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Bordeaux 2000: Château Gruaud-Larose

Using all the tricks of the trade

Per-Henrik Mansson
Posted: April 8, 2003

Technical director Georges Pauli has anchored the estate through changing times.
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Score: 95 | Price: $100

Thirty years of experience at Château Gruaud-Larose have taught winemaker Georges Pauli that even little things can be important to improving quality at the second-growth St.-Julien estate. A secret recipe for fertilizer, for example.

Pauli sounds like a farmer when he discusses his manure plant and the 80 cows that graze next to the estate's vineyards. But in fact, the cow dung is key to making fine wine. Each year, Gruaud-Larose covers its 202-acre vineyard with 1,000 tons of compost, a mix of manure and the grape solids left over after fermentation and pressing. According to Pauli, the fertilizing program has improved the biological life of the château's gravelly soils.

"In the past, the grapes didn't have the richness we see today," says Pauli, 59. "We used to pick sad grapes. But after working on the soils for 30 years, we can obtain original and complex wines."

In addition to a healthy vineyard, Pauli oversees a sophisticated winery, completed in 1996, another reason why the 2000 Château Gruaud-Larose (95, $100) may be the best wine made there since 1945. The '00 blend is fairly close to the mix of vine varieties on the estate (two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon, almost 30 percent Merlot and the rest a combination of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec).

Joseph Stanislas Gruaud founded the estate in 1725. Almost 50 years later, Jean-Sébastien de Larose inherited the estate and renamed it Gruaud-Larose.

In the middle of the 19th century, the château was divided, then reunited again in the 20th by businessman Désiré Cordier, who bought Gruaud-Larose-Sarget in 1917 and Gruaud-Larose-Faurre in 1935. The Cordier family sold the estate in 1983 to a French bank, Compagnie de Suez, which sold it in 1993 to the French industrial multinational Alcatel-Alsthom, which in turn sold it to the Merlaut winemaking family of Bordeaux in 1997.

Appointed in 1970 as technical director, Pauli was a stable anchor through changing times, and oversaw the renovation of the château and construction of the new winery and aging chais. Alcatel built three aging-cellars, with a combined 2,400-barrique capacity -- one for the second wine, Sarget de Gruaud-Larose (18,750 cases a year) and two chais to hold simultaneously two vintages of the first wine (also 18,750 cases per year). A new vat room was specially designed to avoid damaging the grapes at harvest time (a conveyor belt gently carries the fruit to the fermentation tanks).

"We inherited a gem," says Jean Merlaut, CEO and co-owner, whose family also owns several other estates in Bordeaux, including Château Chasse-Spleen in Moulis and Château Citran in Haut-Médoc.

When it comes to winemaking, Pauli and his team believe in a "more is better" approach. They do a cold-soak (pre-fermentation maceration) and one-third of the crop goes through malolactic fermentation in new barriques.

"We seek to extract more from the grapes and to increase the color considerably -- it's all a good thing because there can never be enough of that," says Pauli, who is a consultant for 30 wineries around the world.

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