Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The 5 Premiers Grands Crus Chateaux en 1855 of Bordeaux, France

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller at Chateau Margaux

The D2 highway from Bordeaux City to the Bas Medoc in the north has all 5 of the premiers grands crus chateaux en 1855 –arguably among the most prestigious wine producers in the world - on the route. First, Chateau Haut-Brion, right in the suburbs of Bordeaux City in Pessac, then Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour, Chateau Mouton- Rothschild and finally Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, around 55km north of the city centre of Bordeaux. I took this route, when I was in Bordeaux earlier this year: Tour de France de Vin: 6 Days, 7 Regions, 3500 km - In 6 Days through 7 Wine Regions of France

Chateau Haut-Brion in Pessac

Chateau Haut-Brion was the first stop; in fact coming from Bordeaux City you had to go a few miles south. Chateau Haut-Brion is the only premier grand cru en 1855 estate that is not located in the Medoc, but in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, very close to Bordeaux City. It is the oldest, the smallest and the only American-owned of the 5 premiers grand crus en 1855 estates.

Château Haut-Brion was founded by Jean de Pontac in the 15th century, who began an illustrious dynasty. François-Auguste de Pontac was the last de Pontac to own Haut-Brion through direct inheritance. He opened a wine tavern in London in 1666 to promote his wines in the UK; it was the most hip place in London in these days.

Pictures: At Chateau Haut-Brion

After the French Revolution the estate was purchased by the famous French diplomat Prince de Talleyrand-Périgord, who worked successfully from the regime of Louis XVI, through the French Revolution and under Napoleon I, Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis-Philippe. He often served the Haut-Brion to his guests. Later, Château Haut-Brion belonged to bankers and wine merchants.

In 1935, Chateau Haut-Brion was bought by the New York banker Clarence Dillon. His son, C. Douglas Dillon, was US Ambassador in Paris and Treasury Secretaty under President John F. Kennedy.

Today, Château Haut-Brion is owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon. It is run by Prince Robert of Luxembourg and his mother, Joan Dillon, Duchesse de Mouchy, daughter of C. Douglas Dillon, who remained in France after the assignment of her father ended.  In 1967, she married His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Luxembourg, a direct descendant of Henri IV. Prince Robert  of Luxembourg is their son. In 1978, after the death of her husband, Joan married Philippe de Noailles, Duc de Mouchy, hence her title.

Domaine Clarence Dillon also owns Châteaux La Mission Haut Brion (just opposite of Haut-Brion, acquired in 1983) and Chateau Laville Haut-Brion.

Haut-Brion devotes 48 hectares to red grape varieties (45% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot) and 3 hectares to white grape varieties (53% Sémillon and 47% Sauvignon Blanc).

In the 1960s, Chateau Haut-Brion was the first winery in Bordeaux to switch to stainless steel fermentation tanks. The red wine ferments quickly and at a relatively high temperature. It is then aged for 18 to 24 months in 100% new oak barrels.  Château Haut-Brion has its own cooperage. As a brand-new development, a laser-optic sorter is now used.

Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion are managed by Jean-Philippe Delmas. He is the second generation of Delmas to take care of La Mission Haut-Brion and the third generation of Delmas to manage Haut-Brion.

The annual production is 11,000 cases of the red grand vin Château Haut-Brion and 700 cases of Château Haut-Brion Blanc. Of the second wines, the red Le Clarence de Haut-Brion has a production of 6,000 (until the 2007 vintage called Bahans Haut-Brion) and the white La Clarté de Haut-Brion (previously named Les Plantiers du Haut-Brion) a production of 1,000 cases. 

In 1976, the 1970 vintage of Haut-Brion ranked fourth among the ten French and California red wines in the historic "Judgment of Paris" wine competition.

Château Margaux in Margaux

Château Margaux is the only one of the 4 Medoc premiers grands crus en 1855 which is not in Pauillac, but in Margaux (and which has the unique feature of bearing the name of its appellation).

The history of Château Margaux goes back to the 12th Century, when the property was known as La Mothe de Margaux and owned by various people of noble birth, including Edward III, King of England. It was when the Lestonnac family took charge that premium wine production gained steam. By the end of the 1600s, Château Margaux had expanded to 265 hectares, with 1/3 devoted to producing wine.  The impressive First Empire style château that we see today was built by one of Bordeaux' foremost architects, Guy-Louis Combes, when Marquis of La Colonilla acquired the estate in 1804.

Pictures: At Chateau Margaux

In 1977, the property was sold to André Mentzelopoulos – the Greek of Medoc - and the modern history of Chateau Margaux began. Château Margaux passed to his daughter, Corrine Mentzelopoulos, only a few years later, when she was still at a young age.  

Today, Château Margaux totals 262 hectares, with 87 hectares entitled to the Margaux appellation; 82 hectares are under vine. All four common red Bordeaux varieties are planted: Cabernets Sauvignon (75%), Cabernet Franc (3%), Merlot (20%) and Petit Verdot (2%), whereas the white vineyards are planted solely with Sauvignon Blanc.

