TV Review: The Faith - A Year in the Life of Chateau Margaux

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  • Tuesday 24 February 2009

The BBC’s enjoyable wine series continued last night with an almost tongue-in-cheek portrait of Chateau Margaux.

‘Which many people,’ narrator Matthew Macfadyen says, ‘consider to be the world’s greatest wine estate.’

Whereas the previous episode highlighted the crass reality of the en primeur circus, this is the face that Bordeaux feels more comfortable showing: the genteel life of a first growth.

Although the fact that it was filmed during disastrous 2008 summer (endless shots of rain dripping off vine leaves, big umbrellas frequently deployed) was not unfortunate.

The programme takes its title from ‘the semi-religious fervour that surrounds these (First Growth) chateaux’, and looks at the key figures that contribute to both producing the wine, and to propagating the myth.

Owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos comes across as charming and unpretentious – ‘I don’t deserve this. I was lucky to have this man for a father... I say that every morning’ – and the programme ends with her singing as she wanders through the vines with her dog Zorba.

Managing director Paul Pontallier - a man for whom the word 'urbane' could have been coined - is organising a charity dinner in Beijing to raise money for relief efforts after the Sichuan earthquake.

‘People have been hurt by this dramatic natural disaster and this is a good way to help them,' he says, looking almost moved - an effect somewhat undercut by his continuing, without a beat, 'and at the same time to introduce Chateau Margaux to some wealthy Chinese.'

It's fascinating to see the famous Margaux label on bottles with Stelvin and synthetic corks (they have been running tests for years), and to watch the tasters try to outdo each other with derogatory comments. ‘This definitely tastes strange.’ ‘Yes, and there’s a strange smell.’

But the real starring roles go to Herve the butler, who looks pleased to have landed such an enjoyable job, and the various teams working in the vineyard, who are invariably painfully honest.

We are told that ice cream sales in Bordeaux during August 2008 were down 73% on the previous year due to the rain.

Pontallier says the weather is ‘not, a priori, what I would have chosen’. The camera cuts to the vineyard manager: ‘if the weather continues like this, even if the grapes ripen they will be rotten.’

The Faith will be shown on BBC1 on February 23, 9pm.

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