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Wine Spectator: Could a Train Line Endanger the Sweet Wines of Sauternes?

December 22, 2014

A high-speed train project threatens to cut through historic Bordeaux vineyards in Graves and could damage the fragile ecosystem that produces the fog and the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, Wine Spectator reports

The LGV, a massive European project to connect Paris to Spain with a high-speed train, will run across 3,000 acres of farmland and 7,000 acres of forest in three departments in the southwest of France. The northern line between Bordeaux and Paris is already under construction. The next phase linking Bordeaux to Spain and Toulouse at a cost of $11.8 billion awaits final government approval.

The proposed LGV route leaves Bordeaux in the direction of Toulouse, passing through the Graves. After the Graves region and before Barsac, the path heads south into the Ciron river valley, where it splits, one line shooting south through the vast Landes forest toward Dax and the Spanish border and another heading to Toulouse.

Opponents of the LGV threaten to take their complaint to the Court of Justice of the European Union if the French government approves the current plan. The châteaus of Sauternes and Barsac argue that the link between the Ciron river and the defining characteristics of their terroir is protected under the appellation system of the EU. Without noble rot, there is no Sauternes and Barsac. And the cool waters of the Ciron are crucial to noble rot. The difference in temperature between the cool Ciron, which hovers around 57° F, and the warmer water of the Garonne create the famous morning fogs in autumn that give rise to Botrytis cinerea.

“We don’t know what would happen, but we can’t take the risk,” said Aline Baly of Château Coutet in Barsac. “We have an important microclimate that distinguishes us from other appellations around the world. The fog is vital for producing beautiful, wonderful wines that people love.”

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