I am impressed by how the modern techniques can be linked to the old traditions. I like to observe them, the way they join, how they complement each other; I love them being as one. However sometimes one very new building or furniture does not match the rest. Well, not everyone can boast the good taste… but at Chateau La Gaffeliere they definitely knew what they were doing!
Wine producers have to struggle with similar problems, or at least some of them have to. Because although the few-hundred-years old tradition, old winemaking methods and many generations of family owners sound amazing from a marketing point of view, new technology and modern techniques are needed to make the work easier in the cellar.
That is why in many of old wineries you will find modern machinery. Old walls of wineries cuddle not only millions of memories that are already gone but also engineering of the new generation and the inventions of XXI century, which seem to be irreplaceable in today’s wine production process. Why ‘they seem to be’ instead of ‘they are’? Because modern machinery is just an element in wine production needs and doesn’t guarantee the high quality of wine in the glass.
And, as always, some of The Old and The New in the winery match together and some do not.
I was thinking about the subject a lot while a private tasting in Chateau La Gaffeliere. Their new modern winery made a big impression on me. At the beginning I knew almost nothing about La Gaffeliere so firstly I want to write something about the chateau itself before showing the marriage of the modern influences with the old traditions.
Chateau la Gaffeliere is classified as 1er Grand Cru Classe Saint Emilion and neighbours the famous ‘1er Grand Cru Classe A’ chateaux of Ausone and Pavie. The estate and some of its buildings come from the galo-roman era and recently some old mosaics have been found on the property. This incredible mosaic looks really amazing now hanging on the wall in the tasting room.
For more than 400 years Chateau La Gaffeliere has been owned by the aristocratic Malet Roquefort family. It is said, that this is the oldest family in the Saint Emilion area and the same line of family have owned the property for generations.
Today Count Léo de Malet Roquefort is at the helm of the property. He is supported by his son, Alexandre de Malet Rocquefort, who was so kind in joining us during the tasting and to share with us the history of the family and the estate. On the wall in front of the mosaic that I wrote about earlier, there is a large framed picture of the genealogic tree of the Malet Roquefort family.
I was looking at this fashionable genealogic tree whilst Count Alexandre was telling the story of his ancestors and I started to feel like I want to restore mine (but we will see whether it will merely turn out as a flash in the pan). I have a lineage and a family coat of arms and I remember my mother talking about it fondly when I was a child and to be honest I have never thought about it seriously, almost like I didn’t care who my ancestors were; until now…
Before we had had the tasting we went to see the newly refurbished vinification cellar and the underground barrel cellar. Both were amazing and touched me by heart, both in a different way.
Vats sparkle with colours, purple and crimson, and change colour depending on the amount of light that breaks through the big glass doors. Ones that are closer to the entrance reflecting the sun’s rays are maroon and others in the shade are purple. All the elements of the vats are hidden under the silver collar, the floor looks very clean and shiny, but I suppose the floor will not look so clean when it’s harvest time.
Why do the vats have these colours? These colours are inspired by the grapes used in the production of the Chateau La Gaffeliere – Merlot (80% of the crop) and cabernet franc (20% of the crop). The technology used to simulate these colours is one of the most modern in the world and in my opinion it looks beautiful and fits perfectly with the old walls of the original building.
Apart from Chateau La Gaffeliere there is only one more producer from Sauternes, Chateau d’Yquem, that have the same modern vats, although theirs are engineered to colour from gold to amber. I wonder why exactly these colours have been chosen for tanks in Chateau d’Yquem? ;)
On the back wall of the winery sits a beautiful stained-glass window with the family coats of arms that also appears on the labels of the Chateau La Gaffeliere wines. In the lower part of the crest there is the Latin inscription ‘In Arduis Fortior’ which is translated as “stronger against all odds” or “stronger in difficult times” and perfectly illustrates all that the previous generations had to face so the chateau could become what it is today.
We were shown around the winery and talked about the recently ongoing renovation and the current preparations for the new vintage.
This followed a visit to the underground barrel cellar where the wine matures slowly in a perfect environment. The barrel cellar was designed 25 years ago by renowned architect Philippe Mazieres and I must admit that it looks very impressive! The walls, the ceiling and the floor are made of a light stone that resembles the colour silver whereas the lights in the cellar have golden tone both the silver and gold colors complement each other perfectly creating a specific atmosphere in this underground kingdom.
