Sauternes in the Making: Visit & Tasting at Ch. Suduiraut

The making of all great wines starts in the vineyard, they say. It is true in the case of the 1er Cru Sauternes property, Ch. Suduiraut, too, who devote a great deal of their time to maintaining a healthy and balanced vineyard. Most of the vineyards, approx 80-82 ha, is in one piece and there is another 10 hectares, which are situated close to the vineyards of Ch. d’Yquem, the unquestioned superstar of the region nestled majestically on top of the hill in the heart of the Sauternes region.
At Suduiraut the proportion of the grapes is 90% Semillon and 10% Sauvignon Blanc, which are planted by variety with Sauvignon Blanc, and the miniscule quantity of Sauvignon Gris on clay; and the Semillon on limestone and gravel. This latter mix of soils is typical of the village of Preignac and results in a more voluptuous style.
As for the vineyard, there are some 26 workers to manage it. The aim is to achieve concentration of flavours in healthy grapes. For that reason, the vines are set to low yielding by leaving 3 to 4 shoots per vine and 1 bunch per shoot. There is a low intervention philosophy behind vineyard management, so Bordeaux-mix is used mostly and there is only one synthetic spray applied. Pesticides and insecticides are unknown at Suduiraut, instead natural predators are encouraged to fight insects.
There are 3 to 5 pickings during the harvest to ensure consistency of ripeness and the spread of botrytis. The grapes are first pressed in pneumatic press at 2bars and then in a hydraulic one at 9 bars. The must is chilled and settled to clarify it. Some sulphur is added at this stage. After settling the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts, that is yeast cultures from the vineyards and cellar. Once the alcoholic fermentation is almost done, the liquid is moved into barrels. Normally the fermentation finishes naturally around 14% vol alcoholic strength, but if not, then mutage is applied – that is the addition of sulphur, approx 25 to 27 g/hl. If the fermentation stopped by itself, the sulphur is reduced to 22 g/hl so that no sulphur needs to be added up until bottling.
The new wine is kept in barrels, but no new oak is used for the Sauvignon Blanc, for example. The ageing takes 18 months with rackings at 3, 4, 5 and 6 months. At the beginning the wine is kept between 20 to 25 degrees Centigrade, by means of individually temperature controlled barrels, so that malo-lactic fermentation can tame the harsher acids. The final wine gets gelatine and bentonite fining and tangential filtration before bottling.

Tasting Notes
It is not often that the components of a patchwork can be tasted individually before the final blend is made. Exciting to see the differences between the various pickings, the first one being fresher, with higher acids and quite sharp. Then you move on and the fruits get riper, the sugar higher, which results in a more balanced and harmonious mouth-feel. Then you get to the 4th, last picking where it is quite voluptuous and fat with a milky and soft texture. The botrytis does not change a great deal in terms of intensity, just the perception re-positions its taste in relation to the alcohol, acids and sugar.

1st picking
Yellow with a green hue. Honey, medium intense botrytis, dusty, white-pepper, peach, green tones, fresh.

2nd picking
Riper, more botrytis, and quite wide apricot flavour. Smooth.

3rd picking
Deeper gold, pineapple, apricot and very sweet. Less concentrated botrytis. Some savour apricot skin, fat.

4th picking
More fruit driven, very rounded, milky, less pungent botrytis, acids feel lower.

Ch. Suduiraut 2008
Bottled in July 2010. Frost in April, so 70% of the crop was lost early on in the year. Harvest was late: mid-September to mid-November. 5 pickings. 6hl/ha, 40% grand vin.

Light golden, restrained nose with apricot skin, acacia, honey, lime, grapefruit and pineapples. Fresh and alcohol lends it a big body, but well structured even if a bit voluptuous. Botrytis very gentle and soft. Very well concentrated. 16.2

Ch. Suduiraut 2006
Harvest from mid-September. A rainy then hot season beforehand. 10hl/ha

Golden. Mint, broad fruits, sweet spices, fresh, a bit understated botrytis. Heavy mid-palate, apricot and orange. Long on the finish. 16.4

Ch. Suduiraut 1996
Pronounced golden, very good concentration already in the nose. Honey acacia, cloves, toffee, orange and butterscotch. Sweet, crisp mid-palate, then superb botrytis, which eventually decreases and the concentration lingers. Medium finish. 16.7

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