Sauternes - History of Sauternes
Two popular stories tell the birth of Sauternes
wines. The first is said to have taken place in 1836. The Bordeaux wine
dealer Focke, of German descent, apparently waited until the end of the
long autumn rains before starting to pick at his Château.
When the sun finally returned, the bunches of grapes dried, and the
noble rot developed. The beautifully sweet wine was a great success.
The second story is also based on supposed
serendipity. In 1847, the Marquis de Lur-Saluces, who owned
Château d’Yquem, was delayed during a trip back
from Russia. Having left specific instructions that harvesting should
not begin before his return, not surprisingly the noble rot was
well-developed when picking finally started. The wine produced in this
outstanding vintage was highly acclaimed.
Historians provide more complex explanations,
though they do not go out of their way to refute these two anecdotes.
In particular, they agree that from the end of the 16th century, Dutch
merchants, who dominated maritime trade at that time, were very fond of
white wines. They added sugar, alcohol, syrup and marinated plants in
order to satisfy their Scandinavian customers, who preferred sweeter
drinks. In the 17th century, the Dutch presence was very strong in
Bordeaux and its surrounding vineyards.
Although the main winegrowing area ran parallel to
the Garonne at the beginning of the 18th century, by 1770-1810 it had
extended away from the river bank to include the gravely hillsides of
Bommes and Sauternes. The role of the Sauvage d'Yquem family (later
called Lur-Saluces) owners of Châteaux d’Yquem,
Saint Cricq, Filhot and Coutet was very important in terms of chosing
vineyard sites, introducing the finest white grape varieties and
perfecting the techniques for selecting only the most overripe,
In 1787, Thomas Jefferson, future president of the
United States of America, was captivated by the wines of the region
when he visited Bordeaux. On returning to America, he placed an order
for 85 cases of 12 bottles, including Sauternes. As early as 1741, the
Intendant of Guyenne described the manner in which these wines were
harvested, stating that the owners waited "until the grapes were almost
rotten" and added that picking “was carried out several times
to give a sweeter wine”.This provides very early confirmation
of the presence of the noble rot and the use of selective harvesting.