The vines of Château Bel Air

photo of vine

We use three main grape varieties to make our sweet wines, namely Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle.

   • Sémillon:
Semillon is a vigorous vine of a rustic nature, which grows vigorously but yields must be restricted in order to ensure quality. With the "taille à cots" of 4 or 5 or spurs with two eyes - we guarantee optimum quality. This finely skinned grape variety offers a perfect growing terrain for Botrytis cinerea.

   • Sauvignon:
This white grape gives aromatic white wines of great finesse. Due to its high acidity it is often used in blending with Semillon. This variety which grows abundantly but is relatively low yielding needs to have its vigor kept under control through replacement cane pruning. It should also be grown on a less fertile soil and have a weak rootstock. Planting density and leaf stripping can also help manage yields.
Sauvignon Blanc ripens very early, which is why it is the first to be harvested in order to retain its aromatic qualities.

   • Muscadelle:
Muscadelle is a traditional white grape of Bordeaux. It is the third variety used to make the sweet wines of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont. Its interesting flavors and aromas compensate for the difficulties involved in growing it, due to its fragility and susceptibility to disease. Its pronounced flavours are partly due to the fact that it is fast ripening, which brings on the development of Botritis

   • It is important to say a few words about Botrytis cinerea:
As is often the way with nature, chance, struggle and rivalry between species can lead to good and bad. Botrytis cinerea is a wonderful example of the former. It is a fungus that produces a grey mould which could potentially cause terrible damage. But this mould is also known as "noble rot". Indeed, it has the advantage of concentrating the grape sugars, naturally giving the wine its unique taste and aroma, hence its importance.
Botrytis is present in the vineyard in the Winter. It awaits the arrival of Spring and comes back to life as the sun's heat intensifies and temperatures rise. Once flowering begins, it will colonize and remain passive until the time of veraison, or berry ripening. Towards the end of July, and into August, the mornings become cooler and damper again. The mist created by settling dew, combined with condensation rising from the local streams, brings on its development. However, the afternoons remain hot and dry restricting its growth. As it attacks the grape's skin purple spots appear. The combined action of the fungus, and the drying action of the sun, causing water to evaporate through cracks in the skins, concentrates sugars, certain acids and glycerol. The grapes become shriveled when they are fully ripened. It is only when the grapes have finally reached this stage known as "rôti ", that the harvest can begin, which explains why it takes place so late in the season. The perfectly ripe and healthy grapes are harvested by hand in successive pickings. This is a lengthy and delicate operation because it requires selective sorting, berry by berry, which often takes up to several weeks.