Saturday, August 17, 2019

Château Léoville Poyferré

A visit to Château Léoville Poyferré, St Julien-Beychevelle Bordeaux

Another one of the key visits of our trip to the St Julien Appellation (AOC) in Bordeaux was Château Léoville Poyferré, another second growth, one of fifteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) as classified in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

Like Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases, Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou, and Gruaud Larose (blogpost coming), three other second growth St Julien producers that we also visited, we hold or have consumed a selection of Léoville Poyferré dating back several decades to the early eighties.

The Léoville-Poyferré Chateau and estate sits on the edge of the village of St Julien-Beychevelle as you exit north heading towards Pauillac. The Chateau and facilities sit immediately across the D2 route opposite the old church which sits adjacent to the Leoville Las Cases Chateau and gardens.

The historic Léoville estate dates back to 1638 when the greater property was the largest domain in the Médoc. 

Back before the 19th century, Léoville-Poyferré was once part of the much larger Léoville estate that used to include Château Léoville-Las Cases and Château Léoville-Barton until the time of the French Revolution. Leoville was one of the biggest vineyards in Bordeaux at just under 500 acres.

In 1840, the St Julien Léoville estate was divided. Château Léoville-Las Cases was divided again forming Château Léoville-Poyferré which went to Baron de Poyferré when he married the daughter of Jean de Las-Cases. Pierre Jean de Las Cases, the oldest son received a share, which became Château Leoville Las Cases. His sister, Jeanne, passed on her share to her daughter, wife of Baron Jean-Marie Poyferre de Ceres. That is the birth of what today is known as Léoville-Poyferré. In those early days, the Léoville-Poyferré wines were sold under the label and brand Baron de Poyferre.

While the vineyards were separated, the buildings were connected and remain that way to this day. The parking lot for Chateau Leoville Las Cases also serves the vinification production building of Leoville Poyferre. And, while the Leoville vineyards were divided into 3 different Leoville estates, Leoville Las Cases, Leoville Barton and Leoville Poyferre, many of the vineyards are adjacent to each other and intermingled, making harvesting a bit chaotic at times.

Léoville Poyferré was purchased in 1920 by the Cuvelier family from the Lalande family. The Cuvelier family had been well establish in Bordeaux as negociants, or wine merchants, dating back over a hundred years to 1804. 

The Cuveliers first purchased vineyards in the Medoc starting with Chateau Le Crock in St. Estephe, purchased in 1903, then Chateau Camensac in the Haut Medoc appellation. They then acquired Chateau Leoville Poyferre and Chateau Moulin Riche in the Saint Julien appellation. 

Didier Cuvelier took over  the château and surrounding vineyard properties in 1979 and set upon a program of improvement. In 1995, he enlisted the assistance of legendary Michel Rolland, noted winemaker as a technical advisor. Together, they have turned Léoville-Poyferré into one of St-Julien's finest estates.

Initially trained as an accountant, Didier Cuvelier also brought in Emile Peynaud as an advisor. They set upon modernization of the winemaking facilities. They also replanted 50 acres of vines. The vineyards were nearly doubled in size, from 120 to the current size of almost 200 acres.
Michel Rolland joined the team in 1994.

Chateau Leoville Poyferre were long considered innovators in the Medoc. They first introduced trellising the vines using pine stakes, which is now common practice. They were one of the first Bordeaux produces to rinse their barrels with sulfur to help protect their wines from spoiling during the shipping and aging process.

In 2014, the new facility was constructed, the modernized building taking on the historic estates' original design, a long rectangle with a small tower at each end.

Didier Cuvelier retired after the 2017 vintage, turning over management of the estate to his niece, Sara Lecompte Cuvelier, the sister of Anne Cuvelier.

Didier Cuvelier, "Since 1979, our family has been dedicated to a vision that leaves no room for improvisation. Every decision, every investment , is a step towards ultimate quality, one that makes a simple wine an exceptional one, recognized as a Second Classified Growth in 1855."

The evening of our visit, we dined at Le Saint Julien restaurant, the fine dining establishment in the village, just across the street from the estate and the small village square.

St Julien-Beychevelle village centre, Leoville Poyferre
in distance across route D2
Le Saint Julien restaurant on Route D2 in
St Julien-Beychevelle, opposite Leoville Poyferre,
down the street from Leoville Las Cases

With dinner we drank the Léoville-Poyferré 2008, a perfect complement to the daily special, cote de boeuf and pomme frites. 

