I have the opportunity to interview Philippe Dambrine, who is the general manager of Château Cantemerle and also president of Conseil des Vins du Médoc. Monsieur Dambrine has been working in this château since 28 years, even longer in Médoc, and of course he knows this region by hearth. So, I will be asking him personal questions in order to know him more, questions about Château Cantemerle and finally some questions about Médoc and Bordeaux in general.
Monsieur Dambrine is very humble, despite his successful career in wine sector. According to my observations, he likes to welcome people in the château to share proudly the magical liquid that they are producing. That is why I am very curious how he had chosen wine sector to build his career in the first place.
N: How did you decide to build a career about wine?
D: I think it was an opportunity that made me to get into this career. I am not originally from Bordeaux, I am from Paris. First of all, 35 years ago, I decided to come to Bordeaux and experience the harvest for grape picking. In those times, as a grape picker it was difficult to get into the cellar. But I was really curious and after the work every day, I was running to the cellar try to visit it and have some view of the winemaking. In those times, the cellar and the cellar master was a secret. Each time when I was trying to get into the cellar the doors were closing. So I was a bit disturbed by this and I decided to ask to stay longer and to learn about winemaking. So I had the opportunity to get an internship as a student of wine at Château Gruaud Larose and that is how my career starts in the winemaking. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to get a job in a property in Northern Médoc and that’s how I started actually, from the bottom.
Before we start the questions about Château Cantemerle, I would like to share some information about it. It is in Haut-Médoc appellation and in the Grand Cru Classé by classification of 1855. Today, it has 90 hectares of vineyards which are mainly planted by Cabernet Sauvignon and then Merlot, and also Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in smaller quantities. The winery produces two wines, the first one is Château Cantemerle and the second is Les Allées de Cantemerle. The proportions of the varieties in these two wines change according to characteristics of the vintage.
N: What are the characteristics of the style of the wines of Château Cantemerle?
D: It has a really special signature, which comes from the location of the château, the composition of soil and the grapes themselves grown in this soil. Because of the location, we are close to Margaux appellation in the south part of Médoc peninsula. If I should describe the style of Château Cantemerle, it is very dense in the nose and at the same time it is delicate especially in expression of tannins. It has great aromas and very long after taste.
N: How your terroir express itself in this signature?
D: Because of the soil itself which is mixed of sand and gravels, the drainage is very good. The maturation is early due to the location itself by the influence of the climate which is balanced by proximity to the river and ocean. By this microclimate effect and composition if the soil, we have this expression in our wines.
N: How was the harvest 2015 for Château Cantemerle?
D: It is one of the best years we produced in the past 10 years. It is very difficult to compare. I do not want to compare with other vintages but due to the early flowering, and the way it came by itself, the season was very good. We had sunny and dry weather in July and August. We have great concentration in the sugar content with a good acidity level and also high polyphenol content. We have very good expectations of the vintage 2015.
It is also curious to know the changes that the Médoc region has been going through since all these years. Winemaking in this region started centuries ago, but it is obvious that it was quite different than the practices that we are seeing today.
N: What are the improvements you have been observing in Médoc region since you have started to work in this region?
D: Many changes… First of all, when I started in the wine business in Médoc, 35 years ago, and the region was not in very good conditions. The facilities, the equipments in the properties and also vineyards needed renovation. So year after year, since 1980s, we went through a lot of improvements. First of all, in the winemaking of process we made changes to be cleaner, and also we started to have the possibility to make temperature control in the vats, to be more precise. And then around 2000s we went back to the vineyard. We had a lot to do, to be much more precise in the production of grapes, due to the historical high density planting in the vineyards. We worked vine per vine and the approach is quite different now, we give a lot of importance to ripening of the grapes in the vineyard. We do a lot of green work during summer time, like leaf and bunch thinning. And also control of the composition and balance of the nutrients in the soil made a lot of changes in the overall quality of the Médoc wines. Then of course Médoc region has great reputation world-wide wine industry due to the top brands we know since 1855 classification that helps to sell and promote the wines of the region.
The last question will be about the historical labels of Bordeaux wines, which did not change over the centuries. Nowadays, in the wine world there are innovative labels and bottles to attract the consumers’ attention; however it is not the case in Bordeaux, which does not change the classical image.
N: Do you think in Bordeaux, it will be necessary to make some changes in the classical “Château” labels?
D: Image is based on “Château“; when you say Bordeaux, you think château. It is the first point, we are promoting our wines on this bases and it is like this in Bordeaux in generally speaking. What we hear from outside is that Bordeaux can intimidate people because sometimes people find the appellations complicated to understand, and when we talk about terms like terroir, estate grown etc. We saw famous varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which are used world-wide nowadays and people think it would be simpler to speak about the wine by variety. But at the same time, we have to protect our tradition and the fact is that the mixture of the varieties that makes the signature of each wine. Should we change the labels? I do not think so. There are some trials on that in the past to have more modern kind of labeling but it never worked, because people are expecting to get the tradition from Bordeaux. The “Château” label consists most of the time, the picture or drawing of the château and the vineyard around it with the name and the appellation, estate bottled, in the front label. What happened is that, we already changed the labels 10 years ago in Cantemerle. We decided to put all the legal mentions in the back label which becomes the official label and the front label is more simple, pure and clean, and it works.
I thank again to Monsieur Dambrine for this interesting interview and I cannot wait to taste more vintages from Château Cantemerle.
All images © 2015 by Nedret Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.