A Visit to Durfort Vivens: Focus on Expressing Terroir through Purity

Gonzague Lurton has turned conventional wisdom in Bordeaux on its head in recent developments at Durfort Vivens. He has rethought the approach to terroir in conjunction with changing vinification dramatically to bring out the purity of the fruits. It’s almost Burgundian.

Terroir is always there, of course, but it’s in the background in Bordeaux. Chateaux know their terroirs intimately, today there’s a focus on matching varieties to the terroirs where they do best, but all this is in order to express the best blend, which by definition must blur the individual terroirs on which it’s based. Special cuvées tend to be based on selection, and the extreme example of garage wines was based more on methods of viticulture and vinification than special terroirs. (Of course, there are some exceptions of small estates that represent a homogeneous terroir, but they are very much the exception to the rule by large estates.)

When Lucien Lurton purchased Durfort-Vivens from the negociant Ginestet in 1962, it was quite run down. The modern, revival started when Gonzague took over in 1992, and the wine really came to life after a new cuverie was built in 2001. But the biggest change came in 2019. “It’s a chain of ideas,” Gonzague says. “When we moved to biodynamics, we realized something had happened to the fruits. Before the berries matured first and the seeds ten days later. With biodynamics the gap disappeared, and the fruits were ripe and fresh at the same time the tannins matured. When you think about it you realize that we had an aging process for the wine that worked a lot on oxygen, but now we don’t need so much oxygen because the tannins are already soft, and using traditional aging would only reduce quality. So we can use less exposure to oxygen, we can use less racking, and we can use less sulfur. And then we asked what we could do to age for 18 months without sulfur.”

“We were not comfortable trying to do this in barriques, so in 2017, I bought two amphora as a trial. My idea was not to use terra cotta because I heard it was very porous and chateaux trying to use it had oxidized wine. But there is a specialized company that firsts the terra cotta at 1200-1400 degrees instead of 900 degrees, without using sand (which is usually necessary), and then the amphora admit less air than barriques but still some. This is not reductive so we don’t have to rack, so you don’t need sulfur.” So now one third of the grand vin ages in amphorae. “If you use less sulfur, the evolution of the fruits will be slower, and the aging will be better.”

The amphora cellar has 150 amphorae (presently empty).

In a second transition, from 2019 the second wine as such ceased production and was replaced by three cuvées from different parcels–the collection is called Les Parcelles Durfort Vivens. “We used to blend to produce the second wine and we always noticed that the character of Cantenac and Soussans was very different, so we started to separate them in 2019,” Gonzague says. “3 ha in the Margaux commune produce top wine each year. The plots in Cantenac and Soussans can go either way” (between grand vin and second wine). The three new cuvees are:

Les Plantes comes from younger vines in all the plots.

Le Hameau comes from about half the plots in Cantenac.

Le Plateau comes from about half the plots in Soussans.

(There’s a difference in Cabernet Sauvignon proportions: in 2019, the grand vin is 90%, Les Plantes is 80%, Le Plateau is 65%, Le Hameau is 59%, but Gonzague does not think that’s the relevant factor.) “Plateau is very round and Hameau is full of energy. After the first year we did this again each year to see if we could repeat it, and the results were the same: the terroir was more important than the exact blend. Each wine is singular, that is what I wanted to show.”

So now Durfort Vivens offers four cuvées. If you compare vintages pre- and post-amphora, the difference is evident. The 2015 is quite polished and round, but still shows a touch of oak. The 2019 has a greater sense of purity, all black fruits, making a very sleek impression. The lifted notes of Hameau 2019 makes a brighter impression than Plateau 2019, which is rounder, juicier, blacker, with greater depth. Les Plantes 2019 feels more like a typical second wine, lighter, fresher, easy to drink. All this gives a view of the commune of Margaux that could never be obtained from conventional grand and second vins.

Tasting Notes of the 2019s

Les Plantes

Black fruit nose with touch of asperity. Pure fruits on palate poised between black and red, smooth and polished, with fresh acidity at the end. There is the energy of young vines with a light expression on the palate. This seems to be in the model of most second wines today, lighter, easy to drink, and ready immediately. Light tannins are well in the background, with palate and finish driven by fruits rather than tannins. 88 Drink now-2027.

Le Plateau

Rounder, deeper, juicier than Les Plantes, moving more from red fruits towards black fruits, polished tannins showing a bare hint of bitterness on the finish. The elegance of Margaux is certainly here, and that polished impression dominates the finish. 89 Drink now-2028.

Le Hameau

A brighter impression than Plateau, more red than black fruits, with lively acidity, more energetic and less polished, readier to drink. This offers the tightest impression of the trio. In another year, it may release more flavors. It is more lifted. 88 Drink now-2027.

Château Durfort-Vivens

More complex on the nose and more aromatic than any of the individual cuvees of the trio. Nicely perfumed nose leads into black fruit palate, deeper than any of the trio and more varied in flavors, Fresh acidity keeps this lively, with overall a sleek impression of modern Margaux. You can see the roundness and depth of Plateau and the lift of Hameau.    92 Drink now-2034.

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