Don't think of Bordeaux like a red only region. It's also home to Sauternes - one of the most precious sweet wines on this planet. A little natural phenomenon caused by Bordeaux's beloved Garonne and its' tributary Ciron set the ground for a very complex to make, a very expensive to buy and a very beautiful to age wine. And if many countries have learned to replicate the 'Bordeaux-style reds', the Sauternes-style sweets will remain exclusively here as long as the mist does.
So let me introduce you to a winery that managed to become the first organic producer among the 1er Cru Classes of 1855. Let me introduce you to the ones who created the one of a kind Bordeaux white vine nursery to preserve from extinction and propagate 175 Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon varieties. The ones who graft yearly 40 000 vines in their nursery and proud to have 482 varieties of tomatoes around their vines. Where biodiversity already took over the lead and ecosystems of flora and fauna are being created uninterruptedly, on their own. A not only organic but a sustainable Sauternes is being born here in Chateau Guiraud. But for now let's start with learning about the Sauternes appellation and the natural factors that create an environment suitable for producing this liquid gold wine.
The natural phenomenon of Sauternes
No, they don't add sugar in their wines (God forbid!). These world's most precious sweet wines require lots of tough work and investment. It's not a surprise that the number of chateaux in Sauternes is in decline. But let's return to the mystery of their sweetness.
And this magic (you can also call it morning mist) occurs in September.
Locals say that without Ciron there is no Sauternes. And that's just as much truth as that without Garonne there's no Sauternes either. Garonne is one of the two signature rivers of Bordeaux's. Deep, powerful, merges with Dordogne to become the Gironde estuary, and then - the Atlantic ocean. Garonne's temperature fluctuates from 8 °C in winter to sometimes 30 °C in summer.
Meanwhile, Ciron, the giant's tributary, has quite stable temperatures, 12-15 °C all year round. Ciron joins Garonne at Barsac. There's only one unique period a year when the temperature of the two is drastically different, the grapes are at their ripeness, and the afternoons are warm and dry. And this magic (you can also call it morning mist) occurs in September. The gentle hills of Sauternes and Barsac are covered with mist in the morning. Then in the afternoon dry and warm wind powerfully blows off all the humidity from the vineyards. So the berries go through two periods daily - the humid one, when Botrytis cinerea (the Noble rot, the famous fungus) thrives, and dry period - windy afternoons. Half of the day Botrytis does the job and makes grape skin almost disappear, it becomes so porous that in the afternoon the dry and warm wind evaporates most of the water from the grapes. This is how we achieve the spectacular concentration of Sauternes wines - aromas and flavours of Noble rot (mushroom, undergrowth, orange marmalade, apricot, honeysuckle, ginger) and luscious sweetness anywhere between 120 and 220 g/L.
The Sauternes Appellation System
The classification of Bordeaux's precious sweet wines happened during the famous Classification of 1855 that included the best chateaux of Médoc and just one from Graves (Haut-Brion). They were classified in