En Primeur 2022: An Interview with Marielle Cazaux, Managing Director of La Conseillante
Victoria Mason, Senior Fine Wine Buyer
5 May 2023
As part of En Primeur 2022, we’ve interviewed leaders in the industry in Bordeaux to find out everything there is to know about the Bordeaux 2022 vintage.
Victoria Mason our Senior Fine Wine Buyer, sat down with the Managing Director of one of the top Bordeaux estates, Marielle Cazaux of La Conseillante to hear her take on the 2022 vintage, and to find out what we can expect from La Conseillante’s 2022 release.
Marielle, thank you for joining us today. Could you summarise the weather conditions that were most formative for the vintage.
So, the vintage 2022 is characterised by dryness and heat. Very early, even during the winter, the water available in the soil was very low so the plants started with very little water available. Something that helped us a lot during the growing season was that the plants adapted themselves with the little quantity of water and very soon in the season the temperature was high. There were three points in the season where there was a lot of heat: around the 18th June, around the 14th July and around the 10th August. These periods saw high temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius.
But it was very promising as with the past years of 2018, 19 and 20 we knew how to manage the water issue and I think we now have the techniques to protect the vineyard against the heat. The main problem however was the sunburn. Because we didn’t cut the vines as usual and didn’t have ‘umbrellas’ over the grapes to protect them, we put what I call a suncream on the vines which is made of clay. This allowed us to avoid the problem of the sunburn on the grapes. Because of the lack of water, the grapes were tiny so mostly we had a smaller yield compared to the last three vintages. And it’s surprising because we had a very, very, high level of heat and severe and high stress and in the end we were surprised at the quality and freshness of the wine. For me, it’s because the vine plant is very resilient and adapts time after time because since 2015, we have had a lot of dry and hot vintages.
Was 2022 the time that you felt you saw that adaptation in play for the first time? As you say, since 2015, there have been multiple hot, dry vintages to deal with.
Yes but 2022 saw the most severe conditions with the most surprising adaptation of the vine. The plant has adapted, and we have adapted our techniques. So, the blend is finished now, and we have a 14 degree alcohol level (which is high but not that high), and we have a very good pH of 3.6, which is completely fine and normal – similar to the pH of 2005 for example. This pH is fresh enough to make a very long-term wine with the ability to age and guarantee a top wine in the future. It is definitely not like the 2003 because everybody was afraid about having another 2003 and that’s absolutely not the case. You can have the chance to test it out on En Primeur! So, believe me, it’s amazing how fresh the 2022 is.
You talked about how you’ve adapted in the vineyard, like how you used the clay as suncream for example, but in terms of vineyard management, what specific practices have you been using which have helped the vines to be more resilient?
We adapted our approach to cover crops so that instead of destroying the cover crop, we leave the cover crop and do what we call mulching. So with the mulching you make a straw cover (by rolling the cover crop) to preserve the humidity of the soil and you avoid transpiration. In October 2022 I went to California – where they are so used to extreme dryness and heat – and talked with winemakers from Dominus and from Harlan Estate, for example – so people who dry farm [without irrigation]. I was able to ask their opinions, and ask what is working, and what is not working. And we finally agreed that cover crops and mulching, not touching the canopy, and using the clay “suncream” were all very important practices. Then, after the rain you can just decrease by a little bit the level of the canopy to have fewer leaves, so you have less sugar and alcohol at the end.
So, it’s this technique we used for 22. After that period and the wine making, I flew to California for another reason, but I took a few days to visit some vineyards and to take time to talk with some incredible wine makers. I said okay, what I did was great but of course there are other techniques we could use - maybe. I say maybe because the laws are very restrictive in France. So maybe plant with less density, which is not allowed today in Pomerol. Maybe in the future, spray water – I am against irrigation, it’s something I don’t want to do – but just like a mist of water to lower the temperature. It’s something they do in California but of course, we’re not allowed to do that. Maybe another thing we could do but isn’t allowed yet in France is protection of the grapes with nets like they do in California to protect the grapes from the sunburn which is very useful over there. Perhaps the regulations and laws will change in the future but for now what we do in France is good. We have good skills and in 2022 the result in the bottle is perfectly balanced because of what we did in terms of management in the vineyard.
It's really fascinating and brilliant to hear about you going to California to the best growers there to understand what they’re doing and bringing that back to Bordeaux. It’s like a role reversal in terms of obviously in the past New World growers would learn from Bordeaux. But we have to adapt, as you say, with the changing climate.
Yes, but you know we are not ready for change at the moment. We have a way to stabilise problems and when we plant, we use special rootstocks to go deeper into the soil. In 2022 we saw that the resilience of the vineyard was amazing but of course we always have young plants. The young plants were the most sensitive because the roots are not deep enough. But the adult vines of the vineyard didn’t show a problem at all, of stress or anything. So, I’m very confident for the future and we are still learning and finding solutions.
That’s great. Final question: if you had to sum up the 2022 vintage in three words, what would they be?
Resilience, surprise and balanced.
We’re very excited to taste them! Thank you Marielle for your time and see you in Bordeaux soon.
Bordeaux Index Insights
"Marielle Cazaux said, if I was asked ‘draw me a Conseillante’ the 2022 would be the result. A blend of 87% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Franc, the 2022 Conseillante has such an expressive nose of wild flowers, lavender, five spice and sandalwood. The palate is so wonderfully poised and silky but with drive towards the saline and focused finish. There is density and concentration at the core of the wine with ripe cherry fruits but also a sense of effortlessness. A sensational effort from the Conseillante team." - Robert Mathias, Senior Fine Wine Buyer 98-100 Points