A New Stable for Cheval-Blanc

The St.-Emilion estate reveals new cellars as the world arrives in Bordeaux for Vinexpo
Jun 20, 2011

On most days, things are pretty low key at Château Cheval-Blanc. Not this week. Cheval-Blanc chose Vinexpo, one of the world’s largest wine and spirits fairs, to unveil its new minimalist, ultramodern $18.5 million cellar. The new building has transformed the landscape on the plateau where St.-Emilion meets Pomerol.

“It’s ecological, it’s chic, it’s sober—no bling, bling. It’s Cheval-Blanc,” said director Pierre Lurton on a recent morning on the rooftop garden of the new cellar.

The “cellar under the hill,” as it’s called by Christian de Portzamparc, the project’s architect and the talent behind the LVMH building in New York, extends from the château, as if “the ground rises, carried by cement sails, toward the light and the sky,” said de Portzamparc. The striking design looks more like recent cutting-edge cellars from Spain than anything Bordeaux has produced.

Under the hill, natural light filters into the cellar, where the design showcases simplicity, elegance and muted stone. It's a 180-degree turn from the old, cramped cellar. At the same time, like its predecessor, the cellar is resolutely low-tech. “There’s no technology. It’s a wine atelier with the space to choreograph elegant movements,” said Lurton.

Technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet said the design focused on Cheval-Blanc's approach to winemaking. “The concept of the new cellar turns around only one point: selection by plot. We gave our vat room one vat per plot. We have 44 plots and 52 vats, nine formats, from 20 hectoliters to 110 hectoliters,” said Clouet. “We will have fun searching for the characteristics of each plot—gravel, clay, sand, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, different clones and rootstocks. We will play with all of these components to build the blend of Cheval-Blanc and Petit Cheval—looking to gain purity, elegance and precision.”

Cheval-Blanc has been known for keeping its old cement vats when other Bordeaux properties switched to first stainless steel and then oak. The new cement vats are something to behold. Inside, Lurton insisted on a conical shape with temperature control encased in the back wall of the vat. Outside, the vats are pure modern art—custom-designed by de Portzamparc and created for Cheval-Blanc at a factory just outside Venice. Downstairs is an underground aging cellar, which needs relatively little energy to regulate temperature and humidity.

Lurton and his team are unveiling the new project during Vinexpo, which showcases 2,400 suppliers from 47 countries. CEO Robert Beynat expects more than 45,000 visitors will be in Bordeaux this week for the event.

Beynat said America will get extra attention at this year's event. According to a Vinexpo study, wine drinkers around the globe spent $180 billion in 2009. America is the biggest retail market and the second-largest wine importer after the United Kingdom. And even though China makes headlines in Bordeaux, Beynat said it would be a mistake to concentrate on China. “The future is unquestionably the United States,” said Beynat.

Merchants agree. “China could stop buying wine tomorrow. The U.S. is closer to our culture and they drink on a regular basis, and they drink the entire range from basic to grand cru classé,” said David Blozan, CEO of Cordier Mestrezat Grands Crus, who exports to 135 countries. “America is a fantastic market. You can be completely unknown, but if you have a good story, good quality and price, good packaging, then you have a good opportunity.”

Designed by architect Christian de Portzamparc, Cheval-Blanc's new cellar cost $18.5 million.
The new chai rises organically from the plateau landscape.

The barrel cellar lies underground, where little energy is needed to preserve cool temperatures and high humidity.
A highlight of the cellar are new cement fermentation vats, designed by de Portzamparc.

The new chai is a striking sight from St.-Emilion or across the border in Pomerol.
France Bordeaux News

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