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Bordeaux 2000: Vieux-Château-Certan

Pomerol's oldest estate proves its mettle in 2000

Per-Henrik Mansson
Posted: April 8, 2003

Rich, ripe fruit and traditional winemaking have been key to quality for Alexandre and Brigitte Thienpont of VCC.
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Score: 95 | Price: $155

Alexandre Thienpont is the proud guardian of Vieux-Château-Certan, the oldest estate in Pomerol. It was founded in the 16th century and has been known by its current name since 1745.

Vieux-Château-Certan boasts a remarkable clay and gravelly terroir in the heart of the famed "plateau de Pomerol." Almost every year, the winery turns out a red that justifies the estate's cult status among collectors. Thienpont didn't disappoint with the 2000 VCC (95, $155), crafting, with a watchmaker's precision, a refined yet rich red.

With a wine of this pedigree, Thienpont hasn't felt an urge to embrace radical changes in his winemaking techniques. "You won't find me stirring lees in oak barrels or concentrating the wine with reverse osmosis," says Thienpont, 47.

Thienpont doesn't hide his dislike for blockbuster wines and "the enthusiasm for ever-increasing fat wines." The elegant structure of Vieux-Château-Certan's wines seems a fitting metaphor for the persnickety Thienpont, himself lean to the point of looking spare. But as they age, the wines of VCC flesh out, confirming Thienpont's comment that the estate produces a "vin de garde," a long-lived wine.

Handling newly harvested grapes as gently as if they were babies has become an article of faith at many wineries. At VCC, however, the crop is destemmed, pumped through tubes that run 75 feet up a winery wall and across the ceiling, then dumped unceremoniously into the wooden fermentation vats. Thienpont plans to replace this rustic system of grape-handling one day, but he doesn't express any urgency. "I like the grapes crushed traditionally. I've not tried other methods," says Thienpont, sitting behind an antique desk in a sun-filled, wood-paneled, Persian-carpeted office with views of VCC's vineyards.

Thienpont's grandfather, Georges, purchased VCC in 1924. The terrible freeze of 1956 in Bordeaux decimated two-thirds of the domaine's vineyards, forcing widespread replanting. Young vines, high yields and the use of chemicals produced lesser wines in the 1960s and 1970s, according to Thienpont. VCC is owned today by an undisclosed number of Thienpont relatives through a company named Société Civile du Château Certan. The Thienpont family also owns Pomerol's cult estate Le Pin, where Alexandre has been winemaker since 1986.

Since he was appointed manager in 1985, Thienpont has focused his attention on improving VCC's vineyards. The result has been richer, riper fruit that averages potential alcohol levels 1 percent to 1.5 percent higher than those recorded during his grandfather's tenure. As a result, Thienpont says he never needs to chaptalize (add sugar to boost the alcohol levels). The wine is racked often and bottled without filtration after aging 18 to 22 months in 100 percent new oak barrels. VCC makes 3,500 cases of its first wine and 1,500 cases of a second wine, La Gravette de Certan.

Thienpont's specialty is to tailor his wine to each vintage's strength. While VCC's 34.5-acre vineyard consists of just 30 percent Cabernet Franc (with 60 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon), Thienpont decided on a '00 blend with 70 percent Cabernet Franc (with 20 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon). "Cabernet Franc is VCC's signature," he says. "In 2000, we had optimal quality."

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