Beychevelle Becomes Latest Bordeaux Estate to Add New Wineryby
Facility processing inaugural vintage with 2016 grape crop
Stainless steel tanks with glass walls now visible from road
Chateau Beychevelle, a classed growth in Bordeaux’s Saint Julien district, has brought a new winery into operation for the 2016 harvest, becoming the latest among many estates in the region to invest heavily in new or renovated buildings and state-of-the-art infrastructure.
The winery comprises more than 50 stainless steel tanks in a variety of sizes up to 160 hectoliters, encased in glass walls and visible from the D2 road that winds its way up from Bordeaux through the vineyards of the Medoc. Metal tubs of grapes brought in for processing will be transported to an upper level in elevators to protect them from mechanical damage.
The project follows the construction in recent years of similar new winemaking facilities in other major estates including Chateau Margaux and Chateau Clerc Milon on the left bank of the Gironde estuary and Chateau La Dominique in Saint Emilion. The trend reflects the higher prices that Bordeaux has been able to command over the past decade as well as increasing demand for wines made with precision and individuality.
“It’s the first vintage in the new winery,” Beychevelle’s director Philippe Blanc said as he pointed to the serried ranks of tanks glinting in the morning light, saying it would transform winemaking at the estate for the next 30 or 40 years. “The difference is there’s no more pumping.”
Beychevelle is jointly owned by closely held Japanese drinks company Suntory Holdings Ltd. and French beverage maker Groupe Castel. It typically makes about 240,000 bottles of its main wine Chateau Beychevelle each year and also makes a second wine, Amiral de Beychevelle.
It has some 79 hectares (195 acres) of vineyards in Saint Julien, and more elsewhere in the Medoc, and matures its main wine for between 16 and 18 months in oak barrels, 50 percent of which are new. Vines have an average age of 30 years and are closely planted with densities of up to 10,000 plants per hectare.
The vineyard is planted with about 52 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petit verdot, according to its website, although this is periodically subject to adjustment and the blend of the wine varies according to vintage.
The estate traces its history back to 1565 and was built up during the 17th century and then reconstructed by the Marquis de Brassier in 1757. It was restored in the latter part of the 20th century.
Beychevelle wines from older vintages trade for close to $100 a bottle, with 12 bottles of its 2000 vintage fetching $1,100 at a Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. auction in Chicago this month and 12 bottles of its 1986 wine selling for $1,000 at the same event.
The first grapes passing through the new winery were the result of a "complicated" year in the vineyard, according to Blanc. The 2016 growing season was marked by a wet spring, followed by an unusually dry summer leading ultimately to a "very good harvest."