The exemplary Bourgeois
Henri Bourgeois has pulled off that rare trick of growing rapidly for a couple of generations but still producing excellent and typical wines. The top wines can compete with the best, there are exciting wines to be found in the mid-range and, perhaps, most importantly, their supermarket lines are exemplary in their character. The company has gradually come to dominate the village of Chavignol which has two other claims to fame – the goat’s cheese which dominates the cuisine of the area and the famous steep Mont Damnés vineyard said to have got its name from the difficulty of working the incline. As the picture below shows, the vineyard is very variable, some parts very steep and some abandoned, either because it is too steep or because of disputes between family members. Bourgeois now has a fine new gravity feed winery at the top of the village from which the production of 600,000 bottles per year go far and wide. 70% is exported, the high figure a good indicator of quality.
Apart from the actual tasting, winery visits sometimes spring to life for more mundane reasons. Two stuck out here. First, our guide was very keen to point out the new traceability system which they have implemented. Every single bottle now has a lot number on it, not on the label which can be ephemeral, but a laser marking on the actual bottle. So if complaints or issues arise down the line, the company can follow them up with precision or make comparisons with other bottles in the same lot. For a medium plus size company, that is attention to detail.
But what really transfixed our group and brought the visit to a halt was the bottling line in operation. Despite all the recent investment, the company has quite a restricted space – it is still in its small village setting in a very sensitive landscape. That means in turn that wine is not bottled until it is needed and that demands flexibility. The new bottling line can handle 5,000 bottles an hour but if there is a sudden demand, that can go up to 10,000. In a small space, the sight of the bottles being sterilised, filled and corked is a cross between a rather repetitive ballet and Scalextric racing. From that, we went to the church-like hush of the ancient and the new barrel rooms where today’s vintages age gently and special bottles have been put in reserve going back into the 1930s.
If Château de Tracy make just three wines, all white, all Sauvignon Blanc, Bourgeois have a large range: I counted 12 whites from the central vineyards of France alone, a rosé, five reds from the central vineyards, another from the Loire, 6 wines from their Clos Henri winery in New Zealand and 4 from their Springfield estate in South Africa. And no doubt there are others …
The tasting itself was something of a mixed blessing. I rarely, no, very rarely, complain about being given too many wines to taste, but here the problem was not just the number but the speed. In theory, it was very good to taste a proportion of the wines according to their soil type, particularly chalky clay as opposed to flinty soil. In practice 13 very small tastes of wines in say half an hour just did not give them time to appreciate them. The full list is given below but the highlights were undoubtedly the opportunity to taste the older wines. On the whole, we tend not to think of Sauvignon Blanc as a wine for ageing but top quality Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are definitely for keeping:
Sancerre Blanc Jadis 2008 and 2002: from vines on chalky clay
This is fermented in oak, the style which what was adopted in California as Fumé Blanc. 2008 is obviously very young but has good forward fruit under the oak and a silky mouth feel along with the young acidity. By contrast 2002 has complex aromas on the nose. Slightly surprisingly the vanilla aroma, presumably from the oak, is if anything more pronounced but is followed by fruit flavours heading off in the apricot range and much moderated acidity. Very long and worthwhile.
Sancerre Blanc Cuvée Etienne Henri 2002: from vines on flinty soils
Made from 50 to 100 year old vines this special cuvée is again fermented in oak barrels. When aged for the best part of a decade it results in a refined nose of vanilla and cloves with the typical grassiness fading into a gentle green backdrop. Wonderfully silky palate and still good broadly citrus fruit on the palate alongside minerality. Very long.
Other wines tasted
Sancerre Les Baronnes 2008, from chalky clay: grassy and nettles, round body with good bright fruit, quite a luscious texture
Pouilly-Fumé Henri Bourgeois 2008, from chalky clay: more reticent nose, some minerality, higher acidity, fresh
Sancerre Blanc Le MD de Bourgeois 2009, from Kimmeridgian marls – for marketing purposes perhaps, the famous Mont Damnés slope has been reduced to MD. Substantial nose of grapefruit and green vegetation, stones, some length, already quite refined.
Pouilly-Fumé La Demoiselle de Bourgeois 2008, from Kimmeridgian marls, green notes plus new oak on the nose, oakily silky palate, very good, will age.
Sancerre Blanc La Bourgeoise 2007, from flinty soils: mineral start, then cloves and vanilla over lime-grapefruit citrus flavours, quite complex, good
Sancerre Blanc D’Antan 2007, from flinty soils: very densely knitted lime flavours on the palate, needs time to mature, promising
Sancerre Rosé Les Baronnes 2009 made from Pinot Noir on chalky clay: cherry stones and kirsch nose, rounded palate, a hint of fruit, fair
Sancerre Rouge Les Baronnes 2007, Pinot Noir on chalky clay. Ripe cherry fruit on the nose and clean fruit on the palate (the characteristic of Pinot Noir in Sancerre). Not much more to it than that but good drinking.
Sancerre Rouge La Bourgeoise 2007: lively and fruity Pinot Noir, a few savoury notes emerging
Sancerre Rouge La Bourgeoise 2000: nice clovey nose, red fruit continues to be apparent, good
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