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 Sociando-Mallet – finally give way to clay and marshland, there is a gigantic swathe of vineyards entitled to the very generic and 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 needs new drainage installing, all somehow to be achieved with no money in the bank, the pressure to throw in the towel and sell all must be intense. Indeed, a few have succumbed; in 2011 Frédéric Ducos of Château Laulan Ducos, after years of hard work trying to place his wines in valuable export markets, finally sold the family domaine to Chinese jewellery retailer TESiRO.