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Don't Rush The Lady

Berenice LURTON, Proprietor of Chateau Climens, makes one of the most admired sweet wines in the world.

Story & Photos By Ch'ng Poh Tiong

Berenice LURTON does not like to be rushed.

This means that while all around her in Barsac and Sauternes are letting journalists and wine merchants taste the 2010 vintage (the completed blend) in April 2011, the lady would only allow you to taste from individual barrels of wines picked on different days of the harvest, down to different parcels, and plots of the 30-hectare vineyard. The reason is because she has not made the final blend yet. Berenice LURTON takes greater time and care to do so.

Chateau Climens was rated a First Growth in the 1855 Classification of Sauternes and Barsac. Actually, Barsac wines can be labeled either as Sauternes or Barsac. Some connoisseurs particularly appreciate Barsac's relative freshness over Sauternes's richness (which some people regard as 'heaviness').

For these wine lovers, Climens is even more special because it is produced from 100% Semillon. Other chateaux, whether Sauternes or Barsac, rely on both the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (and, for some, a bit of Muscadelle). Both varietals are capable of developing the noble rot that makes Sauternes and Barsac such great, rich, sweet wines.

The conventional thinking is that Semillon provides the richness and Sauvignon the freshness. The best wine is therefore a combination of the two. If you follow that text-book wisdom, then a sweet wine produced from 100% Semillon cannot possibly be fresh but will instead be heavy, rich, even flabby.

If you believe that, you have not tasted Climens.

"There is something special about the Climens terroir that even though our wines are produced entirely from Semillon, they are fresh. The 2002 vintage is clear evidence of that because it is so fresh and elegant," LURTON explained.

Not only is the Climens terroir special, the 30-hectare vineyard is in one uninterrupted piece and has practically remained unchanged since vines were believed to have been planted here as early as the late 16th Century, more than 400 years ago. It is also interesting that the name Climens, in old French, apparently meant 'infertile land' or 'poor land'. It is, of course, a well-known fact that the poorer the land, the deeper the roots have to sink to find water and nutrients. As they say, in order to make great wine, the vine has to suffer.

Chateau Climens was purchased by Lucien LURTON, Berenice's father, in 1971. Her brothers are Henri LURTON of Margaux Second Growths Chateau Brane-Cantenac and Gonzague LURTON of Chateau Durfort Vivens. Chateau d'Yquem's and Cheval Blanc's Managing Director Pierre LURTON is a cousin.

Climens is reputed to lie on the highest point of Barsac. The red soil, dotted with stones, also has a thin layer of clay and sand over a substratum of fissure starfish limestone. The property also produces a second wine called Cypres de Climens.

The purpose of the second wine is mainly to ensure that only in the best years will Chateau Climens, the Grand Vin, be made. And that the very best material goes into Climens. After all, the sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes are special only when noble rot has infected the grapes. So, for example, no Chateau Climens was produced in 1984, 1987, 1992 and 1993.

Berenice LURTON not only does not like to be rushed, she is also very strict on herself. And her wine.

All Rights Reserved · The Wine Review · 2013