Sauternes is one of the world's most miraculous wines. For this wine to be produced several natural miracles must happen year after year at the same time. Garonne should cool down, Ciron should stay warm, their waters must unite right at the time when the weather is generous on hot and dry afternoon winds. A wine that requires a lot of collaboration with nature, like it or not! Below my impressions after visiting the only one organic Sauternes winery that was classified as First Growth under the 1855 Classification.
History of Chateau Guiraud
Chateau Guiraud had many owners - passionate people whose kids weren't so passionate to continue the demanding wine affair :)
Pierre Guiraud arrives at the chateau in 1766. Coming from a wine merchant family he had the money but didn't want to do the same thing as his parents. He wanted to start his own winery. Pierre wasn't a typical chateau owner either - most of the neighbours were aristocrats, Catholics and monarchists. Him - a casual young man that came from a rich family and was a protestant. And he actually planned to emphasize this difference. His goal and obsession were to build a protestant chapel on the territory of the chateau.
Then his son took over and he was the one who worked the most on the label. Those times labels would be written with classical, curved English letters, while Chateau Guiraud switched to a straight and simple font that is known as Helvetica today. The label became black, the letters - golden. Chateau Guiraud has the oldest unchanged label among other classified chateaux in Bordeaux.
The third generation of Guiraud worked mainly on the technical side. It's basically their achievement that the winery was classified as First Growth during the 1855 Classification. In Sauternes village - the best after d'Yquem (guess who is their main competitor and who they want to overcome nowadays?)
This is where the period of sales and purchases starts. There were too many owners to list here but it seems like since 1983 stability has returned to Chateau Guiraud. In 1983 Xavier Planty was recruited by the former owner to manage the winery. He was a young man with several diplomas, including an enological one.
In 2006 Xavier Planty and three other men became co-owners of Chateau Guiraud. And most probably you've heard their names too - Robert Peugeot (yes, the CEO of Peugeot Investment Holding), Stephan von Neipperg (operates Château Canon La Gaffelière and La Mondotte, 1er Grands Crus Classés of Saint-Emilion) and Olivier Bernard (manager of Domaine de Chevalier, Grand Cru Classé de Graves in Pessac-Léognan).
Although all these men contribute to the growth of Chateau Guiraud enormously, Xavier Planty is the one who's been helping the biodiversity to take over the vineyards of Guiraud for more than 30 years. Now, he's half-retired (in wine you never fully retire) and his son, Luc, took over the management of Chateau Guiraud after his father. Luc Planty already has a son of his own, so the workers of the chateau hope for the recovery of dynasties at the estate.
Biodyversity and sustainable viticulture at Chateau Guiraud
If you allow nature to recreate itself it will help you to fight most of the diseases in order to recreate its' balance. This is the philosophy of Xavier Planty and us - conscious wine lovers that know - vine is only a part of an immense ecosystem that we should aim to protect.
So how do they achieved an abundance of biodiversity here:
Leaving lots of green spaces, herbs, flowers to grow between the rows, mainly in winter, as in summer they do indeed plough. Actually, they have 28 hectares of parkland, greenery and forest.
This flora attracts insects, that will attract other predators, so you're actually creating a new ecosystem step by step.
Hedges - basically walls made of plants, they have more humidity and less light, so it's again a different type of flora.
Pine trees - all around the vineyards.
Bird and insect houses in the vineyard to attract pollinators and let birds regulate the population of rodents naturally and again create a new chain of the ecosystem.
But that's not all. In 2001 Chateau Guiraud created a white wine conservatory in order to preserve the genetic heritage of white Bordeaux. Here 175 varieties of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc participate in mass selection - strains with the most unique and valuable characteristics are being propagated. Yearly Chateau Guiraud grafts 40 000 vine plants in their greenhouse. The aim is to preserve the diversity of grape varieties and ensure their disease resistance. Europe already saw a great extinction of grape varieties during XIX when phylloxera hit the continent. It's time to learn from our mistakes and work on prevention.
And if you want to understand to what extent they're into biodiversity here - it's only tomatoes that are represented in 482 different varieties in the gardens of Chateau Guiraud. The rest is not countable anymore...
The winery is engaged in organic agriculture since 1996 and was certified organic in 2011. They were the first chateau among the 1er Grand Cru Classes of 1855 Classification to become organic. But actually, they're way beyond being just organic, above all they pursue sustainability in viticulture on a global scale.
How is Sauternes made?
I wrote an article about the Sauternes winemaking and appellation system.
Vertical Sauternes wine tasting at Chateau Guiraud
I decided that there's no better way to understand a wine style than by doing a vertical tasting - so three amazing vintages of Chateau Guiraud below:
Chateau Guiraud Premier Grand Cru Classe Sauternes 1996 - a powerful wine, obviously, this is what a Premier Cru Classe becomes after 23 years of cellar ageing. A sherry-like colour, with cigar, figs, dry apricots, candied oranges and raisins on the nose. Lots of spices like cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, clove, dry herbs (something like a Moroccan mint tea) and undergrowth. The wine still has serious medium acidity, a long-lasting finish.
Chateau Guiraud Premier Grand Cru Classe Sauternes 2009 - the medium intensity colour gives us a hint of a more gentle wine. Still floral, but think of wilted flowers, honey, rich sweet blossom of acacia, caramelized fruits, marmalade. High acidity and a very decent long finish. This one was my favourite - a balance between a very mature, complex Sauternes and a very young one from 2016.
Chateau Guiraud Premier Grand Cru Classe Sauternes 2016 - a luscious wine that's more on the side of very sweet exotic fruits, rather than botrytis notes (if you're not such a huge fan of the Noble rot's earthiness...). Pineapple, mango, ripe Sicilian lemon, mandarin, lychee and a hint of almond on the finish. The acidity feels a bit lower than the 2009's, but I guess the sweetness-acid level will be more balanced in a couple of years when the fruitiness of the wine fades away and transforms to more complex notes.
The winery also produces a second wine - Petit Guiraud Sauternes and a dry white wine Le G de Chateau Guiraud.
It was the second half of October and many grapes were still hanging on vines waiting for the Noble rot to do the job. It was an amazing opportunity to observe the state of berries finally live, not from books. And seems like I ended up at the very best place to do so - outstanding wines with lots of history behind and a thriving biodiversity around.
Join the waiting list for one of my upcoming wine tours to the organic and biodynamic wineries of Bordeaux!