Château Haut Brion
Classification: First Growth
Château Haut Brion is the oldest and by far the smallest of the First Growth's vineyards and one of the few remaining family-owned domains of the Bordeaux region. Although grapes are thought to have been grown on the property since Roman times, the earliest document indicating cultivation of a parcel of land dates from 1423. Haut Brion produced the first wine sold under the name of its vineyard site in 1533. The chateau lies in Pessac Leognan, just 1 mile away from the city of Bordeaux and is the only non Médoc estate to be included in the 1855 classification.
Château Haut Brion was founded by Jean de Pontac in the 15th century who enlarged the vineyards and built the château and began an illustrious dynasty - during the course of his 3 marriages, the last begun at the age of 76, fifteen children were born. Jean died at the age of 101, and his unusually long life spanned the reigns of Louis XII, François I, Henri II, Charles IX and Henri III.
François-Auguste de Pontac was the last Pontac to own Haut Brion through direct inheritance. He opened a tavern in London in 1666 to promote his wines, called the "Enseigne de Pontac", which became "...the most fashionable place in London..." in its time. The diarist Samuel Pepys wrote about the wines (he called them "Ho-Bryan") as did philosopher John Locke, Cardinal Richelieu and U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.
After the French Revolution the château was purchased in 1801 by the Prince de Tallyrand who was in charge of foreign affairs under Napoléon. He often served the Haut Brion wine to his guests and he employed the wine to advance his many diplomatic efforts. Today Château Haut Brion is owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon S.A., who also own Château La Mission Haut Brion. The château is run by Prince Robert of Luxembourg and his mother the Duchesse de Mouchy, daughter of the Hon. Douglas Dillon, former Ambassador to France and Secretary of the Treasury under President Kennedy. Haut Brion is the only First Growth to be American-owned.
Formed by two gravel knolls the 109 acres of the Château Haut Brion vineyard rises 12 to 15 meters above the beds of two nearby streams - the Peugue to the north and the Ars to the south. The soil is full of pebbles of rock quartz and Jurassic flints. The grapes grown are 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. White varieties are also grown and they are 63% Semillon and 37% Sauvignon Blanc.
Since the 1950s the bottles of Château Haut Brion have resembled the shape traditionally used for Burgundy wines rather than the usual Bordeaux shape. The wines of Haut Brion are complex, powerful and very well balanced indeed. They have a bouquet of ripe cherries, earth and coffee and age well so should be properly cellared. The wines have notes of blackcurrants, smoke, toffee, plum jam, tobacco and have both a long aroma and finish.
Owner: Domaine Clarence Dillon (also owns Châteaux La Mission Haut Brion and Laville Haut Brion)
Château Website: www.haut-brion.com
Oenologist: J-P Masclef