About Me

Gavin Hubble - (BSc & Post Grad. Business Marketing) - I started working in the wine industry over 23 years ago in New Zealand. Working in; wine retail, sales, wine production, label & packaging design, marketing, wine buying, consulting and wine education. I am responsible for the Brand Health of 60+ wine brands distributed here in New Zealand. Wine Brands from New Zealand, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Chile and Argentina. I work closely with the Trade Industry - (Retail Stores & Restaurants) introducing, educating and positioning exciting and unique brands to wine enthusiasts all over the world.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Château Cantenac-Brown

As we drove towards Chateaux Cantenac-Brown we stopped on the side of the road (a) to take a photo, and (b) to take in the grandeur of the architecture.
Château Cantenac-Brown is a winery in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux, France. The wine produced here was classified as one of fourteen ‘third growths’ in the historic Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855.
The vineyards were planted in 1754, by Jacques Boyd, who was of Irish descent. The Brown in question was none other than John Lewis Brown, who also owned Chateau Brown in Pessac-Léognan; he acquired the Boyd property in 1806 when he married into the Boyd family.


Acquired in 1860 by Armand Lalande, who also owned Léoville-Poyferré. It was he that chose the name Cantenac-Brown, in honour of Brown's tenure there, and he was also responsible for the construction of the chateau, one of the most distinctive of the Médoc. Whereas most of the region's chateaux were built using local stone, which gives them a pale appearance, Cantenac-Brown was constructed of a brown brick.
From Armand the estate passed to the next generation of the Lalande family, a daughter, and then again to her son. Then after a long period of turmoil the estate was purchased by AXA Group in 1989. The AXA team, led at that time by Jean-Michel Cazes, and under the direction of Christian Seely, began to turn the estate around. It came as somewhat of a surprise, then, to find the estate sold earlier this year - 2006, the new owner a British businessman Mr Simon Halabi. It will be exciting to see what plans he has for Cantenac-Brown.
The Cantenac-Brown vineyards cover 54ha, mostly around Cantenac, although there are other plots nearby. The vineyard soils are typical gravel and are planted with 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. José Sanfins the general manager / winemaker (was only able to spend a brief time with us - as fruit was coming in while we were there) - has stayed, and has improved vineyard practices including the reduction in use of chemical fertilizers.
All grapes are hand-picked, and then fermented in new temperature-controlled stainless steel. The wine is then transferred into oak barrels for up to 18 months, with 60% of the barrels replaced each vintage. Chateau Cantenac-Brown is typically 15000 cases, and there is also the Brio du Chateau Cantenac Brown label. There is also a Bordeaux Supérieur, produced from a vineyard of 8ha, named Chateau Brown Lamartine.
Over the years I have enjoyed several vintages of Cantenac-Brown, and the past few vintages of the estate hold great promise for the future. Simon Halabi certainly has the financial where-withal to continue the investment. We tasted a barrel sample of the 2005 vintage and two vintages of all the labels. All the wines are honest to their terroir and heritage - bright and approachable, not trying to be anything more than they are and very versatile with everyday cuisine.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Château La Lagune

In late September I had the pleasure of being invited to Château La Lagune to be hosted by Caroline Frey (winemaker) and Patrick Moulin (the Technical Director since 1972). Château La Lagune is in the Haut-Médoc appellation of the Bordeaux region of France. Classified as a ‘third growth’ in the historic Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855, but viewed by many in the know, as being good as any ‘second growth’. The winery was purchased by Jean-Jacques Frey in 2000, and the progress forward has been rapid but controlled at every stage.

Caroline Frey is a young, confident and very talented winemaker, with a good awareness of her role in the balance between that of the vineyard and winemaking. Caroline is content with the progress at La Lagune since her first vintage in 2004. The whole team has done a great deal of work in the vineyards, and because of that, the quality of the wines has improved. They have replanted, changed the density of the vines, and increased trellising to improve canopy management. All of this has improved the quality of the grapes, to get better aromas, tannins and fruit, which you can see in the wines that we tasted.


Caroline Frey works closely in consultation with Denis Dubourdieu (well known Bordeaux oenologist, and consultant). The vines are approx 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and an unusually high 10% Petit Verdot.
While at the winery I was able to see the harvested grapes go through an automatic sorting on a vibrating table and then careful manual sorting thereafter, then de-stemming and a third sorting table of six people. After a light pressing the fruit is fed by gravity (at a 5-degree angle) into 72 temperature-controlled steel vats of different sizes, laid out in a curve (aiding parcel-by-parcel vinification) where there is maceration followed by fermentation. In late December there is a tasting and blending, and the wines then go into oak.
There was once a policy of 100% new wood for the ‘grand vin’, Château La Lagune (approx 33000 cases per year), a longstanding feature of the wine, and a practice more commonly associated with first growths; it certainly tended to make the wine stand out in blind horizontal tastings, but not necessarily for the right reason. Caroline has reined this in, and is now approx 55%, and the wine will rest there for up to 18 months. The second wine is Moulin La Lagune (approx 8000 cases) this wine is more predominant Merlot than the ‘grand vin’, as it accounts for up to 40% of the blend, and will see about 12 months in oak, with only 30-40% new barrels.

I found all the wines I tasted at La Lagune to be confident, with good tannin and palate structure and excellent length.
Now under the direction of the Caroline Frey there is clearly a new direction, seen most clearly with the reduced use of new oak; improved work and quality of fruit from the vineyard, the balance of winemaking, time in oak and blending.
It was a true pleasure to meet Caroline and Patrick, and I have good feeling about the continued quality and success of Château La Lagune.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ch. Gruaud Larose - (2nd Growth)

In late September - I had the pleasure of being hosted by M. Georges Pauli the technical director at Chateau Gruaud-Larose a 2nd Growth with origins dating back to 1725, which produces one of St-Julien’s most full-bodied and long-lived of wines.
On this visit to Châtea Gruaud Larose - I had my usual trio of friends - whom I have shared many a winery visit, good meal and bottle or two of special wine over the years on our wine travels. This was one of those days that I will never forget, nor my taste buds for the wines we had the pleasure to sample and talk through with Georges Pauli.

