For many wine drinkers committed to Bordeaux, Château Haut-Brion holds a special place in their hearts. The wines are deliciously distinctive, and even though they have a few close companions in the likes of Château La Mission Haut-Brion, or even the now defunct Château La Tour Haut-Brion, these are wines which – such is their delightfully unique, savoury, perfumed character – can often easily be picked out blind. And then enjoyed, because indeed, that is what wine is for, and in this case who could resist?
Although it is taste and pleasure that matters most, this estate in fact has many unique strings to its bow. It is the only Bordeaux château to rest in the hands of European nobility, the current incumbent being Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who heads up Domaine Clarence Dillon, the company formed in order to manage the family’s wine portfolio. The estate is also notable for its well-documented history and its Medieval origins, several centuries before this was commonplace on the Médoc, as I discuss in my exploration of the estate’s origins, below. This ancient heritage has only been reinforced by the current proprietor, who through the 2014 Haut-Brion Historical Challenge established the dates of the earliest ever references to the estate, pushing back the domaine’s origins by many decades. Again, more on this later in the profile.
It also cannot be overlooked that Château Haut-Brion is also only château in Pessac-Léognan or indeed all of Graves to be included in the 1855 classification of the Médoc, and its subsequent placement in the 1959 classification of Graves a little over a century later means this is also the only château to be ranked in two such systems. Less obvious distinctions include the soil; this is perhaps the only real Günzian terroir on the left bank. Although many châteaux claim to have vines planted on desirable Günzian gravel, usually after the work of Professor Enjalbert who extolled the virtues of this particular gravel, this is true in only a handful of cases. Most of the true Günzian terroir is found only around Pessac and Mérignac, regions now given over to modern development. This gravel is now either buried under the tarmac of the airport runways, or to be found in the vineyards of the few remaining suburban vineyards, of which Château Haut-Brion is surely the best known.
So this is a special property, in many ways. In this profile I look at all its distinctive features, beginning of course with its history, for which we must look back to at least the 15th century.