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Bordeaux’s Wine Growing Renaissance

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Photo: Frédéric Lagrange

“Hé, La Lagune! Ça va?C’est de quel millésime?” (“Hey, La Lagune! How’s it going?What vintage?”), they shouted with full mouths as I gave them a better look. One course later, I was sitting at their table, swilling some of their 2003 Château Kirwan as a neighboring table passed yet another bottle over for my approval.

One Lion d’Or regular who’s a stoic symbol of Bordeaux’s past is the notoriously shy Jean-Pierre Fillastre, proprietor of St.-Julien’s tiny, independent Domaine du Jaugaret. Fillastre has increasingly become an anomaly in the region: his practices are so steeped in tradition he’s almost avant-garde. Promotion-phobic and sitting on about three acres of old vines, he has aimed to keep his methodology as close as possible to that of the time his family first started making wine in 1654. With no wife or children, the calloused and windburned Fillastre is a one-man operation, calling on friends to help out during the harvest season, but otherwise working in complete seclusion inside two sheds with dirt floors, damp with natural humidity, their walls alive with mold spores. His winepress is manual, his tanks are wooden, his vines beyond organic. Many other vintners use toxic liquid sulfite to clean their barrels, but Fillastre uses a simple homemade cast-iron wand that lets him wave a sulfur tablet inside his receptacles, smoking them clean. Allowing the taste of the fruit and the soil to emerge unobstructed are his goals; and our vertical tasting of the 2004, 2005, and 2006 vintages (all quaffed from a fingerprint-stained jelly glass) revealed that, though it will age gracefully for another 15 years, his 2006 was almost ready to drink. “Nature makes the wine,” he told me. “My only job is not to mess it up.” Most of Fillastre’s contemporaries would kill to have such a simple mandate, but those who travel to Bordeaux can be glad they don’t. His shed is a nice place for a nip, but you wouldn’t want to sleep there.

Alexandra Marshall is a T+L contributing editor. She is based in Paris.

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