Georges Pauli is a lone bastion at the property through the many different ownerships and deserves most, if not all, of the credit for the consistency and quality of Gruaud-Larose despite the frequent ownership changes that often bring uncertainty that can result in declining quality.
From 1983 until 1997 the property and château changed ownership 3 times.  In 1997 the Taillan Group took ownership which continues to this day.  The Taillan Group is headed by Jacques Merlaut, which owns a number of other properties in the region, and his son Jean now works in the winery.


We were treated to several vintages of Château Gruaud-Larose (is motto known as 'king of wines, wine of kings') and each was characterised by a very intense but inviting deep red colour. Matched by a concentrated bouquet, in which the aromas of the five grape varieties mingle elegantly with delicate notes of undergrowth - the local ‘terroir’.
Château Gruaud-Larose’s vineyards stretch over 200 uninterrupted acres (81 hectares) and consist of more than 700,000 vine plants. The current proportions of the different grape varieties grown are 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec.
The quantities of each variety used in the wines will vary from year to year, enabling greater complexity. Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of the Médoc grapes, is traditionally the main variety used. Its proportion varies between 40 - 60%. Merlot although a secondary component in the ‘grand vin’ of Gruaud Larose, Merlot still makes an important contribution to the wine’s remarkable complexity.
Cabernet Franc a very old French variety, can produce fine wines of great complexity. Well-suited to these wines that will mature over a long period, Petit Verdot, a late maturing variety typical of the Médoc, is valued for its colour and high potential alcohol content. No longer grown on many estates because of its fragility, it produces excellent results at Gruaud Larose, and is an integral part of the wine. Malbec suffers from susceptibility to coulure (a failure to set fruit) but, despite this, makes an unquestionable contribution to the wine’s complexity of flavour.

Gruaud-Larose can be tannic and segmented in its youth but with bottle ageing it becomes marvelously harmonious and develops complex and beguiling characteristics of concentrated black fruits, cedar, spices and liquorice.
Agreed by many (myself in included) as consistently the top of all the 2nd growth chateau's and was definitely given a raw deal back in 1855. These were wines that I can say for certain - none of us could dare bring ourselves to spit out any of them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ch. Cos d'Estournel - St-Estèphe

One day 2 of my week in Bordeaux - it was time to drive to the northern part of the Médoc - for our visit to Château Cos d'Estournel - a winery in the Saint-Estèphe appellation of the Bordeaux region of France. It is also the name of the red wine produced by this property. The wine produced here was classified as one of fifteen ‘second growths’ in the original Bordeaux wine classification of 1855.
Château Cos d'Estournel produces the eponymous grand-vin, a second wine since 1994 - Les Pagodes de Cos from the estate's younger vines, as well as Château Marbuzet from fruit of nearby sites. The property is adjacent to Château Lafite-Rothschild in the neighbouring commune of Pauillac.
Cos d'Estournel has a complex history - The modern era began in 1917, when the estate was acquired by Fernand Ginestet. From Ginestet it passed through the hands of his daughter, Arlette, who married into the Prats family, to her three children, Jean-Marie, Yves and Bruno Prats, then most recently acquired by industrialist Michel Reybier. Bruno’s son Jean-Guillaume Prats (who we had a brief meeting with before our tasting) - stayed on as president of the property, and he continues to hold this position. Alongside Jean-Guillaume is the Cos d’Estounel ‘chef de cave’ Dominique Arangoits - who did take us through the wines.


During our visit we saw the start of a grand re-development of the winery and property with scaffolding and plastic sheeting starting to hide the estate. The sandstone that has given the chateaux its fabulously golden glow has not proved as resistant to the effects of the Bordeaux climate as the more familiar creamy stone found throughout the rest of the Médoc.
The vineyards of Cos d'Estournel are on the customary quaternary gravel which peppers the left bank of the Gironde. There are 70 hectares divided up into 30 parcels, with Cabernet Sauvignon holding the predominant position, accounting for 60% of the red vines, with the remaining 40% being Merlot. There was once a small amount of Cabernet Franc planted, about 2%, which seems to play only a minor part. The Cabernet is concentrated to the west of the vineyard, where there are well-drained gravel slopes, whereas the Merlot prefers the eastern edge where the limestone bedrock peeps out from beneath the surface gravels. Only vines of more than 20 years of age provide fruit for the ‘grand vin’, Chateau Cos d'Estournel, with other fruit destined for the second wine. The harvest is by hand, and is down to a combined work-force which includes the Cos d'Estournel staff and a team who trek there from the Andalucían village of Alcalá La Real, camping in the grounds of the estate at night, picking the grapes by day, we saw them working in the nearby vineyards.
Cos d’Estournel has a very strong, confident and exotic personality, some would say very contemporary wines which can hold up to 40% Merlot, which is rare in the Médoc. The result is highly brave, extremely generous, ripe, full of spice and a long finish. Cos d’Estournel is considered as the best of Saint-Estèphe and one of the very first in Médoc to use new oak barrels.
We were shown the new / currently bottled 2005 vintage of Chateau Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) & Les Pagodes de Cos - which were far too young to do the wines justice - but the 'grand-vin' its renowned bold character and power was for all to see, a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and a pinch of Cabernet-Franc - open in 10-14 years.