The UK, until a couple of decades or so ago, was a country without grapes. Push back a few centuries and this was a different story, we would have been used to seeing vineyards peppering the Southern Counties. Thanks to our weather vineyards are now a rarity but France is a different matter. Over there vineyards and wine making are a rural way of life and have been so for millennia, forming part of the French national consciousness. Which makes it easy to see why some Frenchmen get bitten by the wine bug and develop an overriding passion to own a vineyard of their own and make wine. During my trip to Bordeaux I came across a wine with a story that illustrates this rather well:
Turcaud is a chateau with 123 acres of vines at La Sauve Majeure, the village centred around the great ruined Benedictine Abbey that dominated the area long ago. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Chateau Turcaud sits about 18 miles distant from Bordeaux city and 12 miles from Saint Emilion.
It was bought in 1973 as a run down estate of 18 acres by Maurice Robert and his wife Simone. Both had grown up around the vineyards of the Charente Maritime which produces Cognac and Pineau des Charentes (a fortified wine). As a teenager Maurice spent much of his time with his cousins, wine makers near Cognac, and it was at this time that he caught the wine bug and wine quickly became his life’s passion.
Having decided that he wanted to make wine his career Maurice spent 6 years developing 150 acres at Bégoin, a producer of both Pineau and Cognac at Jonzac.
At the age of 31, Maurice was given another opportunity to manage an estate, this time in Bordeaux: Chateau de Cadillac. His success in the venture brought the attention of André Lurton in 1970, who offered him the chance to manage the vineyards in the firm’s holdings. This was a budding wine maker’s dream – Vignobles André Lurton represents one of the largest wine dynasties in the world and currently has around 17 family members working in the wine trade, 3,200 acres of vines and 27 chateaux. Lurton chateaux include Brane Cantenac (Margaux), Desmirail (Margaux) and Climens (Barsac) amongst others.
Whilst working for Lurton, Maurice gained precious experience and it was during this time that he came across the old and neglected Chateau Turcaud. Less than 20% of the estate was planted to vines but he saw the potential, scraped together a bank loan and bought the chateau.
For 5 years, still working for Lurton, Maurice gradually replanted the vineyards, rebuilt the winery, and restored the old home. In 1978 Maurice left Lurton and over the next 30 years he bought more land and passionately concentrated on making his wines ever better.
His vision and passion paid off. Chateau Turcaud is a success story. Today the property is planted with 64 acres of white vines (including Sauvignon Gris) and 59 acres of red. In 2009 the couple’s daughter, Isabelle and her husband, Stéphane Le May, took over the running of Turcaud. They are determined to safeguard the soil and terroir they have inherited and have Maurice’s passion for wine making.
The chateau makes a range of wines that often receive awards and their white wine is sought after by French restauranteurs and sommeliers in the USA. They make a lovely Clairet and Bordeaux Rosé which caught my attention at the tasting. The whites produced are Cuvée Majeure Blanc (Bordeaux Blanc) and Chateau Turcaud (Entre Deux Mers) and the reds are Cuvée Majeure Rouge (Bordeaux Superieur) and Chateau Turcaud (Bordeaux).