The vineyards of Saint Emilion are located 35km far from Bordeaux on the 'Right Bank' or North side of the Dordogne River. For several historical reasons, the area of Saint-Emilion before the French Revolution in 1789, was divided in thousands of little plots. Thus, the current average surface of the Saint-Emilion wineries rarely exceeds 7ha, which is rather limited comparatively to a Medoc average sized wine estate. Fortunately this historical inheritance later turned out to be an advantage when vines were planted around the little city of St-Emilion because of the astonishing diversity of the local soils. Saint-Emilion is covered with a thick molasse layer of calcareous, argillaceous and in some places, of sandy nature. Erosion has brought the molasse directly to a few tens of centimetres of the surface at certain areas. Five main areas based on the type of soil are assigned to Saint-Emilion:
• The Côte Sud or South coast where one finds 11 out of the 13 highest rated Chateaux. All are located on the best terroirs near the Southern entrance of the city.
• The North coast on which the soil is mostly aeolian sand (very fine sand brought by the wind).
• The Plateau of Saint-Martin on which the poor clay-limestone soil is only 50 to 60 centimetres far from the surface, forcing the vine's roots to grow very deep into the ground.
• The West coast, whose soil is quite similar to that of the "Côte Sud" with, however, less sun exposure.
• Located at the extreme Northwest of the historical little city of Saint-Emilion, Graves de Figeac.
Saint-Emilion is the home of the Merlot type of vine, with the exception of the gravely soil of the Graves de Figeac on which the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals are particularily well adapted. The district’s fame is due to the wines but also to its historical and cultural inheritance. The walled hilltop village of Saint-Emilion itself, was classified "World Patrimony" in 1999 by the UNESCO and has survived almost untouched from the Middle Ages.
Often less austere than their cousins of the Medoc region, Saint-Emilion's Merlot dominated wines are fully rich, fruity, velvety, powerful and elegant. The wines of Saint-Emilion tend to gain weight and complexity after 10-15 years of ageing, with wonderful leather, earthy and spicy flavours.
Since 1954, Saint-Emilion has its own official classification, revised every 10 years (last in 2006).
A very surprising new category of wines appeared at Saint-Emilion in the 1990s : the "garagiste" wines, whose tiny production and extremely low yields give highly fruity concentrated and extracted wines. The most famous "garagistes" estates are Mondotte, Bellevue-Mondotte and Valandraud.
The average production, almost exclusively in red, is of approx. 155,000 hl within a planted surface of 2700 ha.
• Bordeaux and its Wines - Ch. Cocks - Ed. Féret - 17th Edition,
• Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB)