The Lurtons is a great wine family in Bordeaux. François is from the younger generation and started his career in Bordeaux but has since achieved great success worldwide. He has achieved fame with some great value volume wines e.g. Les Fumées Blanches (one of the most popular wines in Sweden). But François makes a whole series of wines up to top quality, from France, Spain, Argentina, Chile and more. BKWine’s Wilhelm Arnör reports from a meeting with François Lurton.
François Lurton is in Stockholm a wintry day in January in 2014 and holds court. Francois is as usual in a good mood. Sweden is one of his four biggest markets and today’s host, the importer The Wineagency, is his single largest distributor and the only one who has the confidence to market his entire range. His big seller at the Swedish monopoly, the white wine called Les Fumées Blanches was awarded “the best bag-in-box wine” just before Christmas 2013 by a Swedish wine magazine. Francois exudes confidence when he talks about it.
I am not surprised.
On some of his labels Francois Lurton has the tag line “viticulteur de pere en fils depuis 1895” (wine grower from father to son since 1895). He is the fifth generation winegrower since the ancestor Leonce Recapet decided to change from distilling spirits to viticulture. His father André Lurton, who is now 90, was a leading light in Bordeaux in the 70s and 80s together with his three siblings, Dominique, Lucien and Simone.
An early start
In 1984 Francois went into the company and over 10 years he built a strong market position for his father’s wines. Together with his younger brother Jacques he started a consulting firm and they became known as the flying wine brothers in the 90s. Wherever in the world someone wanted a wine produced with a certain profile the two brothers could arrange it. Eventually, they became their own wine suppliers.
Argentina and Chile were the first major investments and subsequently Spain and France. After Jacques leaving the partnership in 2007 Francois now owns and produces Francois himself together with his staff. Even with all the viticulture he had in his blood it is still on his own merits that Francois has become an impressive business leaders. With a base in wine production, he has gained extensive knowledge of the market and built his own wine enterprise delivering wines worldwide.
Semi-bubbly and biodynamic novelty
It is almost 40 years since I met Francois for the first time during the grape harvest at Clos Fourtet in St Emilion and he is as enthusiastic now as then. Fortunately, since we will spend two hours with him guiding us through 16 wines, enjoying a four course lunch including amuse and a lot of information. This time he has brought with him his chief winemaker Guillaume Martineau, his some 20 years younger employee who has shouldered brother Jacques’ role in the company.
As aperitif we have last year’s novelty, Les Fumées Blanches Sparkling 2012. A lovely starter which is neither lightly fizzy nor true sparkling but rather something in between. The aroma has delicate notes of red berries, strawberries, raspberries or even a little black currant with a hint of sweetness. The palate is medium-bodied, moderately dry with a finish with a little peach. A nice aperitif for around 10 euro. (All prices are approximate prices based on retail prices in Sweden.)
The first wine to the amuse is one of this year’s new wines: FL. A wine with lower alcohol contents, about 9%! It is the chief winemaker Guillaume who has developed this in his quest to bring out the fruity and fresh aromatic notes of the sauvignon blanc grape. By selecting specific vineyards which have come a long way in the maturation process early on without getting as high sugar content would normally be the case they have made a wine with a naturally lower alcohol contents. The fruity and fresh scents with hints of both lemon and pears is the result. The taste is lightly tart with a finish that is reminiscent of pineapple.
This year’s second novelty is a biodynamic wine, Terra Sana Nature Sauvignon Blanc 2013. It has been grown organically for a few years but now the Terra Sana range is totally biodynamic. Certification is on its way Guillaume hopes. This wine has a lovely sauvignon blanc feel with nettle and citrus and a balanced dry and fresh taste.
Francois says that the entire company is on its way to using less and less chemicals. The big challenge is to remove the sulphur. But he thinks they have come a very long way. They work very structured with their work on quality. By controlling that no step in the process adds any unnecessary oxidation and by having a clinically clean production process and keeping bacteria away and constant supervision of the vinification Francois think they are professional and can have a lower cost than many others.
A difficult 2013
2013 was a difficult if not disastrous year in many places around Europe with both lower production and lower quality. It was the bad spring that messed up in so many places. But still Francois thinks that they managed very well with the sauvignon blanc grapes.
2013 is typical of a cold year. This gives high acidity. But it can benefit white wines for which the acidity is an important structure bearing elements. Since they have about 30 different places in France where they grow grapes they can choose grapes from the places where the output was good.
