Girolate, the story of three men

To understand GIROLATE, we must first study the DNA of those who came up with the idea.

Jean-Louis Despagne,
the Trailblazer

January 2nd, 1981: The 14th stage of the 3rd edition of the Paris-Dakar: 700 kilometers of trail to cover between Timbuktu and Ouagadougou on a motorcycle. After 13 days of racing over extremely rough terrain, it was time for the hardest stage of this Dakar Rally. That morning 40 people withdrew before the race had even started. Of the 36 madmen at the start, only 24 finished. At the end of the stage, each and every one collapsed in the arms of the organizer, the much missed Thierry Sabine. Nonetheless, they would all cross the finish line 7 days later on the beach in Dakar.
When the mind is stronger than the body, anything is possible…

That is how Jean-Louis Despagne would approach the rest of his life, instilling the notion in the Despagne family that “nothing is impossible”.

Thibault Despagne,
the Visionary

At the tender age of 10-years old he already had a dream: to become the best motocross rider of all time.

Boarding school and his studies brought his dream to a screeching halt. However, they couldn’t dampen his tenacious spirit, exactly the opposite. When he decided to team up with his father in 1998, he was determined to produce an exceptional wine, the best Premier Cru ever produced in his native terroir, the beloved appellation of his birth: Entre-Deux-Mers.

Joel Elissalde,
the Expert

A motocross fanatic, this mutual passion has been a driving force in his life for more than 30 years. An outstanding wine technician, Joël was literally made for the job. Elissalde: a Basque name for the essence of pure determination. He’s as calm and modest as he is unstoppable.

Capable of feats out of the reach of even the most experienced winemakers, he was the best choice to see the Girolate project through to completion.

Girolate, Innovation par Excellence

vin blanc girolate
vin rouge girolate

“Follow your dreams, after awhile the others will get used to it.”

GIROLATE, or as they say in Gascon, “the land of the potter” is the name of the place where the first parcel of vines used to make this wine was planted. The soil is composed of a layer of clay, lying on top of a quarry, which in the 18th century fulfilled the need for limestone of the companies charged with building the city of Bordeaux.

The parcel is dedicated exclusively to growing Merlot grapes, with the vines planted at a very high density (10,000 per hectare), the same used for the fine wines of Burgundy and the Médoc: a first for the Right Bank of Bordeaux.

It is clear to us that high-density planting is essential for the DNA of a terroir to fully express itself.

Followed by:

“LA MEUTE” replanted in 2006, in high density as well with a mix of Sauvignon and Sémillon grapes. This small knoll looks directly in the eyes of the most prestigious crus in SAINT EMILION.

Then in 2012, the first of the Cabernet Franc vines “DERRIERE CHEZ BASALINE” planted at 10,000 per hectare: a fabulous plateau of mixed clay and limestone which required almost 3 months of jack hammering in order to plant the wooden stakes into the rocky terroir.

In 2018, it will be time to replant the “CÔTE MON PERE” with Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Comprised of 35% friable limestone soil, this steep hill will be the jewel of the Despagne family and make it possible for us to realize our dream of bringing this terroir back to life.

vin blanc girolate

The chai was set up inside an old, 17th century windmill we like to call the “little chapel”. This is where we invented a revolutionary vinification method, which would soon be adopted around the world.

The method is simple: fermenting our grapes directly in the barrels by delicately pouring in the grape seeds after manual sorting.

Our objective:

Be as close as possible to the terroir and to understand all the nuances of our soils (we work with 200 kilos of grapes or the equivalent of 300 vines per barrel).
Bring out the purest taste of the fruit, in the same way fine white wines are made (100% of the grape fermented in the barrel).
Extract the free-run juice as gently as possible, and use pressed juice to add structure to the wine.

Michel Rolland predicted as early as 2001, “In 10 years time, most of the best winemakers will replicate what you do. This is a new standard.” The curious visitors came in quick succession, including Bill Harlan, the legendary owner of Harlan Estate (the highest rated wine in California) who brought his entire team along to better understand the new revolution underway.

In 2009, after tasting the wines from the Biodyvin group in London, we had a revelation!

Overwhelmed by the finesse and depth of the wines, we purchased a “dynamiseur”. This was the first step in the long learning process we undertook, with the help of our colleague Jacques Mell, to master the art of ORGANIC and BIODYNAMIC viticulture.

In 2014, Antoine Le Petit de la Bigne (Director of Vignobles Anne-Claude Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet) brought his expertise to the project.

Antoine is an engineer who graduated from the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. Having done an internship with us in 2006, he knew our potential and our passion for winemaking. At the time, he was the only person we trusted to explain the complex phenomena of this type of viticulture, focused on observing and respecting the environment. He helped us clarify and understand the process, in order to apply it to our GIROLATE.

Girolate, The Liberated

bottle girolate

In 2001, the wine being produced was already exceptional. “Most likely a new standard”, declared the world-renowned oenologist, Michel Rolland. It beat the finest wines of the Right Bank in a legendary blind tasting session of the Grand Jury Européen, after which Parker exclaimed: “It must be tasted to be believed.”

GIROLATE became “The super star of the Entre-Deux-Mers”, according to Jancis Robinson (journalist and qualified Master of Wine), enthralling the palates of the world’s most discerning, wine-lovers with its unique character.

The “uncelebrated terroirs” of the Entre-Deux-Mers were starting to rival those of the finest wines in the world, while GIROLATE itself was disrupting the traditional codes of winemaking, seducing connoisseurs, and even upsetting some of the more conservative members of the wine establishment.

English wine writer, Andrew Jefford said we were “trying too hard”. On the contrary, when it’s a question of breathing life into the Excellence in our cherished terroir our motivation knows no limits.

GIROLATE: a unique wine

We’re on the right bank of the Garonne and on the left bank of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, between the waters of the Garonne and the Dordogne, in between two seas.

GIROLATE is a combination of the best techniques of the Left Bank with the heart and the precision of the finely manicured vineyards of the Right Bank.

Everyday, GIROLATE proves that Bordeaux is a dynamic and innovative region if you know how to listen to it. Ever since the Romans planted the first grapevines there, it has been in perpetual movement and striving for excellence. Pomerol is a fine example. An appellation brought to life barely 60 years ago by men and women able to recognize the potential hidden within its terroir.

Your first taste of GIROLATE will give you an entirely new perspective on Bordeaux wines.