Château Bellevue: 12 Generations of Winemakers
by Laurie Arrivé
Our 2015 harvest was an unequaled pleasure this year, with beautiful mouthwatering fruit! But, as always, it’s the start of meticulous, hard work, to make the grapes into wine. Passion and work is what we strive for, maintaining the traditions established over centuries, from propagating new plants to cellaring the wine we produce on the Atlantic Coast and distilling Cognac.
My name is Laurie Arrivé. I’m currently a student in a wine and spirits international management school in Bordeaux. But one day soon, I will answer present, along with my brother Guillaume, when called to take over the reins of our family’s wine business. Guillaume and I have a long way to go to understand all the tricks of the trade so we can have a solid understanding of the projects started by our forefathers. We fit nicely, he and I: He is more interested in the technical aspect of the vineyards, while I enjoy the public relations side. That sharing of duties was begun with our parents, and we are following their example.
Twelve generations of my family have been involved in winemaking. My great-great-grandfather Honoré Arrivé originally purchased Château Bellevue and its 220 acres of vines surrounded by a 4-mile long stone wall. In 1881, after Phylloxera devastated many French vineyards, a few vignerons including Honoré started nursery businesses and promoted the grafting of vines to fight off the disease. A short period after that, with the production from our own vines, we came out with our Cognac and Pineau des Charentes, both very popular then and now.
All our apéritif and after-dinner drinks were crafted with tradition, respect for the environment, passion and love for this art, which has now been transmitted to later generations, including my grandfather Jean-Guy Arrivé who continued the nurseries and the production of Cognac and Pineau des Charentes. Later, because of the quality of his work, my father joined my grandfather and eventually became the head of the company. Together they worked, learned from each other, improved their skills, bought finer properties, bought new equipment, created new products but mostly they developed their family treasure with great wisdom.
PRODUCING COGNAC & PINEAU
Let us look at the technical aspect of producing Cognac and Pineau des Charentes. These spirits evolve in a two-cycle phase. The first distillate, called a brouillis is prepared at 28-32 degrees Celsius (82-90 Fahrenheit). A pressure of 600 mbar is necessary for about an hour. When the temperature in the boiler reaches 70 Celsius (158 Fahrenheit) the pressure is eased. This phase is important to gather all the flattering extracts. Alcohol vapors are then moved through the swan neck of the distiller into another heater to keep them at 45 Celsius (114 Fahrenheit) before the next distillation. Vapor molecules are then led to refrigeration for the liquid to at last become brouillis. This first process takes about 12 hours. You also, of course, have to clean up the 16 hectoliters of wine residue left in the boiler!
The second distillation is called la bonne chauffe, where we seek 70% per volume of alcohol. The process is the same, but the temperatures are lower so the more subtle aromas remain. The entire operation will last approximately 24 hours. 24 hours of care and of constant watching so the Cognac can truly develop its own personality.
Aging in the old stone walls of Château Bellevue has been going on for centuries and it is a must so that the eau de vie becomes Cognac. In the Limousin Oak barrels, there will be permanent contact with ambient air and the wood will impart to the spirit its color and final bouquet. During the decades of aging, its color will change from a golden hue to a rich brown. In terms of flavor, the rancio develops, a multi-stage growth in which flavor profiles evolve from vanilla to deep mushroomy flavors. The rancio completes the profile of Château Bellevue Cognac.
Pineau production is the marriage of white or red grape juice with the previous year’s Cognac. The high alcohol in the Cognac stops the grape juice fermentation. My mother Elisabeth Arrivé’s grandfather, along with some business associates, developed this product. Elisabeth now runs the business side of our winery.
MORE ARRIVE PROPERTIES
Today, my family runs four properties. In addition to Château Bellevue, my father purchased Domaine du Tailland in 1981. This property consists of 60-acres of vines producing various varietals. Domaine d’Elisabeth is my mother’s family’s property, where 105-acres of vines are dedicated to the production of Cognac (Fin Bois appellation) and which we are growing according to biodynamic regulations. Finally, we have Talmondais, also biodynamic, a small plot of land consisting of 25-acres located along the ocean. This land had been ignored until 2003, when my father opted to plant vines on this limestone plateau. This vineyard benefits from the influence of the largest river estuary in Europe and there, we are able to grow nine of the most prestigious French varietals including: Merlot, French Colombard, Pinot Noir and Ugni Blanc.
We continue to grow quality vines that we sell to the most prestigious estates such as Baron Otard (Cognac), Château Smith Haut Lafitte and even Château Junding in China. However, we are also growing our own brands, producing no less than 380,000 bottles per year. Each item, whether country wine, Cognac, Pineau, biodynamic wine or other is clearly defined by its terroir and produced with drinking pleasure as the ultimate goal.
I may have a lot to learn about wine, but since I was literally born in a barrique (wine barrel), I am bitten by the wine bug and remain fascinated by the poetry and long discourses dealing with my favorite subject: the content of my glass of wine.