Bordeaux Renovation on Agenda Amid Wine Estate Investment

Renewal of wineries at Bordeaux estates including Chateau Corbin and Chateau Figeac is on the agenda as growers improve vinification and storage techniques, according to winemakers interviewed in the region.

The state of the Bordeaux wine market, including the quality of recent vintages and sales of 2014 futures, will be under scrutiny as merchants and brokers descend on the southwestern French city for the annual Vinexpo wine fair this week. Some 2,350 exhibitors from 42 countries are taking part in the event, according to Vinexpo.

Investment in Bordeaux wine estates has surged in the past two decades as demand focused on top producers from a region with more than 7,000 properties spread across 106,000 hectares (262,000 acres) of vines. Even after a price slump since 2011, reflecting cooling Chinese demand, Bordeaux growers have seen prices more than double over the past 10 years.

“Our next big project at Corbin is the vat room,” owner Anabelle Cruse Bardinet said in an interview in April at the Saint Emilion estate bought by her great-grandparents in 1924. “We’ll launch it in a year or two.”

Concrete Vats

Corbin has 13 concrete vats, dating from the 1960s, and the plan is to replace them with 20 smaller vats made of the same material to enable individual batches of grapes to be vinified more selectively. The approach echoes that of several neighboring estates, including Chateau La Conseillante in Pomerol, where the new vat room with 22 tanks came online with its 2012 harvest.

While Corbin has been a grand cru classe since the first Saint Emilion classification of 1954, putting it well within the top 100 estates in the region, Cruse Bardinet said “there was a lot to do” when she arrived in 1999. Its vineyard covers 13 hectares and is planted with 80 percent merlot grapes and 20 percent cabernet franc, with an average vine age of 30 years, giving the grapes more complexity and possibly more value.

Since 2007, following the death of her grandmother, Cruse Bardinet has run the estate with her husband. She is also advised on the wines by Jean-Philippe Fort, a member of Michel Rolland’s consulting team.

Scientific Research

“I have been replanting around the chateau for the past 15 years,” she said. “I am a link in the chain. This family tradition makes me a guardian of this land.”

Over at neighboring Chateau Figeac, Hortense Manoncourt is looking at renewing and improving the estate’s winemaking facilities, as well as pushing ahead with scientific research on vinification methods.

“We had a project and turned it down,” she said, adding she is working with engineers on a new plan. “If we do something brand new, we will be very classic.”

Her father Thierry Manoncourt made his first vintage in 1943 and built up the property’s reputation over more than half a century before his death in 2010.

Yeast Selection

She now works with estate manager Frederic Faye on projects to refine Figeac’s winemaking, while Jean-Valmy Nicolas, a private equity manager and co-owner of a nearby Pomerol wine estate, has joined the team as a director focusing on the marketing and financial side of the business.

“We are working a lot with the University of Bordeaux to select our yeasts,” she said. “I’m an engineer, and my father was, and Frederic is,” she said.

“We have this scientific spirit in mind. We like to find things and make experiments. We test things all the time.”

Figeac, a 54-hectare estate with about 40 hectares under vines, makes its wines from 30 percent merlot, 35 percent cabernet sauvignon and 35 percent cabernet franc, giving it a unique style in a region where merlot tends to predominate.