We're Grateful That Gracia Marches to His Own Beat

by Chuck Hayward

We're Grateful That Gracia Marches to His Own Beat

Post by Cory Gowan | April 5th, 2011

If there's any correlation to the craze of California cult wines in Bordeaux, it's in the garagiste winemakers inside the town St. Emilion. An ancient UNESCO world heritage site constructed of stone, the city is full of cafés and bistros fighting for tourists, wine shops, shops open on a Sunday for that matter, as well as the two-Michelin-starred restaurant inside the Hostellerie de Plaisance hotel owned by Gerard Perse (Pavie, Monbousquet, Bellevue-Mondotte), St. Emilion is a mecca for the well-to-do tourist and wine traveler.

The JJB Crew invades St. Emilion

Straight from the grand cellars of Chateau Pavie, we rolled into town and walked down the narrow cobblestone streets. Though it's almost the last place you'd expect to find a top Bordeaux winery, this is where we met with Michel Gracia, who makes the top-scoring garagiste wine Gracia.  He was a sculptor before he made the first vintage of in 1997. Unlike most of the vignerons we visit in Bordeaux, Gracia doesn't speak a lick of English and doesn't bring a translator with him for American visitors. In fact, he insisted we speak Spanish. No matter, as his upbeat nature and welcoming smile were all we needed. (Oh... and the wine!)

Indeed, this truly was a garage winemaking facility. We made our way into his tiny winery/barrel room combo insulated with shiny silver foam tacked onto the walls and with low ceilings. Ducking our heads as we passed into the next room where vinification takes place in tanks, we realized it would have been impossible to move the equipment into this space. How did he do it, we asked? He told us he simply cut a large hole in the wall of the house next door and then cemented it back up. Voila!

Geoff Binder, Jeff Loo, & Neil Mechanic taking it all in

Michel Gracia showed us the single portable pump he uses as an example of the incredibly small scale which leads to full control over his wines. He farms a mere 4 hectares on one plot (but with two different soil types) to make between 4,000-6,000 bottles, not cases, of wine each vintage. The vineyards are planted with the typical 70% merlot and 30% cabernet franc, but he vinifies each varietal separately and then blends them together to somehow be light on its feet despite the pure power and concentration inside. The 2010 had just finished malolactic fermentation and the high quality of the vintage is readily apparent, but the 2009 was richer and demonstrated why it was rated 96-98 points by Robert Parker. Both, though, are undoubtedly “WOW” wines.

Michel Gracia and Cory Gowan

In America, we tend to focus more on the winemaker and, to a lesser extent, the land. But in Bordeaux there is greater emphasis put on the terroir and the vintage. Gracia goes against the grain and brings all these factors together, bringing in top grapes from his own property before magically turning them into word-class wine by transferring his own large personality into the final product. All in this tiny space in the middle of an ancient tourist site. With this kind of attention to detail and small production, these rare wines will always be a treat … if you can find them!

Check out the following footage from Gracia: