- 02 May 2017 -

Sauternes Study Trip: Part II - Shining light on Chateau Climens

I feel incredibly blessed to have been hosted by Chateau Climens for a welcome lunch and overnight stay during my study trip  in Sauternes. Three words spring to mind the moment I set foot inside the chateau – understated elegance with tradition and grace. This was the common thread which connected all my encounters with Climens, starting from the décor of the chateau, the antique pieces which adorn  each room, right down to the food and wines which were the shining light of this iconic establishment.

I arrived in Chateau Climens at around 1pm. Lunch was hosted by its proud owner Berenice Lurton and her commercial director Virginie. We started with canapés skillfully paired and served with its second wine Cypres de Climens in the sitting room followed by a three course lunch in the dining room next door. The focus here was to highlight the versatility of a sweet wine when paired with dishes of a higher salt and savoury taste profile and a delicate body which contrast with that of a weightier wine with a fuller body.

At this point, it was obvious to me that aside from making a name for herself as a perfectionist who constantly craves for betterment of the ultimate Climens’ style when crafting the wine for each vintage, Berenice also focuses on the flavours which accentuates and enhances the beauty and potential of her wines. For a few years she has been working with a local restaurant to come up with complimentary menus placing as much emphasis on the origins of the food as its commensurate quality when paired with her wines. She deliberately chose to focus on local produce which embrace the farm to table concept and dishes true to the tradition of the region.

I asked Berenice how does she know she had reached the point of perfection in the winemaking process for her wines in a given year. She purposefully laid down her eating utensils, stares ahead intensely at a given point and reaches out to that direction with her hands. “Its when you can taste and visualize that line….that specific point when you have harmony of all components. The wine must embody (the holy trinity, my words!) freshness, elegance and complexity. Three of us (including Frederic Nivelle) taste together and we will only make a wine if we are in complete agreement.” Chateau Climens is a handful of estates which had declassified the entire harvests, the most notable being 1992 and 1993 which were challenging vintages for the entire region. I really admire Berenice’s courage for doing so, especially given these vintages fall on the two years after she became owner operator of the chateau by her father Lucien Barton at the tender age of 22.      

We sampled a 2005, 2008 and 1996 Chateau Climens over lunch. All vintages including its second wine were stunning. I have always found Climens’ signature as one which displays purity of fruit; it is lighter in weight which displays a distinctive freshness but you can always rely on the underlying minerality.  This is the one  feature which distinguishes most classified estates in the Barsac commune from others in the appellation. This maybe the characteristics of the higher proportion of chalk and limestone intermixed with clay and sand. With Climens, these qualities are interlaced with an air of grace and elegance in its complex perfumed nose with aromas of candied citrus peel, ripe quince, tropical fruits and honey, and a feminine touch given the delicate roundness of its texture on the mouth.            

Words simply do not capture the magic of an overnight stay in Chateau Climens.  Aside from the sheer experience of staying in one of the top chateau in the appellation with the prestige of a Grand Cru Classe in the 1855 classification, it was quite an experience staying in a French estate with its history dating back to 1547. The impact of the climatic influences was stark as I opened the curtains first thing in the morning greeted by the smell of damp air. I can immediately feel that denseness of the fog given the moisture and humidity as a result of the confluence of temperature difference from the Gironde and Cirons river. It is quite remarkable to witness how the fog dissipates by late morning as warmth and dryness takes over. Photos of the scenery outside my bedroom window tells a thousand words.

There are many other points of difference in this chateau: A rarity in the appellation which planted 100% Semillon and makes a non-blended wine.  All 22 parcels of land sits on the highest point in the Barsac commune within the Sauternes appellation with one of the lowest yields. A chateau which vehement focus on precision is exemplified in harvest time as it employs a large group of Portugese harvesters who stand ready to harvest the botrytised grapes in the vineyards at the exact time when come the marching orders. 

Chateau Climens is the first classified sweet wine estate which was certified biodynamic by EcoCert with the first vintage being 2014.  The estate started adopting biodynamic farming techniques in 2010. When asked why she decided to go all the way, Berenice gave an interesting response. She recalled in the years leading up to the decision she felt it was harder for her to pinpoint that focal point of perfection of Climens in the winemaking process.

A dialogue with Jean-Michel and Corinne Comme who also consults for Chateau Pontet Canet left Berenice convinced a change is merited for her vines to become stronger and healthier, and for the wines to reconnect with the vibrancy and energy of Climens’ terrior thus find their own balance.  Despite the change was complex and challenging, the team witnessed notable changes in the health of each vine and how they gain increasing harmony as a whole in the vineyard. Virginie showed me the organic dried herbal tealeaves packed in large nylon bags housed in the large room with wide opened windows as we climbed up the stairs above the winery. The teas are used to help fight potential diseases in the vines. Some of the teas I could see range from Chamomile, Willow Tree, Cypress and Juniper Berry. They happen to be drying the nettles today! I wish you could take a sniff of the amazing aromas! 

; Sauternes Study Trip: Part III - Sauternes