LE CHÂTEAU BEL AIR
Château Bel Air is owned and operated for 10 generations by our Méric family. The particularities of the geographical situation of Château Bel Air, the structure of the soil and the essential elements required in the making of its wines demand constant vigilance in order to ensure the correct development of the vine and a close control of the ageing of the wine in the cellar.
The estate covers 25 hectares of the Sainte-Croix-du-Mont terroir and produces wines of this well-known appellation, however it also includes other nearby parcels which are classified under other Bordeaux appellations.
Jean Guy Méric, passionate winemaker
From an early age, Jean Guy Méric traced his father’s footsteps. Before he could even speak or understand the meaning of everything he saw, he followed him around the estate. As a young boy he soon began to explore the vineyards and winery and observe the running of them throughout the seasons. Whenever he had a free moment, he would take the opportunity of spending time with those tending the vines to learn from their skills and age-old techniques. As he grew older, his father naturally passed on his precious knowledge.
But Jean Guy Meric with the strength of this expertise, so essential in the art of making not only sweet wine, the principal wine produced on the estate, Château Bel Air, but also all the other different wines made on the Meric vineyards, has expanded his knowledge by remaining open to new developments in enology and wine-making techniques with all the advantages they can bring.
Today, not only managing the property alone, and maintaining the reputation of its wines, he has also strengthened that of Château Bel Air which earned him great success in the traditional European market. He has even gone beyond this by meeting orders from clients further afield.
OUR COMMITMENT TO “INDEPENDENT WINEMAKER”
The Vignobles M. Méric has been a member of the Independent Winegrowers for ten years now. This brings winegrowers together under an actual charter, not just a mere specification, and provides us with a network for showcasing our wines. Fired by a common passion, by our constant professionalism, in every stage from the making to the selling of our wines, which we are constantly striving to strengthen and develop, we fully adhere to the values and requirements of the « Vignerons Indépendants », that indeed correspond entirely to our own.
As stated by the representatives of the « Vignerons Indépendants », an independent winegrower:
– Respects his terroir,
– Works his own vineyard,
– Harvests his grapes,
– Vinifies and ages his wine,
– Bottles his production in the cellar,
– Markets his products,
– Applies traditional methods,
– Welcomes, advises tasting and takes pleasure in presenting the fruits of his labor and his culture.
The « Vigneron Indépendant » logo is the sign of a requirement, the emblem of independent winegrowing and its rich diversity thanks to its soils, climates, know-how, men and women. When this logo appears on a bottle, it provides a guarantee that the wine has been made by an independent winegrower. For us, it is the symbol of our commitment to the 13 points of the Vigneron Indépendent ‘s charter.
THE FOUR SEASONS AT CHÂTEAU BEL AIR
Focus on our cultural practices and winemaking methods
Throughout the year, the simultaneous coordination of the upkeep of the vineyard and the work in the cellar requires continuous presence and surveillance. The seasons follow one another without leaving any spare time: they punctuate the good management of culture and development of our wines. The quality of work and respect for the land are the basis and beginning of the long process that enables nature to produce grapes of different varieties which man helps to develop to their full potential for them to become wines of excellence.
After a long dormant period, the earth reawakens with the first Spring sunlight and with it, hopes of a generous new crop. All energy is therefore focused on the necessary preparation of the vine. A rich terminology can be used to describe the various stages of this task.
Winter can be harsh and cause damage. The entire trellis must be checked and repaired if necessary. Wires and stakes may also need replacing. Any vines that have succumbed to the bad weather or those too old to produce grapes must also be grubbed up and replanted.
Complantation is the technical term for replacing dead vines. It is necessary to maintain a homogenous vineyard. This operation mobilizes teams for a month, sometimes more. Again this work has to be kept under close scrutiny as the root system of the new vines fights against those of existing ones.
The soil requires care in order to be of good quality. Repeated plowing can contribute to this. We talk about earthing-up and earthing-down, processes which are carried out in alternate succession. They help to rid the vines of weeds, but also to soften and aerate the soil, thereby allowing rainwater to penetrate more easily. During plowing, earth can accumulate around the foot of the vine. It is important to remove it. This is known as earthing-down, or de-earthing.
These are vinegrower's worst enemy, although there are better means of protection from them than in the past. Some proven techniques help limit the damage that can be caused by Spring frosts when they occur during budburst, causing permanent damage and that caused by hail which harms grapes and leaves. But untimely and unpredictable external factors may sometimes hinder the implementation of such means.
There have been difficult periods in the history of vine growing when vines have been infested with insects or attacked by fungi. Fortunately today, through adequate preventive treatment, these plagues caused by cochylis "caterpillars or moth cluster" - pyralids, powdery mildew and downy mildew, are severely limited!
