Jonathan Maltus & Château Teyssier
Jonathan Maltus had been living at Château Teyssier, and tending the vines of this little estate in Vignonet, one of the communes of the St Emilion appellation, for a few years before he began to feel something wasn’t quite right. The vineyard was not necessarily blessed with the greatest terroir in the world, sitting as it does on the sandy plains that run down to the Dordogne, but he was making a success of it, having invested in both vineyards and cellars. And yet, despite this work, which would benefit his estate and you might say the appellation as a whole, he still felt like an outsider. Vignonet is only a few minutes from the town of St Emilion itself, which sits a little to the north, up on the limestone plateau, where the vast majority of the premier grand cru classé and grand cru classé estates can be found. And yet, as far as Jonathan could see, there might as well be an ocean between them considering the limited contact Jonathan had with his viticultural peers. There was no doubt he had started as an outsider, and perhaps something of a curiosity, the English businessman who bought a St Emilion estate, but he probably hadn’t expected to remain an outsider for so long.
With this thought in his head, Jonathan cornered his chef de cave and quizzed him on why nobody in St Emilion ever spoke to him.
“Is it because I’m English?” he asked.
“Oh no“, came the reply. “It’s not because you’re English. It’s because you’re from Vignonet“.
And so Jonathan received a salutary lesson on terroir and hierarchy in St Emilion. It is not just of importance to consumers, eager to understand why one wine differs from the next, and maybe why the next wine to touch their lips will taste the way it does. And it is not just of interest to wine writers, similarly trying to understand what is and isn’t true when it comes to soil, and how the Bordelais sell their story of terroir. Terroir, it seems, is also the basis for a local pseudo-class system. If you own a château on the plateau or slopes, then you’re a ‘somebody’. But down on the sandy plains, and the closer you are to the vine-free palus, the alluvial river-side soils suitable for little more than grazing sheep, the more likely you are to be a ‘nobody’.
Unfazed by this apparent snub, Jonathan (pictured above) has continued on, and he has enjoyed great success in doing so, sandy terroir or not. Admittedly, part of this success has come from his acquisition of small vineyards dotted about the appellation, quite distant from his home and base of operations at Château Teyssier. All of these subsequent purchases have focused on the acquisition of more prestigious terroir to work with, limestone, clay or a combination thereof, and some are in highly desirable locations, especially those plots that border the vineyards of Château Angélus, an estate elevated to premier grand cru classé in the 2012 revision of the St Emilion classification.