A Visit with François Mitjavile of Château Tertre Rôteboeuf: Wine, Literature, and Everything in Between

When it comes down to it, wine is the product of passion. It may be ultimately created by the terroir, the soil, and the climate, but in the end, someone who loves the wine as well as the land must bring everything together to create one of the world’s ultimate expressions. Enter François Mitjavile, the proprietor of Tertre Rôteboeuf, who speaks about wine as if it runs in his bloodstream, fueling his heart. On the morning that we spent with him, we learned that he is not just a winemaker, but also a poet, a philosopher, and a scientist. To him, wine is life, and it would seem the converse might be true to him as well.
L1020585When we arrived at Tertre Rôteboeuf, Monsieur Mitjavile was quietly working at his desk. When told of our arrival, he stood up, put on his suspenders, and donned the same cardigan sweater and scarf that has become his signature. Stepping into the foyer, he greeted us warmly and immediately starting speaking about wine, literature, and everything in between. This was one of the most passionate soliloquies about wine that I have ever heard, and it was very insightful and thought provoking. It is clear that M. Mitjavile has a unique perspective on wine and winemaking, based on his many years of experience.

L1020595b IGWe then headed outside to an area overlooking the vineyards. On this day, it was overcast, cool, and a bit damp. It was here that we discussed terroir and its influence on his wines. As winemaker, he does not want to produce huge, powerful wines; rather, he describes his aim as classic, aromatic, refined, and emotional wines. He also prefers not to discuss tannins. To him, a ‘rude tannin’ is poor in flavor, and when you feel the tannins, you have not obtained the adequate flavors. He also wants to express the flavors of where the grapes are grown, and to accurately express the character of the vintage. To him, terroir is a pragmatic concept which can overcome the difficult conditions of the climate. One example at the Tertre Rôteboeuf is the humidity of its limestone plateau, which can help feed the roots if there is not enough rain.

L1020623Mitjavile likes to talk about the longevity of wine. He isn’t interested in discussing the role of tannins in the aging of Bordeaux wines; he would much rather talk about aromatic expression which creates ‘aromatic music.’ During the grape maturation, he thinks of the creation of jam and flavor. He strives for voluptuousness with lower acidity. But he notes that this is a dangerous balance; push this too far, and the wine will not age properly. He prefers producing a clearer wine, rather than one that is dark and opaque. During the aging of wine, there should be a ‘sumptuous degradation of flavors.’ He relays that his ideas are not new, but are simply classic ways of winemaking. He notes that there is no reason to reinvent history; instead, follow in the footsteps of our forefathers and add subtleties.

L1020601He loves to discuss literature, and at one point, he even guided us into his library. Something in our conversation made him think of Jim Harrison, an American author who had recently died. Jim’s stories were about family and the land, and as a wine lover, his stories bore similarities to M. Mitjavile’s. We thumbed through some books before M. Mitjavile relayed a quote from Jim Harrision: “The simple act of opening a bottle of wine has brought more happiness to the human race than all the collective governments in the history of earth.” What a fitting and beautiful message, indeed.
L1020630But our discussion for most of the visit focused on wine, much on the different vintages of Tertre Rôteboeuf. To him, a pure character vintage is one in which the terroir and climate leave their expression in the wine. A wine has a life, like a person. As the wine ages and the ‘skeleton’ becomes more prominent, the fruit in the wine takes one last ‘fire walk.’ But before then, the density of the fruit creates an ‘aromatic bomb.’ He noted being most proud of the 1985 vintage. This was before the modern winemaking techniques were instituted.

L1020619b IGHe described the 1989 vintage, with its sunny weather and later harvest, and noted that it is still opening up flavors 27 years later. The 1990 vintage, on the other hand, has lost some opulence. We discussed the 1999 vintage that still has generous flavors, despite this not being a blockbuster vintage. It was interesting hearing his thoughts on the 2006 vintage, which he described as 60 different violins playing.

L1020605b IGHe described the 2009 wine as ‘American cake,’ noting that this was a traditional vintage. And to him, the 2010 vintage can be compared to 1989, but certainly different due to more modern winemaking techniques. In the end, he finds each vintage has something fascinating and there is always something to discover. But as he says, “One person’s palate can not and should not define them all. Each person discovers wine through their own journey.” And upon leaving Tertre Rôteboeuf, our journey continued…

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Bordeaux Trip Overview – May/June 2016

dIssan 3When we started planning this most recent trip back to Bordeaux, we never envisioned how enriching it would be. But by trip’s end, we had connected with old friends, made new ones, and left with a broadened perspective of Bordeaux. We visited during the 2015 futures campaign, which obviously permeated throughout the visit. It was clear that the winemakers and proprietors in Bordeaux are very pleased with the 2015 wines overall. We tasted many of these, and we can now see why.