The staff talked with reverence about Didier Cuvelier, and he being there for lunch just the previous day, and how attentive and careful he was to the serving of the wine. This was in response to our mentioning our visit, and our acknowledgement of the wine service and the attention they gave to the proper serving temperature, chilling our bottle of red wine. We enjoy our red wines slightly chilled and keep our home cellar cooler than what might be normal. We're often frustrated by the service of our wines, even in the finest restaurants that supposedly are serious about their wine service.

The Léoville-Poyferré estate and surrounding vineyards sit on the D2, the arterial route of the Medoc, across the road from former 'sibling' Léoville Las Cases. Adjacent to the property, across the appellation boundary in the Pauillac appellation is Chateau Pichon Baron, and across the road adjacent to Las Cases is the First Growth Chateau Latour, and Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Nearby is the other former 'sibling' Leoville Barton.

Leoville Poyferre vineyard, Pichon Baron in distance,
across road, Leoville Las Cases, Chateau Latour in distance
The vineyards of Château Léoville Poyferré and its prestigious neighbors sit along the Gironde River estuary. The terroir of the area is famous for its gravely, well drained soils, covered with pebbles that are the result of sedimentary deposits by the Garonne in the Quaternary period.

The rocky soil serves to naturally regulate soil temperature, holding the warmth of the sun into the night, and reflecting the sun upon the grapevines during the day. The terroir is enhanced by the moderating effect of the nearby river which tempers extreme weather and protects the riverside vineyards from frosts.

The Léoville Poyferré vineyards cover 198 acres planted with traditional Bordeaux, appellation sanctioned varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon (65%), Merlot (25%), Petit Verdot (8%) and Cabernet Franc (2%).

Léoville Poyferré is known to traditionally produce soft supple wines but in the recent years the wines have developed increased weight and body, largely due to the grapes being harvested riper and later, and because of increased exposure to new oak in the maturation process. Leoville Poyferre often ranks with the best of the premier St-Julien producers, but often at more modest approachable prices. The 2009 vintage Léoville Poyferré was awarded 100 points by legendary wine critic Robert Parker, one of five Bordeaux labels to earn the distinction in that vintage.  

Chateau Leoville Poyferre also produce a 'second wine. Pavillon de Leoville Poyferre, from grapes not deemed suitable for selection for the flagship label.

We were hosted on our tour by Claire of the hospitality team. We toured the vinification building which sits across the street adjacent to Leoville Las Cases, then the barrel storage building beneath the Chateau, and finally the hospitality center and tasting room across the courtyard.

The grape bunches when harvested are brought in in small crates and first sorted by hand on tables before destemming, then a second time by new high tech optical sorting machines before crushing.

Here is the vinification room where each vineyard plot is vinified individually in one of the fifty-six stainless steel vats.

The vinification process creates the wine from the grapes and is where the character and profile is developed with the accent and extent to which the tannins will be revealed. Care is taken to maintain the consistency of the process established over years of practice and research, and applying the technical innovation to maintain the qualitative tradition and lineage of the style of Léoville Poyferré.

In 2010, the vat rooms were completely renovated, replacing 10 large vats with 20 new stainless steel, double skinned vats with a capacity increased from 60 hectoliters to 165 hectoliters, for a total of 56 vats in all. This provided for very precise vinification on a parcel by parcel basis. Malolactic fermentation takes place in barrel.
There are 27 double-walled tanks that are used for cold pre-fermentation macerations for 6 days. The extraction of color occurs gradually and pure fruit aromas are revealed.

Leoville Poyferre uses an ingenious system to move the wine from the tanks to the barrels from the facility across the road. They created a system of underground pipes to move the wine safely from vats to barrels. Prior to the underground pipes, the wine was moved by hand in steel tanks using tractors. 

The batch is transferred to the barrel aging facility where the wine is aged in 75% new oak barrels for 18-20 months. Particular care is taken in the selection of barrels, the type of oak, and the preparation of the oak, in order to complement and harmonize with the character of the vintage, and the signature style that is Léoville Poyferré. The notable Michel Rolland is an advisor to provide guidance in the vinification and the blending.

