In our most comprehensive and fascinating interview yet, we talk to the man behind Gordon Ramsay’s house wine.
As it turns out, he’s a bit of a celebrity himself after being featured on BBC 2′s Big Wine Adventure alongside James May and Oz Clarke. Gavin Quinney, head winemaker at Chateau Bauduc, tells us all.
1. We understand that you were hit by some freak weather last May. What’s the outlook for your ’09 release?
It’s no secret that 2009 was a fabulous vintage in Bordeaux, as the weather was extraordinary. My take on the vintage straight after the harvest was here on liv-ex. Unfortunately, we were badly hit by not one, but two hailstorms in May. It was pretty depressing.
The Clos des Quinze, which you guys have been kindly selling for us, took a pasting, so there isn’t a CDQ ’09. To make matters trickier, even ‘petit chateaux’ cannot just slip out and buy grapes and blend them with your ‘Chateau’ wine, as you would if you were a winery or an estate brand in, say, New Zealand. So we went off and leased another lovely vineyard from a diligent grower called Pascal. Of course, we weren’t to know in advance that it would be a good vintage, so it was a double or quits bet.
The result is a mixed bag. The white and rosé are very good, (although I mention the hailstorms on the back-label of the white in case regulars notice a change) but for me the jury’s out on our red. I’ll have to wait and see how it evolves, but if the red isn’t up to speed, I’ll sell it off to a negociant to put it into their Bordeaux brand. This won’t be good for the finances but I don’t want customers to have a high expectation of our 2009 red and be disappointed.
I’d also suggest that people be slightly wary of what they buy from hail-damaged areas – some 19000 hectares were affected. Everyone I know around here made up the shortfall from other vineyards which weren’t hit.
2. Was it a surprise to have Oz Clarke and James May pop in to Chateau Bauduc during the filming of BBC 2′s Big Wine Adventure?
Not really, because it was planned long in advance with the BBC. I’d first met Oz in the early nineties when I entered a blind tasting competition in England, and we’d always got on well. When we pitched up with our wines at the Wine Show in London, a consumer event, he came to our stand quite a bit and said he’d make sure we were included in his BBC travels.
He later stayed with us at Bauduc with his publisher, and I have never drunk so much wine in my life as we merrily opened bottles from my cellar. He has an amazing palate, even when trolleyed. James May is a very bright spark, and knows more than he’s allowed to let on. It was a fun day.
3. Is there a particular grape variety that you believe really excels in Bordeaux, perhaps like nowhere else in the world?
I travelled quite a bit before settling here, so I’ve enjoyed Cabernet in Coonawaara, Malbec in Mendoza, and so on. I would really like to experience Napa but I never got around to it.
My ten years at Chateau Bauduc have shown me that it’s all about what works in your own particular vineyard. I love Cabernet Sauvignon, but the Cabernet here didn’t ripen properly, so I ripped most of it out and replaced it with Sauvignon Blanc on the cooler slopes. That said, I think Cabernet Sauvignon is king in the special areas of Pauillac and St-Julien, on the Left Bank overlooking the Gironde. I’m obviously not the only one to think that, judging by the spiraling prices. There are some great wines though, steeped in Cabernet, that won’t break the bank but you need to be patient. Cabernet doesn’t come in at quite the same level of alcohol as Merlot – a degree or so less – so in 2009 I reckon the Left Bank wines might have a tad more elegance and better balance.
Cabernet Franc is wonderful on the Right Bank, as a constituent in Pomerol and the better bits of St-Emilion. You don’t have to take out a mortgage on wines like Cheval Blanc and Ausone, where it’s 50%+ of the blend. Try La Tour Figeac next door to Cheval Blanc for a fraction of the price, or Canon La Gaffeliere, below Ausone. Loire Cab Franc is great – Saumur Champigny and so on – but it’s quite different.
Having said all that, Merlot can be awesome – especially on the plateau of Pomerol. Forget the school fees, send them to the local establishment and tuck into some cases of L’Evangile, for example, post 2004. Of course, there’s a lot of shite Merlot on high yielding rootstocks planted in fields that are better for nurturing other crops. Growers of this tedious stuff will have to pack up at some point, as there’s no market for weedy gnats piss.
At the cheaper end, there are some excellent dry whites. Although the great white wines of Bordeaux like Haut Brion are, er, great, head happily over to the better growers of the Entre Deux Mers for lovely, reasonably priced dry whites. Some, like us, stick with Bordeaux as the appellation. I can’t claim that Sauvignon Blanc is better here than Marlborough, Sancerre, etc but there are pockets of Bordeaux where it works brilliantly most years.
Sémillon is underrated, (good Sauternes in years like 2001 and 2007 – what value) but I don’t go for dry Muscadelle – too, well, grapey.
4. What restricted grape variety would you most like to grow in Bordeaux if regulations allowed?
I’m trying out a few illegal vines in my ‘garden’ – all the usual suspects. I’ll have to let you know how we get on. Unlike Burgundy, we can plant several varieties, and with different clones and a choice of rootstocks. There are quite a few decisions to be made already. I’d like to try Syrah and Pinot Noir and a few whites. I doubt Riesling would work, but I’ll see how my plants get on.
5. Can you tell our readers a little more about your connection with celebrity chef’s Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein?
When we started making wine in 1999, I thought it would be good to have it on the list in top restaurants. Some wine merchants said ‘there’s no market for Bordeaux whites, thanks’ (aka piss off) and they were right. Not many people ask for it in the way that you’d ask for Pinot Grigio, New Zealand Sauvignon, Gruner Veltliner or whatever today. But I don’t think people care as long as there are some sound recommendations for the wine, and celebrated chefs seemed an obvious choice.
I was invited to lunch by a friend to Ramsay’s eponymous restaurant in Chelsea, as a thank you. I met Ronan Sayburn the sommelier and we got on well. I think Ronan was quite surprised by our first white that we’d made – he really liked it. What swung the deal was some keen pricing to match their existing house wine, but more importantly, I made up some dummy labels with Gordon’s signature on. These went down a storm, they selected us and soon after he won his 3rd Michelin Star.
It’s no mean feat that he’s kept the three stars for nearly a decade, although the press these days prefer to focus on any bad news surrounding Gordon. I have always found him and his father-in-law Chris Hutcheson, who is CEO, to be charming – and they’re very supportive of us. The sommeliers make their own choices, so I go and do a tasting fairly regularly, or they come to us. They list our whites, reds and our new, pale Provencal-like rosé.
I’ve known Rick Stein and his business partner, his ex-wife Jill, for many years now. Similarly to the Ramsay story, I went over to Cornwall some ten years ago and saw Roni, Jill’s sister, who is the head sommelier and a really nice person. Rick then visited us out here, as did Roni a bit later. Rick then made Bauduc one of his Special Selections on the front page of his list (I imagine his ‘food heroes’ must have had that same feeling when picked).
I guess we see them all about once a year – the new look Seafood Restaurant is a special place. My wife Angela and I are fond of Rick, Jill, and Roni, and Rupert the General Manager, and I think what they have achieved is fantastic. They have something like 40 rooms in Padstow now, as well as all the restaurants – go and stay, mention the Bauduc/Quinney connection and have a glass on me.
Special thanks to Gavin Quinney, Chateau Bauduc.
Our range from Chateau Bauduc.