Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Wine Empire of the von Neipperg Family in France, Bulgaria and Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Count Stefan von Neipperg in St. Emilion at Château Canon La Gaffelière

One of the highlights of a recent tour of Bordeaux was a morning with Count Stefan von Neipperg in St. Emilion at Château Canon La Gaffelière. Count Stefan was in a very good mood this morning and had plenty of reasons to be so: Château Canon La Gaffelière and La Mondotte were promoted to the extremely closed circle of Premiers Grand Crus Classés in the new St. Emilion classification on that day.

The von Neipperg family not only owns these two estates in France, but also owns/co-owns 6 other estates as well as a property in Bulgaria. Furthermore, in Germany, the brother of Count Stefan von Neipperg runs the family winery in Wuerttemberg.

The von Neipperg Family in Germany, Austria and France

Count Stefan von Neipperg hails from the German wine region of Württemberg where his family has maintained its existing vineyards since the 15th century and bottles its wine under the family label, Weingut des Grafen von Neipperg. In fact, the von Neipperg counts are descended from a noble line dating back to the Holy Roman Empire. The first record of the Count von Neipperg goes as far back as the 12th century.

Looking back, there are many major historical figures in the von Neipperg family.

Count Eberhard-Friedrich von Neipperg epitomises the family's devotion to both military pursuits and winemaking. Imperial Field Marshal at the Austrian court, he was famous for having defeated the Turks at Timisoara in 1667. He was also responsible for introducing the famous Austrian grape variety Blaufränkisch (Lemberger) at his vineyard estates. This variety continues to enjoy prominence in the family vineyards.

Pictures: Count Stefan von Neipperg in St. Emilion at Château Canon La Gaffelière

Adam-Adalbert von Neipperg, is undoubtedly the family's most famous ancestor. A legendary soldier, nicknamed "the German Bayard" by Madame de Staël, he is most often depicted with an eye patch hiding a wound received at the Battle of Doelen in 1794. A devoted enemy of Napoleon, he used his diplomatic talents to contribute to the emperor's downfall. In 1814, Franz II, Emperor of Austria, asked Adam-Adalbert to court Napoleon's wife, Marie-Louise. Adam-Adalbert married her shortly thereafter. Their marriage produced three children, which prompted Chateaubriand to say that Adam-Adalbert "had dared to lay his eggs in the eagle's nest".

The family tree of the present Counts von Neipperg goes back to Adam-Adalbert's first marriage to Countess Paula de Treviso. It was during this troubled time that the von Neipperg holdings were annexed by the Duke of Württemberg, who had been proclaimed king. The family nevertheless managed to hold on to some of their land. At this juncture, the von Neippergs devoted most of their energy to winegrowing, while continuing to be involved with their country's political affairs.

Count Joseph Hubert von Neipperg branched out in 1971 and acquired 4 St. Emilion estates in 1971: La Mondotte, Château Canon-La Gaffelière, Clos de l'Oratoire, and Château Peyraud. Since 1984, Count Joseph Hubert’s son Count Stephan has been in charge of these 4 estates. Moreover, he expanded the family’s French holdings further and also entered into a joint venture in Bulgaria.

The von Neipperg Estate in Germany

The von Neipperg Estate in Germany is in Schwaigern in Wuerttemberg. The von Neipperg castle - built in 1702 during the Thirty Years War -houses the winery's cellar.  Count Stefan’s brother, Karl Eugen Erbgraf von Neipperg, is in charge of the winery. Bernd Supp has been responsible for the cellar since 1992.

The vineyards comprise 30 hectares of vines, a large part of it in the Neipperger Schlossberg and the Schwaigerner Ruthe. In terms of red grape varieties, Lemberger (30%) dominates; Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Trollinger are also planted. In terms of white grape varities, Riesling (24%) dominates; Müller Thurgau, Muscatel and Traminer are also plated. About 40% of the vineyards are steep slopes, which are cultivated using the vertical terraces approach.

The winery is a member of the VDP, the association of German elite winemakers.

Count Stefan von Neipperg in France

Stephan Graf von Neipperg was borne at the family estate in Schwaigern. As a young man, he had no intention of getting involved in wine. He studied politics and business administration in Paris. Later, after having decided to change course, he also studied  winemaking in Montpelier.

Pictures: Count Stefan von Neipperg in St. Emilion at Château Canon La Gaffelière

In 1983, Stephan Graf von Neipperg Neipperg moved with his German wife Sigweis to St. Emilion and at Château Canon La Gaffelière. At that point, the French holdings of the von Neipperg family consisted of the four estates his father had bought in 1971. Since then Stephan Graf von Neipperg he expanded the family’s French holdings further and also entered into a joint venture in Bulgaria. He has become one of the Right Bank's most successful winemakers.

On that very successful route, Stephan Graf von Neipperg linked his fortunes to Stéphane Derenoncourt, a Normandy millworker's son who had never seen a grapevine before hitchhiking to Bordeaux in 1982, but taught himself enology and has since confounded traditionalists with his winemaking.

Pictures: Count Stefan von Neipperg and Christian G.E. Schiller in St. Emilion at Château Canon La Gaffelière

In 1988, he instituted a green harvest, dropping fruit in June to gain depth and ripeness in September. He stopped using chemical fertilizers and insecticides in 1993 as he edged toward a more biodynamic approach. "Just like 70 years ago," he says. "The insects eat each other." He harvested later than his neighbors and aged his cuvées entirely in new oak.

La Mondotte

AOC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Premier Grand Cru Classé

The 4.5-hectare estate, founded in the 19th century, is situated on the most eastern plateau of Saint-Emilion and was purchased in 1971 by the family of the Counts of Neipperg, at the same time as the Château Canon La Gaffelière. Even though La Mondotte used to be in the shadow of Canon La Gaffelière as long as to the middle of the 1990ies, it has benefited to the same extent of the philosophy of Stephan von Neipperg and his teams.

Excellent hydric regulation encourages the vines to sink their roots deep into the soil. The superb sun exposure and fine natural drainage due to the steep slope make this a very early-maturing terroir. The vines are an average of 50 years old and the vineyard contains only premium grape varieties (75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc). Ripening, especially of Merlot, is almost invariably early and complete.

The recent admission of Château La Mondotte - which sixteen years ago used to be almost unknown on the market - in the extremely closed circle of Premiers Grand Crus Classés is extraordinary.

Château Canon La Gaffelière

AOC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Premier Grand Cru Classé

Château Canon La Gaffelière is located on the outskirts of the medieval town of Saint-Emilion, at the southern foot of the slope. The 19.5 hectare vineyard has a complex, outstanding terroir of clay-limestone and clay-sand soil. The topsoil is primarily sandy, increasingly so as one moves away from the slope. The vines, an average of 45 years old, are deeply rooted in the soil and absorb all the goodness in the terroir. They are mostly replaced individually rather than plot by plot (which maintains the average age). The last major replanting dates back to 1986.

Pictures: At Château Canon La Gaffelière

The mixture of grape varities cultivated on the wine estate (55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) is rather untypical in comparison to the rest of the appellation. This identity, strongly influenced by Cabernet, gives the Canon La Gaffelière wines an outright complex character.

The appreciation of the Château Canon La Gaffelière in the classification of the Saint-Emilion appellation as Premier Grand Cru Classé was not really surprising, yet an overdue acknowledgement for Mr. Neipperg. Château Canon La Gaffelière has been being said by the market for two decades to be of Premier Grand Cru Classé quality; now the estate has gained the official status of its terroir’s intrinsic qualities and of the viticultural philosophy that has been being applied there for 25 years.
The Château Canon La Gaffelière estate, as well as La Mondotte, has begun with the 2011 vintage to change to ecological viticulture.

Clos de l'Oratoire

AOC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Grand Cru Classé

Clos de l'Oratoire is located on Saint-Emilion's north-east slope. The 10 hectares of vines grow on Fronsac molasse covering a layer of sand with a clay subsoil. This terroir is ideally suited to the blend of Merlot (90%), Cabernet Franc (5%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) grapes. Merlot contributes roundness and opulence to the wine, whereas Cabernet Franc is responsible for power, aromatic complexity, and length.

