Setting out for a run around the vineyards of Fronsac, I was unprepared for the glorious views my route would take in. Having endured a fairly demanding climb from the clay-rich soils of the palus up the steep limestone côte, I soon found myself cruising along the crest of the limestone plateau. The day was getting on, although it was still warm and bright, and below me there was spread out a blanket of vines, among which there were dotted some fine-looking châteaux. Beyond I could see the glistening waters of the Dordogne, shimmering in the early-evening sunlight. It was a spectacular sight.
As I continued along the crest, I began to approach an unfamiliar château, smaller than the imposing Château de La Dauphine which sat at the foot of the slope below, but no less elegant for its understated presence. This château sat right on the edge of the plateau, its vineyards falling away in front of it, down to the valley floor below. As I approached I saw it was Château Gaby, a name more familiar than its appearance. A long-established estate with a history that stretches back centuries, I recalled that at some point recently it had been in the hands of Antoine and Jana Khayat, the latter heiress to Garry Weston’s retail empire and chairman of Fortnum & Mason’s. But what, I wondered to myself, had happened to it since? Little did I realise that just a year or so later I would be tasting its wines with its new owner, billionaire Tom Sullivan.
Rather akin to its near-neighbour Château de La Dauphine, the origins of the Gaby estate, and details of when the first vines were planted, seem to have been lost to time. Indeed, the entire history of the property is hazy, with most authors content to parrot a tale of family ownership stretching back 250 years. And the name of this family? Some say it was Boussiron. Others say Frouin. The truth is the former began this period of ownership which did indeed stretch over maybe a century or so (certainly not 250 years), while the latter drew it to a close in a period of acrimonious familial dispute.
If the tales are to be believed, the land here was probably planted during the latter years of the 17th century, as was nearby Château de La Dauphine. There is essentially no detail concerning the estate’s origins though, and it is only as texts concerning the Bordeaux region begin to appear during the 19th century that the story takes shape. The 1850 Cocks et Féret provided much more detail on the Fronsac vineyard than you might expect, an indicator of the high regard with which these vineyards were viewed at the time, and the authors described several vignerons working the land at Gaby. The principal viticulteur was named Izambert, with an annual production of 20 tonneaux (so 80 barrels) of wine. In second and third place respectively were Giraud, with 12 tonneaux, and Princeteau, with 10 tonneaux per annum.