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'G' - A Chardonnay Grows in Bordeaux
By Roger Morris
May 7, 2024
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People who own wineries love to talk glowingly about their vineyards and the wonderful capabilities of their terroirs. While their children may grow up to be disappointments, they can always find solace in their good earth.

As with their children, winegrowers want the best possible opportunities for their vineyards. But, unlike with their kids, who might decide to become tattoo artists rather than neurosurgeons, winery owners can always dictate the future of their terroirs.

Can’t they?

Not always, especially in the classic regions of France. If your estate is fortunate enough to be in, say, Saint-Émilion, you better hope your terroir loves Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Planting anything other than the limited red Bordeaux varieties would lose you your Saint-Emmy status as well as seeming a bit out of step, a little like suggesting the vacant lot just off the Place de Marechal Leclerc should be turned into a football pitch when everyone knows that real men in the Aquitaine traditionally play rugby.

Alexandre de Malet Roquefort plans to retire from overseeing his family château soon. Fortunately, the kids are alright, so he and his two siblings, all now in their 50s, are in the process of handing over to this next generation the management of Château La Gaffelière, located at the southern entrance to Saint-Émilion’s old town, and their related properties. Since Malet Roquefort’s family has owned La Gaffelière since 1705, it is of considerable sentimental attachment – and financial importance – to Alexandre.    

“But while I still am in control,” Alexandre thought, “I am going to forget rugby and let them play football on my terroir.”

Not literally, of course, but while he was still managing things he did have the desire to make and enjoy the wines which he thought would truly be the best expression of his Saint-Émilion terroir, tradition be damned. And so he decided to do it: He would make a forbidden white wine. Not only that, he would make it not from Sauvignon Blanc, the Bordeaux grape permitted in the Médoc and Entre-Deux-Mers, but from Chardonnay, the traditional grape of Bourgogne, that heathen region in the East of the country.

“We have this lovely little plot with clay and limestone, but which also has a lot of humidity,” Malet Roquefort told me in a recent interview, “and truthfully it did not make the best Gaffelière. We also know that many years ago, Saint-Émilion made white wines, and my father and I always thought this plot would be good for making a white wine.”

There was an additional reason, he said. La Gaffelière lies at the foot of a slope, just down the hill and a little around the bend from the fabled Château Ausone, which sits at the edge of the Saint-Émilion plateau. “For many years, our wines have had the reputation of making the most Burgundy-like red wines in Saint-Émilion – not black wines, certainly not those in the Parker fashion,” he says.

So in 2015 he planted that plot – about a half-hectare (just over an acre) – with the assistance of well-known Bordeaux winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt. “Stéphane was excited by the idea,” Malet Roquefort says, “and he loves Burgundy. He chose the three different clones for planting.”

Winemaking, he says, is similar to that of Burgundy. Basically, let the grapes chill overnight, press into four barrels and perform battonage over the next several months.

But there is one difference – rather than make Chardonnay as a vintage wine, Malet Roquefort blends together two or three vintages, calling each one “Episode” and numbering each accordingly. “Eight years after planting, we are now into ‘Episode 3’” Malet Rochefort says.

He calls the wine “G Chardonnay by Gaffelière,” and only 500 bottles were made of Episode 1, 800 of Episode 2 and 1,200 of Episode 3, about the maximum. The little that is currently available in the United State is being sold at Wally’s in Las Vegas for $230 a bottle.

Since it cannot be called Saint-Émilion or even Bordeaux, the wine is labeled as a Vin de France. “That sounded a little better than Vin de Pays,” he says. What does it taste like? I don’t know – it’s too rare and too expensive for me, and the château understandably doesn’t provide samples.

“G” sells at $230 and Château La Gaffelière for less than $100 – well, why not plant the whole vineyard in Chardonnay? Obviously, the rarity factor would be gone, and the rest of the terroir might not be Chardonnay-receptive. “Perhaps one-half hectare more,” Malet Roquefort hedges.

And having committed sacrilege once, Malet Roquefort decided to commit sacrilege twice. In the 2022 vintage, La Gaffelière produced a 100 percent unblended Cabernet Franc – 2,000 bottles of it – in addition to the regular La Gaffelière, and it will be released this year. It is called G Cabernet Franc and will be a partner to the G Chardonnay.

“I think I must have lived in Burgundy in a prior life,” Malet Roquefort muses. I believe that is permitted in France.