I have always had a soft spot for Château Loudenne. Arriving in Bordeaux in the late eighties I knew very few people, but I was soon introduced to the world of Château Loudenne, then under British ownership. It was party central for Bordeaux Brits and most of the players in the Medoc.
The hospitality was legendary. The dining room was the scene of many a memorable dinner and the amazing vintage kitchen hosted many more. I even remember London based Chef, Albert Roux flying over one August with fresh grouse in his suitcase for a Glorious 12th dinner.
The rooms were always welcoming, and waking to look at that view over the Gironde Estuary was a treat. In those days Château Loudenne was owned by IDV, having been in the portfolio of Gilbeys when they purchased that company.
The history of Château Loudenne goes back over 300 years. Built in 1670 in the typical ‘Chartreuse’ style, the traversing rooms ideally suited to the spectacular views over the Gironde Estuary. This beautiful pink chateau is still at the heart of the large vineyard, 132 ha under vines including 12 ha in white. As early as 1880 it was the very first Medoc vineyard to produce a white wine.
Alfred and Walter Gilbey purchased the chateau in 1875 and made it their home as well as the base for their Bordeaux commerce. They were the first negociants to be based in the Medoc, rather than in the Port of Bordeaux, establishing their trade out of the huge Victorian waterfront cellars near the property’s private port. Chateau Loudenne remains the only property in the Medoc to have its own private port.
It became ‘The Pink Château’ at the time of the Gilbeys; it has remained so ever since. The Gilbeys, in true English style, created the stunning landscaped park which has a rare collection of David Austin English roses.
In 1963, their family company changed hands to become IDV, which went on to join the spirits group Diageo. In their move away from wine investments, Diageo sold the chateau in 2000.
After a few years in the hands of owners that sadly didn’t invest either in the wine or the architecture, Moutai purchased Chateau Loudenne in 2013, joined by Camus Cognac as minority shareholders in 2016. They are old friends having worked together as distribution partners for over 10 years. Moutai is the number one Chinese Liquor Company and Camus Cognac the largest family-owned independent Cognac house. Camus took over the management of Chateau Loudenne when it entered into the capital in 2016.
The involvement of the Cognac family is a back to the future moment; monks from the Saintonge region, near Cognac, were the first to plant vines in the village of Saint-Yzans-de-Médoc in the 13th century.
Château Loudenne is in the Médoc appellation, in the North of the peninsula just beyond the boundary with the Haut Médoc. Here two large Garonnaise gravel outcrops rise above the tide line of the estuary. Victorian brick and stone follies, the function of which is still unknown, crown these outcrops. They were possibly built to store vineyard tools but more likely to make the site easily identified from the water. Or perhaps they are simply follies with no need for justification. The traditional coat of arms of the property show one of these towers with a Wyvern sitting on top.
I remember a party for the Ban des Vendanges in 1992 when a ‘son et lumière’ bought these Wyverns back to life to the amazement of hundreds of guests in dinner evening dress strolling though the vineyard. Heady days.
The new owners have reworked the presentation and marketing using a ‘belle époque’ design for the labels reminiscing about its illustrious past reinforced by strap line ‘I will always remember’. Also playing on the word Rose (pink in French) as a reference to both Chateau and its rose garden in the new stylised rose design on the labels and capsules.
The renewal is not solely a marketing operation. They are not simply looking over their shoulder at the past. New vines are being planted with ‘complanting’ in the older vineyards, introducing Petit Verdot to the Cabernet/Merlot blend and Sauvignon Gris to the white blend with the goal of becoming organic in five years,
General Manager, Philippe de Poyferré, plans to modernize the emblematic waterfront cellars, adapting the Victorian vats to handle the plot selection to suit the different vineyard plots. These majestic cellars date from 1876 and were a perfect example of the Gilbey brothers’ drive to modernize the estate during the 19th century. Designed by Bordeaux architect, Ernest Minvielle, they are a classic Médoc-style two-story vat hall, already harnessing gravity to manipulate the harvested grapes and wine.
De Poyferré has already reintroduced hand harvesting, sorting tables, and gone back to gravity rather than use pumps.
Chateau Loudenne still produces white wine under the Bordeaux appellation. Fermented and aged in oak with 25 % of Sémillon, unusually high for a dry white from the Medoc, it is reminiscent of a Graves in style and elegance.
The red wines of Chateau Loudenne are Cru Bourgeois, currently a 50:50 Cabernet/Merlot blend and tasting recent vintages the improvement in quality as of 2014 vintage is marked. One to watch with hopefully a future party invite.