In an era when the most famous châteaux of Bordeaux all seem to belong to insurance companies or pension funds, it is a pleasure to come across an estate of significance that remains in family hands. Even less common, however, is to find an estate that remains in the hands of the family that founded the property one or two centuries ago. And yet that is what we find with Château Laroze, which in the early years of the 21st century is owned and managed by the descendants of the couple that assembled the estate from a small collection of vineyards two centuries beforehand.
Despite this long period of family ownership, we should not regard Château Laroze as a sleepy backwater where little has changed. Under the direction of the current generation there has been significant investment and revitalisation, and a new focus on improving the processes of vinification and the ultimate quality of the wine. There has even been a brief dalliance with biodynamics, so there is no fear of innovation and experimentation here. But before coming to these more recent events, we should first look back at the history of the estate, which kicks off in the middle of the 18th century.
The original proprietors were the Gurchy family, a well-known name which dates back to at least 1610 in the region. The very first edition of Cocks et Féret published in 1850 describes the presence of a Gurchy tending vines in the Mazerat lieu-dit, and this presence was maintained for many decades afterwards. The story of Château Laroze does not begin with Mazerat, however, but with another nearby vineyard in La Gommerie. The Cru de la Gommerie was a once expansive domaine that had been dismembered after the French Revolution, so that by the 1850s it existed in multiple parts. From it was derived the Cru Camus (sometimes referred to as Camus La Gommerie), which first appeared as an independent entity in the 1868 Cocks et Féret. At this time there were said to be two proprietors working the land, one named Girard and the other Pistouley, turning out 12 to 15 and 10 to 12 tonneaux respectively, a situation that had not changed when the 1874 edition was published, although sometime during the next few years Madame Girard sold her vines to a gentleman named Ignace Santi.
It was during the next decade that Château Laroze came to be, with the arrival of a young woman named Pétronille Aimée Nelly Chollet (1836 – 1894), who had on April 20th 1858 married Georges Gurchy (1820 – 1880), a négociant and the proprietor of Château Yon-Figeac. The two also played significant roles in the genesis of Château Angélus. In 1882, very recently widowed, she purchased the Camus vineyards that had belonged to Madame Girard and which, in the interim, had been acquired by Santi. The 1883 Cocks et Féret suggests that this section of the Camus vineyard was still in the hands of Ignace Santi, but I suspect the truth was that the manuscript went to the printers before this transaction could be recorded. In 1883 Nelly Gurchy, as she was known, then went on to purchase the neighbouring vineyard of Lafontaine. She brought this and her Camus vines together under the name Château Camus, and right enough by 1885 she did indeed have a newly erected château on site, along with 15 hectares of vines planted on the region’s characteristically sandy soils.