Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947 failure

 

  • “The ’47 Cheval is probably the most celebrated wine of the 20th century…The ’47 Cheval is often spoken of as a benchmark wine, a yardstick against which other Bordeaux should be measured and a standard to which contemporary winemakers should aspire. But the château itself describes the ’47 as a ‘happy accident of nature,’ which it was: Born of aberrant weather and vinified under primitive conditions, it is a wine full of technical flaws that turned out delicious in spite of itself… This was the Forrest Gump of wines—clearly defective, completely charmed’.”

You’ve seen the bumper stickers “My other car is a Ferrari”. Well, my other blog is about the Maldives. And one of my recent posts featured one of the most epic stories of turning adversity not just to advantage but to acclaim.

It is the story of the 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc. A wine for sale on Fine and Rare Wines for a $100,000 (yes, count the zeros). That’s nearly $7,000 a glass or $650 a sip.  A Slate piece on the wine minces no words in the title of its story on this classic vintage “The Greatest Wine on the Planet”, but the subtitle belies its tale of embracing failure: “How the ’47 Cheval Blanc, a defective wine from an aberrant year, got so good.”

For starters, Chateau Cheval Blanc hailed from the “wrong side” of the Gironde River…

  • Cheval Blanc was omitted from the 1855 classifications, which established the five-tiered ranking system of Bordeaux’s top wines. The list was compiled on the basis of price, and in 1855 the most sought-after and expensive Bordeaux all came from the left side of the river, where Cabernet Sauvignon reigns. By contrast, Saint-Émilion and its neighboring appellation, Pomerol, were seen as viticultural backwaters, producing rustic, unremarkable wines.”

But the killer was the summer of 1947. That year was to summers what Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’s was to winters (“If I live to be 100, I’ll never forget that big snow storm a couple of years ago. The weather closed in and, well you might not believe it, but the world almost missed Christmas.”)…

  • “The weather that summer was almost Biblical in its extremity. July and August were blazing hot months, and the conditions turned downright tropical in September. By the time the harvest began, the grapes had more or less roasted on the vine, and the oppressive heat followed the fruit right into the cellar. Because wineries were not yet temperature-controlled, a number of producers experienced stuck fermentations—that is, the yeasts stopped converting the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol (yeasts, like humans, tend to wilt in excessive heat). A stuck fermentation can leave a wine with significant levels of both residual sugar and volatile acidity; enough of the latter can ruin a wine, and more than a few vats were lost to spoilage in ’47.”

The tale of the Cheval Blanc is a “mother of invention” classic (mixed in with a bit of silver-lining serendipity)…

  • “To keep the fermentation going, he decided to dump ice into the tanks, figuring a little dilution was preferable to losing his wine…But, against all odds, this hellish harvest yielded some monumental wines. Two Pomerol estates, Petrus and Lafleur, made clarets that have now achieved mythic status, and the Right Bank turned out a bevy of other gems. However, it was the ’47 Cheval—the product of a stuck fermentation, according to the château, with the corresponding vital signs (3 grams per liter of residual sugar, high volatile acidity)—that acquired the greatest renown.”

The result was a paradoxical wonder that seemed like it should have been a calamity turned out so fantastically…

  • “Its technical sheet may have read like an autopsy, but it proved to be staggeringly good…So what makes the ’47 such a singular, head-spinning creation? Desai calls it a "cuddly wild boar," a vivid metaphor that gets to the wine’s oxymoronic essence—it is a lovable beas…To [Pierre Lurton, Cheval Blanc’s current director], the ’47 Cheval is miracle juice; it is a wine that should have been destroyed by its defects but that somehow blossomed into an ageless, ethereal wonder. ‘All the faults became qualities; all of these excesses went into the service of an exceptional wine.’

Reflection on this curiosity of failure turned famous underscores how risk and fear of failure may just prevent other masterpieces from every being fermented…

  • “Is there any reason to think that producers today could emulate such a wine, and would they be wise even to try? Pierre Lurton, Cheval Blanc’s current director..[remarked that] vintners today would be loath to take the kinds of chances required to produce such a wine—too much money is at stake now. ‘They would not want the risk," he said. ‘They are too prudent.”

 

By the way, if you like my blogging, I would really appreciate a vote for the Maldives Complete Blog which is nominated in the UK Blog Awards (today is the last day to vote!).

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