Tag Archives: Pessac Leognan

The Best of Chateau Carbonnieux

My very first visit to Bordeaux, in the early eighties, was to the Graves, more precisely to Pessac Léognan to the North of the appellation.

I was visiting from Paris for research for my thesis on Bordeaux wine marketing. The owner of Chateau Carbonnieux, Antony Perrin, along with Jean-Jacques de Bethmann of Chateau Olivier and Bernard Thomassin of Chateau de France each took the time to explain in detail, to a foreign student, the workings of the system of the Bordeaux market place ‘La Place de Bordeaux’.

Sadly, none of these gentlemen are still with us today but their wines are and their legacy continues with their children continuing to make great wines, with a nod to the past and excitement about the future.

Under the stewardship of Antony’s sons, Philibert and Eric, Chateau Carbonnieux has just won the coveted Best of Bordeaux Wine Tourism award for Architecture and Gardens.

Chateau Carobonnieux: a family home and an historic site.

Chateau Carobonnieux: an historical monument and a  family home.

It was here, in the 17th century, that we saw the emergence of the new French Claret, Bordeaux wine as we know it today, and it was here in 1987 that the appellation Pessac Léognan was created in the historical heart of the Northern region of the Graves appellation.
Château Carbonnieux is one of the oldest of these estates, founded in the 13th century by Benedictine monks. In 1776, the white wines of the “Benedictines de Carbonnieux” were considered to be the top white wine of Bordeaux (with neighbouring Haut Brion being the top red). The bottle became instantly recognisable by its scallop shell motive, the symbol of pilgrims on their way to Saint Jacques de Compostella.
Despite it’s religious background, the white wine made it into the Muslim world when a French member of the Ottomans harem became his Sultana and imported the white wine as «the mineral water of Carbonnieux» into Constantinople, flaunting the religious laws thanks to it’s crystal clear appearance. This reputation reached the ears of Thomas Jefferson, who visited the estate on one of his tasting trips to Bordeaux.

The chateau is both an historical monument and a family home. The Perrin family purchased Carbonnieux in a sorry state after the tragic frost of 1956, already having already established their reputation as wine makers in Algeria. They continue to honour this rich history but are resolutely turned to the future.

The white wine cellar at Chateau Carbonnieux

The white wine cellar at Chateau Carbonnieux

Anthony has restored both the Château and the reputation of its wines. Château Carbonnieux became a Cru Class for both the red and the white in the 1953 classification of the Graves and this was reconfirmed in 1959, an honour only bestowed on six properties in Pessac Leognan.

Today, the Carbonnieux estate covers 170 hectares of land farmed in an environment-friendly “sustainable agriculture”, banning the use of chemicals and respecting biodiversity.

Close to the city of Bordeaux, perched on top of one of the gravel outcrops of Léognan, Carbonnieux welcomes visitors throughout the year to share the history, discover the vineyards and the beautifully restored cellars, which include a unique collection of French historical cars, another family passion.

Vintage cars and vintage wines

Vintage cars and vintage wines

The fortified chateau with its four towers is built around a central courtyard where receptions rooms welcome groups for visits and tastings that show the marriage of tradition and technology that maintains Chateau Carbonnieux wines at the top of their game. The Perrins do not work in splendid isolation, they also work closely with their neighbours such as Chateau Haut Bailly with whom they create ‘Bicolore’ Red and White open days and picnics in the grounds. This willingness to share their heritage was confirmed when they were awarded the Best Of Wine Tourism award in 2015 as regional winner in the Architecture and Landscape Category. Another feather in their cap.

The original version of this post was published on the Great Wine Capitals Blog 

An urban vineyard

Pessac Léognan is at once one of the oldest and one of the youngest of the Bordeaux appellations.

One of the youngest as it was officially created in 1987 and yet the oldest as it encompasses what was known as ‘Les Graves de Bordeaux’ the ‘cradle ‘ of fine Bordeaux wine making as we know it today.  Vine cultivation here dates back to about the 1st century and, unsurprisingly, it has seen a series of booms and busts during its history. Looking at the architecture of some of the properties (Chateau Olivier for example) you can see they enjoyed huge prosperity in the Middle Ages thanks to the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet (soon to be Henry II) of England who brought the region under the English crown in her dowry.

