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A Radical in Bordeaux


The Bordelais measure time in centuries and follow their ancestors’ footsteps with pride. And that is a big problem, says Christian Mabille, owner of Domaine de Cantemerle, an estate in Saint-Gervais producing Bordeaux Supérieur wines.
The recent decade of hot, erratic weather in this Atlantic coast region of France has convinced Mabille that Bordeaux’s climate is deteriorating. To protect his estate, he says, it is his responsibility to prepare for change.
When the vigneron and his sons selected white grape varieties to plant on their currently all red wine estate, they rejected the sauvignon blanc, sémillon and muscadelle grapes dictated by Bordeaux’s strict AOC rules. Instead, they will be planting chardonnay, marsannay and other white wine grape varieties he is selecting from the Corbières region in the south of France.
“It is an experiment,” he says. Corbières offers a reasonable idea of what Bordeaux will be like in the future, according to Mabille’s consultants and the vigneron’s gut instincts. But this is just the beginning of the search for the right white wine grape for Bordeaux’s future.
It is a radical and risky step and Mabille and his sons are taking it alone. The chances of his entire estate losing its AOC distinction are very real. The financial loss would be ruinous.
“My friends think I am crazy,” says Mabille. “I think I am only a little ahead of the curve.” When the reality of climate change sinks in, the rules and traditions will change. “Oh my goodness, it will be like the explosion of a bomb.”
Mabille bought his estate in 1998 after a career as a medical doctor and he says his work in science along with his family’s long history making wine give him “fresh eyes.” He is dedicating at least three hectares of his 60 hectares of vines to his experiment.
Climate change researchers have been raising questions in Bordeaux for a decade. But the work, says Mabille, has focused on adapting currently grown grape varieties so that they might better withstand the new erratic weather cycles and temperature extremes.
“We don’t know of anyone as advanced with their plans as we are,” says Mabille. “But we do know is that people are thinking about the need to adapt.”

Corie Brown, the co-founder and general manager of Zester Daily, is an award-winning food and wine writer. "Start Your Own Microbrewery, Distillery, or Cidery," a book she wrote with reporting from Zester Daily's network of contributors, was released by Entrepreneur Books in June 2015.