Of the two principal appellations of Bordeaux’s Right Bank, Saint-Émilion is a place so full of history it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is everything you’d imagine from a French village in this region—cobblestone streets, stone fences, and vineyards as far as the eye can see. It is also home to its fair share of top-quality wineries and our visit to Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, a Premier Grand Cru Classé, certainly lived up to both its name and its reputation.
As with many wineries in this storied region, it has a long history and has changed hands numerous times over hundreds of years. Translated, Beau-Séjour means “beautiful stay”, a name given by a General visiting the area in the late 18th century. In 1969, Michel Bécot acquired the estate that was then known as Chateau Beau-Séjour Duffau Lagarosse and renamed it Beau-Séjour Bécot. He already owned a small vineyard and set out to acquire more vineyards and modernize the winery. In the mid-1980s, he also hired world renowned consulting oenologist Michel Rolland, in his quest to bring the wine quality up to classification level.
Since 1985, the winery has been run by Michel’s sons Dominique and Gérard who have continued to bring innovative techniques to Beau-Séjour Bécot while working and living on the property every day. Grapes are hand-picked and hand-harvested and they still use clay vats for some of their wines (along with steel tanks). As a Grand Cru, they also abide by the rules around extended élevage (the time a wine spends in barrel or bottle before release), which is a minimum 14 months.
Prior to tasting their wines, we were taken on a tour of the winery’s underground cellar, complete with a small chapel and incredible private family collection of wines. The private collection features approximately 3,000 bottles from around the world dating back to the early 1900s. Our host revealed to us that they recently held a lunch for their 50 négociants (wine merchants) where they opened a Magnum from 1947 that was drinking beautifully. We asked our host what she thought when she tasted it and in the typically elegant French way simply stated, “there is lots of emotion to taste old wine.”
The underground cellar is literally under the vineyard and was created from what used to be limestone quarries. The limestone walls not only provide ideal storing conditions but also demonstrate the property’s unique terroir. Château Beau-Séjour Bécot is located on a limestone plateau, and limestone is present in almost all of the world’s most renowned wine growing regions. It’s a calcium-rich soil that retains moisture, and is also cooler, allowing certain grapes to fully ripen over a long, slow growing season. The result are smaller berries and lower yields which typically create wines with higher concentration and flavour.
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot’s total vineyards are currently planted to 70% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1995, the winery acquired the Gomerie vineyard which sits right across the road and consists of 2.5ha. It is an ideal fit given its very low yields and quality fruit, and from that vineyard they produce two wines: Chateau Gomerie which is 100% Merlot and Mademoiselle La Gomerie which is a blend of all three grape varieties grown on the property.
As we finished our tour of the underground and made our way through the winery itself, the fermentation room was lined with steel tanks on one side, and a small number of terra cotta vats on the other, currently filled with their 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon. Vinifying wine in clay vats has been around for thousands of years but is relatively uncommon in modern winemaking. However, it has seen a resurgence in the past few years as winemakers worldwide search for ways to add texture to their wine without using oak. The clay pots are porous like oak barrels allowing for exposure to oxygen but are also neutral meaning, unlike oak, they won’t impart any flavour into the wine.
We happened to be at the winery during bottling which is an 8-day process with 10,000 bottles being completed per day.
The private tasting room at Beau-Séjour Bécot is a beautifully elegant room with an oak table on one end set against glass doors that open up to a stone deck overlooking the vineyards. It was a cool, cloudy day when we visited, so other than a quick photo of the view outside, we elected to stay inside and admire the art on the walls while we nibbled on their delicious charcuterie offering. The tasting lineup featured 4 of their wines: the 2015 Château Bernon Bécot, 2014 Château Beau-Séjour Bécot Grand Vin, 2013 Joanin Becot, and the stunning 2007 Chateau La Gomerie.
Visiting a winery with such an interesting history, in a place so revered, certainly sets expectations high. Not only do the wines stand up to their Grand Cru classification, touring the the underground cellar and winery at Beau-Séjour Bécot while hearing the family’s story firsthand is definitely worth the stop and then some.
2013 Château Joanin Bécot
A blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc, this wine they call their “friends wine”. Light and fresh, this medium body wine shows raspberry flavours and a floral nose. Easy drinking and pleasure driven. The mouthfeel is round and the finish shows hints of spice.
2015 Benon Bécot
Here the Merlot is taken up to 95% with just 5% Cabernet Franc. Plenty of plum and dark cherry flavours over top of a medium+ body with moderate tannins and acidity. The mouthfeel is generous and rounded but the structure keeps it defined. Baking spice on the long finish.
2014 Beau-Séjour Bécot
This is the flagship wine of the estate and in this vintage is a blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Flavours of dark cherries, plums and some dried fruits mix together to create a complex and tasty wine. This was the most structured wine of the tasting and probably merits a few more years in the cellar. Classy and sophisticated, it combines power and elegance.
2007 La Gomerie
This is the brothers’ personal project. Fruit comes from their 2.5 hectare vineyard just across the road from Beau-Séjour Bécot. The vineyard is planted to 100% old vines Merlot. Dark plum and black cherry fruit come through with intensity in this plush, full bodied almost decadent wine. There is a definite richness on the palate that is very seductive. Notes of mocha and espresso infuse the long finish. Delicious!
1 Lieu dit la Carte
33330 St. Emilion