Bordeaux Wine Guide
The first time I experienced the bitter cold of a winter in the vineyards, I was in Bordeaux. I had previously spent many hours among the vines, but they had always been lush with green foliage, either during the flowering, when the nascent green flowerbeds look like bunches of tiny grapes, or later in the year when the vines were laden with their annual crop. Never before had I witnessed the rows of bare vines, devoid of their greenery, so stark and lifeless. And never before had I directly experienced the iciness that these vines endure during the darker months of the year. The temperature was certainly not the coldest – I seem to recall the thermometer read 3ºC as we left the warmth of the château – but out in the flat, rather featureless and windswept vineyard it seemed much colder than that number would suggest. I am sure the temperature was nothing like those that the Bordelais endured during the great frost of 1956 which killed so many of the vines, but nevertheless within a quarter of an hour my feet were turning numb, and my nose was turning from red to blue.
It was thus remarkable to note that the pruning team, who were busy working their way through the vineyard, had – despite our relatively early start – probably already been out at work for several hours. And they were still going strong, helped no doubt by well-chosen and more appropriate clothing than my rather thin skiing fleece, and the warmth of a Gauloises permanently dangling from the bottom lip. And with several vineyards to complete before the sap began to rise, signifying the arrival of spring, they had to keep working at a good pace. This is a picture repeated all over the world, every year, although particularly in Bordeaux. Being the world’s largest wine region, there are (last time I counted, anyway) approximately 120000 hectares of vines here. Assuming a planting density of 6000 vines per hectare (a conservative estimate – these days many plant more densely than this, some at 8000 or even 10000 vines per hectare) that makes for at least 720 million vines here (such as those below – admittedly pictured on a much more recent trip to Bordeaux, in April 2012), all pruned annually, each one by hand.
Both before and since that visit to Bordeaux, I have gained more experience of this region’s wines than those from any other part of France (even the Loire, I think), and certainly more than any other wine region of the world. Mirroring this experience, Bordeaux has become something of a ‘specialist subject’ for me and, by extension, this website. Mine is not a unique admiration of the wines, not by a long way; without a doubt Bordeaux is one of the most debated of wine regions, surely receiving more column inches on more websites, blogs and in print, in books and in newspaper articles, than any other wine region today. I am sure that this is set to continue, as despite seemingly ever-rising prices, a host of controversies concerning the region and its wines, and a move away by sommeliers to favour more trendy styles or regions, the consumers’ love affair with Bordeaux looks set in stone. This unwavering admiration is because of (or, depending on your point of view, perhaps in spite of) the dramatic wind of change that has swept through this region’s vineyards and cellars in the past few decades.