Château Carsin – Bordeaux wines in a league of their own

After a chance encounter with a Finnish bloke at the Bordeaux beer shop the other week, I found myself being treated to an exclusive wine tasting and bespoke tour of one of Bordeaux's most fascinating and unique vineyards

Château Carsin - a Finnish institution 25 minutes south of Bordeaux 

          Château Carsin is Bordeaux’s (and France’s) only Finnish-run vineyard and set up shop here in 1990. The founder and MD Juha Berglund is the son of world famous Finnish violinist and conductor Paavo Berglund who personally worked with and interpreted Sibelius throughout his internationally acclaimed career. Indeed, Juha himself started out as a violinist (the chateau’s violin logo gives a nod to the owner’s musical roots) before discovering a passion for wine in the 80’s which was to ignite the trail for Bordeaux. Over the past 30 years he has built up a veritable wine empire starting with the Decanter wholesale wine accessory shop in Helsinki (they are the sole supplier of Riedel glassware for the whole of Finland) followed by the country’s first wine magazine Viini - now an independent company and main organiser of Finland’s wine trade fair Viini Expo and the Wine, Food & Good living fair. He has written a number of wine-related books including -

 Viiniä mieli (Thinking about wine), Otava 1994
Makuasioita viinistä ja ruoasta (Tastes of wine and food) Written together with Antti Rinta-Huumo and Pekka Immonen, 1998 Otava
Ruoasta Viiniin (From food to wine) Written together with Antti Rinta-Huumo and Antti Vahtera, 2011 Otava
Ruoasta Viiniin, (From food to wine, taste travel through Europe). Written together with Antti Rinta-Huumo, Jaakko Heinimäki and Antti Vahtera, 2013 Otava
Viinistä viiniin - The tasting book “From Wine to Wine”, which includes tasting notes from all the wines available in the Finnish monopoly shop Alko. Updated and published every year. Written together with Antti Rinta-Huumo since 1999, Otava

Since 1999 he has been the co-editor of the renowned Viinistä viiniin (From Wine to wine) guide. If all that wasn’t enough, he also happens to be Chairman of their 4th generation family owned Finnish clothing company Nanso!
Juha Berglund, - a visionary winemaker

The foreign invasion of Bordeaux…

          Despite a mountainous magnitude of ludicrous local claptrap to the contrary (or words to that effect…), Bordeaux has a long and established history as a melting pot of international winegrowers and merchants. The colourful spectrum of past and present chateau owners includes Belgians, Irish, English, Japanese, Australians and Americans (along with the banks and insurance companies!) - more recently, Russian and Chinese investors have also appeared on the horizon. According to Nicolle Croft from the SIP Wine blog, "inflated land prices causes problems with the locals as it raises inheritance tax which makes it increasingly difficult for them to keep it in the family".

          Over the last few years, the upsurge of Chinese buyers investing in local vineyards has been the talk of the town. So far they have only been interested in smaller châteaux from more modest appellations but their arrival as part of China’s wine-mania has been the cause of a fair amount of local anxiety…
The Chinese wine market - about as solid as a snake soup sandwich...
          
          Maxwell-Storrie-Baynes, which acts as Christie’s Bordeaux affiliate, has compiled a table of purchases since the late 1990s and finds at least 40 chateaux are Chinese-owned. However according to partner Michael Baynes, “There’s a totally different reaction in Bordeaux; we’re delighted to have the Chinese here. They couldn’t have come at a better time. This region has a long history of foreign investment, from the Irish to the Belgians, the English, Australian magnates, Americans, Brazilians, Saudi princes. It’s nothing new.”
Baynes also notes that in a region of 8000 chateaux, Chinese owners represent only 0.5% of ownership. “In the grand scheme of things they are a blip on the radar.”

          The chateaux of the Bordeaux heartland are such a treasured part of French culture and ‘terroir’ that many feel that they have to be protected from foreign ‘invasion’ at all costs. The fact that numerous chateaux here have been under international ownership since the year dot and that the entire Bordeaux wine industry was created by the English anyway seems to have been conveniently forgotten! 
Bordeaux wine - planted by the Romans, fostered by the English, spiced up by the Finnish
          
          There have however been occasions when the locals were possibly ill-advised to sell out to the highest bidder – in 2012, the 18thcentury Château Bellevue in Yvrac, bought up by a Russian oligarch in 2010 for €800 000 was mistakenly bulldozed by Polish builders specially flown in for their high-quality renovation skills. The original 13 000 sq m chateau, which featured grand horseshoe steps and a once palatial ballroom, previously hired out for wedding receptions and functions was reduced to overpriced Renaissance rubble in a couple of fun-filled hours (they were only meant to demolish the outhouse...) It has since been rebuilt in conformity with modern French construction regulations complete with a large pool and sleazy-looking palm trees and apparently now looks like it was bought “in Ikea”…
Château Bellevue - "an architectural gem"
The "Pride and Joy" of local village Yvrac
How to bulldoze an 18th century priceless UNESCO heritage site in under 2 hours...
And rebuild it again as tastefully as possible - TOP JOB LADS...!!!
          
          On the flip side you have vineyards like the English owned Château Bauduc in Creon who grow, produce and bottle the house wines for Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and the Hotel du Vin and deliver to customers at home from their cellars near London – they also rent out their farmhouse which has a tastefully done pool!

