Chateau La Couspaude in St. Emilion has a well earned reputation for producing high quality wine at fair prices. The wine is a unique expression of St. Emilion. It’s round, rich and ripe, and consumers flock to it as it drinks well early. To find out how La Couspaude coped with the difficult 2011 Bordeaux growing season, we spoke with Vanessa Aubert.
Jeff Leve: We know this is still very early, but at this point, what vintage does 2011 remind you of?
Vanessa Aubert “The 2011 reminds us of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage for the exceptional fruit expression. Although 2011 has more structure and substance. The 2011 Bordeaux vintage will also be better known for its fruit and beautiful material. However it’s important to remember, we always have a low pH in La Couspaude because of our terroir, It’s a natural effect for us”.
Jeff Leve: How would you describe the 2011 growing season?
Vanessa Aubert “The season started really early. We had summer weather from April. In June we were worried because of the drought. The berries were really small. The rain in July helped to restart the maturity process. The summer wasn’t too hot, but with the difference of temperature during night and day, that gave good conditions to develop the aromas. The warm end of the season finished the maturation process and helped concentrate the berries with a good effect on the phenolic ripeness”.
Jeff Leve: When did you start harvesting in 2011 at La Couspaude?
Vanessa Aubert “We started with the merlot on the 26, 27and 28 of September and we finished with the Cabernet’s on the 4 and the 5 of October”.
Jeff Leve: Were you able to take advantage of the warm weather Bordeaux experienced at the end of the harvest?
Vanessa Aubert “Yes. The major advantage was on the cabernet maturity. The warm weather at the end of September and the beginning of October allowed the cabernets to ripen fully. This could be one of the most beautiful cabernets we have had yet”.
Jeff Leve: Was the 2011 Bordeaux growing season an early harvest for you in St. Emilion?
Vanessa Aubert “If the harvest was earlier this year, it’s because of the exceptional weather of 2011. We started our harvest when we thought we had the best level of phenolic ripeness and the best balance”.
Jeff Leve: Did the drought and stress present you with any unique challenges with the 2011 Bordeaux harvest?
Vanessa Aubert “The drought presented a lot of stress for all vinegrowers in June. We remember the 2003 vintage which was a big challenge because of that. In La Couspaude the subsoil is a natural hydric regulator. The challenge is less important than on others terroirs as the gravel terroir. As we have several estates with several unique terroirs, we were more worried for our estates on gravels like in Lalande de Pomerol (Château Jean de Gué) or in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux (Château Lagrave-Aubert). This was maybe the first time we were happy to have rains in July, which helped the maturity process, as too much hydric stress might block the maturity process”.
Jeff Leve: Did your St. Emilion vines suffer from sunburn during the spring?
Vanessa Aubert “Our vines don’t suffer too much from sunburn during the spring, because of our terroir. But if the weather did not change maybe the problem would have been worse”.
Jeff Leve: Do you use optical sorting at your Bordeaux estates?
Vanessa Aubert “We are interested in optical sorting. We already use a mechanical sorting table with density selection at our estates in Bordeaux Superieur and in Cotes de Castillon. But at Château La Couspaude in St. Emilion, we use the traditional sorting table. We sort three times, first on grape bunches and then on the berries. 10 people are on the line and we train the sorters ourselves”.
Jeff Leve: Did you add new equipment or make changes or improvements to your wine making facilities this year?
Vanessa Aubert “This year we conducted our traditional vinification process in coned shaped oak vats for 50% of the harvest. We added a new process for the other 50% : the “Vinification intégrale”. We improved on this process since the 2008 vintage. It’s really the traditional vinification in French oak barrels. We work with our supplier who comes to open and close the barrels. We select our own wood that we age before the barrels are built. Our challenge is to control our barrels quality to help express all the elegance of our terroir more than the oak aromas”.
Jeff Leve: What yields do you expect this year?
Vanessa Aubert “We will have 33 hl/ha”.
Jeff Leve: What specific choices will you need to make during the vinification for your 2011 Bordeaux wine?
Vanessa Aubert “As the grape skins were not too thin, we gave the priority to the cold maceration before start the alcoholic fermentation. We choose to make a smooth extraction in “post maceration”. As we had ripe grape seeds, it was interesting to make a long maceration to keep the good tannins. We prefer to take time to extract all the potential of our berries and work gently”.
Jeff Leve: Can you please share some technical information? What are your potential alcohol levels and pH numbers?
Vanessa Aubert “Our alcohol level is 13.5% which is a traditional level for us. Our pH is around 3.50. But as we haven’t finished the malolactic fermentation yet, the final pH will be known later”.