A unique terroir

Synthesis of the results of an agronomical and geological study Of Château de Reignac based on 80 geological trenches dug since January 2003.

Reignac produces wines of exceptional and consistent quality, fact that has been recognized by many great wine tasters.
Are there similarities between the specific morpho-geological qualities of its terroirs and those of the great growths classified as such to date? Is this sufficient to qualify Reignac as a great terroir?

The great complexity of the geological formations in the Bordeaux region.

Whether it is a question of the so-called molasses du Fronsadais (the Fronsac slope, the Saint-Emilion slope that stretches from Tertre-Rôteboeuf to Beauséjour-Duffau), the limestone of Castillon (the Sainte Colombe plateau, east of Saint Emilion), the limestone mixed with fossilized seashells, the calcaire à astéries as it is locally referred to (this is the zone in which are located most of the Premiers Grands Cru Classés of Saint Emilion), of the Graves sectors (Pessac-Léognan and Margaux), each of these presents a great diversity of features clayey, sandy … Each also presents different dispositions in its respective setting.

Each presents a different viticultural potential.
This complexity and this diversity are due to their geological origins.

From the Tertiary period (30 million years ago) to the Quaternary period (1 million years ago), this region is a delta, formed by the rivers and streams that flow down from the Pyrenees Mountains and from the Massif Central (the imposing mountain range in central France) river-based and alluvial formations. This region is also the seat of lakes formed and then filled in lake formations. This region has forever been subject to the successive transgressions (arrival) and regressions (departure) of the sea.

Three observations can thus be made:

The western zone of the Entre-Deux-Mers regroups geological formations that are similar to the great terroirs, recognized as such, on the Left Bank and on the Right Bank. The terroirs with an exceptional potential cannot be readily delimited given the extreme morpho-geological complexity of the Bordeaux region.

The 1855 classification, as well as the local ostracism practiced by the Bordelais, has stilted and severely limited any serious study of these terroirs.

We can nonetheless affirm that, to this day, many great terroirs remain to be discovered.

So, what about Reignac?

It is situated in the western zone of the Entre-Deux-Mers. To the south of the parish of Saint-Loubès, the topography varies between 22 meters and 42 meters in altitude and presents three great types of terroir.
We find the classic geological formations: Molasse du Fronsadais, marlstone, the limestone of Castillon, and gravel from ancient alluvial terraces.
But here, as in other privileged sites, we have remarkable raw material that has been admirably formed by eons of erosion.
This erosion has maintained the most interesting features of each geological formation and has arranged them in a strategic manner throughout the local landscape so as to guarantee excellent exposure and very good natural drainage.

These peculiarities confer upon Reignac a number of similarities with the great terroirs of the Bordeaux region.

At the highest point, the deep gravelly soils are composed of pebbles and gravel. These correspond to ancient alluvial deposits from the Quaternary and Mindel periods – about 600,000 years ago (the same deposits that form the essence of the great terroirs of the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan). The hilltop location of these ancient gravel formations and their diverse composition, coupled with the local microclimate, lead to the specific and favorable geological characteristics that consistently favor a high quality harvest. Wines characterized by their finesse blossom in such a terroir.

On the slope, the Molasse du Fronsadais reveals certain clayey features. At Reignac, this combination of river and lake formations presents unique clay attributes. The southeastern-facing slope allows for the optimal utilization of water. Its clay brings to the soil a sort of buffer zone as much on a hydrous level as on a nutritional one. This natural hydrous regulation enables the vine to reach a very complete and optimal ripening.

More to the south, the marl and hard Castillon limestone appear The morphology of this zone is linked to the hardness of the limestone banks and to the softer quality of the marlstone. The dynamics of water at the heart of this slope, the nature of the clays and limestone offer a real nutritional and hydrous balance to the vines. The characteristics of this terroir enable it to regulate climatic variations. It is relatively insensitive to water at the end of the growing season. It is also very well-adapted to dry years.

A great terroir can only express itself where appropriately farmed:

It is widely recognized today that Man remains an essential factor in the production of grand cru classé-caliber wines. Yves Vatelot has consistently made strict and committed choices in this direction over the last 15 years.

The qualitative actions taken are well-known: high-density plantation, adaptation of the vines (varietal and rootstock) to the terrain, respect of the soils, grapes harvested at optimal ripeness and carefully sorted, winemaking and aging adapted to each of Reignac’s terroirs.

So, why is Reignac not recognized as being on a par with many of the best classified growths? The question remains open but certainly no one can offer any geo-geological, agronomic, or enological reason for its not being so considered. On the contrary, situated at the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers (the “Entre-Deux-Mers”), Reignac offers a unique peculiarity, that of reuniting the best types of terroir of both the Right and the Left Banks in a single estate, which explains the qualitative consistency of its wines, vintage in and vintage out.

By Philippe Gard, Agronomical engineer, oenologist.
Emmanuelle Chone, Geo-viticultural enginee.