How did you come to specialize in wine estates?
After the creation of our A3A agency in 1984, we traveled the world for 15 years to build industrial buildings, notably for the Hachette group. Then our activity was extended to the renovation of buildings in Bordeaux. We were about twenty employees at the turn of the 1990s – around ten today – when the computer replaced the pencil. After a serious downturn, we seized the opportunity, in 1995, to redesign Château Kirwan (AOC Margaux). We were ready to invest in the wine sector! With, on the one hand, the “budget/deadline” learned in the industry, and on the other, the renovation of old buildings.
In what state of mind are you attacking a construction site?
We work mainly in the big castles and they have the means, in particular with European subsidies (see elsewhere). This changes the scope of the work but the philosophy remains the same: the current must pass with the owners. A project must become obvious even for those who did not ask for it. Building cellars is always an adventure. We can still see this today when we are working on an overhaul of the Haut-Brion castles (pessac-léognan) and Dassault (saint-émilion). These are years of work on a single file.
What has changed the most in the construction of new cellars?
To produce better wines in the cellars, parcel vinification and work by gravity are the main innovations. One vat per parcel identified with the vineyard, which requires more ground space to accommodate more. To make the grapes arrive above the vats (which avoids the use of pumps which could grind them Ed), it is necessary to take care of the heights under the ceiling. Sometimes by integrating secure routes for public visits, which requires organizing the flow of people. Acoustics and lighting are worked on to optimize working conditions. Proper integration of tasting rooms is also an issue. We are also building premises for bottling, storing bottles or staff offices, with the imperative of rationalizing tasks.
What about the sophistication of the facilities?
Some cellars have real machine rooms, to house the systems used to heat or cool the buildings and the vats. Fermentation control, air conditioning and computerization require powerful installations and some châteaux have their own electrical transformer. Miles of pipes and cables line the walls less and are hidden behind the vats or the barrels, sometimes housed in the screeds. To avoid any release of odors – the fear of winegrowers – plastics, paints and other woods are now controlled.