The hospitality tasting room sits across from the barrel building overlooking the courtyard, opposite the Chateau.

Chateau Léoville Poyferré wines are known for their character and style of ripe concentrated fruit with a powerful but pure plush style of supple, silky textures. Flavors of black fruits are accented by tones of cassis and spice with truffle and tobacco aromatics.

We were served for our tasting Léoville Poyferré 2005, 2008 and the current barrel sample of the upcoming 2018 release. The wine flight is carefully selected and paired with artisan chocolates to complement the vintage. A chocolatier advises the blend and source of each chocolate to be paired with each wine.

We also tasted the Léoville Poyferré Moulin Riche 2015. Chateau Moulin Riche is bottled and sold as its own, unique label and brand. The wine was historically thought of as the unofficial second wine of Chateau Leoville Poyferre. It was classified exceptional bourgeois in 1932.  

Starting with the legendary 2009 vintage, when the flagship Léoville Poyferré received 100 points, Moulin Riche started being produced from its own specific vineyard parcels as its own label and brand. It is produced by the same technical team that produces Leoville Poyferre. On average, close to 10,000 cases of Moulin Riche are produced each vintage.

The Moulin Riche logo is designed as part of the branding of the flagship signature label Leoville Poyferre with the Chateau and its two towers, and colours. This is done by design to identify with the Cuvelier family wines, but to differentiate from the first label. Since the 2009 vintage, Chateau Moulin Riche has also gained notoriety as its own brand and distinctive wine.

Chateau Moulin Riche is sourced from its own 50 acre Left Bank vineyard of Chateau Moulin Riche. It is planted in traditional, sanctioned Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon (
60%), Merlot (32%), and Petit Verdot (30%). They also represent the same St Julien terroir with gravel and limestone soils.

In vintages when the Petit Verdot is very ripe, it is also included in the grand vin, Léoville Poyferré.

Moulin Riche wine is aged in a combination of new and used, French oak barrels for between 18 to 20 months before bottling. 

Pavillon De Léoville Poyferré is the second wine of both Châteaux Leoville Poyferré and Moulin Riche. Made from younger vines, it is produced to be more more affordable and to be balanced, fruity and easy to drink, approachable at an earlier age.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

Visit to Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou St Julien Bordeaux

A highlight of our trip to the St Julien Appellation (AOC) of Bordeaux was a visit to Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. This is one of the 'super second' labels of Bordeaux, one of fifteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) as set forth in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

This label is one of the key holdings in our cellar collection consisting of more than a dozen vintages spanning three decades dating back to 1980 including the birth year vintages of each of our kids, 1981, 1982, 1985 and 1990. We hold many vintages in large format bottles including 3 liter double magnums from which we served son Ryan's 1982 birth year vintage at his and daughter-in-law Michelle's wedding.

As I've written in these pages, we reached out to a very small select set of St Julien producers to visit during our trip and Ducru Beaucaillou was on that short list, so we were delighted in their prompt response and invitation to visit. As is our custom on wine region trips, learned from many trips over many years, its important to focus and not over schedule. Too many folks try to see areas that turn out to be far apart, and they spend much valuable time in transit, or worse, arrive late for cherished appointments. As such, we learned to focus on just one appellation per trip, set priorities ahead of time, and schedule only key activities based on objectives for the trip.

Ducru Beaucaillou is one of the oldest wine producing estates in the Medoc dating back to the start of the 13th century. The earliest period of it being a working Bordeaux vineyard, it was owned by the  Bergeron family from 1720. In its earliest days it consisted of the current property as well as the adjacent properties that today make up Chateaus Beychevelle and Branaire Ducru The property was split up over the years following the French Revolution in the early 19th Century.

Ducru Beaucaillou right - Beychevelle left

Like many Bordeaux estates, it is named for one its early owners, Bertrand Ducru, who purchased the estate in 1795. The other part of the name comes the special soils along the Gironde River estuary that are covered with large pebbles or stones. Hence, beaucaillou, which means "beautiful stones" that make up the distinctive terroir on the property, that which defines the place and its effect on growing wine grapes - soil, micro-climate, sun exposure, etc.

As with the case of some of the other similarly situated properties, the stones serve to protect the soil, provide extraordinary drainage, and act to reflect the heat from the sun upon the grapes, and hold the heat into the night so as to extend their ripening time.

Ceremonial souvenir engraved 'beaucaillou'
The vineyards run along the Gironde River and the proximity to the river that created the wide diversity of soils, formed over various geological periods, helps create the terroir that is St Julien. Besides the gravelly soil, the temperate waters of the river estuary and the nearby Atlantic Ocean create a moderating special micro-climate that enables very early ripening of the grapes and protects the vineyards from frost. The incomparable terroir gives St Julien wines their distinctive character and personality.

This proximity to the river with the combination of geology and climatic effects influences the growth of the vines, coupled with appellation compliance restricted water supply and a very low intake of nutrients, all contribute to bringing out the best in the fruit for making highest quality wines.

The origins of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou date back to the early 18th century, when the Bergeron family acquired it in 1720.

Bertrand Ducru purchased the estate in 1795 and added his name to the property that became Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. Ducru hired the well known Parisian architect, Paul Abadie, who designed the core of the magnificent chateau that remains on the property to this day, and also built the barrel aging cellar. The towers at each end were added later. The vineyards were also upgraded during this time.

In 1866, after more than seven decades, Ducru Beaucaillou was sold to Lucie Caroline Dassier for one million Francs, a substantial sum at the time. Dassier was the wife of Nathaniel Johnston, a  famous Bordeaux wine merchant and negociant

Negociants are merchants who buy grapes, juice, or finished wine from growers, then bottle and sell them on the market. Some negociants are known for selling some of the finest wines on the market. In the early days, the role of the negociant was to take on the expenses of bottling so that farmer growers could focus on doing what they do best: growing grapes.

Nathaniel Johnston replanted the vineyards and modernized the cellars with the aid of manager Ernest David.

Catastrophic losses from the 1929 depression forced the Johnston family to sell Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou.  The property was taken over by the Desbarats family, successful Bordeaux wine merchants. They eventually sold the estate to Francis Borie in 1941.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou was purchased by Francois Borie in 1941 and has remained in the family ever since.

The Borie family had extensive roots in the Bordeaux region dating back to the late 1800’s when they started out as negociants.

Francois Borie was succeeded by his son, Jean Eugene Borie in 1953. His son Francois Xavier Borie began working at the estate full time in 1978, eventually taking over from his father after his passing in 1998.

A new underground cellar for fermentation and aging was built in the late 1990s.

Entrance to new cellar facility

The new cellar barrel room
In 2003, Bruno Borie took the helm and remains to this day proprietor and overseer of Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou and all the associated businesses and brands. Bruno serves as CEO of Jean Eugène Borie SA, which is owned by the family, his mother, Mrs Borie, his sister Sabine Coiffe and him. They serve as the third generation of the Borie family to head the estate.

As a family owned property, the family lives in the Chateau that is the center of the property and iconic symbol of the estate and brand. As is the custom in Bordeuax, the chateau adorns the label of the grand vin, the signature premier wine of the property, reserved only 'estate' wines, those comprised of grape grown on the property. The two branches of the family live in the two halves of the Chateau with its two towers at each end. It has served as the family residence for over sixty years. 


The Ducru Beaucaillou Chateau, bureau and residences

The magnificent Ducru Beaucaillou Victorian-style chateau castle that adorns the label of the grand vin is one of the great symbols of the Médoc. It sits on an exceptional site in the center of a hundred-year-old park with incomparable views over the Gironde estuary below and the surrounding vineyards. It sits back far off the D2 route just outside the village of St Julien-Beychevelle and can be seen from many views from vineyards along the D2 route and beyond across the St Julien appellation. 

Beneath the Chateau are the original historic barrel cellars which today also double as an art gallery, along with art gallery display, tasting and hospitality rooms. The tasting room is sheltered from the sun by large rolling steel shutters that when opened reveal views looking out onto the magnificent formal garden and the river in the distance. 

The old historic cellar under the Chateau
The Borie family also owns Bordeaux estate Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Château Haut-Batailley in Pauillac, and in St Julien, Bruno Borie and his sister Sabine Coiffe manage Chateau Lalande Borie which takes its name from the family ownership dating back to the elder John Eugene Borie. Chateau Lalande as it is also known is a relatively new estate in the Medoc. The vineyard was initially created when the Borie purchased 44 acres of vines from Chateau Lagrange in 1970, and another 30 acres from various other growers. The vineyards are located in the western part of the St. Julien appellation, situated in the vicinity of Chateau Lagrange, Chateau Talbot and Chateau Gruaud Larose.

