The Gravces district produces both classic red and variable dry white wines, the emphasis being, quite rightly on the former. The area under vine where black grapes are cultivated is about 1,900 hectares (4,695 acres), compared with 1,430 hectares (3,534 acres) for white grapes. On the map, Graves looks about the same size as the Medoc, but this is deceptive for its vineyards cover less than one-third of the 10,950 hectares (27,050 acres) under vine in its northern neighbour.
The silky-smooth red wines of the Graves district have been famous since the Middle Ages, when they were protected by local laws that punished those who dared to blend them with other Bordeaux wines. Château Haut-Brion was the only red wine outside the Medoc to be classified in 1855, and such was its reputation that it was placed alongside the First Growths of Latour, Lathe, Mouton and Margaux. Beneath Haut-Brion, there are a few great wines equivalent in quality to Second or Third Growth but only a few The relative lack of superstars in Graves is offset by a htgherbase quality andgreater consistencyof performance. Of the 43 communes in this appellation, Leognan, Talence and Pessac are much the best, after which Martillac and Portet are the most outstanding, followed by Illats and Podensac. All the greatest wines are thus in the north of Graves, amid the urban sprawl of Bordeaux, and this presents something of a problem.
The once-peaceful left bank of the river Garonne is slowly and inexorably disappearing. As the city bursts outwards, more and more rural vineyards are encircled by the concrete jungle, and many quite simply vanish. I wonder how many Bordeaux aficionados who fly directly to the airport in Mérignac stop to consider the cost of such progress? In 1908 there were 30 active winemaking properties in this commune;today there is just one - Château Picque-Caillou. The conurbated communes of Gradignan, Mêrignac, Pessac, Talence, Léognan, Martillac, Cadaujac and Villenave d’Ornan have lost no less than 214 wine châteaux over the same period.