Here in the USA, we have lots of fall rituals: going back to school, football, admiring the foliage and all kinds of holidays. This year we also have elections. In France, this is grape picking season and it is almost all done by hand! Huge numbers of people, local farmers, migrant workers and gipsies flock to the different regions for work. In Bordeaux, the Merlot grape is being picked right now and the Cabernet Sauvignon will be in a couple weeks. Grape harvesting is also going on in Burgundy, Champaign, Alsace, and the Rhone river valley.
The Bordeaux region is by far the largest of all consisting of over 152,000 acres. Most of the acreage is for red wine. Average vintages produce over 700 million bottles of Bordeaux wine, ranging from large quantities of everyday table wine to some of the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world. According to French rule, Bordeaux is a blend unlike other regions that tend to have single varietals like Burgundy. For red wines, the most planted grape varietals are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Typical top-quality Chateaux blends are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc & 15% Merlot. This is typically referred to as the “Bordeaux Blend.” Grapes are grown on both sides of the Rivers; the Dordogne and the Garonne that come together to form the Gironde. On the east side, there are mostly Cabernets and on the west side there are mostly Merlots. Malbec and Cabernet Franc are often found in the blends that are grown on both sides. South of the city are the white sweet wines.
Bordeaux vineyards are not called vineyards, but chateaus. A chateau is a farm that grows grapes. There may or may not be a house/manor on the property. It is just a farm property. Only wine from grapes grown on the property and made into wine in facilities on the property can be labeled with the name of the chateau. The wine may be bottled and distributed off property as some of the chateaus are not large enough for their own facilities.
The Bordeaux region is divided into seven areas that are divided into 54 appellations. The area of an appellation is usually fairly small, indicating clearly where the wine is originating. The label on a wine bottle will tell the name of the Chateau and the appellation as well as the year. Also on the label is the blend information.
For those that know the different appellations, it may indicate the quality of the wine. The appellations have very distinctive micro climates. The soil, hills, the wind and the rain may easily change from one to another within just a few miles.
One other point of interest is that the vines are never watered! What nature produces is what you get! The vines are stressed in the summer dry season. Vines and un-ripened bunches are cut off in order to channel more of the plant’s strength to the remaining bunches. All this detailed attention produces a grape with very flavorful skins. It is the skin that makes the difference. One other factor is the older the vine the better the grape. Because it is so dry in August and September roots grow very deep and this also affects the flavor.
I do not even attempt to explain the production process except it takes about 18 months from harvest to bottle. And then the final aging process begins!
What a science developed from mankind… that is also determined by nature.