The fruit is fermented in large 150-hectolitre oak vats and (since only very recently) stainless steel vessels. The red wines are aged between 18 and 24 months in oak barrels (constructed on-site in the Margaux cooperage), the whites up to six months. 

There are typically 13,000 cases of the grand vin Château Margaux produced each year and 17,000 cases of the second wine, Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux. The Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux has a production of 3,000 cases and must be sold under the Bordeaux AOC as the cultivation of Sauvignon Blanc does not fall under the directives of the Margaux AOC.

Château Latour in Pauillac

Château Latour lies in the south eastern tip of Pauillac, close to the Gironde, bordering Saint Julien. It takes its name from a fortified structure with a tower named La Tour en Saint-Maubert - built during the 100 Years War - which no longer exists. The tower that you can see today is a pigeon house built later, but the tower on the Chateau Latour label is the original tower.

Château Latour's wine making history began in the 1600s, when it became part of the extensive portfolio (which also included Lafite, Mouton and Calon Ségur) of the Ségur family. In 1963, the Ségur family sold 75% of the Château Latour shares to British investors. In 1993, the Château returned to French ownership under François Pinault. He is heavily invested in the luxury-goods sector world-wide, including Gucci, Yves Saint-Laurent and Stella McCartney and also controls the auction house Christie’s, a world leader in the art market, as well as being a controlling shareholder in the Bouygues Group and Vinci. François Pinault is also the owner of a French premiere league football team, Stade Rennais Football Club, and of the Théâtre Marigny in Paris. Francois Pinault has 3 children. One of them, François-Henri Pinault is married to actress Salma Hayek.

Pictures: At Chateau Latour

During the British ownership period, Latour became the first of the premiers grands crus en 1855 to completely modernize its production. Old wooden vats were replaced with stainless steel temperature-controlled vats, which was a revolutionary change at the time.

The estate has 78 hectares of vineyard, of which a 47-hectare portion near the château is named l'Enclos, where fruit exclusive to the grand vin is grown. The composition of grape varieties is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, and 2% of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

The grand vin Chateau Latour has an annual production of 18,000 cases. The wine is aged in 50 % new oak barrels for 18 months on average. 

The second wine Les Forts de Latour has an annual production of 11,000 cases. The third wine is named just Pauillac.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Pauillac

The birth of Chateau Mouton Rothschild took place in 1853, when Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild - from the English line of the Rothschild family - purchased it, which was called Chateau Brane-Mouton and renamed it using his name. The estate was in English hands in the 15th century but returned to French hands after the 100 Years War.

It was under Baron Philippe de Rothschild - who was only 20 years old, when he gained control of the property - that winemaking and wineselling at Chateau Mouton Rothschild – and in general in Bordeaux – changed drastically.

The Baron was the first Bordeaux winemaker to insist on bottling all his wine at the estate. This new practice created a need for more storage at the property. In 1926, the Baron constructed the famous Grand Chai, the majestic 100-meter first year cellar, which has become a major attraction for visitors to Mouton.

The now famous series of labels designed by artists started in 1945.

In the 1930s, long before the idea of second wines had become standard practice, the Baron created a second wine for Mouton, Cadet de Mouton. It quickly became Mouton Cadet, first a blended wine, then a branded wine (again the first of its kind in Bordeaux) and is today the largest selling French branded wine in the world.

Finally, in 1973, Mouton was elevated to premier grand cru en 1855. The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 was largely based market prices. It was established by the negociants of Bordeaux. Despite the market prices for their wines equaling that of Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Mouton Rothschild was excluded from premier grand cru status, possibly because the estate was not in French ownership.

Picture: At Chateau Mouton-Rothschild

The Chateau Mouton Rothschild vineyard totals 84 hectares. In terms of red grapes, 80% is Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. There is also Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle, for the estate's white wine.

The wine is fermented in oak vats (they are one of the last châteaux in the Médoc to use them) and then aged in new oak casks.

The Portfolio

Like Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild is now a mix of privately-owned chateaux, international joint ventures and commercial branded wines.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild

Petit Mouton (second wine): 6,000 cases

Château d’Armailhac: In 1933, the Baron purchased a neighboring vineyard, Château Mouton d’Armailhacq. The property was renamed Château d’Armailhac in 1989 by his wife, the Baroness Philippine. Part of the reason for the purchase was, the estate came with a Bordeaux negociant firm which eventually became known as Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. 17,000 cases.

Chateau Clerc Milon: 13,000 cases

Mouton Cadet: Bordeaux’s oldest and largest branded wine, with 15 million bottles sold each year across 150 countries. 

Opus One: In 1980, the Baron entered into a joint venture with Robert Mondavi to create Opus One Winery in Oakville, California, now co-owned with Constellation Brands.  25,000 cases. 

Almaviva: In 1997, Château Mouton Rothschild teamed up with Concha y Toro of Chile to produce a quality Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wine in a new winery built in Chile's Maipo Valley. 10,000 cases.

Owner: Baronness Philippine - Married to French theater director and actor, Jacques Sereys in 1961 – now divorced. Three children, Camille, born in 1961, Philippe, born in 1963, and Julien, born in 1971. Her personal wealth is estimated at €190 million by Le Nouvel Economiste.

Château Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac

The estate dates back to the 1200s when it was owned by Gombard de Lafite. In the 17th century, the property was added by the Ségur family to its extensive portfolio. Marquis Nicolas Alexandre de Ségur consolidated Lafite’s initial successes in the 18th century. Lafite became very popular in the Court in Versailles and became known as the King's wine, also thanks to the influential support of the Maréchal de Richelieu. Following the French Revolution, the owners were executed; the estate became public property and was sold to a group of Dutch merchants.

In 1868 Baron James de Rothschild, the founder of the French main Rothschild line, purchased Château Lafite (15 years after Baron Nathaniel had who bought Château Mouton Rothschild). Just 3 months after the purchase, Baron James passed away. Lafite became the joint property of his three sons: Alphonse, Gustave and Edmond.

Picture: At Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

With 107 hectares, Château Lafite is one of the largest in the Médoc. The grapes grown are 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot.

The circular second-year aging cellar, designed by leading Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill in the 1980s, remains among the most visionary, modern winemaking complexes in the Medoc. Lafite has its own barrel maker. The wine is aged 18 to 20 months in new oak barrels to 100%.

Since 1974, Baron Eric de Rothschild - part of the fifth Rothschild generation to inherit Château Lafite, along with Barons David, Edouard, Robert, Nathaniel and Benjamin de Rothschild - has been running both the estate and the wider company entitled Domaine Baron Rothschild (Lafite), which includes properties in France, Chile, Portugal and Argentina. The overall strategy is similar to Mouton – a mix of privately-owned chateaux, international joint ventures and commercial branded wines. One of the latest projects is a joint-venture in China.

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, 20,000 cases. Generally, only one-third of the crop goes into the first wine and 50% of the crop into the second wine, Carruades de Lafite Rothschild (30,000 cases); the rest of what is harvested is sold off in bulk to a generic AOC Pauillac wine.

Both Mouton and Lafite have had exactly the same en primeur exit prices since 2000:  2010 – Euro 600 2009 – Euro 540 2008 – Euro 120 2007 – Euro 240 2006 – Euro 325 2005: €300 - 2004: €80 - 2003: €120 - 2002: €60 - 2001: €85 - 2000: €120

Other Bordeaux Holdings:

Chateau Duhart-Milon (Pauillac), purchased in 1962.
Chateau Rieussec (Sauternes), purchased in 1984.
Chateau L’Evangile (Pomerol)
Chateau Paradis Casseuil (Entre Deux Mer)
Chateau Peyre-Lebarde (Haut-Medoc)

Other Holdings:

Chateau d’Aussieres, (Languedoc) 20,000 cases
Vina Los Vascos, Chile
Quinta do Carmo, Portugal, 40,000 cases
Bodega Caro, Argentina, 30,000 cases
China - Chateau Lafite Rothschild teamed up with CITIC East China (Group) Co. to build a winery in Penglai, a coastal city located in Bohai-Rim in eastern China.
The Collections: Legende, Saga, Reserve Speciale, 250, 000 cases

The Roots in Frankfurt

The roots of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild  – and the Rothschild empire in general – are in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Towards the end of the 18th century Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a money changer from Frankfurt am Main, born in 1744, had five sons and decided to install them in the five major European centers of the time.

* Amschel Mayer Rothschild (1773–1855): Frankfurt - died childless, passed to sons of Salomon and Calmann
* Salomon Mayer Rothschild (1774–1855): Vienna
* Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777–1836): London
* Calmann Mayer Rothschild (1788–1855): Naples
* Jakob (James) Mayer Rothschild (1792–1868): Paris

The Rothschild brothers became one of the major force in the far reaching changes that swept through Europe, while their father had not been allowed to purchase land outside of the Frankfurt am Main ghetto. During the 19th century, they were the bankers to monarchs and governments, bankers to Napoleon’s Europe and then in the industrial area the builders of the modern economy through their investment in railways. See more: (German) Winemakers in the World: The German Roots of Baron Philippe de Rothschild

Edmond de Rothschild and Benjamin de Rothschild

A great grandson of Jakob, Edmond de Rothschild (1926-1997) and his only son Benjamin have developed some investments in viniculture, luxury hotels, and other aspects of fine living. The LCF Rothschild group has invested into wine, notably with Château Clarke and Château des Laurets both in Médoc, in South of Africa with the Rupert family and also in Argentina.

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