I was contacted recently by Adrien Surain, who has recently taken over winemaking duties from his uncle, at his family’s estate in Bordeaux called Château Surain.
Farming 12 hectares around Saint-Gervais on the right bank of the river Dordogne not far from St Emilion, the family cultivates its vines organically and in harmony with the lunar cycle, though the wines are not certified organic. A dry microclimate in the area allows them to harvest relatively late, from their 30-year-old Merlot vineyard.
The Surain family have been farming vines here since the 1920s, but fourth generation Adrien Surain has now taken over the reins after an international career as an IT project manager. In 2013, the winery was struggling financially, its business mostly based on selling grapes and bulk wines to local négociants. Adrien’s uncle was ready to sell, so Adrien became involved, his IT job in Hong Kong allowing him to invest in the family business with new equipment and expanded facilities, growing the estate-bottled wine business to produce 30,000 bottles under his own label in 2015. In 2017, Adrien moved back to Bordeaux, where he now works full time in the vineyard and winery.
He also has a new vision for a Bordeaux, to produce quality wine, but wine which is uncomplicated, fruit-driven and will appeal to younger drinkers who cannot afford, or might even be put off, by the image and price of Bordeaux wines from the traditional Cru Classé châteaux. He told me “Since I started making wine three years ago, I keep hearing that Bordeaux wines are out of date, not fun, too technical, too expensive and not sexy. People are also complaining that we are arrogant and not fun, they are wrong because I am funny!” There’s certainly nothing traditional about branding the wine ‘Popcorn’, smartly presented with wax-sealed DIAM corks and simple, bold labelling. Adrien sent me three vintages to try for myself: the 2015 made by his uncle, the 2016 a joint effort between uncle and nephew, and finally the 2018, Adrien’s first solo effort. It’s another interesting and bold move that Adrien has put his latest wine in a Burgundy-shaped bottle, surely anathema in Bordeaux, but presumably intended as another signal that this is something a little bit different.
Given the relative lack of innovation in Bordeaux, it’s great to see a contemporary approach to marketing the wines from an ambitious winemaker: there are a lot of small estates that struggle in the shadow of the classed growth wines. These are very good, solid Bordeaux wines, not the greatest wines from the region of course, but then they are selling for a fraction of classed growth prices and are aimed fairly and squarely at a new and very different market.
The wines are not currently available in UK retailers, but there is distribution in Denmark and you can contact Adrien via chateausurain.com.