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.

 

Despagne家族:波爾多皇室

 

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。

這一次造訪波爾多,我只打算待上36小時,但萬里無雲的天空和炙熱的氣溫,著實讓我難以走出市區。風扇發出的間歇性呼呼聲響,和小酒館灑下了水霧的清涼露天雅座,更令人難以離開。然而,惦記著和Despagne家族有約,我硬是把點上一杯冰鎮法國茴香酒(pastis)的念頭拋諸腦後,強迫自己爬上車,前往兩海之間這個較不知名的波爾多產區中心。

去過波爾多的人都知道,這裡的地理景觀稍嫌平淡無奇。以景色樸素的梅多克(Medoc)來說,除了偶有童話般的城堡建築、突出的塔樓和礫石車道點綴其中,放眼望去,多是千篇一律、排列緊密的單一栽培葡萄園。利布恩市(Libourne)的聖愛美濃雖有緩坡(在地勢極為平坦的左岸待上幾天後,會覺得右岸聖愛美濃頗有陡峭之姿),但綜觀整個波爾多,沒有一個產區比兩海之間更具田園風光之美。

該產區最大的問題,莫過於這美景所釀出的優秀酒款,向來沒能獲得同等認可。不難想像,這裡的主要釀酒品種和波爾多其它地區相同,其紅、白酒分別以梅洛(Merlot)和白蘇維濃(Sauvignon Blanc)為主。然而,相較於北邊(聖愛美濃)與南邊(貝沙克-雷奧良)等魅力十足的鄰居產區,兩海之間顯得有些被孤立。但歷史是可以被改寫的,過去並不一定代表了未來。

一如往常,這次我拜訪Despagne家族的理由相當簡單:他們釀出品質優異的葡萄酒。我想知道的是,他們如何成功釀出頂級美酒、為何費事在兩海之間釀酒,以及這對於產區整體而言,又代表了什麼。我常說,我在葡萄酒業界認識的很多人都非常親切、有趣且熱心。Despagne家的Thibault、Basaline、Gabriel也不例外;他們一家人,包括伴侶和小孩子們所接待我的態度,簡直把我當成他們的一份子。

在人生許多道路上,幫助他們實現目標的共同方法相當明確:盡一切力量。Despagne深知自家葡萄園的土壤屬性與鄰近的聖愛美濃相當類似,就連氣候也是,因此不需要太多想像力,即可以想見自家葡萄園的優秀潛力。然而,當他們以高密度和低結果區(fruiting zone)等植哉方式重新種植自家知名度最高的葡萄園時,仍免不了招來鄰居酒農勸退的建議。不過,就這件事來看,Despagne家族才是最後的勝利者。酒莊的頂級白酒Girolate,是經過葡萄園與酒窖等所有細節都嚴格把關後,所釀出的精品。甫首年份2001年推出後,Girolate已獲得各方高分評價,並躋身波爾多頂級酒款之列。

至於Despagne家族為何費事地在這個向來被視為僅有中庸風土的產區打造品質頂尖的酒款?這和自尊有關。該家族以來自兩海之間為榮,更絲毫也不打算因不是出身於玻美侯(Pomerol)與波雅克等明星產區,而屈居平庸。他們相信、更證明了自己實在的信念。

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)

 

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