To the north of St Estèphe, beyond the last whispers of the Haut-Médoc communes where the gravelly croupes – here home to onetime insider’s wines such as Château Sociando-Mallet – finally give way to clay and marshland, there is a gigantic swathe of vineyards entitled to the generic and occasionally uninspiring Médoc appellation. The region is rich in old vines, mostly Merlot but also Cabernet Sauvignon; nevertheless many of these venerable vineyards are in the ownership of disillusioned vignerons, men and women who toil year-round among their vines only to find themselves unable to sell their largely unloved wines. This is one of Bordeaux’s forgotten lands, where winemaking is a daily struggle to make ends meet, far removed from the images of Bordeaux that first spring to mind, of gleaming châteaux and wealthy, Armani-suited proprietors.
For some the daily struggle to sell wines that no-one seems to want to buy has been too much. When the chai needs re-equipping and the vineyards need new field drains, all somehow to be achieved with no money in the bank, the pressure to throw in the towel and sell all must be intense.
There is another way though, Despite the poor returns a few hardy souls are making a go of it here, often with great dedication and consequent success. And there is something of a trend, in that the region can provide good value alternatives to grander names. Perhaps the best known is Château Potensac, run with oversight from the expert teams at Château Léoville-Las-Cases, although the wine is priced accordingly; it gives quality rather than value. In the hunt for quality and value combined you could probably do much worse than look to Château La Cardonne, the wines sold for a song despite the fact the estate operates a late-release system, the wines often seen out eight or ten years in the cellars before they are placed on the market.
And of course one more success story is the focus of this profile, G d’Estournel, a wine made – as the name suggests – by the same team as Château Cos d’Estournel.