French Winemaker, Mexican Terroir

Bodegas Henri Lurton finds firmament in Baja California’s wine country

 

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By W. Scott Koenig

There’s a traditional French saying that proposes, “Qui n’avance pas, recule,” or “He who does not advance, recedes.” Henri Lurton, owner of the century old Grand Cru Classé Château Brane-Cantenac in Margaux, France, took that adage to heart when he decided to begin producing new vintages in Baja California.

“Henri is a fifth-generation Bordeaux vintner,” Lourdes Martinez Ojeda, Lurton’s chief winemaker at the new Bodegas Henri Lurton shared during a recent interview. “In 2014, he wanted to invest somewhere outside of Bordeaux, so we looked at places in Spain, Portugal, and the south of France.”

During their scouting tour, Lurton and Martinez were heavily focused on discovering just the right terroir–not just the soil, but also the topography and climate of a location–that would allow them to take their winemaking techniques in a new direction.

“We found a few nice vineyards, but nothing we really liked.” Martinez continued. Perhaps emboldened by their initial lack of fruition, she suggested to Lurton that they consider her home municipality of Ensenada for their new project.

“Baja California is made out of differences. My family is one of the original 13 that founded Ensenada. All the families were Mexican, Russian, Italian, and Spanish. So a French winemaker in the region adds another layer to the super-rich heritage we already have.”

Lurton agreed, and the two spent a year and a half visiting different vineyards in Baja California. “We tasted all the grapes in July,” Martinez recounted. “Then we came back two months later and tasted the juice. Then we came back two months after that and tasted the wines, both from the barrel and in-bottle.”

One grape in particular struck Lurton’s fancy—the Sauvignon Blanc discovered at one of the oldest vineyards in Ensenada. “It’s my uncle’s place,” Martinez explained. “He’s a third-generation winemaker. The soil is partly composed of clay, which keeps it cool. It’s marvelous for (growing white grapes in) our hot weather.”

bodegas_henri_lurton_valle_de_guadalupe_bajaLurton quietly began operation in 2015 with the construction of a small, state-of-the art winemaking facility near the vineyard in Valle San Vicente. “The technology that we’re using is very new to the American continent,” Martinez shared. “We are using presses that preserve aromas in the whites and we add more oxygen to produce very nice colors. Our reds are fermented in barrel to give them more elegance and softer tannins with more balance. They’re not as potent or alcoholic as some wines can be.”

In 2017, Bodegas Henri Lurton introduced their first vintage, which includes four 2015 monovarietals—a Chenin Centenario, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Nebbiolo.

The Nebbiolo is notably more refined and contains less of the earthy taste than some regional versions of this Italian grape. It’s Henri Lurton’s whites, however, that are getting the attention of many, especially their Sauvignon Blanc.

“Most Sauvignons in Baja have a very pineapple, guava taste, and are very fruity,” according to Martinez. “Ours is a more subtle, French-style Sauvignon. It’s more elegant, and very floral. There is a lot of complexity and the natural freshness inherent in a good Sauvignon.”

Given the difference between Baja California and Bordeaux terroir, in some instances Bodegas Henri Lurton decided to forego classic French winemaking techniques, instead following the often-lawless nature of Baja’s best winemakers.

bodegas_henri_lurton_valle_de_guadalupe_bajaMartinez emphasized, “In Bordeaux there are tons of rules in order to get a consistent quality of wine. When Henri comes here, there are absolutely no rules. It makes it more interesting for us. We embrace these things as young winemakers.”

For Bodegas Henri Lurton, the difference between the two regions allows them to create vintages that set them apart from other Baja California wines, while granting them the freedom to stray from staid Bordeaux tradition.

“The brand started in 1756. You have to be aware of the Bordeaux history and tradition, and the fact that everyone’s looking at you. In Baja California, nobody knows Henri or anything about the project, so we can do whatever we want. It’s super liberating.”

Bodegas Henri Lurton is currently building a tasting room in the Valle de Guadalupe, with future plans to potentially build a small hotel. The new wines are available at most Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe restaurants, as well as in wine bars and shops throughout Ensenada.

 

 

scott-koenig-gringo

San Diego based lifestyle writer W. Scott Koenig founded AGringoInMexico.com in 2012 to report on Mexican travel destinations, food, culture and adventure. He is also a columnist for DiningOut San Diego, SanDiegoRed.com, and DiscoverBaja.com.

Scott is the Food Expert for Tijuana and the Valle de Guadalupe for ExtremeFoodies.tv, (formerly FoodieHub), an international culinary site curated by over 275 global experts.

Scott organizes and conducts culinary tours of Baja California, and has helped fix film and video productions in the region — working with the BBC, KPBS, and the Culinary Institute of America on recent projects.

Scott has built a bi-national network of culinary professionals, business leaders, tourism officials, media agencies, writers, and photographers to assist in promoting business, education, and the arts in the San Diego/Baja California mega-region.

Scott is also the owner of Koenig Creative LLC and has over 30 years of experience in marketing, creative direction, and graphic design.

 

 

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