Bordeaux glitterati unveil stunning wine cellars

Construction cranes are as ubiquitous as wine critics in Bordeaux's prized vineyards as leading chateaux brand their estates by transforming their cellars into architectural show pieces.

In the case of Chateau Clerc Milon, located across the road from the illustrious vineyards of Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Lafite Rothschild, the wine scored with critics but it sorely needed an identity with consumers.

It lacked a proper chateau, the onsite vat room was rudimentary and the cellar was located three kilometres (two miles) away in the lacklustre village of Pauillac.

"Clerc Milon was nothing to be seen, nothing to look at," said Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, owner of both Mouton and Clerc Milon, at the unveiling Monday of the new 3,582-square-metre (38,556-square-foot) winery, which included a spectacular firework display set to Rossini's opera "La Cenerentola."

"It will give Clerc Milon an aura, a prestige that the wine already had. Today, it is something to look at," she told 300 guests, including many from the beau monde of Paris such as former first lady Bernadette Chirac, ex-minister Bernard Kouchner and US filmmaker and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola.

Rising from a crest called Mousset, the clean lines take the form of a temple. A vast deck looks out over Mouton and Lafite. Inside, scenographer Richard Peduzzi has created an elegant and vibrant space.

Even the bottle has had a face-lift.

"It's radically different packaging," said Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy of the new label that sports a sketch of the winery by Peduzzi, famous for his theatrical design.

The gravity-led cellar and 40 vats allow Danjoy to ferment each plot gently and separately. And 300 square metres (3,229 square feet) of photovoltaic cells means the winery produces not only wine, but all of the energy it needs.

Across the Gironde estuary bisecting Bordeaux's wine region, similar changes are afoot.

At first growth Chateau Cheval Blanc, director Pierre Lurton unveiled the stunning "cellar under the hill," designed by Christian de Portzamparc.

"It's ecological, it's chic, it's sober, no bling, bling. It's Cheval Blanc," said Lurton.

Eighty-metre-long white curves of concrete extend from the original 19th century edifice to support a roof garden, as if, according to de Portzamparc, "the ground rises, carried by cement sails, towards the light and the sky."

Inside, Italian, custom-designed curved cement vats line a vast, airy space of diffused natural lighting.

The colours are a muted palette of stone. A single, perfect white orchid stem rests in a crystal vase. The atmosphere is one of modern art gallery.

"When you arrive in the cellar, it is beautiful, esthetic, but it is above all else about plots," explained technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet. "We have 44 plots and 52 vats - nine formats, from 20 hectolitres to 110 hectolitres."

The entire project was certified for high quality environmental construction, the new underground barrel room uses less energy to maintain the ideal humidity and temperature, and the "green" roof provides insulation.

The rooftop garden also provides a bird's eye view of Chateau La Dominique, where architect Jean Nouvel is designing a new cellar, and across the plateau of Pomerol to the giant crane hovering over one of the world's most expensive wines, Chateau Petrus.

Construction on the new cellar will finish within the next year, according to Petrus "ambassador" Elisabeth Jaubert.

"It will remain classic and discreet," Jaubert said via email.