Ducru Beaucaillou's vineyards consist of 123 acres of well-drained gravelly soils along the D2 in the village of St Julien-Beychevelle and extending down towards the river. Interestingly, the vineyards  stop several hundred meters from the river, giving way to wheat fields and pastureland, due to the change in soil topology.

The vineyards are planted in Cabernet Sauvignon (70%) and Merlot (30%) with the vines averaging 38 years of age in 2005. Earlier plantings of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot were uprooted and replaced.

Ducru Beaucaillou produces two wines. The flagship grand vin called Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, and Croix de Beaucaillou, a second wine introduced in 1995. This allows the finest lots to be dedicated to the grand vin and lesser-quality lots relegated to the second label. This practice of having two tiered labels in the brand is customary with all the notable producers in the Medoc.

All the Ducru wines are aged for 18 months in 50% to 80% new oak barrels, depending on the richness of the vintage. The batches are racked every three months to remove sediment and to top off the barrel filling in the void of evaporation. These regular toppings-up are carried out during the first six months of ageing. The wines are racked from the bottom of the barrels every three months for a total of seven rackings during the ageing period. They are then fined with egg whites, lightly filtered, and then bottled. Bottling takes place in a sterile atmosphere under inert gas.

During bottling, only the highest quality, all natural corks are used. These are 54 mm long.  The bottles are then engraved with the Ducru-Beaucaillou name, laser etched, and a hologram is embedded into the label, for purposes of maintaining the integrity of the brand, providing enhanced traceability and thwarting counterfeiting.

Racking the barrels - the 2018 vintage
We witnessed them racking the barrels and as a result were able to taste a barrel sample from the 2018 vintage. It was spectacular. The final selection was carried out in the first quarter of 2019. This wine will be aged 18 months in new oak barrels made from certified French oak, dried naturally outdoors.

We toured the lower level of the Chateau, the historic barrel rooms, the new fermentation and barrel room facility, the galleries, hospitality center and tasting room, and the surrounding grounds and gardens.

We were treated to a tasting flight of each of the Borie labels, the flagship grand vin Ducru Beaucaillou 2006, Croix de Beaucaillou, 2012, and Lalande Borie 2014, in addition to the barrel sample of the 2018 Ducru we tasted in the chai.


What a spectacular setting and honor to walk the hallowed grounds of Ducru-Beaucaillou.

Big bottle delight - Sovereign - equals two cases
We were reminded of our wonderful visit there throughout the rest of the week as the Chateau seemed to be in the background of so many of our views of the surrounding vineyards of neighboring properties and estates.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases

A visit to Chateau Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases, St Julien-Beychevelle, Bordeaux

One of the highlights of our trip to the Medoc was a visit to the legendary 'super second' Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases. This is one of the premier labels of Bordeaux and a special part of our collection with holdings or consumed bottles that date back to the 1964 vintage.

We hold a vertical collection of more than a dozen vintages that has consisted of releases from each of our kids' birth years, the vintages of 1981, 1982, 1985, 1990, and numerous other vintages in between or since, several in large format bottles.

We were very selective in contacting but a very few producers to visit during our trip to Bordeaux. As is customary, as we have learned from many trips to wine regions, we focused on but one appellation or growing region for the trip.

Leoville Las Cases were very responsive to our request for a visit during our trip to the St Julien Appellation. We celebrated upon receipt of our invitation by opening a bottle of the 1985 vintage Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases.

Indeed, we served Leoville Las Cases from large format Jeroboams from our daughter Erin's birthyear vintage at her wedding. We served this alongside Grand Vin Latour from the same vintage, the First Growth Chateau whose vineyardes are immediately adjacent to those of Clos Leoville Las Cases.

We're holding bottles of son Alec's 1990 birthyear that we'll most assuredly celebrate with him, family and friends as part of his wedding festivities in the coming year.

Las Cases is one of the oldest and most noble Medoc estates dating back to Domaine de Léoville in the 17th century when it was owned by some of the wealthiest and most influential noble French families before it was acquired by the Las Cases family. The estate was split up between 1826 and 1840 as a result of the French Revolution creating Château Léoville Las Cases due to the ancestral birthright, from 3/5 of the original estate and the heart of the domain.

