HISTORY

From rye to vines
For a long time, the Médoc, or the Middle Country, « Pagus Medulorum », was totally devoid of vines. Isolated and sandwiched between two water masses, the Médoc was relatively wild, open country inhabited by the Medulli, a native tribe with a Gallic lifestyle. In the early Gallo-Roman period, the Bituriges Vivisci arrived, Celts from the Bourges region. They founded Burdigala (Bordeaux) which subsequently became the capital of Aquitaine Gaul. Before the Middle Ages, it cannot really be said that there was any vine-growing in the Médoc.

The modernization of properties, progress in winemaking, and especially the work and passion of the growers have led to a phenomenal expansion of vineyard land
In Roman times, the few plots of vines were concentrated around Bordeaux, and the Médoc was known above all for its forests, its marshy meadows and fields of rye. The inhabitants indulged in hunting, fishing and drinking large quantities of barley beer.
In the early Middle Ages, religious communities and feudal lords created the first wine organisations. The leading orders started planting vines around the priories (Macau, Cantenac, Vertheuil, the Abbaye de l’Isle) and manor houses (Castelnau, Lesparre, Latour and Blanquefort). These modest micro-vineyards produced new wines called « Clarets » that were much appreciated by the English.
Despite these few vineyards scattered throughout the Médoc, the main vine growing activity was centred in and limited to the southern Médoc, mainly in marshy soils but also in gravel.

Noble by birth, noble by rank, a noble vineyard
The Médoc progressively welcomed pilgrims from northern Europe who went back home with a taste for Médoc wines and their flasks filled with good « fair and honest » wine. That heralded the beginnings of wine tourism and the start of the career of Médoc wines.
The 100 Years War from 1337 to 1453 consolidated the 3 centuries of links established between Aquitaine and England. The Médoc nobles, the majority of whom were faithful to the Anglo-Gascon party, were defeated by the King of France and paid dearly for their alliance at the end of the war. For the Bordeaux parliamentarians, the vast majority of whom were from the bourgeoisie, it was the golden opportunity to get very rich by buying, thanks to the profits earned from their position, the land and vineyards of the aristocracy. The parliamentarians very rapidly took over the Médoc vineyards and used their right as bourgeois to sell their wines first. In the course of the 16th century, leading figures created estates devoted to mixed farming and stock rearing, known as “Bourdieux”, originally in the south of the Médoc. In the early 17th century, the estates gradually expanded towards the gravely outcrops rising above the marshlands that had been drained by Dutch engineers. The old feudal lands became vast properties owned by powerful and titled parliamentarians. It was the era of the Bordeaux ermined judiciary, a golden age which ended with Mazarin and the abandonment of the fiscal advantages of parliament to the benefit of the Intendants.

Birth of the concept of quality
Expansion of the vineyards continued apace throughout the 17th century. The reversal of the alliance which resulted in Louis XIV opposing the English, however, plunged France into 40 years of war which seriously curtailed trade with Northern Europe. The wines, which could not be kept for long and that could no longer be exported, went to waste or were sold at rock-bottom prices in the taverns. Under these circumstances, the Médoc had time to turn its attention to vine growing and chose to create new wines. An embryonic, quality-oriented organisation came about, heralding the start of the great Médoc wines.
The growers sought to improve their knowledge of the terroirs. They very rapidly established that there was a direct relationship between the soil and the quality of the wines, a phenomenon that John Locke, who visited the Médoc in 1677, explained in one of his works.
In 1709, the Great Winter, the coldest that “man and beast had ever known », destroyed all the vineyards. The growers gradually replanted their vineyards with noble, tight-grained grape varieties and observed that alignment of the vines facilitated the care lavished on the grapes and offered greater possibilities for ploughing. As the same time, improvements were made to the vinification techniques, efforts were deployed to ensure proper conservation of the wine and the link between the expression of the terroir and the choice of the grape varieties was established.

In the early part
of the 18th century,
the new Médoc wine made its appearance, promptly called by the English, the main importers at the time,
the “New French Claret ».

Beginning in 1730, the new techniques of vinification became widespread. Ullage*, racking*, and wicking* or the Dutch match, made it possible to preserve the wines better. The first wines* were separated from the second and ageing methods were increasingly adopted in the cellars. The excellent « New French Claret » became grands crus in everyday language and the notions of château and the ranking of the wine-producing areas appeared.


The second lease of life of the Médoc vineyards
However, this « unstoppable pioneering spirit » (1) was however stopped dead in its tracks with the arrival, a century later, of powdery mildew, downy mildew and phylloxera. The plague-like attacks wiped out the vineyards and it took more than thirty years to replant the Médoc thanks to the use of American rootstocks which were naturally resistant to phylloxera. After a drop in production and the price of exports in 1880, the vineyards benefited from a new lease of life, reaching a peak in the first years of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the major revolts of the growers in 1907 and 1908 spurred by unfair competition and overproduction, once again adversely affected wine production in the Médoc. The 1st World War and the crisis of the 1930’s did nothing to help the situation. After the 2nd World War and the severe frosts of 1956, the area under vines had shrunk to less than 6,000 hectares. In the 1960’s, however, there was a fantastic renaissance. The modernisation of the estates, the progress achieved in oenology and above all the work and passion of the people resulted in an extraordinary expansion of the area planted. In just 30 years, the area and harvests doubled, together with extensive restructuring of the estates. Even if the Médoc has not returned to the size it had before the phylloxera attack, it is today in the forefront of progress. Day after day, substantial financial investments are helping to redevelop the estates, modernise the buildings and create ever more perfected techniques and equipment. All those efforts are being pursued with one precise objective: ensuring the livelihood of top-quality winemaking so that the pleasures of wine know no bounds.



L'abus d'alcool est dangereux pour la santé, à consommer avec modération.