The same names do tend to pop up again and again on my blog – I don’t apologise for having my favourites and Chateau Sigalas Rabaud is one of them.
It ticks a lot of boxes for me:
– sweet wines are, of course, part of my Bordeaux history,
– it is tiny (just 14 ha – the smallest of the 1er Crus) so defies the perception of Bordeaux vineyards all being enormous estates.
– despite being a 1st growth of Sauternes from the 1855 classification it is still family owned and has been for 7 generations
– it is run by a woman who is also the wine maker.
I rest my case.
Chateau Sigalas Rabaud is perched on a gentle southern slope of the ‘terrasse du Sauternais’ where all the top growths of Sauternes are situated. The gravel topsoil, deposited over a clay subsoil by the Garonne River 600,000 years ago, gives the best of both worlds; gravel for ripeness, clay for water supply.
Less than 500 metres to the North West of Château d’Yquem, it is closer to the Ciron, the small cold stream responsible for the autumn fog, the key to the development of the fungus Botrytis Cinerea. Its slope exposes the grapes to a light breeze, drying the botrytised grapes in October, encouraging both the noble rot and the subsequent concentration of the natural sugars for these great sweet wines.
Being a family property has its challenges but also its advantages; it implies a notion of stewardship; a respect for the terroir and the long view of leaving a living soil to future generations, preserving the biodiversity. Through observation, ploughing the soil and the use of pheromones to repulse some pests means the property has vastly reduced any pesticide use and eliminated the use of weed killers.
The feminine side of the property runs through its history Rabaud was founded at the end of the 17th century and passed down as dowry through one of the daughters. In 1863, Henry de Sigalas acquired the Château and his only son sold the biggest part of the property (now Chateau Rabaud Promis) in 1903, keeping only the “jewel” of the terroir, that homogeneous southern slope that makes up the property today. Henry added his name to the property and it became Château Sigalas Rabaud. There’s nothing new about vanity vineyards!
In 1951, Château Sigalas Rabaud was taken over by Henry’s granddaughter, Marie-Antoinette de Sigalas, who was married to the Marquis de Lambert des Granges. Two generations later, in 2006, Laure de Lambert Compeyrot joined the estate as technical director. She succeeded her father as manager, the Marquis Gérard de Lambert des Granges, in 2013 buying her uncle’s shares, to become the major shareholder of the château, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Marie-Antoinette de Sigalas, and bringing back a feminine signature to the estate.
Her two sons, who work in their own Bordeaux merchant house also, help out – the seventh generation of the family.
As well as Chateau Sigalas Rabaud Sauternes the property produces a second Sauternes, Le Lieutenant de Sigalas, and Laure is also one of the pioneers of the dry white revolution in Sauternes. Despite some resistance from the family she introduced La Demoiselle de Sigalas, the first dry white wine in the history of the property, named after the rather beautiful Marquise. As her confidence grew, Laure continued to innovate with the 100% dry Sémillon ‘La Semillante’.
This varietal is used in white blends throughout Bordeaux, dry as well as sweet although it is more often associated with sweet Bordeaux. It is rare to find a 100% dry Sémillon. It is quite different in style to the Sauvignon-led dry whites with more weight, a very floral nose when young and a potential for ageing.
See here for an interview with Laure and Jacques Lurton about the dry white wines of the property.
Often relegated to a dessert wine, Sweet Bordeaux wines are so much more versatile than we often give them credit for. Chateau Sigalas Rabaud, like many others in the sweet appellations, are turning their back on the heavier style of wine, crafting wines with a freshness and elegance that compliment so many foods.
Or you could just sit back and enjoy a glass on it’s own – I know I do.