Bordeaux winery inspired by California, Australia

Inspired by the success of up-market wine centres in California and Australia, a French wine merchant from Bordeaux this month opened a new â,¬20-million complex, the first of its kind in France.

The 12 000 square metre Winery is the inspiration of fourth-generation Bordeaux wine merchant and mail-order specialist Philippe Raoux, who owns Chateau d’Arsac, next door to the complex.

“This is very definitely a first for Bordeaux, and is built along the lines of the best wine centres in California and Australia,” he said.

In a tongue-in-cheek draw, the “Winery” offers visitors, for a fee, a blind wine tasting to determine their oenological rather than astrological sign—“eternal rising aesthete”, “sensually muscular” or “trendy gourmet”.

“It’s a one-hour tasting to analyse a person’s individual wine preferences and tastes, to help them understand what they like,” said manager Yves Bontoux.

Responses to six different wines—old, modern, trendy, sweet, fruity or complex—are analysed by computer to produce an individual “oenological star sign”, together with a personalised list of wines available in the boutique.

The vast metal-and-glass boutique offers about 1 300 wines for anywhere between â,¬3 to â,¬1 000, and by the start of summer this year it is to stock 2 000 wines, said boutique manager and sommelier Arnaud Plard.

Located only 25km away from Bordeaux, the Winery, which includes an amphitheatre for concerts and shows, as well as meeting rooms and a restaurant, is the most ambitious wine tourism project to hit Bordeaux in recent times.

Forty percent of the wines on sale are from the prestigious Bordeaux region, 50% from other areas of France and 10% from new world producers such as Australia, South Africa and the United States. Styles range from sophisticated to entry level.

A major attraction for visitors will be the opportunity to taste premier “grand cru classe”, or first-growth wines, the best Bordeaux has to offer, by the glass, with prices ranging from â,¬20 to â,¬30 for the top of the range.

Only two other wine bars in Bordeaux currently offer this.

The aim of the complex is to attract anyone from backpackers in flip-flops to high-end connoisseurs and the hope is to welcome between 80 000 and 100 000 visitors annually.

Rather than just a sales-room, the complex aims to be “a leisure area dedicated to wine”, offering a 26ha park complete with contemporary sculptures, picnic spots and water features. The “bistronomique” restaurant for up to 100 diners proposes a mix of down-to-earth French bistro style with gastronomic quality food.

Raoux, who financed the project by selling his Bordeaux offices and with private loans, is already well known in the area for the near impossible feat of having his wine reclassified as coming from the more prestigious Margaux region, instead of next door Haut Medoc.

He is also known for his annual art commissions, and his latest plan to invite a “star” winemaker to his 72ha chateau every year, to make wine from 15 of the hectares.

With wine tourism increasingly popular in a region where mid- to low-range winemakers have been hit by falling domestic demand and international competition, the Winery has been hailed by many as a flagship initiative.

But some have been taken aback by the commercial side of it all.

“Locally there is a little bit of suspicion and we are being curiously watched, but the Medoc cannot remain closed to tourists,” said Bontoux.
Part of the Winery’s local commitment is to encourage visitors to explore 22 neighbouring partner properties to find out more about wine making and growing.—AFP

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