With the sales of 2014 futures winding down, now is the time of year when Bordeaux begins to think about the next vintage. And with global visitors in town for this week’s Vinexpo, many châteaus are unveiling the facilities they’ll be making those wines in. This year, several top names, including Château Margaux and Château Montrose, revealed their new additions to the public.
More than a decade of prosperity has allowed many top Bordeaux wineries to pour a lot of money into new fermentation rooms and barrel-aging cellars. All this investment serves two purposes—Bordeaux sees an increasing number of visitors, so elegant spaces show a wine region at the top of its game. But those spaces also incorporate the latest technology, allowing wineries to keep pushing for higher quality at a time when competition is fierce.
Owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos unveiled the new, Norman Foster—designed fermentation cellar at first-growth Margaux this week. The English architect, best known for attention-getting buildings such as London’s Gherkin skyscraper, referred to the design as “architecture with architects,” finding his inspiration in Margaux’s existing buildings and local materials.
The original 19th-century château remains the main focus—Foster’s additions are largely underground, save for a new facility for both red and white winemaking. That building’s shallow-pitched clay-tile roof is similar to the old chais next door, but it’s supported by steel columns that mimic trees. And underneath is a bright airy space with large windows. A new visitors center and museum will offer guests an hour-long tour of Margaux, including Foster’s underground wine library.
In St.-Estèphe, Montrose shines after seven years of heavy investments in the vineyards, cellars and reception rooms by the Bouygues family. Teams of master craftsmen recreated classic French architecture and intricate stonework in a massive cellar and reception rooms.
The new cellar was transformed into a dining room for 1,500 guests for this week’s black-tie Fête de la Fleur soirée, hosted by Louisiana native Melissa Bouygues, president of Montrose and wife of Martin Bouygues, chairman of the French telecom giant. The couple considers the estate a model of sustainability with its 3,000 square meters of photovoltaic panels that allow the winery to produce more energy than it uses.
On the main road in Margaux, third-growth Château Marquis d’Alesme has undergone an ambitious transformation. Hubert Period bought the winery in 2006, but tragically died in a skiing accident soon afterward. His daughter Nathalie Perrodo-Samani has guided the estate since, making serious investments in the vineyards first and now in the construction of a new cellar, gardens and reception areas.
The designs subtly blend traditional French architecture with Chinese symbolism, reflecting Perrodo-Samani’s dual Chinese-French heritage. The new cellar also allows for better use of sorting tables and employs gravity-fed winemaking. But it’s the giant, golden dragon’s tail and moon-shaped doorways that catch the eye. Visitors are welcome.
At fifth-growth Château Pédesclaux, owner Jackie Lorenzetti hired architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte to give the estate a modern makeover. The historic château is now enclosed in glass, and a new contemporary vat room and cellar have been built next door. The high-tech vat room works entirely with gravity, fermenting grapes in 166 vats of varying sizes to match the vineyard plots. A large cold room keeps harvested grapes fresh. One floor down, a new aging cellar holds 1,800 barrels.