Pictures: Stefan Graf von Neipperg Wines

In 1991, Stephan Graf von Neipperg was given control of Clos de l'Oratoire, and he subsequently bought the remaining 30 percent of the property from other investors.

Château Peyreau

AOC Saint-Émilion

This 12.82 hectare vineyard is located on Saint-Emilion's north-east slope. It has clay-limestone soil with Fronsac molasse at the top of the slope and clay-siliceous soil lower down. The grape varieties are 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Château d'Aiguilhe

AOC Cotes de Castillon

Château d'Aiguilhe is located on hills overlooking the Right Bank of the Dordogne River, on the border of the Côtes de Castillon appellation.

This 110 hectare estate has 50 hectares of vines, which are planted exclusively on the upper part of the hills. The vineyard has excellent natural drainage and south-facing sun exposure. The minerals in the clay-limestone soil account for a wine of both power and finesse in which the roundness of Merlot (80%) marries beautifully with the concentration and complexity of Cabernet Franc (20%).

Pictures: Stefan von Neipperg, Patrick Honnef, Managing Director, Château d'Aiguilhe and Christian G.E. Schiller

Comte Stefan von Neipperg purchased the estate in 1998. He invested millions of euros in a state-of-the-art facility at Château d'Aiguilhe, in the previously unnoticed Côtes de Castillon appellation, then dared to market the wine like a St.-Emilion Grand Cru Classé. The success of d’Aiguilhe is credited with putting Cotes de Castillon on the map.

Clos Marsalette

AOC Pessac-Léognan

Clos Marsalette is located in the commune of Martillac in the Pessac-Léognan appellation.

The 6.26 hectares of vines cover three gravelly rises consisting of soil deposited by the Garonne River. The vineyard has 5.46 hectares of red wine varieties (35% Merlot, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc) and 0.80 hectares of white wine varieties (50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Sémillon).

Count Stefan von Neipperg owns Clos Marsalette with the two minority shareholders Francis Boutemy and M. Sarpoulet.

Château Guiraud

AOC Sauternes
Premier Cru Classé 1855

This gem of an estate in Sauternes dates back to the 15th century. The vineyard currently covers 100 hectares. Château Guiraud is known for its organic approach to viticulture.

11,000 cases made. The blend of 65 percent Sémillon and 35 percent Sauvignon Blanc comes from 35- to 40-year-old vines.

Four partners - Robert Peugeot (of Peugeot automobiles), Olivier Bernard (Domaine de Chevalier), Stephan von Neipperg (Canon-La Gaffelière and others) and Xavier Planty, the estate’s longtime general manager -  acquired Château Guiraud in 2006.

What motivated you to become a shareholder in this vineyard in Sauternes ? “Being of German origin, I was introduced to icewine as well as late harvest wines and botytised wines, at a very early age. I have always been fascinated by them, and also by Sauternes, which depend on so many factors. So, the opportunity to be a part owner of Château Guiraud was not to be missed. Promoting this somewhat overlooked appellation represents a veritable challenge, and creating greater interest in great sweet white wines is my main priority” said Count Stefan von Neipperg.

Château Soleil

AOC Puisseguin Saint-Emilion

The 20 hectare vineyard has limestone soil with a thin topsoil of clay-gravel colluvium. The grape varieties are typical for Saint-Emilion, with nearly 80% Merlot. The remaining 20% is evenly divided between Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Two centuries of family tradition account for the excellent reputation of Château Soleil in Puisseguin. In 2005, a group of private investors, including Count Stephan von Neipperg decided to buy the estate, with the objective of bringing it up to the level of the finest wines in the Saint-Emilion region.


Count Stephan von Neipperg, in conjunction with the banker Karl-Heinz Hauptmann, was one of the first people to invest in the wine sector in Bulgaria. This was in the Bessa Valley, in the Pazardjik region, 135 km southeast of Sofia. Premium Bordeaux grape and local varieties were planted. The wines, ENIRA and ENIRA Réserva, have met with enormous success. In May 2006, ENIRA was named Bulgaria's best wine.

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