Q&A with Thomas Grille de la Salle of Château Grand Verdus, Bordeaux

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Where are you based and how big is your Domaine?

We are in Bordeaux at the border with Entre deux Mers between Médoc, Graves. Today myself with my father and brother Antoine are the 4th generation of the family Domaine. Grand Verdus it is 100 % family-owned vineyards. Our property is about 100 hectares which makes it one of the largest farms in Entre deux Mers.

I believe you worked at Château Pavie, was it a work experience before joining your family estate?

Yes, that is correct I was working at Château Pavie and moved back to my family Domaine fully hands on the in 2008. At Château Pavie is where I first met Robert and we worked together since.

How many wines do you produce?  What can you tell us about the sites? Any old vines?

We make 9 wines (we are working on 3 new wines as well currently. Usually, wine producers in this region makes 2 whites and 2/3 reds. We are unusual as our production is more diverse. We produce classic Bordeaux style whites and reds but also few skin contacts wines. We like to isolate many different blocks and try to vinify them separately as much as they can. We are one of the few Domaine’s with a broad altitude oscillation between 45 to 110 metres slopes therefore the soil and temperature vary throughout. We have:

The top area we have predominantly gravel where we grow Merlot.

The hill, steep slopes we have clay and gravel.

The Lower part we can find chalk and some gravel.

We do not have many old vines except a single vineyard of Semillon, about 70 years old. From this old vineyard two wines are made: a grand reserve Semillon and a skin contact version which works very well in restaurants. We planted a new grape variety 3 years ago, Syrah massale selection from Cornas planted in 1929. Next year we will plant some Chenin blanc massale selection from Saumur.

What is your work philosophy?

Myself, my brother, and my father are hands on. Our main philosophy is to follow, very close, all the works in the vineyards and in the cellar.

We believe our ecosystem is very important and need to be healthy to produce good wine; at present we are working towards the organic certification.  

In the cellar we stopped completely the malolactic in barrel and instead it takes place in concrete, after many years of experiment we recognised a beneficial impact in our wines, there is more vibrancy and shows brighter aromas.

What have you implemented in the past 10/20 years in the vineyards but also to overcome the difficult weather changes?

In the past 20 years we have changed and arranged quite a lot in the vineyards.

Back in the days they used to plant vines which sometimes were not suited for the soil or to make good wines. As per the region we are in, quantity was more important than quality which is changing now.

We replanted most of our vineyards, with the technology available and the research we can now make wines of a certain quality. But not only that, we can see that the plants are stronger now.

We feel very lucky, we have mainly limestone and clay those type of soils drain very well in case of too much rain.  

To overcome the heat problem, we are not trimming down the leaves any longer during the month of July as we used to do in the past. All those leaves have become very important to protect the grapes for the summer heat. we need to maintain the freshness in our wines and we also need to keep the alcohol low.  

What was the most difficult vintage or situation you had to deal with and how did you manage it?

2013 was a very difficult vintage, very difficult weather conditions to work with. We lost 30/40% of our regular production during flowering before we even started, followed by a terrible summer. The result was a low volume crop, and grapes with lots of botrytis. If this vintage would have happened 20 years ago, we would have lost everything but with today experience, technology and all the records from the many harvest done in the past it helped a lot. Family support and quick thinking we managed to act very quickly and create some good wines.