If I think back to some of my earliest experiences with the classed growths of Pessac-Léognan, and indeed of all the upper-class wines of Bordeaux, I think those of Château Olivier provided some of my earliest experiences. For somebody weaned on the inexpensive varietal wines of the New World, Australia in particular, it wasn’t a bad place to start. Although there was a world of difference between the sweet oak-tinged sunshine of a Chardonnay from South Eastern Australia, and the dry, rather pale and lean character of the white wine from Château Olivier, both seemed to speak to me of the variety in question. In the case of the former wine, the tropical fruit of ripe Chardonnay, and in the case of the latter, the rather greener flavours of cool climate Sauvignon Blanc. This was despite the fact that the white wine is usually only about half Sauvignon Blanc, mirroring the proportion of this variety in the white vineyard, the remainder being Semillon and Muscadelle. With the benefit of hindsight, my interpretation of the wine probably said more about the fruit ripeness than the varieties in question, but I was very green. As indeed was the wine.
Despite these early experiences many years (I hesitate to write decades later, but it wouldn’t be that far from the truth) later Château Olivier was, until recently, one of a small handful of classed growth châteaux in Pessac-Léognan that I had never even set eyes on the estate, other than from afar. It can be spied from the grounds of near neighbour Château Brown, although only just; it sits a long way in the distance, and is partially obscured by greenery and the lie of the land. I finally broke my duck during a recent visit to Bordeaux, when Château Olivier hosted a series of Pessac-Léognan tastings. So it wasn’t a formal or dedicated visit, but at least I was finally able to see the château close up. Hidden deep in the woods just to the north of Léognan, it is one of the oldest in the region. It was apparently heavily restored in the 18th and 19th centuries, although to my untrained eye that was not apparent; with its slightly tumble-down, half-château and half-castle appearance, complete with moat, I think it was well worth the visit.
As is the case with many of the estates in and around Pessac-Léognan, the origins of Château Olivier can be traced much further back than those estates further north, in the Médoc. In the case of Château Olivier records indicate the presence of a building on the spot where the château now stands as long ago as the 12th century, and by the mid-14th century the property was occupied by the d’Olivey family, as evinced by documents describing the marriage of Rostang d’Olivey to Elizabeth de la Lande, heiress to nearby Château de la Brède, in 1350. Even at this very early time the estate was already grand, Rostang d’Olivey frequently playing host to Edward, the Black Prince. Edward, who was Prince of Wales, held a court in Aquitaine where he acted as a representative of his father, Edward III. He and Rostang would hunt together, taking deer, wild boar and even wolves, which were still commonly found in the region at the time.