It seems to be a perfect place for a romantic candlelit dinner for wine lovers. Although it might be slightly cold there ;)
Racking (fr. Soutirage) in the Chateau la Gaffeliere is performed by using the method called ‘soutirage a l’esquive’, which is used by the most prestigious winemakers in Bordeaux and Burgundy. So what is the difference between these two methods? The typical modern day racking process involves the pumping of the wine off the sediment by the barrel bung hole.
In the ‘soutirage a l’esquive’ the pumps are not used and replaced by gravity to avoid agitating the wine. The barrel head looks a little different from the standard one as there is an extra hole in the lower part of the barrel head. The bung in the barrel head hole is removed and replaced with a wooden tap through which the wine flow can be completely controlled. Due to the law of gravity the clear wine above the sediment flows from the tap. Then the back of the barrel is lifted so the last of wine can flow out through the hole leaving the sediment behind.
The soutirage a l’esquive operation is performed by the cellar master (fr. maître de chais, who controls all the processes in the winery; in Bordeaux the position of a cellar master is almost as important as the winemaker, which is different to the New World where to the role of the cellar master is less important). A candle flame illuminates the pouring wine and the cellar master stops the flowing wine as soon as he sees the slightest sediment.
Soutirage a l’esquive is a time-consuming process and requires the presence of at least two people increasing production costs and creating an impact of the final price of the wine.
The chateau produces two wines – Chateau la Gaffeliere 1er Grand Cru Classe (B) and the second wine, Clos la Gaffeliere Saint Emilion Grand Cru. Moreover Mr. Alexandre owns a Maison Malet Rocquefort where for last about 20 years the wine has being produced under the brand of Chateau Armens and Chateau Chapelle d’Alienor.
Comte Alexandre drew attention to the fact that his chateau neighbours two famous estates, Ausone and Pavie, which are classified as Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe (A). My first thought was that it is ‘in addito’ for La Gaffeliere. But then count Alexandre went on to talk about the fact that his wines are often compared to their wines I realized that it’s simply not fair. All those wines will be always rated better than his because Chateau la Gaffeliere has not been classified as Classe (A), so La Gaffeliere will always be in a losing position against ‘the top’.
I found it sad but Mr. Alexandre did not seem to be sad or particularly worried. I think the old inscription ‘in arduis fortior’ is still living in his blood and will run for future generations giving them courage and strength in spite of unseen difficulties ahead.
During the tasting we tasted two vintages of Chateau La Gaffeliere (2012 and the en primeur 2013) and the recent vintage of Clos la Gaffeliere.
Chateau La Gaffeliere 2013 shows the true potential of ageing. The wine was full of black fruit flavours with pronounced hints of barrel. Harmonious with beautiful touches of oak and pleasant tannins the wine tasted really good however it has to lie down in a cellar for a few years to show its full glory and to be fully appreciated.
The wine from older vintage, 2012, was more balanced although it still requires time. The tannins were interspersed with fruit and vanilla.
The second wine of the producer, Clos la Gaffeliere 2013, was pleasant on the palate but advanced wine lovers may find it less complex than his older brother. All of the wines are definitely worth to be tasted.
I enjoyed visiting Chateau La Gaffeliere. The purple tanks really made an impression on me. I wish I could go there again and watch them shimmering in the sun; this must be an amazing sight.
I cannot say whether the property that belongs to the Malet Roquefort family is a modern one because I cannot stop thinking about the mosaic from Roman times, the family tree showing the centuries-old family history and all the ancient objects in the property.
I will also not say that Chateau la Gaffeliere presents just a traditional and old-fashioned thinking because the beauty of purple tanks and all the modern machines in the winery seem like they belong to the future world. I wanted to dance among the scarlet and violet lights reflected by the tanks…
The combination of tradition and modernity makes it an amazing place to see and the Chateau is definitely a worthwhile visit. The person who was responsible for it had – without a word!- good taste and did a great job. Everything fits together perfectly and makes a big impression, the effect is just dazzling (literally! In purple and crimson colours!).
This is an absolute ‘must-see’ for those who choose to come to Saint-Emilion and see the old properties. I am very grateful for the invitation and your time.
If you want to read more about Chateau La Gaffeliere please visit their website: http://chateau-la-gaffeliere.com/. You can also find out more about Maison Male Roquefort, just follow this link: http://www.maletroquefort.com/