Monsieur Propriétaire swung the steering wheel to the left, in doing so piloting his Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE Luxury from the smooth tarmac of the narrow road onto the dusty, gravel-strewn track that ran alongside the vines. He was still getting used to this car’s handling, partly because he usually let his chauffeur Pierre do the driving, and partly because he had only collected it three weeks ago, giving up his two-year old Porsche Cayenne in the process. The trade-in was a sacrifice, but one he felt had to be made if he was ever going to fit in among his team in Bordeaux. His multinational corporation he could rule with an iron fist, hiring and firing at will, but Bordeaux was different. Here, he wanted to be accepted, to be able to smile and chat with these men, their souls honest and true, their hands engrained with the dirt of the land. He wanted to be part of their team. To understand their jokes, and their technical talk. He wanted to be part of the family. Deep down, he wanted to be loved.
And so his new chariot, urbane and yet hopefully more in keeping with his pastoral vision, was part of the plan. Pierre had driven him down from Paris in it, the first time he had left the helicopter at home, a sacrifice less willingly undertaken. Nevertheless, the long drive had been a more pleasant experience than he had expected; the roads had been clear, he had been able to work en route, and as they neared his destination he was rewarded with a drive along the famed Route des Châteaux. Despite having purchased his estate seven years ago this had been his first trip along the D2. His driver, much to Monsieur Propriétaire’s surprise, seemed to know the lay of the land. He had enjoyed Pierre’s joke about Château La Lagune, the first classed growth they had encountered, being the premier grand cru classé of the Médoc. And at Pierre’s suggestion they had taken a very brief detour to inspect the majestic Château Margaux. He really must get to know Pierre a little better, he thought to himself. He could be useful.
Coming back to the present, Monsieur Propriétaire brought the vehicle to a halt in a cloud of dust on a crest overlooking the vineyards as they sloped down to the palus, the alluvial land free of vines that borders the Gironde. He and his two companions, the directeur général and the directeur technique, slipped out of the car, three pairs of feet landing on the hard, cracked and crusted soil. This was very close to the spot where we first met these three protagonists last year, during the early summer of 2014. The proprietor had learnt his lesson though, and was more correctly attired for Bordeaux this time. Anticipating a trip into the vines, he had left his Armani slip-ons at home and instead wore Maison Margiela calfskin ankle boots. And the Austrian Loden jacket had also been consigned to the poubelle, his tall frame now draped in an Isaia ‘Cortina’ suit, in a blue check. The proprietor felt very much like he belonged in Bordeaux. Inwardly, he hoped his team felt the same way about him.
The inspection of the vines lasted thirty minutes, and it seemed promising. Monsieur Propriétaire still didn’t understand why this update couldn’t be given in one of the château’s many meeting rooms, but so be it. He heard the technical director explain that the weather had been glorious all year, with an untroubled budbreak, a perfect flowering, and a long period of warm, dry sunny weather thereafter. But then he said something really unusual, that warm weather for a few months doesn’t prove anything, illustrating this seemingly bizarre statement by citing July 2013, the sunniest-ever July on record in Bordeaux with more than 330 hours of sunshine recorded. Monsieur Propriétaire then understood his point, because 2013 had in fact been the worst vintage in three decades. He knew, not because he had seen the vines, or tasted the wines, but because he had seen the books. So the drought wasn’t all good news. Some of the young vines were suffering, and they had been watering last year’s plantings for the past two months, legally permitted with infant vines. Further south, in Pessac-Léognan, one estate had applied to the INAO for permission to irrigate their entire vineyard, so dry were the conditions (and permission had been granted, they said). What the vineyard needed now, the two men told him, was rain. Not too much, just enough to lift the vines, to bring them back to life as they teetered on the brink of blocage, shutting down photosynthesis altogether. If it came, maybe this could still be another great vintage. Another 2010 perhaps?
Nodding sagely, they returned to his car, each footstep kicking up little wisps of dry dust. As he turned the vehicle around and headed back to the cellars, on the distant horizon over the Atlantic, rainclouds began to gather.