Château Cos d'Estournel
It was late on a December afternoon when I first saw Château Cos d'Estournel. It was the week before Christmas, and I was in Bordeaux with a group for a few days of tastings, visiting the likes of Château Brown, Château Sociando-Mallet, Château Margaux and a number of smaller estates. We were on the D2, heading north into Médoc territory, having already left behind Bordeaux and the communes of Margaux, St Julien and Pauillac. Ahead of us our temporary residence for this trip awaited us, prompting thoughts of dinner and an evening of relaxation, all very welcome after a long day of visits and tasting.
Within the car it was warm, but outside was bitterly cold, as it had been since 8am, when our day had begun with a vineyard inspection and quick pruning lesson. And above us, the sky was beginning to darken as night advanced, ousting the dim light of day. And there, situated on a turn on the D2 just ahead of us, catching a few of those final, fading rays, was the golden sandstone of the chai at Cos d'Estournel, its Oriental pagodas sitting proud and yet conspicuously alien, as if the whole building had recently been lifted and transplanted here from some foreign hilltop.
In more recent years visitors are more likely to have seen the sun's rays scattered across scaffolding, cranes, plastic sheeting and more. The sandstone that has given the edifice its fabulously golden glow has not proved as resistant to the effects of the Bordeaux climate as the more familiar creamy limestone found throughout the rest of the Médoc, and as a result there has been an extensive restoration underway; indeed the process is so extensive that some might prefer to think of it as a rebuilding. But I am sure the end result, pictured above in late 2012, is worth it; such an esoteric construction must be preserved for the visual delight of all Bordeaux acolytes of the future.
This extensive restoration reflects the wealth of the current owner, Michel Reybier. As is the case with many of the grander châteaux in Bordeaux, Cos d'Estournel is no longer in the hands of an individual, be he nobleman or merchant-made-good. The investment that so many properties required at the end of the 20th century usually came not from within Bordeaux but from outside, men and women who brought their wealth accrued in other industries to the region. In the case of Michel Reybier, the riches seem to have come primarily from processed pork products, although he has also had dealings within the oil industry, investments and sporting goods. Today, however, he is best known for heading up a small but very exclusive chain of luxury spa hotels. This has naturally lead to some speculation that, with such an extraordinarily lengthy restoration, Château Cos d'Estournel will be not just vineyard in future years, but a vineyard-spa.
Before I explore the modern-day Cos d'Estournel any further, however, it is customary for me to look at the history of the estate, starting in the next section of this profile with the story of its most famous patron, Louis Gaspard d'Estournel. (15/10/08, updated 16/9/09, 28/10/12)