François was pleased with Les Fumées Blanches 2013, 60% comes from the Languedoc and 40% from Gascony. So was I. An elegant and balanced fresh floral fragrance with hints of strawberry, nice fresh acidity with both melon and pear flavours.
A sauvignon blanc specialist?
There is no doubt that the Lurton family with Francois at the head have a long experience of producing sauvignon blanc wines. Therefore, it is particularly gratifying to hear how they are working to develop, improve and innovate in areas where they are already good. One of the many areas they worked on recently is to test different kinds of screw caps.
Since the sauvignon blanc grape is susceptible to oxidation you want to control it. And for this grape, the choice fell on a tightly closed variant. They have also experimented with adding different amounts of carbon dioxide to a sauvignon blanc wine just before bottling to see how it would affect the wine. They discovered that the grape aromas became more chiselled with added CO2 which led to the creation of Les Blanches Fumées Sparkling. And the trend towards organic wines they have already cottoned on!
Organic Terra Sana
In the following series of wines they included three different organic wines from the Terra Sana estate. I liked best their Terra Sana Syrah 2013. It was young, simple straight-forward syrah with blackberry and spices on the nose. A somewhat short aftertaste with a crisp finish. Good value for some 10 euro. It is also interesting that Francois pointed out that syrah is the grape that is the easiest handle with minimal sulphur.
Food and wine and Roussillon
The food that the PA & Co restaurant served us deserves to be mentioned separately. We had a baked sweet-bread sprinkled with truffles and a cauliflower puree in a spicy clear broth as a starter. The combination of the smooth, creamy cauliflower and the truffle with smooth and salty sweetbreads and bouillon was wonderful. It was best matched with the wines of the Cotes du Roussillon.
The white Mas Janeil is made from grenache gris, grenache blanc and macabeu. Typical Roussillon grapes which in this case resulted in a mellow, slightly earthy scent, a little barrel character and buttery flavour with sweetness in the finish. Francois predicts that the white wines from the Roussillon are on the rise.
The red Mas Janeil is called MJ Special Edition 2012. The syrah dominates followed by grenache noir, carignan and mourvèdre. This shows in the character which is rich, spicy, black-berry on the nose and curiously mature, spicy, rich, flavours with a little rough finish.
Both wines are picked manually and harvest yields are low, about 25 hl/ha. The Lurton brothers initially rented 100 ha of vineyard at Mas Janeil. It has a mix of old and younger vines with different grapes and different soils that Francois liked. Now he has bought the parcels that he liked best.
The main course surpasses, if possible, our expectations. We are served a roasted, boned, and stuffed quail on a mirror of spicy morel sauce with vegetables as accompaniment. Exquisite work by the chef!
Of the three red wines from Lolol and Campo Alegre in Spain my favourite was clearly Campo Alegre 2011 which is available for around 17 euro. Campo Alegre is made from 100 % tinta de toro, aka tempranillo, aged 14 months in new French oak barrels. The nose was delightfully spicy, fruity and powerful. Nice acidity, rich supple and complex flavours, youthful and with good grip. An excellent wine to try.
The travelling salesman takes a break?
Our tasting with Francois, Guillaume and The Wineagency concludes with Gran Lurton Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Argentina, and Alka Carmenere 2009, Chile. They are accompanied by a piece of Brillat-Savarin and a 24 months old Beaufort, a classic end to a meal for Francois. If he also drinks these wines to cheese I do not ask. Gran Lurton was my preferred choice. Despite or perhaps because of 15% malbec the wine exhibits a classic cabernet sauvignon aroma, full-bodied, mature with black currants, some spices and barrel notes. The palate is full bodied, with berries, complex but young and a bit edgy. Should benefit from some more years before consumption.
Francois rounds off and says thank you us all having thanked the brigade at PA & Co Restaurant with a well-deserved applause. It is obvious that the chief winemaker, Guillaume has emerged as a possible crown prince for Francois. He is equally good at English, just as charming to talk to and with a genuine interest not only for wine but also for cars. In 2010 they drove, with Francois at the wheel, the Paris-Dakar rally.
So with seven months a year on the road away from home in Bordeaux even Francois, the flying winemaker, probably starts to feel the need to share some of the external duties.
An innovator should consider doing things in new ways, should he not?
Wilhelm Arnör writes on wine on BKWine Magazine. Wilhelm has been a dedicated wine enthusiast ever since he founded Vincollegiet, a still active wine tasting association at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, in 1976. His day job is running a company in the IT business in Sweden.
This post is also available in: Swedish