If ever there was a sight to dispel notions of arrogance or snobbery at a Bordeaux grand cru winery, it's Arnaud de Labarre in his dirt-streaked jeans and Wellington boots, stalking the vines. "Bonjour," he smiles in between checking bunches of inky purple grapes and gazing at the sky.
It's crunch time at Chateau Laplagnotte-Bellevue. The grape harvest is due to take place in a week from now, and every day is crucial. The weather has to be right – not too hot, not too cold. The timing of the harvest has to be perfect, linked on this biodynamic vineyard to the cycles of the moon. Everything needs to go absolutely to plan for the next seven days in order to create another respectable vintage of one of the world's finest wines.
And yet Arnaud just smiles and waves as he makes his way down another row of vines.
Chateau Laplagnotte-Bellevue is not a large winery, not the sort you picture when you imagine a grand cru estate – an official designation marking the winery as being of superior quality – in the famed Bordeaux region. There's no cellar door here; no shop; no receptionist; in fact, no staff. Just Arnaud and his wife.
"These grapes are all merlot," says Virginie de Labarre one afternoon, indicating the row of vines that runs alongside a clearing where our small gite, or cottage, nestles. "And these grapes," she says, pointing across the clearing, "are owned by our neighbours."
There's nothing too grand or intimidating about this winery. There are only six hectares of grapes here, which roll in perfectly straight lines across the hills of the St Emilion region, where vine leaves shine yellow and green in the late-summer sun, and sandstone chateaux dot the horizon.
This is one of the few certified biodynamic producers in the Bordeaux region, and it's a family affair, a shared passion for Arnaud, Virginie, their five children and their four chickens.
Their comings and goings are all visible from the clearing in the vines that houses what was once the winemaker's cottage but is now a guesthouse. Arnaud and Virginie rent out the space on Airbnb as a way to bulk up their income, providing not just beds but also insight into a grand cru winery for visitors to the region.
It's almost harvest time, but Arnaud seems unflappable. He smiles, he wanders. He hoses out the shed where the wine-making equipment lives, preparing it for harvest. He checks his gear; checks the sky.
For visitors like me this is the dream, or at least a brief window: to live on a winery in the Bordeaux countryside; to wake in the morning to the sound of roosters and the sight of vines; to drive down to the village of Montagne and pick up the best baguette in the world from the local bakery; to sit out in our garden and thrill to the crackle of fresh bread being ripped into chunks, ready to be smothered in demi-sel butter and raspberry jam.
Chateau Laplagnotte-Bellevue doesn't offer wine tastings to the public, but for guests, something can be arranged. We're invited by Virginie into her house, where three open bottles await: a Chateau Laplagnotte-Bellevue from the 2016 vintage; the same wine from 2014; and a Fourcaud Laussac 2014, of which only 2000 bottles were made.
They're all beautiful of course, made all the more special by the quaint cosiness of Virginie's sitting room, by the romantic thickness of her French accent, by the knowledge that these wines we're drinking were all produced in the shed a few metres away, in part by the hands clutching the bottle. They're the product of the local terroir, of the passion of Arnaud and Virginie, and of thousands of years of winemaking history.
We watch the sunset each night from the gite's garden, sipping more of the local product, watching as the vine leaves glow burnt orange in the dying light, as the grapes drink up their last rays, as the moon rises and gives a visual reminder of the days remaining until harvest. It's almost time.
Etihad Airways flies from Australian ports to Bordeaux, via Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam; see etihad.com. Chateau Laplagnotte-Bellevue is a 45-minute drive from Bordeaux.
Gite Laplagnotte is a recently renovated, three-bedroom cottage in the heart of St Emilion wine country. For bookings see gite-laplagnotte.com.
Ben Groundwater travelled at his own expense.