THE SAINTE-CROIX-DU-MONT APPELLATION

A BIT OF HISTORY…

Dating from 1648, Château Bel Air is one of the oldest properties in the famous Saint-Croix-du-Mont appellation. Indeed the Meric family has worked this generous land for over ten generations. The property was formerly called Vilatte which is one of the oldest known neighborhoods of the town. Without needing to mention the ancient tribes which occupied the region in former times, we know that the Romans occupied an area which corresponds roughly to the Bordeaux region of today, building villas and introducing the vine, until then cultivated in Narbonne and Italy.

Following this period of colonization which lasted until the second century AD, this rich land soon became the object of envy and rivalry. It was subjected to countless conquests and invasions for centuries. In the XII century, Aquitaine was lost to the English crown when Eleanor of Aquitaine divorced Louis VII and brought her duchy as her dowry to the king of England, her new husband Henry Plantaganet. Aquitaine remained under English rule until the middle of the XV century. Part of this immense duchy, the land of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, which is located in what is called the Entre Deux Mers, was already known for the excellent wines produced on its slopes and hills that were particularly popular with the English. In order to protect themselves from French incursions a fortress named the Château de Tastes was built.

This castle enabled the monitoring and protection of goods being shipped along the Garonne. From 1316 to 1342, the King of England granted various privileges and franchises on the sale of wine within the “jurisdiction of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont.” Thus enjoying a greater degree of autonomy, commerce developed of which the wine trade played a major part. But this prosperous period was punctuated by the constant extortions by the French which marked the gradual regaining of the kingdom to which Aquitaine was finally reinstated in 1453.

The wine industry continued to flourish in the period that followed, according to writings of the XVI century. Henri IV called on Dutch expertise to drain the marshlands and other fellow countrymen were quick to follow these pioneers. Interested in the production of white wine which was the basis for preparing their national liquor, they first exported it and then planted vineyards themselves. It was they who introduced the new technique: the sulfur treatment. This involves burning a wick impregnated with sulfur inside the barrel. This stops fermentation while allowing residual sugars to be retained.

In the seventeenth century, Bordeaux belonged mainly to the parliamentary bourgeoisie or rich merchants who had "houses in the fields" built for themselves in this attractive area, surrounded by vineyards, both for rural leisure purposes and as winegrowing properties. According to legend, a knight returned to his vineyard from a crusade, to discover the benefits of noble rot on grapes, but there is no precise date to tell when exactly this took place. We onle know that at the time it was usual to harvest very late, resulting in a very rich wine requiring several years ageing in barrel.

This brings us to the second part of the nineteenth century when the vineyards of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont were hit by a phylloxera epidemic. This had a devastating effect on many vineyards in France. Fortunately measures were taken to limit the amount of damage done. The wine trade was maintained and wine was continued to be shipped by river. Today the wines of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont are still as popular as ever and with the help of interprofessional organisations which through their various activities ensure their promotion, the appellation remains protected.

A BIT OF GEOGRAPHY

The winegrowing area of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont itself, looks over the right bank of the Garonne and rises about one hundred meters above it. It occupies a good part of the total area of the commune and covers 450 hectares. This Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée from the Bordeaux region is widely recognized for the quality of its sweet white wines.

The vines, which are over 30 years old, enjoy a privileged south-south-east exposure, on a clay-limestone soil, enriched with marine fossils. Indeed, huge beds of fossilized oyster accumulated there in the Tertiary period, in the Early Miocene (beginning of the second part of the Tertiary), about 20 million years ago, in a lagoon next to a slightly raised area already present at the time, which still provide exceptional amounts of iodine. Light formations that cover the territory of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont include alluvial terraces, limestone or marl substratum, and a fairly general covering of light sediment of a more or less silty colluvium. These clay-limestone and gravel plateau enable the white grape varieties of this AOC to flourish and produce high quality.

In short:
Main appellation: Sainte-Croix-du-Mont ; Type of appellation: AOC-PDO ; Recognized since: 1936 ; Governing region: Vignoble de Bordeaux ; Location: Gironde ; Sub-region: Entre-deux-Mers ; Climate: Moderate maritime ; Soil: fossilized oyster beds ; Area planted: 450 hectares ; Dominant varieties: Semillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle ; Wines: sweet ; Production: 14 000 hectoliters in 2009 ; Minimum number of vines per hectare: 5000 vines per hectare ; Average yield per hectare: Maximum 40 to 44 hectoliters per hectare.

THE VINE

We use three main grape varieties to make our sweet wines

Sémillon

Semillon is a vigorous vine of a rustic nature, which grows vigorously but yields must be restricted in order to ensure quality. With the “taille à cots” of 4 or 5 or spurs with two eyes – we guarantee optimum quality. This finely skinned grape variety offers a perfect growing terrain for Botrytis cinerea.

Sauvignon

This white grape gives aromatic white wines of great finesse. Due to its high acidity it is often used in blending with Semillon. This variety which grows abundantly but is relatively low yielding needs to have its vigor kept under control through replacement cane pruning. It should also be grown on a less fertile soil and have a weak rootstock. Planting density and leaf stripping can also help manage yields. Sauvignon Blanc ripens very early, which is why it is the first to be harvested in order to retain its aromatic qualities.

Muscadelle

Muscadelle is a traditional white grape of Bordeaux. It is the third variety used to make the sweet wines of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont. Its interesting flavors and aromas compensate for the difficulties involved in growing it, due to its fragility and susceptibility to disease. Its pronounced flavours are partly due to the fact that it is fast ripening, which brings on the development of Botritis.

As is often the way with nature, chance, struggle and rivalry between species can lead to good and bad. Botrytis cinerea is a wonderful example of the former. It is a fungus that produces a grey mould which could potentially cause terrible damage. But this mould is also known as "noble rot". Indeed, it has the advantage of concentrating the grape sugars, naturally giving the wine its unique taste and aroma, hence its importance. Botrytis is present in the vineyard in the Winter. It awaits the arrival of Spring and comes back to life as the sun's heat intensifies and temperatures rise. Once flowering begins, it will colonize and remain passive until the time of veraison, or berry ripening. Towards the end of July, and into August, the mornings become cooler and damper again. The mist created by settling dew, combined with condensation rising from the local streams, brings on its development. However, the afternoons remain hot and dry restricting its growth. As it attacks the grape's skin purple spots appear. The combined action of the fungus, and the drying action of the sun, causing water to evaporate through cracks in the skins, concentrates sugars, certain acids and glycerol. The grapes become shriveled when they are fully ripened. It is only when the grapes have finally reached this stage known as "rôti ", that the harvest can begin, which explains why it takes place so late in the season. The perfectly ripe and healthy grapes are harvested by hand in successive pickings. This is a lengthy and delicate operation because it requires selective sorting, berry by berry, which often takes up to several weeks.