Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region

A glimpse behind the chateau gates

By Robyn Lewis
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Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region

Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region

 

Have you ever wondered what lies behind the gates and walls of French winemakers’ châteaux? Often depicted on the labels, but rarely seen except by the privileged few, they largely remain a mystery. This sumptuous book takes us inside the homes of the winemakers who create some of the most acclaimed wines in the world: Bordeaux.

Saint-Émilion is the oldest wine region of Bordeaux, where wine grapes have been grown since Roman times. Its landscape is varied and picturesque – made up of plateaux, valleys, ancient churches and villages, and a fortified mediaeval city on a hill – and is home to more than five thousand hectares of vines and dozens of châteaux.

The book features more than seventy legendary wineries, including Cheval Blanc, Grand Corbin, Angélus, Canon, de Figeac and Magdeleine. “Ranging from lavish properties to small manor houses, the châteaux of Saint-Émilion are unique amongst Bordeaux’s finest wine properties because so many of the families who own the estates live in them and make the wine themselves”.

In many cases, their ancestors have done so for generations, but not all – a somewhat surprising number of the featured châteaux have welcomed new owners in recent decades, bringing new money, new ideas and new outlooks to the traditions that have made the region so great.

Also a break from the past, some are now open to guests and visitors, and these are noted in the appendix, along with websites and other details.

The winemakers featured are divided into two sections: the fourteen First Great Classified Growths, and over fifty Great Classified Growths. The names are a who’s who of Bordeaux winemaking greats, and will make any French red wine lover salivate.

Each chateau’s profile describes the history, the architecture – often including the gardens – and the wines. In addition, interviews with the winemakers and the fabulous photographs by Guillaume de Laubier give us a genuine insight into the environment where these superior wines are produced.

Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region was originally written in French, and published by Ateliers Saveurs as Esprit de Vins: Crus classes de Saint-Émilion. The co-authors are journalist and writer Béatrice Massenet, François Querre, the author of several books on Bordeaux, and Emmanuelle Ponsan-Dantin who is a PR and communications manager specialising in the Bordeaux wine industry.

The photographer Guillaume de Laubier has worked for more than sixteen years for Elle Décoration, and his unerring eye has produced some wonderful shots. The book was translated into English by Sophie Brissaud, and although she has captured the essence well, it lacks the ease of mother-tongue English. But the photos more than compensate.

It is however far from a total expose of the region’s winemaking – each chateau receives only two pages – which would have made it far lengthier and perhaps a little dry for the general reader. If you are looking for in-depth winemaking tips and secrets, look elsewhere, or spend a vintage or two there. As one Amazon reviewer notes, this is “the quintessential coffee table book”.

However, don’t let that descriptor put you off. I don’t know of any other book currently in print that can give you such a comprehensive overview of the Saint-Émilion region, its winemakers and their varied and often complex winemaking philosophies as Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region. The book – whether on coffee table or library shelf – deserves a place in any French wine lover’s collection.

It can only be a short time before a Chinese edition is published, such is the lure of Bordeaux and its fabled wines to this newest and fastest-growing premium wine market. A Bordeaux chateau, Grand Moueys, has recently been purchased by Chinese interests, and will be turned into a luxury hotel for high-end Chinese wine travellers. It will not be the last. In northern China, work is also underway on the construction of a replica Saint-Émilion village, where villas will be sold to the wealthy elite and millions of bottles of wine (from Bordeaux and no doubt locally produced, also) will be sold to new Chinese wine lovers each year.

Whether you have visited Bordeaux, intend to one day, or can only dream of this beautiful region, Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region is a beautiful souvenir and a wine traveller’s dream come true. Chateau by chateau, you are welcomed behind the gates, and you will be the richer for the experience. I’m sure I won't be alone in wishing for a wine cellar to match!

 

Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region by Béatrice Massenet, Emmanuelle Ponsan-Dantin and François Querre is published in English by Abrams (New York; hc, 260 pp) and retails in Australia for A$67.99.

 

Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region can be purchased from Booko here »

 

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May 21st, 2012
 
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