Jean-Claude Berrouet has recently retired from making wine for Moueix after forty four vintages – having been responsable for Petrus, Madelaine and Trotanoy amongst other Right Bank stars. He spent an afternoon talking to us on how he sees nature’s role in making fine wines – as he confessed ‘ Je suis un amoureux de la nature’.
He talked about the link between the nature of a soil and the type of wine produced. He started recounting what it was like in 1964 when he first started making wines, saying ‘If we cannot go backwards, we can never understand the progress made’. At that time 60% of wine produced was white and only 40% was red. Today this pattern ratio has been more than reversed with 87% of wine being produced in Bordeaux today being red.
He reinforced the point that it is not the type of soils that creates the quality, but the effect that it has on the vine in terms of limiting the vine’s access to water . It is not the privilege of having such unique clay soil in itself that gives Petrus its edge but rather its effect on limiting the vine’s water supply and the knock-on effect of concentrating the vine’s production. In contradiction to what is widely thought, having a limited water supply does not create detrimental stress for the plant but to the contrary, it is an essential factor in determining the quality of the vine’s grapes.
To Berrouet the word ‘terroir’ is one of the most overworked expressions used which means little today. Used for the first time in the thirteenth century in the form of the word ‘territoire’, in the sixteenth century it became contracted to the word ‘terroir’ – ‘terre qu’on cultive’. To him the best definition was that of Olivier de Serres in his book from 1600 ‘Theatre d’Agriculture’ terroir is ‘air, terre et un complan(?)’. He stressed that the notion of terroir is not one of quality, but one of identity or typicality.
Looking at the link between the nature of a soil and the type of a wine produced; we tasted six wines from different soil types of the same vintage, 2001 – a vintage according to Berrouet that was very good. All of the wines are made by the Moeuix team.
2001 Cadet Piola, St Emilion (northern slope of St Emilion; clay limestone and unusually a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon)
Blackcurrant and mineral aromas on the nose of this ‘vermillion’ coloured wine due to its high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet blackcurrant fruit on the palate, but has a sudden acidic dip and shortish finish.
2001 Ch de Sales, Pomerol (sandy soils in Pomerol near to the N89)
Nose dominated by violets, cinnamon and red cherry. Medium bodied wine with plenty of cherry fruit and supple tannins, but the finish was alcoholic and the final sensation was a drying out of the fruit in the mouth. Typical of wines from welldrained sandy soils – grapes can get very ripe and therefore alcohol levels are high which distort the fruit in the wine and need to be drunk relatively young.
2001 La Fleur Petrus, Pomerol (from the very clayey ‘belt’ of Pomerol. 100% Merlot)
Very deep coloured with slight oranging at the rim. An amazingly complex nose of cedar, smoke and blackcurrant (to get specific more the skins than the pulp!) though a little restrained. Volume of dense ripe fruit in the mouth which gave the wine a soft roundness on the palate counterbalanced with a wonderful freshness. Some smokey notes and a certain minerality. Smooth silky tannins, but on the finish a certain firmness shows its potential to age. Very persistant in the mouth. Coup de Coeur for me. *
2001 Belair, S Emilion (limestone plateau. 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
Almost black in colour with slight evolution on the rim. Complex nose of cedar, smoke and coffee that was keeping itself back a little – not that much obvious fruit on the nose. Surprising density of sweet fruit on the palate beautifully lifted by a wonderful freshness. Yet also an evident minerality to this wine too. Powerful yet elegant with a lot of finesse. Very long finish to this strong yet feminine wine. The different elements of this wine are in harmony but a certain tightness to the wine shows its keeping potential. Coup de Coeur for me. *
2001 Trotanoy, Pomerol (very heavy soils from the ‘belt’ of Pomerol which are very hard to cultivate which explains where the property’s name came from – ‘trop d’enniue’. This type of clay, smectite, is so impermeable that eventhough the clay is sodden with water the roots cannot penetrate it – resulting in the wonderful concentration of flavours )
Deep purple almost black wine with amazing intensity of colour. Intense nose of blackcurrant liqueur, mint and creamy notes too. Weighty ripe blackcurrant sweetness on the palate, fullbodied and sensual balanced with firm but ripe tannins. Very together. Very powerful but more in a masculine way. Complex with its smokey notes. Good length. Certain continuity from what it looks like, smells and tastes like.