The inspiration behind Château Carsin’s wines

          The Carsin story started in the Petaluma wine ‘cult’ in Coonawara between Adelaide and Melbourne where Juha earned his winemaking stripes. It was here that the ‘New World spirit’ of the chateau was born under the guidance of Australian Mandy Jones who was head winemaker at the château for 14 years. Having invested in 5 container-loads of New World cellar equipment, Carsin wanted to break the Bordeaux mould and stand out from the 20 000 or so vineyards that were in business in the early 90’s. And this they did in no uncertain terms. By becoming the ‘black sheep’ of Bordeaux and abandoning all local winemaking methods they focused on the cellar-work to create entirely New World Bordeaux wines. As time has passed (the number of Bordeaux vineyards has also dropped to around 8000), they have gradually shifted back to more traditional methods of viticulture with a focus on ‘terroir’. Their goal today is to present the characters of the different soils in the various vineyard parcels they have dotted around the area.
Then there are the grapes…

Repatriating Bordeaux classics – quality over quantity

          Continuing to buck the trend in spectacular fashion, Château Carsin works with a wide range of grape varieties. As well as the standard fare (Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc for whites; Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc for reds) they have been experimenting with lesser know rare and nearly extinct varieties such as Sauvignon Gris, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. For example, they produce a white (L’Etiquette Gris) from Sauvignon Gris which was almost entirely out of use in Bordeaux. Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste it but description is mouth watering: Sauvignon Gris wines (with their pinkish grey grapes) are characterized by the aromas of gooseberries with flowery and perfumed characteristics. The acidity level packs a punch and the wines have a strong concentration of flavors
Dry white made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc - fresh with citrus aromas - rich with toasty and honey characteristics after a little ageing

“We want to get closer to the roots of the wine”

          For the reds, they have reclaimed the Malbec grape for the Bordeaux region which was somehow transplanted to become the main variety of Argentina. The full flavoured spicy characteristics of the grape are put to good use in their formidable Château Carsin Rouge dinner wine which went perfectly with the chilli-con carne we had last Saturday night. The Carmenere is another of their spicy secret weapons which has found notoriety in Chile and is used in the blend of the Carsin reds to add complexity and personality.
Cuvée Noire red is made using a higher percentage of Merlot using specially selected grapes of all the red grape varieties that we produce: Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere and Petit Verdot. The wine has rich and intense fruit flavors as well as aromas of earthiness, berries, leather and light smoke...
Cuvée Vintage, which has been produced in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2012 is their answer to the Bordeaux fine wine competition. The wine is a classic ”Bordeaux Claret” in style and is a combination of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Very smooth mouth feel and deep intensive dark aromas and is partially matured in new oak barrels to give potential for long ageing

          The range of land parcels owned by the château also help with their experimental quest for the perfect wine – they currently own 22 hectares spread out over a 5km area. Their location in the ‘Côtes de Bordeaux’ provides some variety in the soil composition with gravel areas being used to give grapes ripeness and more intensive aromas and clay to produce heavier and stronger wines. They also experiment with biodynamic cultivation – everything is worked manually and they have been testing out different lunar/star cycles. Then there are the Finnish volunteers who line up in their hundreds to come to Bordeaux and handpick grapes in the Aquitaine sun.
There are worse views to wake up to
Sauvignon Gris grapes in action

Finnish picker parties

          For a country of 5 million, Château Carsin is understandably a bit of a local celebrity in Finland’s wine community. As there is no wine trade to speak of, anyone with a passion for the drink has to look further afield. With the prohibitive cost of all alcohol in Finland, it is logical that they might want to head south for sunny booze-filled afternoons – after all that’s exactly why I left the UK… They receive hundreds of volunteer applications spread throughout the year to come and work down here. 
Ville, the resident tech guy - he also likes to get the beers in...

          During the grape harvest they have a team of 40 voluntary pickers (WWOOFER ‘slaves’) who live in-house and are fed like royalty. This helps to keep them in top shape for the 100 000 kg of grapes picked by hand
The lady-pickers are so busy, they simply don't have time to wax
          Over the years there have also been hosts of resident chefs who come to ply their trade (many of whom have gone on to greater Michelin-starred glory later on). Then there are the wine fuelled parties which help everyone to sleep in a variety of scattered and bizarre locations in the chateau (Juha has a preference for a spot behind the grand piano in the library…).
Wine-fuelled dinner parties and haute cuisine - the good life!
Magret cooked over vine leaves at sunset... Nuff said

Marketing the grog

          From their 22 hectares, the château will produce around 70 000 litres in 2015 (compared with 50 000 for 2014), all of which is sold outside France. Red makes up 60% of exports with white at 30% and rosé/sweet (appellation Cadillac) wines at 10%. Finnish sales are exclusively online (the government's "Alko" monopoly has tightened the screws on all booze sales) and account for 40-45 000 bottles – Rosé is happily on the rise as it is in England. The rest of the market is shared between Finland, China, Sweden, Australia, England and Germany. 
The final words go to the owners...


Even though we have become more traditional over the years, we still use some New World equipment and techniques in our cellars. Our fresh white wines are meant to be consumed relatively young, and the reds can be drank younger or older. Our aim is not to create wines that have to be aged for 20 years before they’ve reached their peaks. Although what we produce is mostly in a Bordeaux style we above all want to stand out from the crowd.  Nea Berglund, Juha’s daughter who works at the winery


“We are looking for a wine that has more attack, a wine that has more balls.”


Cheers...


Château Carsin, 33410 Rions,
Aquitaine

tel - (+33) 7 87 36 37 61 / Nea
Homepagewww.carsin.com
email - info@carsin.com

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