A couple of weeks ago in this space I ranted a bit about my trip to Château d’Yquem. There is no doubt that I had created unrealistic expectations that would have been nearly impossible to meet. And they were not. Not by a long shot.
I still feel that those expectations were justified, at least in part, based on the visits we had immediately prior to the trip to Yquem. Last week, I wrote about the morning session at Château Bastor-Laontagne where I learned about the difficulty of harvesting botrytized grapes, and then proceeded to put that new knowledge into practice by picking a row of vines.
Or second stop that day was Château de Fargues, a relatively “new” estate in Sauternes. We were given a tour of the grounds and a brief history of the estate by Philippe, the son of perhaps the most influential person in Sauternes, Alexandre de Lur Saluces.
The fortress, whose ruins dominate the estate was built in 1306 Raymond-Guilhem de Fargues, the nephew of Pope Clement V. Over the next century and a half, the estate changed hands several times, eventually acquired by the Montferrand family in the 15th Century.
In 1472, Isabelle de Montferrand married Pierre de Lur and they inherited the estate. A century later, in 1586, Jean de Lur married Catherine-Charlotte de Saluces, and the family name was set. The estate continued to be operated as a farm for another century, until a fire in 1683 destroyed everything including the fortress as well as the estate’s archives and family titles.
Disheartened, the family left the area and the ruins behind, leaving the region altogether. Eventually, that branch of the family died out, and cousins on the Lur Saluces side took over the estate. In 1785, Louis- Amedée de Lur Saluces married Françoise-Josephine de Sauvage d’Yquem who brought with her as a dowry, Château d’Yquem (funny, my wife did not have a dowry, let alone one that included perhaps the most famous sweet wine in the world).
The Lur Saluces acquired several other properties in the region over the centuries, and the Fargues estate was consistently used as a general farm, to produce the food needed to feed the workers on the all the other estates. There were grapes grown on the property, but they were used to make wine for everyday consumption—not for the sweet style of wine that was becoming increasingly popular.
In 1922, Bertrand de Lur Saluces returned from WWI and assumed control of Fargues and Yquem and almost immediately replanted the former. He realized the potential of the site to produce superior Sauternes. The first official vintage was in war-torn 1943, almost a century after the official classification, which is why Fargues remains unclassified today.
Just before the end of the millennium, after years of struggle and bickering, Alexandre’s brother and several other relatives who had inherited portions of the Yquem estate over the years, decided to sell their 55% share in Château d’Yquem to luxury goods giant LVMH. A few years after the sale, LVMH forced Alexandre out of the company, thus ending the two centuries long involvement of the Lur Saluces family with Yquem.
Château de Fargues consists of a total of 170 hectares (420 acres), 110 of which are forest. There is still some corn grown on the property as well as several animals, and currently only 18 hectares (44 acres) are under vine. There are plans to plant more acreage, and the hope is to get to 28 hectares (70 acres) planted, which would raise production from the current 18k bottles. up to 28k.
(In case you are not all that mathematically inclined, that translates to 1,000 bottles per hectare, or, roughly, 400 bottles per acre. For reference, a “decent” return per acre for “standard wine” [5 tons per acre] would be 3,600 bottles per acre or nearly 9,000 per hectare. Thus, Fargues produces roughly 1/9 of what a “normal” site would produce.)
Château de Fargues is a blend of 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc that spontaneously ferments in medium toast oak barrels (one-third of which is new). The wine then spends 30 months in barrel and is racked 3-4 times a year. The lots are not done by parcel of land but rather by harvest time as the “usual” harvest consists of four or five individual harvests.
Fargues presses the grapes at least twice and usually the second pressing is better. If the juice is good, they will press a third time and this juice is even better. When they built the new fermentation room at the facility, Alexandre de Lur Saluces, who was still managing Château d’Yquem, brought over some fermenting wine from the venerated estate to start the first fermentation in the new building, thus creating enough ambient yeasts for future harvests.
Over the course of the lunch, we tried two vintages. The 2014 Château de Fargues Sauternes was a rich golden honey in the glass and was impeccable on the palate with great fruit and balance, truly a remarkable wine that paired famously with both the oysters two ways and the mushroom velouté (which was without a doubt the single best soup I have ever eaten). Incredible. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
As we moved on to the main course, Philippe explained that Fargues has three lives: the first is up to ten years, where the wine is lighter and playful. The second, from 10-25 years is more mature and can handle a bigger meal and thus paired with a main course. The third life, after 25 years, is characterized by an orange marmalade component.
As we tasted through the second wine, Philippe added that the history of sweet wines and dessert really started with the second world war where a restriction was placed on sugar, limiting dessert option. The resourceful people of France thus started consuming sweet wines for dessert, a diversion that has not yet been erased.
The 2005 Château de Fargues Sauternes was served with filet of hake with smoked paprika. Whoa. Honeyed and rich with a palate that is rich yet mineral. While I preferred the 2014 ever so slightly, this is still a remarkable wine, which paired wonderfully with the fish. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
After lunch, we bid Philippe and Château de Fargues adieu, and headed off to Yquem. As I reflected on the lunch, and what lie head, I became giddy with expectation. Yquem had to be even better, right? Well, not so much. Unbeknownst to me as we pulled out of Château de Fargues, I had just left the pinnacle of Sauternes.