The Entre Deux Mers is one of Bordeaux’s less talked about regions, especially when it comes to the production of fine wine. A day spent with the Despagnes demonstrates that with effort the E2M can produce wines of character and complexity, capable of rubbing shoulders with the best from some of the loftier appellations to the north and south.
Playing a game of word association with myself (I know I need to get out more), the word ‘Bordeaux’ makes me think firstly of wine, then more specifically red wine, followed by the elegant city of Bordeaux itself, the postcard pretty St. Emilion, the 1855 classification before a long list of famous appellations such as Pauillac, St.Julien, Margaux, Pessac Leognan and Sauternes. Eventually, a few places further down the list, sandwiched between the watery behemoths of the Garonne and the Dordogne I write, rather appropriately, ‘Entre Deux Mers’ (literally Between Two Seas), or E2M for short.
On arrival, and with only 36 hours in the region, the temptation to remain within Bordeaux’s city limits was very tempting. It was hot, the sky was cloudless and the intermittent whirr and hiss emanating from the fan and mist cooled terraces of pavement bistros was almost impossibly alluring. But I was here because I had a date, a date with the Despagne family of the E2M and so I forced the thought of an iced pastis to the back of my mind and climbed into my car for the short journey into the heart of one of Bordeaux’s less celebrated areas of wine production.
Those of you that have travelled to Bordeaux will know that much of the region is geographically unremarkable. For example the Medoc is rather austere with only the occasional fairytale-like Chateau, all thrusting turrets and gravel drives, punctuating the monotony of the tightly trellised monoculture that defines the landscape. In the Libourne, St Emilion has a hill (which feels quite precipitous if you’ve spent the last few days on the pan-flat left-bank) but there is no region in Bordeaux that is as pleasingly pastoral as the E2M.
The problem for the region is that its easiness on the eye has not historically been matched by a ready appreciation for the wines produced. This has left the E2M somewhat isolated from the notoriety achieved by some of its more glamorous northerly (St.Emilion) and southerly (Graves/Pessac) neighbours. The grapes grown are, as one would suspect, the same as those used in the rest of Bordeaux with Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc the leading players by colour. But history is there to be re-written; the past does not necessarily define the future.
As always, my reason for visiting the Despagne family was simple; they make great wine. What I was interested to discover was ‘How do they achieve this?’ ‘Why do they bother?’ and ‘What does it mean for the region as a whole?’ I have said many times before that many of the people I encounter in the wine trade are some of the most friendly, interesting and engaging people that one could ever ask to meet and Thibault, his sister Basaline, their brother Gabriel and their respective spouses and children welcomed me as if I was one of their own.
The common theme that helps realise ambition in so many walks of life is distinctly evident here; effort. The family knew that many of their soils had very similar characteristics to those that lie only an olympian’s stone throw away in St.Emilion. The climate is very similar so it did not take a huge leap of imagination to realise what it might be possible to achieve. Yet this did not prevent some neighbouring vignerons advising them of their folly once they decided to replant some of the vineyards using the high density, low fruiting zone approach of the most famous names of the region; but the Despagne’s have had the last laugh. Their top wine ‘Girolate’, is the result of this attention to detail, both in the vineyard and cellar, and since its debut in 2001 has achieved acclaim that has rightly thrust it into the upper echelons of Bordeaux’s best work.
In ascertaining why the Despagne Family have bothered to try to create something magnificent from a terroir that has long been considered mediocre, well that has something to do with pride. This family is proud to be from the Entre Deux Mers and they were never going to be average just because they did not have the benefit of being the children of a producer from Pomerol or Pauillac. They believe, and their wines demonstrate that their collective belief is well-founded.
But what does this mean for the E2M? Does having such a progressive family at the vanguard of the region strengthen the position of those around them? Of course it does. When I lived in the Languedoc the pioneering work of the likes of Aimé Guibert at Mas de Daumas Gassac and Laurent Vaillé at Grange des Pères proved beyond doubt that the Languedoc was capable of quality as well as quantity and they, along with others across the region, acted as beacons of excellence that helped raise the game of neighbouring estates.
Much still needs to be done before the E2M can be considered one of Bordeaux’s premier regions of production but as the Despagnes have proven; the reality is that it’s possible.
這天和自己玩單字聯想時（嗯，我知道我太宅了），我想到了波爾多（Bordeaux）一詞。提到波爾多，映入眼簾的自然是葡萄酒——特別是紅酒，接著是優雅的市區景色、如明信片般美麗的聖愛美濃（St. Emilion）酒村、1855年的分級制度，以及波雅克（Pauillac）、聖朱里安（St.Julien）、瑪歌（Margaux）、貝沙克－雷奧良（Pessac-Leognan）與索甸（Sauternes）等一長串知名的葡萄酒村。這份產區名單最後帶我來到兩海之間（Entre Deux Mers，簡稱E2M）——夾在加隆河（Garonne）與多爾多涅河（Dordogne）之間的巨大產區。
但這對於兩海之間又有什麼意義？有如此重視革新的領頭羊家族，是否足以強化產區周邊釀酒業者的地位？答案不言而喻。當我旅居南法隆格多克（Languedoc）時，Mas de Daumas Gassac酒莊的Aime Guibert和Grange des Peres酒莊的Laurent Vaille領先業界的成就，無疑證明了隆格多克能釀出品質與產量均佳的美釀。而他們與其它同產區的釀酒業者不但成為釀造卓越酒款的一盞明燈，更幫助提升了鄰近酒莊的品質。
兩海之間要成為波爾多頂級葡萄酒產區，要努力的還不少，但正如同Despagnes家族所證明，這並不是不可能的任務。（譯 / 艾蜜・emily）