So, remember, we just finished eating at Jean-Luc Thunevin's house with his wife Murielle who is a fantastic cook and were on our way to the Chateau Bel-Air Ouy to spend the night (that we will also use as a base camp for the next 3 nights and 4 days).
After choosing our bedrooms within the various bedrooms of the estate (also used as a guest house for visitors like us and a House for rent with all the best conveniences and appliances for group of friends or big family),
I do not remember if it was on Thursday before the dinner or Friday first thing in the morning, anyhow Jean-Luc gave us a quick tour of the estate and the cellar of Chateau Bel-Air Ouy.
Chateau Bel-Air Ouy Saint-emilion
Chateau Bel-Air Ouy is a newly renovated Maison Bourgeoise located on the commune of Saint-Etienne de Lisse, next to Fleur Cardinale Grand Cru Saint-Emilion, roughly half way between Saint-Emilion and Castillon la Bataille.
The back of the estate overlooks a beautiful slope covered with vineyards going down to a little valley surrounded by little hills planted with vineyards, and even more hills fading in the horizon. The view is quite breathtaking on sunny, clear day. Looking to the south-eastern direction, one can see the beginning of the Cotes de Castillon hills and vineyards.
Jean-Luc Thunevin bought this property and vinified the first vintage in 1999. The cellar is also used to make Valandraud and Virginie de Valandraud, and Chateau Prieure Lescours when they were rebuilding the cellar (of Prieure Lescours). Although some people may think that it is the 3rd or 4th wine of Valandraud, it only shares the same cellar and the same care and vinification, but it is a totally different beast.
Vinification: The 6,5 hectares of vineyard are planted on clay and limestone. The average age of the vines is 30 years. They produce about 30.000 bottles. The cellar includes temperature controlled, cone shaped stainless steel tanks with double wall for a better control of temperature during fermentation with cold or hot water (running through the double wall). It also includes cone / oval shaped concrete tanks (better for inertia between wine and air). For your info, these concrete tanks that weight a few tones each were actually slowly rolled in the cellar (on rounded wooden beam) to avoid cracks. Like most of the wines of Jean-Luc, the wine of Chateau Bel-Air Ouy is aged in 100% new barrels from different barrel coopers: Saury, Seguin, Demptos, Radoux, Ameline and more).
Before I carry on with the rest of my trip to Bodeaux with T-edward hosted by Jean-Luc Thunevin and his wife, I'd like to give you more info about these two great persons that I discovered during this trip:
Jean-Luc Thunevin, his wife Murielle Andraud and their wines.
It apparently all started in 1989, when Jean-Luc and Murielle bought 0.6 hectares of vines on the side of a little road touching the village of Saint-Emilion, near Chateau Pavie-Macquin. Over the next few coming years, they acquired a few more small parcels in diverse locations around Saint-Emilion (in the valley next to the Dordogne river at Saint-Sulpice de Faleyrens where the soil is more sandy, but also in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse on the limestone plateau east of Saint-Emilion, Medoc, and more recently Pomerol and Languedoc-Roussillon).
It is during these first difficult years that they bought a small garage in the heart of downtown Saint-Emilion to be used as a house and a winery. Within a few years, they also bought the 2 houses next door (that they combined in one since then) where they still live. The old house / garage has been totally revamped and is now only dedicated to make wine. The living quarters, located next door, are still quite simple, but much nicer, warm, cosy and inviting than what they must have been in this little rearranged garage.
For those of you who have some difficulties to understand, Chateau Valandraud and Virginie de Valandraud and 3 of Valandraud are 3 wines made out of grapes grown in many different parcels around Saint-Emilion. These parcels were bought over many years, one at the time, by a motivated and passionate Jean-Luc Thunevin, supported by his wife and driven by an insatiable ambition to succeed and achieve his dreams. Remember that Jean-Luc started with barely nothing, didn't even have the money to buy his first parcel of vines and was considered like an outsider for years.
Made in this little garage including minimum equipment, with barely no money, only the precious tips of Alain Vauthier (Owner of Chateau Ausone and great friend of Jean-Luc), and from the passion and efforts of two dedicated characters (Jean-Luc and his wife Murielle) managing primitively the fruit of a small plot of vines, Valandraud was born and the first released vintage was in 1991.
The name Valandraud is a combination of two words: Vallee (name after the location of the first parcel located in the vallee of the village of Saint-Emilion) and Andraud which is his wife family name (in the name of love...).
Michel Bettane, one of the most influential and leading french wine critics (who, by the way, invented the therm "garagiste" after Jean-Luc and a small group of other innovative producers / winemakers of the Bordeaux region) and Robert Parker Jr. (the Wine Advocate and also the most well known wine critic in the world) described them as the pioneer of the "Vin de Garage" movement.
Although, the Thienpont family with Le Pin may have been one the precursor of this movement in the 70's with their 2 hectares in Pomerol and already low yield, the Thunevins were surely and somewhat accidentally (because they didn't have any other choice, no other place to make their wine and no money to buy the proper equipment, build the proper cellar or even purchase more wine) the first to bare the name as garagiste in Saint-Emilion, others, like Michel Gracia and many more, quickly followed the movement.
And the rest is history. In 1995, Robert Parker Jr. gave a higher rating to Chateau Valandraud than Petrus, which suddenly was considered as one of the best and finest Saint-Emilion Grand Cru almost at the rank of Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval-Blanc. The Thunevins slowly and constantly increased their prices. They started to see the looks of people (of Saint-Emilion first) changed by the mid 90's, from badly considered and criticized they became adulated and showed as an example, a model of winemaker making richer, more concentrated and somewhat less traditional wines. A new era of winemaking and winemakers awaked on the right bank of Bordeaux.
Since then Jean-Luc Thunevin (the limitless, passionate workaholic) and Murielle Andraud (his lovely wife, chef de cuisine, also winemaker and fervent supporter of her husband) have bought quite a few more parcels and properties. They also manage a few, even if the they don't own them, consult for a few more and still find the time to take good care of their Negociant company distributing some the greatest estate of our world: Chateau Ausone, Dominio de Pingus and many more.
I could write much more about everything that I learn about them and all the great moments that I shared with them during this little trip, but so many people have already wrote hundreds of pages on books and on internet (you can even read more on Jean-Luc's blog at http://thunevin.blogspot.com), so I will just continue (in some other posts on my "Wine and Colors" blog) to develop my story of these few days spent in their company.
And to conclude this post, I just would like to personally thanks them for what they are: two fantastic, generous and down to hearth persons who worked very hard and devoted all their time, patience and courage to arrive where they are now. Bravo! and Thank you again for you, your personalities, your wines and your beliefs.
A tres bientot, I hope, in Brooklyn, New York or even Bordeaux.
LeDom (aka Dominique)
To be continued...