Bordeaux bares all in pictures

Picture Bordeaux, and the images that first come to mind are probably like these three.

I took these during a visit to the region this week, and they conform to the romanticised standard of vineyard photography. This wasn't a moneyed corner of Pauillac or Pomerol, however. We were in Entre-Deux-Mers, the vast and mostly forgotten engine room for AC Bordeaux, where wine is made with the bottom line in mind.

It was an eye-opening trip, revealing the reality of bulk winemaking in which thousands of vignerons participate, a world away from the luxury of the grands crus classés. The following pictures were taken at various producers around the region.

The largest producer of appellation wine in France is based in Entre-Deux-Mers. These tanks hold 2,500 hectolitres each. A sophisticated computerised operation is in place to direct the incoming grapes to the correct tank.

The above equipment is called the Gulf Stream. It's a form of thermovinification to get the best possible quality from less than optimal fruit. Grapes are passed through juice which is heated to 90 ºC. This allows rapid extraction of colour and flavour but avoids leeching any unwanted flavours and compounds from any unripe pips. The manufacturer, Pera, has an information sheet in pdf form.

The size of facilities like this is astonishing. On two of these photographs, a cellar worker and some bottles of wine provide scale.

Industrial winemaking requires industrial products - and that is by no means a bad thing. Used properly, these additions produce wine that can turn poor quality fruit into acceptable quality wine. In the top picture, oak chips are being added to a hopper of freshly picked Merlot to improve the mouthfeel of the finished wine. 

There's a danger that this kind of winemaking can become formulaic, but the reality is that these producers have to create sufficient volumes of reliable wine in a style that can sell. Concepts such as terroir and minimal intervention are irrelevant. The amazing thing is how respectable the finished products mostly are: commercial and simple, but recognisably Bordelais with correct balance and plentiful flavour.

As such, they bring pleasure to thousands of drinkers for whom wine is an inexpensive everyday pleasure - whether in bottle or bulk (below right). You could argue that's a far worthier cause than wineries making exquisitely complex vins de gardes that are only affordable by the world's richest people.