BORDEAUX (Reuters Life!) - Wine lovers can now make their own Bordeaux wines, mixing grape varieties and grapes from different vineyards just like the professionals do.
Do-it-yourself winemaking company Crushpad started out in California in 2004 by providing the winery, tools, grapes and knowledge for wine enthusiasts who wanted to make their own wines and has now opened another D-I-Y winery at Chateau Teyssier in the heart of Saint-Emilion, France.
Budding vintners can participate as much or as little as possible, getting involved in the picking, crushing, tasting, bottling, or they can just make decisions about grapes and labels while monitoring progress over the Internet.
Franco-American businessman Stephen Bolger brought the can-do American concept of Crushpad to Bordeaux, where vintage wines can sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle.
Bolger left a successful business career in 2003 after reading an article in Fortune magazine about Crushpad.
He joined the group in California, brought the idea to Bordeaux and has selected several plots of vines.
Last weekend, a few dozen budding Bordeaux barons came to Chateau Teyssier for tastings and plot visits.
"The client decides the style of wine he wants to create, establishes a plan of action for the wine-making process and participates as much or as little in the creation of his own wine," Bolger said.
"He is guided by Crushpad which has nine plots over the left and right bank: Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Emilion, Saint-Estèphe etc... The client selects the vine and the plot he desires, we help him with all the technical aspects," he said.
The client can follow the production via the Internet and is assisted by several professionals such as Jonathan Maltus, a Nigerian-born Englishman who owns Chateau Teyssier.
Eric Boissenot is the wine consultant who also works for houses such as Lafite, Margeaux, Palmer, Pichon, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Leoville Barton or Leoville La Cazes.
To have a barrel of your own wine delivered to a warehouse in San Francisco, you need to invest some $12,000 and will end up with 25 cases. Some people team up to make a barrel.
"In the United States we have four graphic designers who spend their time creating labels on the basis of the clients' wishes," Bolton said.
"The reality is this: when a group of people get together to produce a barrel of wine, they don't argue that much on the style of wine, the choice of the plots of land or the way they want to do the vinification process, but they always argue about what should appear on the bottle itself," he added.
One of the clients is Rain Tamm from Estonia.
"We wanted to go for a more or less typical Bordeaux right-bank wine dominated by Merlot and so we have 85 percent of Merlot and then adding just for a bit more of character some Cabernet-Sauvignon, from Margaux," he said.
Some of the buyers are novices and the tasting of the 2009 harvest calls for a professional palate -- young wines are often very fruity, can be sour and in any case leave stains.
"It's interesting because I don't have much experience drinking wine this young but it is nice now so I'm relatively sure that it is going to get a lot better as it ages," said Irene Yates, an American living in Switzerland.
"We are now starting to go round and get other people's wine off their table to see if we might need to mix something else in. The idea of making this with friends makes it even more fun because we know we'll get to get together in the future, pull out the wine, reminisce about the weekends and the stories, so it's a great, great deal," Yates said.
Unfortunately, Bordeaux airport was closed for most of the weekend due to a volcanic ash cloud that has shut down aviation across much of Europe and some people had trouble getting out while some did not even manage to come in to Saint-Emilion.
"One of my clients is going to Hong Kong from Bordeaux via Toulouse, Casablanca and Dubai...another spent 26 hours getting back to Bratislava by train but he sent a message saying his trip to Bordeaux was worth every minute in the train," Bolger said in an email.
Writing by Marcel Michelson, editing by Paul Casciato