By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny


Making Sauternes wine, this liquid gold, takes a great deal of know-how, work, patience, the right amount of sunshine and humidity, an appropriate terroir and the mysterious effect of a microscopic fungus, the botrytis. This peculiar wine making demands passionate men and women. For centuries now Chateau Rayne Vigneau’s history is filled with such endearing personalities. A beautiful book, “Chateau Rayne Vigneau, The Excellence of Sauternes” tells us everything about this symbiosis between men and vine. The Chateau, located in the beautiful Bordeaux area is also open to the public for unusual wine tasting experiences.

Undoubtedly Sauternes wine will be served on many French tables on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. This aromatic sweet wine is a perfect match with foie gras, truffles, fish, seafood or cheeses. It’s hard to know when exactly local vine-growers tamed the tiny fungus responsible for the “gray rot”. Anywhere else this feared botrytis is the despair of farmers, turning their plants, fruits or vegetables into useless inedible produce. It’s pure genius that wine makers of the Sauternes area found a way to convert this “gray rot” into the wonderful “noble rot” that naturally concentrates the sugar and aromas of the grapes without damaging them. Thanks to a local microclimate that creates early morning mist and to year-round constant care of the vines, this “miracle” happens every year… or not! If late summer is too dry or too wet the botrytis cannot grow properly and the crop is lost.

image from the book-photo Francois Poincet

Unlike other vines, the Sauternes’ vines are not harvested in a single operation. Each vineyard is harvested several times each year (up to eight times!) and it takes experienced pickers to select the bunch of grapes that are ready to be picked. If too early the grape is not concentrated enough but if too late the grape is completely desiccated and useless. Because of the concentration the yield is very low. Generally speaking in the Bordeaux area, each vine plant produces one to three bottles of wine but in the Sauternes area each plant gives only one glass of wine. Pure nectar!

The coffee-table book “Chateau Rayne Vigneau, the Excellence of Sauternes” is dedicated to one of the finest Sauternes wines. This vineyard was created in the 17th century. It is listed among the “premiers crus” of Sauternes since 1855 when this official Bordeaux wine classification was created and has received many prestigious awards ever since.

Chateau Rayne Vigneau has a very special terroir, a unique soil. At the beginning of the 20th century the estate belonged to a remarkable man, Gabriel de Roton. He got married at 45 and lived in the “Chateau de Rayne Vigneau”, the property of his in-laws. He was an educated man, distinguished Hellenist and talented draughtsman. He made illustrations for the Iliad and the Odyssey after Greek vase paintings as well as about 30 books for the young. But he also was interested in geology and discovered that the soil at Rayne Vigneau was filled with fossils and semi-precious stones. Onyx, agate, jasper, cornelian, sardonyx, chalcedony, quartz, opal, rock crystal, marble, pudding-stone, hematite… it’s an almost endless list. Gabriel de Roton gathered a huge collection of them that can be seen in the castle but there still are plenty of them in the soil where the vineyards are. Can you imagine drinking a wine made with the grapes growing on such an exceptional terroir? This Sauternes wine certainly has a unique personality.


After being slowly pressed the grapes give a turbid juice that is left to settle for 24 hours. The clear juice is then poured into oak barrels where for three weeks the sugar turns into alcohol. Barrel-ageing can begin. For 18 months the wines in contact with the air through the barrels slowly refine while the tannins from the wood give them more structure and dynamism. Then comes blending time. There 50 different plots in the Rayne Vigneau estate, each one offering a different aromatic note. Like the conductor of a philharmonic orchestra, Vincent Labergere, director of the Chateau de Rayne Vigneau, blends different wines in order to create a fresh, fruity, thirst-quenching, moreish wine. As he says, he tends to make “a wine one has pleasure drinking and not just tasting”, “a wine that will be a joy to drink in 50, 60 or a 100 years!” With such a credo, such an ambition Vincent Labergere creates complex and great wines.

The book “Chateau Rayne Vigneau, the Excellence of Sauternes” ends with recipes created by 3-star chef Marc Haeberlin. Especially made to match the different wines of Chateau Rayne Vigneau they can quite easily be made at home on a festive occasion. “Tartine with langoustines and watermelon”, “Lobster with shellfish an tomato jus”, “Lemon tart with poached Mirabelle plums”… Surprise your guests!

If you go to Bordeaux and its wine area don’t miss to visit Chateau Rayne Vigneau and experience an unusual wine tasting in English. After visiting the chateau you will be able to taste 3 to 6 different wines. There is also wine tasting on a table perched in a tree, horse riding through the estate, blending lessons where you will create your own blend of different wines, gourmet tasting to learn wine and food matching… The Chateau also organizes special menus for your own special occasions in the beautiful dining room.


The Chateau Rayne Vigneau is open every day


The beautifully illustrated book “Château de Rayne Vigneau, The Excellence of Sauternes” (text Sylvie Bonin and photos François Poincet) is available on line at the Chateau Rayne Vigneau e-shop.


-image from the book-photo Francois Poincet