We toured Chateau La Couspaude (more commonly referred to simply as “Couspaude”) and tasted with members of the owners’ family as a part of a tour from Bordeaux to Rioja with Iberian Wine Tours. Couspaude is a Grand Cru Classé from the St. Emilion appellation in Bordeaux’ Right Bank. We toured their 200 year old winery, a gorgeous and authentic stone building, and the perfect place to learn all about a winery that is rich in history.
The history of Couspaude is the history of two Bordeaux families. The Aubert’s first entered the wine business before the French Revolution with Joseph Aubert’s purchase of Chateau Labesse and Chateau Lagrave-Aubert. The Aubert family has acquired 8 wineries located in St. Emilion and Castillon under the umbrella of Vignobles Aubert. Couspaude was acquired by the Robin family in 1908 and joined under Vignobles Aubert when Edith Robin married Etienne Aubert in 1941.
Our tour at Couspade was lead by Cecile Aubert-Macarez, who manages the harvest and does the hosting duties at other times of the year, and her husband Bernard who is the export manager for all of the estates under Vignobles Aubert. Listening to them talk about the estate and its history showed just how important the past 250 years of building and learning has been to creating their wines of today. The techniques used in the vineyard and in the winery have been literally handed down from family member to family member for all of those years!
The winery and vineyard sit just on the edge of the town of St. Emilion. Their vineyard occupies seven contiguous acres and has remained the exact same size for over 300 years. Highly unusual in a wine world where vineyards are passed down to multiple family members. Only red grapes are planted, as is common for most wineries in St. Emilion. This is the Right Bank where clay-based soils keep the plants cool and favour early ripening grape varieties. 75% of the vines are Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The average age of the vines is 35 years. Vineyard management is meticulous with each plot managed separately to derive the most from these micro terroirs. Harvest is done by hand and the fruit is taken into the winery in small crates where it goes through a careful sorting.
Winemaking at Couspaude is very traditional. The grapes go through a cold maceration period of several weeks (where the must or juice remains in contact with the skins). This is done to extract phenolics (the various flavour compounds that make wine tasty) and colour from the skins. The temperature in this phase is controlled with dry ice. Keeping the grapes and the must cool during this phase is important to prevent spontaneous fermentations. Fermentation takes place after the macerated juice and skins are placed in small oak fermenters. The skins will naturally rise to the top of the fermenter and there they form a cap above the juice. This cap is punched down daily to the skins in contact with the must and develop further extraction during this fermentation phase. Once all of the grape’s natural sugars have been converted to alcohol, the juice is then transferred to new small oak barrels where it will age for 18–20 months. While in these small oak barrels it will go through malolactic fermentation, a process that converts sharp green acids to rounder, softer acids.
Couspaude is made in a very approachable style. While some Bordeaux wines, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines of the Left Bank, can take up to a decade or more to settle their tannins and become approachable, wines from the Right Bank, that tend to be more Merlot and Cabernet Franc dominant, show less astringency and generally an earlier approachability. Couspaude is made very much in that style. While these wines are capable of lasting 15 years or more, they are generally approachable right out of the gate and will be close to peak drinking after just 5 years. A refreshing change for Bordeaux drinkers who do not possess cold, damp cellars or who have hit retirement age!
Chateau Couspaude is terrific winery to visit. The building is beautiful and makes an excellent backdrop to learn the rich history of the Aubert family and their centuries in the wine business. Cecile and Bernard are terrific hosts who made us feel totally at home in this beautiful winery as we tasted through their line-up of delicious, Right Bank wines.
2014 Chateau Haut Gravet
Made from 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, this was surprisingly approachable for a four year old Grand Cru St. Emillion. Dark cherry fruit combines with secondary notes of earth, slight hints of vanilla and a spicy, black pepper note on the finish. The tannins are long and powdery dry, providing structure without going beyond that. There is a very pleasing, soft mouthfeel.
Here the dials get turned up a notch. The blend for this wine is 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Though the wine spent 18 months in new French oak barrels, you can barely detect it. The balance is excellent as the oak adds texture but no flavour. Black cherry flavours are joined by hints of dark chocolate and subtle woodsy notes. The mouthfeel is polished and smooth. The overall impression is one of elegance and class. While drinking very well right now, this wine shows plenty of potential to further develop for the next decade, and perhaps more. Excellent
Tel: + 33 (0)5 57 40 15 76