"I'm going with the direction of the wine, without renouncing modernity, but always with this idea of the past, of this history..."
"A great wine is always born from a great grape", as Olivier Bernard likes to say. Thanks to a long and meticulous conditioning, the vineyard of La Solitude delivers today, vintage after vintage, grapes rich in both colour and aroma, collected at perfect maturity. In the manner of Chevalier, this last characteristic rests on a very high degree of requirement in terms of sorting of the grape selection.
"A great wine is always born from a great grape"
Largely inspired from the model developed over a long period at Chevalier, the process of elaborating white wines at La Solitude reveals a lot of precision in its gestures and in its approach.
The harvest gets placed in small crates over the course of maturity, grape by grape, through successive selections (up to four or five times for difficult years). This delicate operation is entrusted to a tight knit team of grape-pickers, brought together as they are accustomed to at Chevalier, primarily every morning, "When the temperature is still fresh".
The grape selection, comprised of batches formed through extremely selective criteria (variety, specific origin, age of the vineyard etc.) is then slowly pressed. The juice flows down by gravity into a buried vat. It is then decanted* before flowing into one year old barrels where the phases of vinification will all take place at once. This formula continues with the separation of the grapes selected into well identified batches which, in their diversity, compete intricately up until the final combination.
Solitude... Great precision in its gestures and in its approach...
The fermentation in casks and the regular stirring of the fine sediment lasts 9 to 10 months. The bottling happens before the following summer. The fining of the wine, which is not systematic, is only made when necessary. These choices performed with a great level of meticulousness, give the wine its precise character, with its freshness and power, its extreme elegance, its beautiful lasting taste in the mouth and its capacity to age well.
* Thanks to the drastic nature of the sorting, the extreme quality of the fruit goes hand in hand with that of the lees. It therefore becomes possible to noticeably elevate the turbidity rate of the must found in the barrels. This ingredient accrued from more significant mires undeniably gives an added body to the wine.
The harvest is done by hand, with small crates, by an oversized team, in order to operate in the quickest of deadlines in conjunction with weather conditions, so as not to "chase the grape harvest".
The precision of operations
During the sorting of the vine, the visual criteria, which determines the harvest of the white grapes isn't sufficient enough to guarantee the impeccable quality of the red grapes. With regards to the latter, the sorting procedure at the vine is then followed by another selection procedure around a table, after which de-stemming takes place. The grapes, successively sorted bunch by bunch, then grape by grape, are then transported towards the tanks by means of a system comprised of a mobile vat and an electric fork-lift truck, which avoids any pumping and preserves the integrity of the skin of the fruit, which is responsible for the tannins. Olivier Bernard adds: "It is precision which governs the grouping of these operations allowing the wines of La Solitude to avoid the pitfall of rustic simplicity."
A natural wine-making process
The vinification happens in vats, generally with internal wine yeast (that is to say wine yeast naturally present in our vines), with a moderated temperature base and a measured extraction comparing vintage, grape variety, and fragmentation.
The malolactic fermentation takes place in the barrels.
The evolution of the Domaine's wines towards a more supported structure, with fine and elegant tannins, authorises the winemaker to increase little by little the proportion of new wood during the raising process, this compliment being carried out via one year old wine barrels.
A grand project
Olivier Bernard states: "The same high standards at Chevalier are also at La Solitude. The purpose here is also to entirely produce a great classical wine expressing the component elements of the terroir... When we arrived at La Solitude, we found ourselves confronted by a merlot wine, fresh and fruity, but lacking in complexity. It was quickly understood that the potential of the terroir was being under-used and that surpassing these standards were conceivable. Thanks to the hot gravel soil of the Domaine, very favourable for maturing the cabernet grape, it was possible to guide the wine definitions towards a deeper, more complex structure, conforming to the very best of the Grand Cru wines of the wine producing region"
"The purpose, is to produce a great classical wine which fully expresses the elements of the terroir"
One of the dimensions of this gamble on the terroir was to gain in structure without the wine becoming nullified with rustic character. "We say traditionally that the signature of the terroirs of Léognan is their finesse, whilst those at Martillac generate "stronger" wines with more masculine tastes. It is true that this acknowledgement is confirmed when comparing the Chevalier wines with those of La Solitude. For the latter, the wine-producing process must take into account a certain amount of "spontaneity" in order to preserve its finesse".
Even if the dividends of the new system in place at La Solitude still haven't completely registered, it is clear that today the white wines of the Domaine, awaiting excellence, have already reached an elevated plateau in terms of quality, placing them amongst the elite of their counterparts. A niche which will soon join the red wines as soon as the terroir delivers its last secrets.
We are slowly working towards the emergence of a Grand Cru, brought by a land whose nuances mix intimately with hints of religious fervour.