L1020495b IGFirst, the 2015 vintage itself…the general consensus is that the 2015 prices have been as expected, and fair. The average increase of 25% over the 2014 wines was expected due to the rise in quality in the wines. The wines we tasted were rich, structured, and with fresh, ripe fruit; this was across the board. Some of them certainly stood out among the others. But it’s safe to say that people are buying 2015 Bordeaux. Ludovic Fradin of Smith Haut Lafitte told us they sold out in two hours; but what’s most surprising is that the U.S. was their biggest buyer. Perhaps things are changing in Bordeaux…

Cos dEstournel 2.JPGWe visited a number of great estates on both the left and right banks. A visit to Cos d’Estournel finished with a lovely lunch at the estate. We had a great visit and tasting with Bruno Rolland, the third generation Cellar Master at Léoville Las Cases, where we tasted wines from the entire Delon range, from Nenin to Clos du Marquis to Léoville Las Cases.

Lafon Rochet 1.jpgA visit with dynamic Technical Director Lucas Leclercq at Lafon Rochet was also quite educational and enriching. It was great to check out their beautiful new vat room, with concrete and steel vats that had been installed only eight days before the 2015 harvest. On the left bank, there were other great visits to Lagrange, Dauzac, Brane-Cantenac, d’Issan, and du Tertre. While in the Médoc, we stayed at Château du Tertre, which we would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone planning a visit to the Médoc. A private tour there was highlighted with a tasting their unique 2015 blanc, composed of Chardonnay, Gros Manseng, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Tertre Roteboeuf 1As busy as we were on the left bank, we were even busier on the right bank. Again we stayed at Logis de la Cadène, one of our favorite places to stay (and eat!) in and around Bordeaux. The dining in Saint-Émilion was superb, as always; you simply can’t go wrong with places like Le Tertre, Logis de la Cadène, and Les Belles Perdrix. One highlight was our morning spent with François Mitjavile at Tertre Rôteboeuf. His passion and philosophies about wine are inspiring. In his cellar, we tasted with 1989 Tertre Rôteboeuf, as well as the more recent 2014 and 2015 vintages. Les Belles Perdrix group.jpg

After proprietor Jean-Bernard Grenié joined us for lunch at Les Belles Perdrix, he guided us on a private tour of Château Angélus. We also had a great visit with Comte Stéphan von Neipperg at Canon-la-Gaffelière, where we discussed organic sustainability.

On this trip, we had some very memorable dinners. One of our best gastronomic experiences was at Logis de la Cadène, with Ronan Laborde and Monique Bailly of Château Clinet. Among the wines of the night were the 1985 Château Le Gay and 1990 Château Gazin. Prior to the dinner, we toured the new and very impressive Ronan by Clinet facilities.Logis de la Cadene 2.jpg And after touring the new facilities at Château Mauvesin Barton, we enjoyed a delightful dinner with the Barton family and some of their fantastic wines. And before departing Bordeaux, we had a final dinner with Fred Vicaire of Château Coufran, Basile Tesseron of Château Lafon Rochet, and Ferdinand Mähler-Besse of Sobovi.

Branaire Ducru 2There were a number of highlights on this particular trip, but the crescendo occurred following the Union des Grands Crus tasting. First, we attended a lovely dinner at the beautiful Château Branaire-Ducru in Saint-Julien. Proprietor Patrick Maroteaux is the vice-president of the UGCB, and certainly hosted a dinner to remember. Following a tour of the property with son François-Xavier, we were treated to an excellent French meal and even better wines. Smith Haut Lafitte, Canon, Rauzan-Ségla, and La Tour Blanche were all there to share some of their wines as well. But the highlight was the Imperial (6 liter) bottle of 1995 Branaire-Ducru.

Branaire Ducru 1On the morning after the dinner, we were treated to a tasting at Branaire-Ducru that included the 2009 to 2015 vertical. It was quite enlightening to note the evolution and differences among the wines. It was also easy to see why M. Maroteaux prefers the 2010 vintage to all others. Following this, we were then treated to a lovely lunch at the estate. And to celebrate Allison’s upcoming birthday, they even opened a bottle of 1983 Branaire-Ducru and served a ‘cake’ of cannelés!

