Today I turn over the blog to David Stannard (@paradiserescued), proprietor of Paradise Rescued, an organic winery in Bordeaux which specializes in varietal Cabernet Franc wines. (You might remember my recent report on his book, which recounts how he turned his dream of owning a vineyard into reality.) Here he tells the story of his next venture, resurrecting and nurturing a long-neglected plot of Merlot grapes. Take it away, David!
Paradise Rescued: A Merlot Phoenix Arises
In my book “Paradise Rescued – From Cabbage Patch to Cabernet Franc,” there is a real focus on how we both acquired and then developed a rundown Bordeaux vineyard into something almost unique – B1ockOne, a Bordeaux single varietal Cabernet Franc wine.
That was the way it happened! However, the genesis of what has since gone on to become Paradise Rescued actually started to take shape in a different way and with a different idea in mind. And to a very large extent it was this dream that empowered the larger project to eventually happen, albeit that nothing took place in the preferred sequence!
On the west side of our small house/villa is the front door and kitchen both of which lead onto a small marginally elevated terrace which lead directly across a small vineyard towards the old farmhouse and the hamlet of Hourcat. Whenever the weather allows, this is where I will sit, eat, drink and work. In the evening, it is the perfect location from which to enjoy a glass of wine and watch the late sunset sink behind the 12th century church of Cardan or over the rooftop of the farmhouse. It is heavenly!
Between our property and the farmhouse there is block of vines – now called (by us!) Hourcat Centre. It had been planted in 1957 – following the mega winter freeze of 1956 which decimated Bordeaux’s vineyards – with a southerly bottom section of Merlot and a larger top area of Sémillon. And growing so close to the house, it had created part of the vineyard wine ownership dream. It was the last place on the planet that we ever wanted to see a new house built; it was our piece of rural paradise.
As its owner approached his retirement date, it was increasingly uncertain what might happen to this vineyard block. And it was effectively that apprehension that had put us on alert to the changing land zoning in the village that ultimately led to the first purchase of an adjacent block of land prior to the Cabernet Franc block. Initially the owner rented the land out to the neighbouring large wine producer but as Bordeaux wine times became tough and prices fell, he handed back the rented vines to its now more elderly owner in early 2010.
In the six or seven years that it had been rented out, the vineyard had not been well respected. As the owner could no longer care for them, he had ordered them to be so called “cut to death” which entails pruning off all shoots and preventing the spread of disease whilst neglected.
We were finally able to buy the Hourcat Centre vineyard at the start of 2011. As the ink went on the contractual purchase papers in April 2011, the vineyard was in a considerable mess. With our focus on niche high quality red wine production and given the irrecoverable state of the Sémillon, we made the decision to not try to revive these vines but to put our effort and energy into doing our best possible with the Merlots. This is a tiny square of vines some 30 metres / yards by 30, of which a good few vines had been lost over time. It was by no means certain that a successful outcome could be achieved.
And so our vigneronne, Pascale, set to work, working by hand with every vine, one by one, to encourage them back to life, vigour and renewed productivity. Weeds were pulled up, grass cut back, new shoots tied down, winter cereals planted between the rows, ploughing and harrowing restarted. Good careful caring loving viticulture will most often produce a good harvest. When nature conspires with you, that’s when a great vintage is created.
In Bordeaux once every five to six years, that magical collision of human dedication is rewarded with nature’s gift. I think that year for our tiny re-born Bordeaux vineyard may be 2015. A warm to hot summer pre-ceded by good spring rain and extended by a long autumn was nature’s gift. The Merlot fruit hung in thick bunches awaited a team of pickers to load the ‘cagettes’. Every berry was lovingly stripped from its stalk by hand, blemished fruit discarded, and the grapes crushed by a hand machine before filling a small vat in preparation for fermentation (watch the video here.)
A (tiny) Bordeaux Merlot Phoenix has arisen!