Preparing for the annual en primeur tastings in Bordeaux is always a stressful time for winemakers and château owners. But for one producer in Pomerol, it's been downright awful. The Estager family owns and leases several estates on the Right Bank, producing much of the wine at their own Château La Cabanne. On March 22, winemaker François Estager got a call that La Cabanne was on fire. Now it appears he has lost his entire production from 2008 and a portion of his 2009s.
The blaze started in a garage next to the fermentation cuvier where the property's stainless steel fermentation vats are. The flames spread to the roof of the cuvier. Arriving at the property, Estager could only watch as firemen struggled to put out the blaze.
"We lost all the wines we had in stainless steel vats because the tops of the vats melted and the wine inside is polluted," Estager said. That included almost all of his 2008 La Cabanne, which had recently been moved from barrels to the vats for blending, fining and bottling. He also lost a sizable portion of his 2008 wines from Château Plincette and one vat of Château Haut-Maillet. In all, more than 4,000 cases of Pomerol were ruined.
"I will try to make one or two barrels of La Cabanne 2008, but it's impossible for me to make a big quantity," said Estager. "Normally, it's covered by insurance, but if you bought some magnums of La Cabanne '08 for your child's birth, the money you will receive will not replace the wine you wanted to keep for the future."
To make matters worse, Estager is also worried about his 2009s, which he says were very promising. The smoke from the fire filled his other cuvier, where about 8,300 cases worth of the 2009 wines were resting in concrete vats. Estager initially thought they were protected, but after tasting some samples he worries they have smoke taint. He'll send them to a lab for analysis. "My banker teased that it would have been better with the 2007 vintage," said Estager. "Fortunately, the main part of my Pomerol 2009 was in barrels, at the opposite end of the château."
Estager says his next concern will be figuring out where to locate new stainless steel tanks for the 2010 harvest.