A l'Emeri, Saint Emilion
France offers the explorer of cultural heritage a wealth of discovery, wonder and learning. In contrast it also offers those that live in areas of cultural heritage importance a lifetime of additional expense linked to conservation, past architectural and vernacular building challenges, while also dealing with hordes of foreign tourist, additional layers of taxes and the bureaucracy related to conservation value. Internationally the French are Masters of nation building through heritage preservation, collecting artifacts and documenting the World around us. France is the home of the United Nations Education Science & Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and it boasts historic collections such as those housed in the Louvre along with some 49 UNESCO Heritage sites throughout the country. Many entire villages and towns are under a state of heritage protection, where a particular period in time and architecture dominates and restricts development. One such UNESCO Heritage site is the town and broader region of Saint-Emilion.
While Georgia is generally considered the “birthplace” or 'cradle of wine', as archaeologists have traced the world's first known wine back to the people of the South Caucasus around 6,000BC. While the historic story of Saint-Émilion takes us back at least 35,000 years, to the Upper Palaeolithic period or “the last stone age” the regions wine story begins with the Romans of the 2nd Century CE. Interestingly the historic periods of Saint Emilion make the area conducive to the development and use of sophisticated tools that no doubt contributed to the sculpting of both limestone, soil, human populations and their unique way of life. The Saint Emilion region is famed for producing some of the world’s highest quality wines and is associated with centuries of conventional wine making practices. The origins of Saint Emilion date back to 56 B.C from which the oldest vessel or amphorae of wine was found. Hence the Viticulture in Saint Emilion is steeped with the rouge legacy of its past. In 1999 the eight villages belonging to the jurisdiction of Saint Emilion were listed as a world heritage site on the grounds of their ‘cultural landscape’ According to UNESCO, ‘Saint Emilion is an outstanding example of a historic vineyard landscape that has survived intact’ yet one must ponder the direction of the winemaking region going into the future as a living landscape. The jurisdiction of Saint Emilion retains an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life as the evolutionary process continues. However, in recent years this process has been altered by changing societal norms, the intensification of the circulation of both humans and goods on an international level stirred a new level of competition in the wine making region. The globalisation of wine culture blended with migration in the wine scene forces us to wonder about the native dimension that gives Saint Emilion its name. The financial capital injected into this economy by foreign elites as well as the foreign labour force is perhaps something of a threat for generational Chateaus.
Château Coutet are strategically using their cultural inheritance as a means of innovation. Being organic was once seen as a fault in the approach, not adapting to the science of the day. Since inception, Chateau Coutet has maintained a fully organic system of viticulture relying on traditional methods. The family note, that their organic heritage has today gifted them a with a competitive edge against the influx of international Organisations (such as Chanel, Clarins, Louis Vuitton) but also made their vineyard a place of high biodiversity and tranquillity. As foreign companies buy up family vineyards at rapidly increasing prices, local traditional owners that have produced wine for centuries are being displaced. While the Town is marked as a UNESCO world heritage site, one must ponder the cultural implications for local inhabitants as the region is becoming increasingly elitist with an influx of international organisations.
The booming Eno-Tourism represents an opportunity to promote and support inclusive and sustainable development of the region, what we see today is the result of lifetimes of labour and is a unique record of bygone practices. It is crucial to appreciate and maintain the preserved agricultural heritage of the region as the Wine tourism sector continues to develop. Chateau Coutet and the Emery way are a living example bringing the creativity of the past into dynamic business practices of the present. Chateau Coutet has been in the Beaulieu family name for more than four centuries. The 400-year-old family settlement is unique in the fact that it is 100% organic with no history of chemical activities. Each season brings with it a particular fauna and flora indicative of its biological farming practices. The estate is thriving with a unique microbacteriological life which transmits into the taste of the wine. The driving demand towards sustainable agriculture in France coupled with preferences for organic and biodynamic wines amongst consumers means that the chateau’s organic roots give them a competitive advantage against their wine producing neighbours, many of whom are attempting to make the switch to biodynamic wine making in line with consumer demand despite the risks associated with Bordeaux’s difficult climatic conditions.
The Emery Way
In 2008 David Beaulieu was cleaning and undertaking some maintenance in the Chateau cellars when he stumbled upon an unusual wine bottle buried only just below a thin layer of soil. The bottle had an unusual heart shaped glass seal and when he held it to the light he could see that it was still full. The colour too left George with little doubt that the seal had never been broken. The glass seal is described by the family as “la facon émeri” or “sealed in the emery way.'' The glass cap slots effortlessly into the wine bottle creating an airtight lock that prevents against oxidisation. The Wine belonging to the David-Beaulieu family has been preserved through time, given that the colour and the volume of wine in the bottle has remained unchanged the family consider it to be drinkable today. Chateau Coutet is aging like a fine wine, its unpretentious commitment to the wine industry coupled with its rich cultural heritage and organic foundations are paving the way for the next generation to take pride in the heritage value of Chateau Coutet and the Emery way.
“It's a family treasure we will pass it onto the next generation”