Between leaf growth and flowering the shoots are raised and trained onto a trellis while in full growth. This operation has to be carried out with great care and attention as the young shoots are still tender and can be easily damaged.
From the early harvest, the "juice" - or future wine - from the various plots, is tasted, tested and assembled. This operation requires great expertise and methodology but also relies to a certain degree on alchemy and intuition as well as an acquired knowledge and experience of previous vintages. Whether it be for our sweet wines, "Tradition", "Vieilles Vignes" or "Prestige" or our other white, rosé or red wines, the art of blending is carried out with true respect.
Sweet white wines need to spend enough time maturing in barrels - at least 18 months - in order to obtain a golden color and characteristic flavors and aromas. Clarification and racking will later be carried out at regular intervals during the ageing period and over time, these operations will enable the wine's characteristics to develop.
During the first half of the year, those working in the cellars are kept busy keeping an eye on the maturing wine, stored in barrels kept in perfectly aligned rows as if on parade. It is important to monitor the release of carbon dioxide resulting from fermentation which causes a decrease in the level of the wine. Regular ” topping up” is carried out to fill the ullage in order to regulate oxidation. This indoor activity does not mean that outdoor tasks can be neglected, as the vine continues to grow regardless.
Shoots grow on the vine's foot which are of no use it. This "greedy" non-fruit bearing vegetation saps some of the plant's vital energy. These suckers are therefore removed. This process fulfills the combined function of helping to reduce the risk of infection to the foot of the vine.
As the days lengthen, and the sun's heat becomes more intense, part of the leaf clusters are removed to allow light and heat to reach the grapes and enable them to ripen fully. Photosynthesis is essential for their psyiological development, for their typical characteristics to reveal themselves.
This work is also accompanied by thinning that occurs during ripening. It is to eradicate a certain amount of grape clusters, partly to control yields but also to help those remaining on the vine to ripen properly.
The wines of Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, sweet wines par excellence, have a dense texture like all wines of this sort. They are more difficult to clarify and therefore require more racking and greater ageing time in the cellar.
This operation is to rid the wine of impurities that may affect its quality.
After 18 to 24 months in oak barrels, the wine is finally bottled. Once labelled, it can be dispatched to the four corners of the globe.
This is one of the times of the year when the activity of the estate is the most intense: to the active and festive crowd of harvesters, whose crucial work must be perfectly coordinated by the winemaker, succeeds the stage of winemaking and fermentations, which imposes the winegrower vigilance at all times.
After much effort, and concern about weather hazards and the risk of disease, comes the long-awaited harvest. The harvest involves several successive and highly selective manual pickings (4-8). Grapes are only picked once they have reached optimum botrytis influence and a minimum residual sugar level (13 to 18 ° alcohol strength). Harvest lasts for between 5-8 weeks depending on weather conditions.
A new cycle starts after the harvest. Winemaking involves several steps. The first begins with the arrival of the grapes at the winery when they are pressed to produce must (unfermented grape juice). This operation should be carried out gradually in order to preserve the maximum physiological qualities. This involves exerting a relatively light pressure that is then gently increased to reach a set maximum strength. This is done slowly so as not to crush the pips which could release oils and tannin, making the wine astringent or bitter. After pressing comes the initial clarification which takes place through natural sedimentation or settling. This is necessary to eliminate undesirable flavors and obtain the aromatic finesse of the future wine. This step is followed by alcoholic fermentation, the result of yeasts transforming sugar into alcohol. This natural process can however be disrupted if certain strains of yeast dominate and eventually kill those necessary for successful fermentation. Sweet wine making can be subject to further complications: the abundance of sugar in the must means the yeast cannot consume all of it and alcoholic fermentation therefore has to be interrupted by killing the yeast. The resulting wine is then filtered to remove any remaining yeast and once this has been carried out it is essential that no yeast come into further contact with the wine. Sweet wines contain unfermented sugar which is balanced by high levels of acidity.
The wines start their slow aging, the nature falls asleep little by little, the pressure goes down to the field … It is also the moment where the winegrower can devote a little more time to the commercial work, to the meeting of his customers … Before to start a new cycle with the pruning of the vine.
This is essential in order to prepare the vine for the Winter period of dormancy during which its wood will harden and its reserves of carbohydrates will be concentrated in its roots. This enables it to rest and regain strength in preparation for the following Spring. It is important to strike the right balance between too heavy or too light a pruning in order for it to stay alive but also produce a sustainable crop the following season. Indeed, by experience, a winegrower knows just how much pruning is needed in order to limit the amount of foliage while at the same time leaving those shoots which will be strong enough to produce healthy grapes that will reach perfect maturity.