Andy Frieden - First Look at Right Bank Wines

by Chuck Hayward

Tony’s wine, Pierre de Lune is what one may call a 'garagiste' styled wine with production of only about 200-300 cases. This gives the wine a hand-crafted quality as opposed to a huge brand name operation, where economies of scale help pay for the necessary marketing buzz to sell the wine. Here, the quality comes from knowing and working hard on the land, putting in pure sweat and elbow grease to create wines of density, fruit and with a polish that stems from a dedication to the craft.

Pierre de Lune is Tony’s own wine while his first job is that of regisseur at Clos Fourtet. The property which Pierre de Lune’s grapes come from has been farming grapes since the 1600’s! The first vintage of Tony’s was in 1999. Tony and his wife are passionate about the property and making wines with attention to detail. They abide by 'green harvesting,' where leaf-thinning and culling the vines yields 6-7 bunches per vine and reduces production to 35 to 30 hl/ha. Primary fermentation in stainless and malolactic in barrel (technique produces more aromatics). Barrique aging 50% new and 50% one year old barrels. Tony follows the new ‘de rigeur’ protocol, or required techniques that seem not to be just fashionable, but actually represent necessary and expensive attention to detail to make the best wines in Bordeaux.

Tony’s wines reflect the passion and dedication to both Viticulture and Vinification – the farming of the grapes and the winemaking. This is what I call a respect to the terroir or place where the wine is made.

I see it as 4 things from two tenants: Two are form Mother-Nature, and two are from Man.

Simply put, the weather above the land affects each growing season (hence the vintage date on the label) and the soils where the grapes grow are unique and definitely affect the taste and quality of the grapes to be made into wine. This is very noticeable in Bordeaux and there is definitely a big difference in terroir from the Right Bank to the Left Bank!

Then, man can manipulate the grapevines by planting on a hillside or orient the aspect of the grape rows' angle towards the sun. He can manipulate the trellising and height of the vines. If the grapes are behind schedule for ripening, he can pull leaves at certain times and cull grape clusters to reduce yields and concentrate the vines' energy to ripen the remaining grape bunches (commonly referred to as ‘Green Harvesting’) and finally, man can make stylistic choices in the winery by choosing various vinification techniques as they deem necessary.

When you get the opportunity to purchase wines from people who have a history of working in a wine growing region, they have gone up the learning curve and figured out what to do in any difficult situation that arises within a given vintage. We like to work with seasoned professionals who fit this dynamic. And, certainly these two wineries take great care in producing wines that reflect the very best they can make from the vintage handed to them.

We tasted a mini vertical of both wines made by Tony: his own Pierre de Lune and Clos Fourtet wines from 2006 and 2007, as well as the ’04 vintage of Pierre de Lune.

The theme here is a purity of fruit accompanied by power and structure (acid and tannin help to balance the fruit) that we don’t often see in California wines! The reason simply is the effect that glycerol has on our domestic wines. The higher sugars at ripeness lend an almost sweet lushness to our wines resulting in what appears to be less structure and more of a fleshy, fat, rich mid-palate for ease of drinking and a very pleasurable early life of the wine. The only trade-off is that the lack of powerful structure tends to reduce our domestic wines' capacity for aging. Moreover, the fruit and mineral characteristics of these Bordeaux wines are very different from domestic Merlot and Cabernet wines from say Napa or Sonoma – mainly due to the lack of limestone there, which is very prevalent in Bordeaux.

The second stop on our tour s with Sofie Fourcade – owner of Cote Baleau, Chateau Grands Murailles, and Clos St. Martin. Here, we were treated to a glimpse into the glorified history that makes Bordeaux so interesting and compelling. Sofie is a descendant of the original owners who planted the first vines on the land dating back to 1743. And she still lives in the house from the time period. She actually resembles a picture of the patriarch in a picture from the period.

Having worked at a similar a winery in Napa Valley with a similar story, Chateau Montelena, I did not feel so much as an outsider, but realize how much history plays in winemaking.

We were greeted by Sofie, her winemaker, the courtier (the winery’s agent to the marketplace) and the American Importer Jeffery Davies. Make sure you see our videos from the tasting.

Cote de Baleau has the unique distinction of being the smallest Grand Cru winery in the Right Bank! Michelle Rolland is the consulting winemaker. The soil profile consists of Clay atop Limestone. The assemblage (composition) is 70% Merlot, 20 % Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The yields are 40 to 42 hl/ha; 8 to 9 bunches per vine; 11,800 vines per hectare - average in Saint Emilion are 5,500 vines per hectare to put things into perspective. This closely planted, dense vine system encourages competition among the vines and helps drive the roots deeper, thus increasing tolerance to drought and heavy rains. We found out that in 2007, those who waited to harvest in late October after the August and September rains were rewarded with ripe fruit and made the best wines in the vintage producing fruit forward wines that balanced the intense power and structure of the wine. 1000 cases on average produced.

After tasting, we sat down for lunch in the house from the 18th Century. Small greens with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette served in the middle of a warm chevre based cheese wrapped with JAMBON-YUM.

Steak grilled over smoked wood-cuttings from Merlot vines and canes! COOL and unique smoky taste. The starch was a classic potato gratin which had a unique creamy sauce throughout the layers of potatoes. Cheese course consisted of soft brie, cave aged chevre, and olive infused pungent Spanish Manchega.

Sofie’s wines are gorgeous and the lunch was exquisite. All in all a great visit.