Château Bel-Air is in a prime site within the tiny appellation of Graves de Vayres, in the Entre-Deux-Mers. A real claret lovers’ claret, this offers a very traditional style of winemaking; elegant, with an emphasis on balance – a great standard bearer for approachable Bordeaux. Château Bel-Air, Graves de Vayres has equal rights to adopt Bordeaux Supérieur as its appellation but this is a unique place and we applaud their differentiating themselves. Philippe Serey-Eiffel, great-great-grandson of Gustave Eiffel, the engineer who masterminded the Eiffel Tower, decided to market his wine himself and break with the tradition of selling through a négociant (merchant). Philippe, also an engineer, set about the task with meticulous attention to detail, as befits his chosen profession.
Château Bel-Air Graves de Vayres – the appellation
The Graves de Vayres appellation was initiated in 1931 by Philippe’s great-grandfather and it warrants differentiation. The Graves de Vayres is a gravelly enclave on the left bank of the Dordogne, opposite the mouth of the River Isle. The gravel deposits of the region are from both rivers, distributed millions of years ago from their origins in the Massif Central. Château Bel-Air Graves de Vayres is one of only four or five properties to enjoy a very particular soil profile, with deep gravel parcels. This is markedly different from the rest of the Entre-Deux-Mers. Thus, when Philippe Serey-Eiffel made the decision to look after his own distribution, he also changed the label from Bordeaux Supérieur, which it had been hitherto, to Graves de Vayres.
Château Bel-Air Graves de Vayres – the blend and vineyard
The Château Bel-Air vineyard comprises fourteen hectares of vines ranging between ten and forty-eight years old, with an average age of thirty. It is planted with 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. This is rather rare in the region as a blend because of the relatively high proportion of the less prolific Cabernet. The majority of Philippe’s neighbours favour greater proportions of Merlot as it is more economically viable. Philippe however is aiming for quality and Cabernet sets his wines apart.
The density of planting is varied, at between 3,300 and 5,000 vines per hectare, although all new planting is set at 5,000 on soil which includes the alluvial gravels, loess and silt. Philippe is striving to make Château Bel-Air as sustainable as possible and to that effect he exercises a viticultural system known as lutte raisonnée. There is no easy translation but here at Château Bel-Air it means they take a reasoned approach, only using chemicals as a last resort. Weeding is carried out mechanically and herbicides are never used. Yields are controlled at between thirty-five and forty hl /ha by very disciplined pruning.