I first encountered the wine of this estate with the 1996 vintage, hidden amongst a formidable line-up; it was a blind tasting of wines from the left bank in this vintage, and it included Château Pontet-Canet, a property that was really strutting its stuff in the 1996 vintage, at that time in the early stages of the Tesseron-led revitalisation, not to mention an impressive bottle from Château Calon-Ségur. And so it wasn’t an easy ride for little Château Caronne-Ste-Gemme, nevertheless to say it performed well would be something of an understatement. It held its head high. Since that encounter I have been fortunate enough to taste many more vintages, and these early impressions have been confirmed again and again. This is a source of great-value wine in the traditional left-bank style, and one all committed Bordeaux drinkers should know of.
In this profile I will examine the vineyards and approach to winemaking on this estate, for so many years in the hands of the Nony family. First though, as is customary, I provide some detail on the origins and history of this property.
Château Caronne-Ste-Gemme derives its name most probably from carona, an old Gaulish word for a spring or water source, while Sainte Gemme is said to be a derivative of Saint Jaime (or Saint James), a local parish name now long-disappeared. While the origins of the name seem plausible, however, the origins of the estate and vineyards are vague at best, a fact which perhaps reflects a very long history of viticulture here.
The first mention of the estate dates to 1648, when the landlord, Denys de Mullet de la Tour-Saint-Lambert, took payment for the use of the land in the shape of some of the wines produced. Little is known of life on the estate during the ensuing centuries, although we know that by 1790 it had come into the hands of Raymond Mandavy, who was appointed administrator of the Gironde département that same year. He came from a lively family of ship owners and merchants who appear to have accrued some wealth exploiting the riches of France’s Caribbean colonies.