Wednesday, July 24, 2019

A visit to Château Ducru Beaucaillou

Visit to Château Ducru Beaucaillou St Julien Bordeaux

A highlight of our trip to the St Julien Appellation (AOC) of Bordeaux was a visit to Château 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.

In addition to our visit at Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou our spectacular week in St Julien also included visits to our other favorite St Julien producers, Second Growth producers Léoville du Marquis de Las CasesGruaud Larose and Léoville-Poyferré, as well as Fourth Growths Château Beychevelle and Château Branaire-Ducru.

Leading up to our visit, we opened a special birth year bottle 1985 Château Ducru Beaucaillou from our cellar for son Sean's birth year vintage of which we acquired a case upon release as part of a horizontal collection of different producer's releasea from the vintage to commemorate his birth year. Upon our return we opened a 1989 release to relive the experience of our visit. 

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
'ducru 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.

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