Jane Anson meets an Australian who is making wine on the edge of Bordeaux's Right Bank...
We have Château Margaux in AOC Margaux, Château de Cérons in AOC Cérons, Château de Lussac in AOC Lussac…… and Château Cadillac in, well AOC Bordeaux Supérieur.
It’s not even in the town of Cadillac itself, where there is in fact another ‘Château de Cadillac’, but over on the Right Bank in Cadillac-en-Fronsadais (which sounds like it should be in AOC Fronsac, but let’s not go there…).
If you’ve worked your way around all of this confusion and made it to the estate, the first thing that you see when you drive up to the imposing 13th century moated château is a plot of vines standing at 55m above the Dordogne river with a sign gloomily announcing ‘Au Bout du Monde’ (the End of the World).
I rather like the idea that this crazily-named estate is owned today not by an aristocratic Frenchman but by an Australian businessman called Richard Serisier, just adding to the improbability of it all. And an Australian who, when he’s not making wine, is producing corks from Portugal – a closure not exactly widely associated with his home country.
It wasn’t Serisier who named the plot Au Bout du Monde, much as it feels like he might have done. In fact the name dates right back to 1377, when a group of Breton soldiers camped on the field before ransacking the castle during the Hundred Years War and killing all the occupants.
They came from a tiny area on the extreme west of Brittany called Finistère (Finis Terrae in Latin, or the end of the earth), so-named for much the same evident reasons as Land’s End. So what with their origin, and perhaps also the fact that it turned out to be very much the end of the world for the inhabitants of the Château, the name stuck. The fact that the latest owner is from a country that sailors once called ‘the land at the end of the world’ just adds to the poetry.
Richard Serisier has a history of his own in Bordeaux. His great great grandfather Jean Emile Serisier was a shipping agent in the Chartrons district of the city, leaving in 1839 for Australia, where he planted vines in Dubbo, New South Wales.
The family remained in Australia ever since (Serisier tells me that Jean-Emile wasn’t actually planning to stay, but had appendicitis when his ship arrived in the colony of Sydney, and it didn’t then wait for him to recover before sailing on).
The story clearly struck a chord with his great great grandson, who headed back to Bordeaux and bought Château Cadillac in 2004, after studying farm management in Australia, a skill that helps him now as he tries to raise his 18ha estate above the price and reputation constraints of the generic Bordeaux appellation.
He cites Yves Vatelot’s Château de Reignac and Baptiste Guinaudeau’s Château Grand Village (in a neighbouring commune) as inspirations and quality objectives.
To achieve this, he is concentrating on three different wines from three different plots; the 100% Merlot Le Bout du Monde being the main production, with smaller amounts of Château Montravel and Château Meillan.
Not, you might notice, a Château de Cadillac, because that name proved a step too far for the authorities, who claim it would be confusing for consumers looking for Château Cadillac in Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux (Serisier has not, as I understand it, entirely given up on this, recognising the power of the word Cadillac in overseas markets, so we’ll see what happens).
‘The Bordeaux system is designed to protect the status quo. I get that, but this huge disconnect of reputation between appellations makes it extremely difficult to overachieve at the lower end, there are just so many barriers to entry,’ he says, not without reason.
We walk through the Bout du Monde vines, looking at his extensive replanting programme, and over to Château Meillan where for now the wines are made, although there are plans to build a cellar back at Château Cadillac.
This makes sense to me, as image counts for a lot if you are trying to stand out in the smaller appellations, and this is a 100% pure gold castle, dating back to the 1200s with the current ‘new build’ as Serisier puts it built in 1500 to 1503 by a descendent of John Neville, created the first Baron de Cadillac by Edward II.
The wines have clear potential, and are particularly succulent in the 2015 and 2016 vintages, as you would expect, with my favourites being the liquorice-filled Montravel 2015 and Le Bout du Monde 2016, with its prominent fruit and saline lick on the finish.
Serisier splits his time between France and the UK, from where he runs his cork business, which, you may not be surprised to learn, is a little more high tech than your average.
Called ProCork, Serisier is the majority shareholder and co-owner with the inventor (also an Australian) Dr Gregor Christie. It’s a cork that could perhaps only have come out of the Australian winemaking school of hyper-sensitivity to faults, because it comes with a special polymer crystalline membrane at each end of the cork, one to protect against TCA and another to ensure continued oxygen transmission.
I have a record of trials being done on this cork with the 2005 vintage at Château La Dauphine, the first Bordeaux winery to try them out, with Christie telling me at the time, ‘ProCork lets in just a tiny bit less air than a normal cork which is what we have found works best in our trials’. The technology was invented in Australia in 2002, using Portuguese corks, with Serisier coming in as investor in 2010. The company today is making 200 million of them per year.
‘I know it’s ‘not normal’ for an Australian to favour cork closures over screw cap but cork is just something I have always preferred.
For me, and many others, it seems more authentic for wine to be under a cork,’ Serisier told me, adding with a smile. ‘I also liked the idea that it was an ‘Aussie’ innovation that combined tradition with technology.
‘Maybe it reminds me of my European heritage and my New World upbringing.’