The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 71 of 124

{ }  71 would imagine, is more nuanced, with a wide range of approaches to the vineyard, cellar and bottle." With a region so strongly identified for its limestone bedrock, the question of terroir was a frequent topic of conversation and debate. "In some sense, the notion of terroir plays itself out very clearly in wines that are widely accepted as being of consistently high quality in the market," Miner said. But, he noted he didn't think that "the destiny of a château is locked in by its soil." He refer- enced the excellent wines of Château Canon La Gaffelière, whose owner, Count Stephan von Neipperg, readily admitted to having a less-than-exceptional parcel of land. Moreover, Miner, noted, La Gaffelière "seems like an organization that has a strong sense of culture that is communicated from the very top, and this dedica- tion to quality and sustainability is expressed in everything they do, [and] in the wines themselves." The visit was but one demonstration of how terroir requires a holistic interpretation. "We often forget that terroir encompasses more than just soil and climate: History and regional norms are equally a part, and Bordeaux is a great example of those latter elements defining a wine's character," Daddona said, noting that Bordeaux's "long his- tory of commerce and trade continues to influence the character of the wines today." Bordeaux's particular history, trade structure and economics— as well as the future of Merlot—were also of interest as the group learned the backstory on multigenerational estates, the classifica- tion system and how the wines are marketed and perceived on a global scale. What became clear is producing wines here is a dynamic proposition, involving much more than grapes, terroir and oak barrels. "The importance of the négociant system is huge. I wonder how many of the growers are happy with the way things are," Miner questioned. "Taxes on inheritance seem to be on everyone's mind, too. I wasn't expecting economics to play such a key role, but it makes sense." Caballero, a self-proclaimed Merlot-lover, said he got a new appreciation for the quality in overlooked appellations such as Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac. He also admired the mavericks like Châteaux Destieux and Valandraud, who jumped classifications to make their own styles of wine. "Bordeaux is a lot more political than people realize and there's some serious pressure to churn out great Merlot from the epicenter for great Merlot," he said. Rollston, too, considered the St-Émilion Classification, most recently revised in 2012, as a barometer of excellence. "As we moved up the classification, you could clearly see everything step up: the quality of the land, the beauty of the property, the knowl- edge of the people involved in the project. It really drove home the reality of a classification that is reviewed every ten years, so people must stay on their game, and how the classification is all- encompassing, requiring more than just quality wine for promo- tion," he said. Guild Trip: Biking somms (left to right) Lauren Daddona; Erik Segelbaum; Matt Stamps, MS; Patrick Miner; Jason Caballero; and Jim Rollston at Château Soutard in Saint-Émilion. At Château Gaby in Canon-Fronsac (left to right): Erik Segelbaum; Jim Rollston; Lauren Daddona; Patrick Miner (seated); Matt Stamps, MS; Jason Caballero. IMPRESSIONS OF MERLOT AND MORE "I love Merlot and I like what people can do with it. There was a freshness to [the wines] that I don't usually associ- ate with Bordeaux . . . In Fronsac the wines had exquisite complexity. Saint-Émilion, I felt, had a broad range of styles, but overall more robust, chocolatey and plummy with organic ear th." —Jason Caballero "I was happy with the overall quality of the Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac wines we tasted. These are appellations that I am less familiar with and I appreciated the exposure to those wines." —Lauren Dadonna "These wines show a range of styles and price-points, and certainly the good-value wines bring a lot to any program with their combination of freshness and tannic struc- ture that is tough to replicate in other parts of the world." —Jim Rollston "The difference between how Merlot expressed itself in Pomerol and Saint-Émilion was extraor- dinary . . . It's always fantastic to taste wines with the people who made them in the place they were made." —Patrick Miner

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