Chateau Haut-Brion Castle


Château Haut Brion (A.O.C. Pessac-Leognan) claret is probably the most famous of the Bordeaux first growths and can certainly lay claim to the most impressive history. It was the only wine awarded Premier Cru Classé status in the 1855 classification outside of the Médoc itself, an area of impressive vineyard estates on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Chateau Haut Brion is located very close to the City of Bordeaux at the northern end of the Graves district, an area as a whole more usually associated with white wine production.

It is thought that a vineyard was established on the site of Château Haut Brion by the Romans who clearly recognised the suitability of the terrain. The earliest documented cultivation of vines dates from 1423. The birth of the modern vineyard estate took place in 1533 followed by the beginning of the construction of the Château itself in 1549. Thus was born the world's first wine-making estate with the vineyards having been planted more than a hundred years before any of the other first growths of 1855. Samuel Pepys describes a London tasting on April 10th. 1663 in glowing terms and the philosopher John Locke paid the estate a visit in 1677. It is true to say that Château Haut Brion started a revolution in wine-making and its appreciation and has provided a benchmark for quality ever since.

The name Haut Brion comes from the Celtic word Briga which means a raised piece of land. The vineyard site itself is a piece of land with a slightly higher elevation than that surrounding it, rising to 27 meters above sea level at its highest point, with soils consisting of white sand and gravel from which the district of Graves derives its name. There are also occasional patches of clay on which the Merlot vines thrive. The sub-soil and elevation delivers excellent drainage and makes the vine roots dig deep into the ground in search of water. The estate's close proximity to the city of Bordeaux results in a beneficial micro-climate with marginally increased average mean temperatures resulting in improved ripeness of the grapes.


The Red Grape Varieties of Ch. Haut Brion

Chateau Haut-Brion Wine BarrelsA little over 48 hectares of the Ch. Haut Brion vineyards are planted with an assortment of red grape varieties in the following proportion: 45.4% Merlot, 43.9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9.7% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The average age of the vines is about 36 years although some parcels of vines that were planted in the 1930s are still cultivated. The grapes from vines younger than 15 years are used for the second wine only. A great deal of attention has been paid to both root-stock and clonal selection of the vines in order to cultivate only the very best grapes and so preserve its reputation. Yields are limited by these strict selection criteria rather than by adopting the "vendange-verte" or green harvest whereby a proportion of unripe bunches would normally be removed from the vines during the summer to limit yield and concentrate flavours. Teams of workers work the same parcels and therefore gain intimate knowledge of each vine. This hands-on approach extends to the harvesting of the grapes which is done exclusively by hand.

Bunch selection takes place in the vineyard itself and thereafter the grapes are sent to the winery to be de-stemmed, crushed and then transferred into double-walled stainless steel fermentation tanks which are constructed with two chambers; the top half for alcoholic fermentation and the bottom for the malo-lactic fermentation. Ch. Haut Brion was one of the first Bordeaux chateaux to adopt stainless steel vats in 1961 with the new double-skinned version being introduced in 1991. After this second, malo-lactic, fermentation is complete the wine is then aged in oak casks for a period of 18 to 24 months. Traditionally the wine would have seen 100% new oak but the modern Haut Brion is aged in 80% new French oak in barrels made in its own cooperage. Average annual production is 10,000 - 12,000 cases these days, a reduction designed to introduce more rigour into the selection process at each stage. This has also increased the price in line with the law of supply and demand. A second wine is also produced on the estate. Formerly known as Bahans Haut Brion it is now named Le Clarence de Haut Brion after a former owner, the American banker Clarence Dillon.


Tasting Château Haut Brion Claret

Tasting Château Haut Brion claret is always a special occasion irrespective of the resources of the taster. It has the reputation of being a little lighter and more supple than the other first growths of the Médoc and therefore ready for drinking a little earlier. This does not, however, mean a shorter lifespan of the wine. In fact as recently as 2010 the 1934 vintage was still awarded 90/100 by tasters! In general the wine is characterised by complex aromas of cigars, cedar wood, chocolate, truffle, licorice, roasted and smoky notes with a long mid-palate with an incredibly persistent finish. Naturally no two vintages of such a great wine will be identical but tasters report an array of flavours including both black (blackberry, boysenberry, cassis/blackcurrant, cherries) as well as some red fruit character. An earthy quality together with some minerality has also been noted.

The 2010 vintage itself was of supreme quality, one critic's tasting notes described it thus in the first half of 2013: "Intense, deep aromas of earth, burning wood , truffle, hot bricks, tar, licorice, espresso, smoke and blackberry. There is an incredible sense of purity in the fruit. The wine is rich, concentrated and multi-faceted...The finish kept building and expanding for close to one minute." In 10 years the wine will be getting into its stride and in 20 years it promises to deliver the ultimate red wine drinking experience.


Ch. Haut Brion Blanc

One of the world's greatest and most expensive white wines, Ch. Haut Brion Blanc, is also produced here from a little more than 3 ha. of Semillon (63%) and Sauvignon Blanc (37%) vines. The favourable micro-climate in the vineyard mentioned earlier results in an early harvest for the white grape varieties which ripen ahead of those in the rest of the Graves district. Whole bunch are pressed pneumatically with fermentation in oak. Typical of the incredibly concentrated nose are honey, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, lime, beeswax, flowers and ginger notes. It is a wine with a rich, viscous mouth-feel. A second wine, La Clarte du Haut Brion Blanc, produced from the grapes of both Haut Brion itself as well as from La Mission Haut Brion and is therefore the second white wine of both estates.

With ever more rigorous selection and yield restriction both the red and white wine of Chateau Haut Brion are an extremely sound investment as demand, especially from the Far East, continues to grow.


The History and the Winemaker


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