The Grand Vin’s current terroir vineyards were controlled by Pierre Jean, Adolphe and Gabriel de Las Cases who were successive heirs to the property until 1900 when Théophile Skawinski purchased a share in the estate and became its manager.

Léoville Las Cases has now been managed by the same family since the late 19th century and is today represented by Jean-Hubert Delon, sole owner and proprietor of the Château. Additionally, he owns Bordeaux estates Château Potensac in the Medoc and Château Nénin in Pomerol.

The Grand Vin is the product of exceptional terroirs from the former Léoville estate. The estate vineyards are located mainly in the Clos Léoville Las Cases along the D2 route running along and overlooking the Gironde River. They lie at the northern edge of the appellation just outside the village of Saint-Julien Beyechevelle village as you descend the hill heading north toward the appellation and village of Pauillac. There they meet and are adjacent to the legendary First Growth Chateau Gran Vin Latour estate and Pichon Longueville Comtess de Lalande, and Pichon Baron just across the road, in the Pauillac appellation. The vineyards extend over nearly 135 acres comprised of Bordeaux sanctioned varietals Cabernet Sauvignon (66%), Merlot (24%) and Cabernet Franc (10%) with an an average age of 52 year old vines.
The Clos represents a terroir of very great complexity composed of Quaternary gravel ("graves") over gravelly sand and gravelly clay subsoils. The vineyards run along the Gironde River and the proximity to the river has created the wide diversity of soils, formed over various geological periods.

The temperate waters of the river estuary and the nearby Atlantic Ocean create a moderating special micro-climate that enables very early ripening of the grapes and protects the vineyards from frost. The incomparable terroir gives this great wine its distinctive character and personality.

This proximity to the river with the combination of geology and climatic effects influences the growth of the vines, coupled with appellation compliance restricted water supply and a very low intake of nutrients that all contribute to bringing out the best in the great Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet Francs. The result is magnificent fruit that consistently achieves the full potential of the site, even in modest or the most challenging vintages.

The legendary estate produces distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc Bordeaux grape varietals that are predominant in the blend resulting in a complex, polished expressive  characteristics which are unique to the Grand Vin of Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases that has been widely recognized as one of the premier producers of the Medoc for decades. 

Another label from Domaine Leoville St Julien is Clos du Marquis, another perfect expression of the Saint-Julien features based on structure, harmony, distinction, complexity and ageing potential.

Clos du Marquis was created at the beginning of the 20th century when the vineyard was planted,  inspired by the Petit Clos adjacent to the Château de Léoville, residence of the Marquis de Las Cases.

Clos du Marquis is a historic brand by the Domaines Delon, a separate vineyard that is across the road from Leoville Las Cases, whose first vintage was released in 1902. The creation of this brand was to allow a clear identification of two completely distinct terroirs of the two estate vineyards.

We hold many vintages of the Clos du Marquis and in error always thought it was a second label of Las Cases rather than a distinctive label in its own right. Upon our return home, we opened a 1989 vintage of Clos du Marquis in tribute to visit there and it was excellent.  

Clos du Marquis is located on some of the finest vineyards with their distinctive terroirs of the Saint Julien appellation, near the Las Cases property and the nearby surrounding prestigious Classified Growths such as Léoville Poyferré and Léoville Barton, and Pichon Lalande across the appellation boundary in Pauillac.

Recently, several vineyard plots in the Clos Léoville Las Cases were uprooted and replanted, and these are now coming into production. To differentiate the fruit from those plots, and to preserve the quality level of the prestigious Grand Vin, Château Léoville Las Cases created a second wine and label, starting with the the 2007 vintage, Le Petit Lion.


We had never seen or experienced Le Petit Lion and found it at the local wine merchant just down the street from the Chateau. We purchased a bottle and enjoyed it during our casual dinner back at our BnB that evening. We'll be on the lookout for it in the America marketplace.

The Petit Lion shares the philosophy of its two elder siblings; it is vinified and aged in order to preserve its fresh, ripe fruit flavour throughout its life. However, it is designed as a second wine, and is therefore made to be more accessible and for earlier drinking, with a significant proportion of Merlot used in the blend. It also available at a more affordable price point.

