­ity, but the mar­ket now isn’t only about a ques­tion of qual­ity. It’s also about the name of the brand. and the brand­ing Of saint-julien Is about the fine bal­ance be­tween el­e­gance, fi­nesse and power — would you agree?

Yes, ex­actly. With the ap­pel­la­tion next to us, Pauil­lac, you are talk­ing about wines that are more mas­cu­line, with stronger power, such as with LynchBages, whereas with, say, Mar­gaux, some­times you can ex­pect some­thing more del­i­cate. Sain­tJulien is some­where in the mid­dle but also a blend of the two styles — much more pow­er­ful than Mar­gaux and some­times less so than Pauil­lac but much more el­e­gant. When we do blind tast­ings against other Bor­deaux wines, we al­ways find that La­grange is very good value for money be­cause we’re never at the bot­tom of the clas­si­fi­ca­tion. I like to joke that La­grange is the cheap­est grand cru you can drink!

clock­wise from bot­tom left: wine­maker matthieu bor­des; fer­men­ta­tion tanks; CHÂTEAU LA­GRANGE in st Julien, mé­doc

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