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Bordeaux Fixer Upper

Renovated cellars improve winemaking and dazzle visitors
Photo by: Courtesy Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion
The new cellar for Les Carmes Haut-Brion rises like an ironclad from the pond in front of the château.

Suzanne Mustacich
Posted: April 5, 2017

New cellars continue to transform Bordeaux's landscape, feeding the wine tourism boom. But don't let the eye-popping designs and spacious tasting rooms fool you: This is more than eye candy—it's about precision winemaking.

Over the past two decades, Bordeaux's vintners have gained a better understanding of their terroir. They know their plots, individually, in a way they never have before. A natural outcome of the work they've done in the vineyard is a desire for increased precision in fermentation, aging and blending in the cellar.

These advances are arriving at the same time that Bordeaux has become one of the most highly rated destinations in Europe. Wine tourism is booming. For château owners, this is a chance to make a connection with wine lovers from around the world. They want their cellars to reflect who they are.

Here are some of the highlights from this year’s edition of This Old Château:

At third-growth Château Kirwan in Margaux, the Schÿler family's new cellar focuses on handling the grapes as carefully as possible, from conveying them to the cellar in small baskets to a vertical, gravity-fed destemmer to 37 tulip-shaped cement vats from Italy for "gentle and homogenous vinification," said managing director Philippe Delfaut.

At the same time, the Schÿlers are leaders in wine tourism. The cellar remodel provides more spacious and attractive reception rooms, and to reflect their taste, they hired artists Anatoly and Kinga Stolnikoff to create a uniquely visual entrance. The art work revisits the story of Noah with an ancient grapevine, its branches poetically adorned with words describing wine.

For the Tesseron family at fourth-growth Château Lafon-Rochet in St.-Estèphe, having a yellow château wasn't enough of a statement. They asked architect Olivier Chadebost to design a cellar interior that used raw materials like unpainted cement, stainless steel and wood to create a visual impact that was safe and homelike, reflecting how they wanted to receive visitors.

At the same time, their state-of-the-art cement vats have pipes running through the cement for "a strict control of the fermentation with a natural exchange in between the inside and the outside," said Basile Tesseron. "The new stainless-steel vats are double-skin vats, mainly small ones to help us dividing some plots with some specificities and test. All the vats have different shapes and sizes. We didn’t want to have a plot-by-plot vat room that would have obliged us to put each plot in a single vat every single vintage. It didn't make sense for us, considering the variations in the topography of our vineyard."

Nearby, at third-growth Château Calon-Ségur, a change in ownership ushered in an infusion of cash. Suravenir, a subsidiary of the banking group Crédit Mutuel Arkéa, acquired the estate in 2012. There has been extensive replanting of the vineyard since 2006. The new cellar will allow for plot-by-plot and plot-within-plot precision, with tapered stainless-steel vats of varying sizes.

In St.-Julien, owners Suntory and Castel unveiled an haute-couture cellar at fourth-growth Château Beychevelle. Architect Arnaud Boulain took his inspiration from Beychevelle's legendary association with sailboats. And the impressive vat room allows for precision winemaking on a plot-by-plot basis using gravity and careful temperature control.

And at one of Bordeaux's rare, remaining urban vineyards, Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, designer Philippe Starck and architect Luc Arsène-Henry created one of the most striking cellars for owner Patrice Pichet. Shaped like a modern hull, it looks like a ship moored in the water before the château. Inside, it’s a state-of-the-art, gravity-fed cellar split over three floors using wood, stainless steel and cement vats, with barrel aging underneath the water of the pond to protect against temperature fluctuations. A "yacht deck" atop the cellar provides a view of the estate.

The Latest Chais and Cellars of Bordeaux

Photo Courtesy of Château Kirwan Photo Courtesy of Château Kirwan Photo Courtesy of Château Kirwan Photo Courtesy of Château Lafon-Rochet Photo Courtesy of Château Lafon-Rochet Photo Courtesy of Château Calon-Ségur Photo Courtesy of Château Calon-Ségur Photo Courtesy of Château Beychevelle Photo Courtesy of Château Beychevelle Photo Courtesy of Château Les Carmes de Haut-Brion Photo Courtesy of Château Les Carmes de Haut-Brion

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