From the Delon property's website, "all the wine-producing estates of the Delon family, regardless of their varying levels of notoriety, are devoted to the same philosophy:
  • Wines that are true representations of their Terroir. Another label from St Julien is Clos du Marquis, another perfect expression of the Saint-Julien features based on structure, harmony, distinction, complexity and ageing potential. In fact, its terroir is surrounded by several Second Classified Growths of the Appellation. 
  • Wines that are made to be consumed during meals. They can be shared and enjoyed with family or friends. The wines are produced in such a way that they preserve their fresh ripe fruit fl avours throughout their life. Special attention is paid to the balance of acidity, a key element for ageing and the thirst-quenching role of the wine. The empyreumatic aromas given by maturation in new oak barrels must not dominate the grape aromas, but should blend together to offer a refined nose. 
  • They must have good ageing potential and be able to improve with age. Precise ripening level of the grapes, balance in the blend and adapted maturation according to the wine's potential, all contribute in obtaining the oenological features which play a part in the wine's ageing capacity. A wine with ageing potential, if composed harmoniously, will overcome with ease certain inconveniences encountered during transport and conservation, which can lead to premature ageing. 
  • A continual and incontestable search for excellence. For each vintage and terroir, the capricious sides of nature need to be understood in order to provide healthy and ripe grapes at harvesting, which are then vinified and blended to make fine or great wines.
    Not only is the soil worked traditionally using the age-old knowledge of the terroir but also our integrated agricultural methods show true respect of the surrounding environment. Carefully selecting grafts from our own best plants, mastering the plants' vigour, limiting the number of treatments and introducing hedgerows to encourage biodiversity are all decisions that contribute to our goal: bringing out the best in each terroir for each vintage offered by Mother Nature.

    After strict selection, only the most representative batches of each product are chosen for the final blend. The Delon family and its team ensure that the wines are as consistent as possible, by a first blend before barrelling and by re-blending them after ageing. The Delon family considers that each bottle of each wine produced is an ambassador for all consumers who taste them."
We were hosted in our visit by Florent Gentry, Associate Sales Director for the enterprise. He was very gracious and accommodating taking us through the facilities and then treating us to a special tasting of estate labels.

The operations use the most modern equipment and techniques to ensure the highest standards of quality. The grapes are individually sorted by hand and then by electronic optical sorting machines to ensure only the ideal grapes make it into the batch.

We toured the historic production facility with the large oak blending tanks, then the new modern production halls with laboratory command and control center. Florent talked about the tedious and meticulous blending process and the selection of the final cru. He mentioned that the tanks are filled according to each plot in the vineyards. Samples are taken from each tank in small lots and compared in over 100 separate batches by members of the staff in determining the optimal blend. When narrowed to a dozen selections the owners and winemaker and technical advisors determine the final blend.


The chai contains a series of connected buildings with production facility, blending halls with laboratory and command and control center, the barrel storage halls, bottling room, shipping and storage room and the historic vintage library storage area.  

The grand vin is kept in the prime tanks while the second wine is produced in the square tanks in the another production hall. The control center has precise control over each tank during all phases of the process.

The blended wine is transferred to new oak barrels where it is aged for two years. The barrels are racked monthly to remove any sediment and top off the level that is lost to evaporation. The aging barrels are kept in a precise temperature controlled facility.

Las Cases have their own bottling and labeling line that etches each bottle with the timestamped batch and lot number for quality control. As is customary, labels aren't applied until the final stage at the latest opportunity to minimize soiling or damage.

It was a great treat to tour the cellars and see the extensive Las Cases library of vintages dating back in the 20th century including historic legendary top vintages such as 1959, 1961, 1975, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1990 and others.

Many vintage bottles had been re-corked as warranted and were labeled with notations accordingly.

The historic Chateau contains lounges, meeting rooms and a elegant formal tasting room. The Chateau overlooks a formal garden and fountain with views of the Gironde River in the distance.

I inquired about a vintage wine from the library and upon our return to Chicago Florent had already contacted our local merchant, Binny's, the Chicago wine super store, about procuring a case of the 1990 vintage in either standard size bottles or magnums. We found a half case in our cellar and are working with Binny's on potentially splitting a case of the standard bottles or the magnums. Extraordinary service and promotion of a very special brand! Watch for our tasting posts as we celebrate this prized label from our collection or other encounters.