St EmilionSo it’s one more visit to Bordeaux in the books! This was a truly special trip, where there was never a dull moment. It was another reminder that while the region may be known for its wines, but it’s really the people who are the soul of Bordeaux. Look out for upcoming blog posts, where we will add a bit more detail to all of our adventures. We look forward to a return trip in the near future. but until then, we will continue to Drink Bordeaux!

 

Win Tickets to the Union des Grands Crus

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We are so excited to attend the Weekend des Grands Crus tasting June 4th in Bordeaux! This event, sponsored by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, is an all-day wine tasting set in the beautiful city of Bordeaux, France.
Who else wants to win free tickets and join us in Bordeaux??
Here’s how to enter:
  • 2. Repost the image below (or post your own photo of a bottle of Bordeaux wine that is represented in the UGC)
  • 3. Add the hashtag #WGCBordeaux to your post
  • We will randomly choose a winner from the #WGCBordeaux hashtags on March 28th!
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This tasting event is an opportunity to taste over 100 Bordeaux Grands Crus. You will also meet châteaux owners and winemakers who will present the 2013 vintage for you to taste plus one other vintage of their choice. This is a must-attend event for all wine enthusiasts, and is one of our favorite wine events of the year. Contest photos can be posted on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. For more information about the UGC, please visit ugcb.net.

Bordeaux Trip Overview – September 2015

Even though we had recently visited Bordeaux earlier in the summer, it was obviously hard to stay away for long. We found ourselves coming back a mere three months later. It turned out that this was a fantastic time to visit. The skies were clear. The rains abated. And fortunately for us, the harvest was just beginning. The 2015 Bordeaux vintage was just hitting its stride. 1-chateau-haut-brion-harvesting-grapes

Our trip began in St.-Émilion, where we stayed at the restaurant/B&B Logis de la Cadène. Hubert de la Boüard, owner of Château Angélus, owns this small guesthouse. For those who are aware of the fantastic restaurant, it should come as no surprise that the rooms here are top-notch. The service was also fantastic; we will definitely stay here again. Our visit here was also highlighted by a great dinner at Le Tertre, an excellent family-owned restaurant across from Logis. 

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In the Right Bank, we visited a number of properties in both St.-Émilion and Pomerol, including Clinet, La Conseillante, Petit-Village, Vieux Château Certan, Beau-Séjour Bécot, La Gaffelière, La Dominique, and Villemaurine. Echoed at most châteaux was the belief that the Merlot ripened extremely well, which should bode well for the vintage. Some even felt that the sugar ripeness was possibly a bit high and could lead to higher alcohol levels. Despite this, there was an excitement here that this vintage will easily eclipse the past four.3-chateau-la-conseillante-wine-glass-vineyard

When we reached the Médoc, the harvest was in full swing. Again, this early harvest was due to the excellent ripening of the grapes. We stopped by Château Margaux and spoke with Managing Director Paul Pontallier, who relayed his cautious optimism about the 2015 vintage. At Margaux, they were also planting a few vines in front of their new winemaking facility; these vines won’t be made into wine, however. They are going to serve as ‘reference vines’ to teach visitors about the different varietals. We visited other properties in the Médoc, including Lynch-Bages, Palmer, Phélan Ségur, and Giscours. At Palmer, Thomas Duroux was furiously moving through the vineyards, likely awaiting the upcoming harvest.

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Finally, we made it to Péssac-Léognan and Sauternes. The harvest was in full swing at Haut-Brion, which had already harvested the white grapes and had just started with the young Merlot (destined for the second wine). Château Climens in Barsac was also harvesting the beautifully botrytized grapes. We also visited La Mission Haut-Brion, Pape Clément, Guiraud, and d’Yquem. The weather throughout was just amazing, with clear azure skies contrasting with the rolling green vineyards.

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Our trip ended in the city of Bordeaux. Again we dined at Garopapilles, one of our favorite restaurants in the city. The chef here previously worked at Haut-Bailly, and the food here is consistently brilliant. We also briefly joined Jane Anson, the renowned author of numerous Bordeaux books, for a glass of wine at Le Bar à Vin. This was followed by a special dinner  at Comtoir Cuisine, where good friends Hamish Wakes-Miller of Bella Wine Tours, Ronan Laborde, and Monique Bailly joined us. Ronan is the owner of Château Clinet, which produces some of the best wines in Pomerol. Ronan and Monique brought a bottle of 1960 Château Clinet to share with us, and what a special bottle this was. 6-chateau-clinet-1960

All in all, this was a whirlwind of a trip, but what a trip it was. We covered a lot of ground, but there is so much more to cover. Until next time… 

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www.DrinkBordeauxWine.com