The Gironde region's vineyards are certainly no slave to tradition: Over the past few years, they have been dynamized by the development of sustainable, virtuous practices as well as "small" yet promising AOCs. Consider, for example, Château Brandeau in the Castillon-Côtes-de-Bordeaux appellation area.
Some truths need to be told. Let's take the Bordeaux region as a case in point. Firstly: the most famous domaines of the flagship Médoc and Saint-Émilion appellations are the exceptions rather than the rule. Despite representing a flattering showcase, they produce around 1% of the region's wines. Secondly: wine prices at thousands of domaines in France – a world away from the star wines whose prices sometimes reach stratospheric heights – are between €5 and €25. Thirdly: more and more Bordeaux winegrowers are now adopting an organic, natural approach. So… no, contrary to popular belief, this region has more to offer than just prestigious châteaux, grand crus, extremely expensive wines and traditional viticulture…
The Castillon-Côtes-de-Bordeaux appellation
One example can be found on the right bank of the Gironde, in the Castillon-Côtes-de-Bordeaux AOC area. It may not enjoy the fame of a Margaux, a Pomerol or a Sauternes, yet over several vintages it has established a reputation as one of the region's most dynamic and exciting appellations. Bordering on Saint-Émilion, its (mostly south-facing) vineyards span three types of excellent terroirs: gravel at its closest point to the Dordogne, clay at the foot of the hills, and limestone-clay or even limestone on the highest plateaus. Inspired by pioneering organic and biodynamic figures such as Thierry Valette, a number of young people driven by the same spirit have recently settled here. The result? Today, nearly 25% of estates here are organic or biodynamic – far more than the average for Gironde, or France as a whole!
An example: Château Brandeau
In Les Salles-de-Castillon, vines are not solely found in hilly areas: They coexist with woods, wetlands and even pastures. Julien Voogt feels at home here. But this isn't his original home. The son of Belgian restaurateurs, he has previously produced wine in Morocco, New Zealand and Quebec, and worked in other domaines in the area before striking out on his own. He is not the heir to some large property, or a wealthy investor, he is simply a winegrower. He considers the organic approach to be the obvious way forward, yet has also borrowed a number of practices from biodynamics, and sometimes uses horses to work his plots. Most importantly, he seeks to bottle drinkable wines that faithfully reproduce their terroir and fruit, poles apart from the all-technical, flattering, over-wooded approach. Even the names of his wines – Banzaï, Gas Gas and Joue Franc Jeu – and the design of his labels are a departure from the Bordeaux norm, as are their very reasonable prices (maximum €15 in France). In short, Julien Voogt and his wines are living proof that, in Bordeaux, it is possible to produce very good, natural and inexpensive wines in AOCs that are full of vitality. And he isn't the only one! There's no doubt that Gironde viticulture is changing, and is beginning to give the lie to its detractors. A word to the wise…
Taste France Magazine’s selection
Château Brandeau - Castillon-Côtes-de-Bordeaux – "Banzaï" 2020
Merlot can have a tendency to overwhelm with a little too much power, maturity and sweetness. Not here. Forgoing such exuberance, this fluid and extremely fresh wine – with an emphasis on fruit and pleasure – fulfills its mission perfectly.
Château Brandeau - Castillon-Côtes-de-Bordeaux - 2019
With this wine, Julien Voogt has pulled off a neat tour de force: reconciling the "serious" side of a fairly traditional Bordeaux approach with the direct indulgence of a natural wine. Perfect for an extended aperitif with friends, or for a Sunday meal with the family.
Château Brandeau - Castillon-Côtes-de-Bordeaux – "Franc Jeu" 2021
Matured in amphorae, this Cabernet Franc wine is all about taste, with great drinkability, a bright fruitiness, an attractive texture on the palate and a deliciously saline finish.