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On Making a World-class Wine: Château de Gensac

Jan Schuermann of Château de Gensac serves up a few winemaking pearls of wisdom

On the importance of terroir:
‘It can’t be overestimated. In the end, almost everything in wine is linked to terroir. This is why we take such intense care of our soil. At Gensac, we sit on a micro terroir that is characterised by limestone and clay. With regards to the limestone, we sometimes talk about several meters-thick plateaus which make it a real challenge to plant the vineyard. But once it is done, the result is simply wonderful. Wines of great and intense character and – for our red wines – a lot of ageing potential.’

On the benefits of hand-picking grapes:
‘Picking by hand is essential to the quality of our wines. Apart from the obvious quality control, hand-picking allows for gentle handling of the grape which has already been affected by the heat and the exposure to the sun, both of which have a big impact on quality. Handpicked grapes are then immediately taken to a cooling chamber to ensure that grape quality is maintained before vinification the next morning.’

On risk and patience:
‘Take the Tannat for example – the most tannic and also the healthiest grape variety in the world. It is a really complex fruit. Picked very late in the harvest (often only in the middle of October), it needs real patience. Picking too early results in harsh, vegetal wines. But if you have the guts to wait, the risk really pays off; you will be blessed with something that, when combined with quality oak barrel ageing, will sit amongst the greatest of wines. Our Terre à Terre rouge – an assembly of Tannat, Merlot and Malbec with 18-month, oak barrel ageing – is a good example of that.’

On the popularity of Armagnac:
‘To be quite frank I think it deserves to enjoy greater popularity. A true craft spirit filled with a broad spectrum of aromas and such wonderful character, it should be a top seller. Yet it still sits well behind spirits like whisky, Cognac, or rum. At the risk of sounding cocky, if more people tried our Armagnac I think we could change that!’

On the difference between Cognac and Armagnac:
‘Generally speaking, they’re both brandies. Armagnac is the much older product of the two, though. France’s original, if you will. In terms of production, the main difference is that Armagnac is only distilled once, while Cognac undergoes a double distillation. Through distilling only once, the Armagnac presents a very broad and intense range of aromas and character. For me, it is much like a raw diamond – not yet treated on all levels to please everyone. There’s an edge to it that people appreciate.’

On making a first-class Armagnac:
‘First and foremost, you must make a high-quality, natural white wine. So no sulfites. Not your typical table wine, either; but a wine with very low alcohol and very high acidity. You then distill this wine up to 58-60% ABV. Remember that Armagnac is a single distillation which is what ensures the richness of its aromas and its full character. After distillation, the Armagnac fills 420-litre French oak barrels – where it will start its ageing process under carefully-controlled conditions. And of course, making a first-class Armagnac requires a lot of waiting before it is finally ready to be bottled. Only if all of these elements play perfectly together will you end up with a top-notch product.’

Check out Château de Gensac’s full selection of wines and spirits here.