Chateau Olivier dates from the middle ages

Chateau Olivier dates from the middle ages

Pessac-Léognan is to the North of the Graves and the two appellations together (as they were pre 1987) cover almost 4 000ha running 60 kilometres from Bordeaux in the North to south of Langon surrounding the Sauternes and Barsac appellations. 240 wine makers produce about 20 million bottles in Graves and about 9 million in Pessac Léognan. The classification of Graves in the 1950’s predates creation of the Pessac Léognan appellation, which is now where all 16 classified Chateau are situated.  These represent in white and red about 20% of the volume of production of the appellation.

Well established since the middle ages the Graves made their claim to fame in the 17th century notably thanks to the dynamism of Arnaud de Pontac, (The third of that name) and owner of Chateau Haut Brion. The only red 1st growth of 1855 not to be from the Medoc, although 12 Sauternes 1 Barsacs were also classed 1er. In what was probably the first act of direct wine marketing, he sent his son to London after the great fire in 1666 to open the first French wine bar (well tavern) ‘the Pontac’s Head’. Who said that Bordeaux was behind the marketing curve?

Chateau Haut Brion and its park, hidden in the suburbs of Bordeaux

Chateau Haut Brion and its park, hidden in the suburbs of Bordeaux

London was the market leader for Bordeaux wines then (and remained so until the Chinese over took them in 2010). By selling their wines directly to clients in the city Haut Brion established the popularity of The New French Claret with this wealthy and influential clientele.

It was a new style of wine; using longer on-skin fermentation in larger barrels, topping up to prevent oxidation and protection from fungal and micro bacterial contamination by the use of sulphur, a practise introduced by the Dutch (the Bordelais still use a ‘Dutch match’ of sulphur in the barrels today between rackings to ‘disinfect’ them). This created a style of wine that has more in common with what we know as Bordeaux today rather than the ‘Clairet’ previously sold out of Bordeaux. This lighter wine would go off rapidly in the summer heat despite its high acidity. These wines were so popular with Northern Europe that in the 14th century this light Clairet (or rosé) dominated representing about 80% of the production in the region.

Racking the barrels of wine during aging

Racking the barrels of wine during aging

This period of boom lead to the ‘Vins de Graves’ dominating the English market for quality wines until the end of the 18th century. Being so close to, and in some cases in, the city of Bordeaux, these vines were on hand for the great and the good of Bordeaux. The vines were planted on outcrops of gravelly soils that were unsuitable for any other agriculture but gave strength to the wine. They reached the very walls of the city up until the 19th century. A law that prevented wine being imported from further up river until all the local stocks had been sold also helped their success. This success, unsurprisingly, lead to increased planting away from the city walls further south as far as Langon.

However in more recent times the locality has proved a challenge; the proximity of the city and its urban sprawl has seen competition for the vineyards. In the crisis after WW1 and again in the 50’s and the 70’s, crises related to both global economic factors (post war depression, exodus from the land) as well as local conditions (frosts of 1956) meant that urban pressure from the city resulted in many properties being sold for redevelopment rather than remaining under vines.

Happily some survived and have become urban vineyards, it is surprising now to see the green oasis of vines amongst the suburbs of the city that are Chateau Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Pape Clement and Haut Brana in Pessac – along side the university buildings and Chateau Luchey Halde and Pique Caillou in Merignac (better known to international visitors for the Bordeaux airport). See the map here.

The history of one of these properties, Chateau Luchey Halde, reflects that of the region, just like the appellation it is one of the oldest and the newest at the same time.  Although the history of vines at the property dates back to roman times the property was completely replanted by the current owners, ENITA de Bordeaux (a government agricultural agency) in 1999. It was saved from the urban sprawl having been a military training ground close to the airport for 80 years.  Being reinstated as a vineyard, it is now also an agricultural school and as such benefits from the latest research and technology in vine growing and wine making on it’s 22 ha of the 29ha that are under vine.

This urban pressure, along with a desire to re-establish an idea of ancient Northern Graves terroir was one of the reasons for the creation of the Pessac Léognan appellation. Despite it being a bit of a mouthful, named after 2 of the 9 communes or villages in the appellation, it seems to be working. Since it’s creation on 9th September 1987 over 1 000 ha of vines have been replanted in Pessac Léognan. Also encouraging was the launch earlier this year of the ‘Schéma de cohérence territoriale (Scot) which officially ‘designated’ almost 50 000 hectares in 93 ‘communes’ in and around the city, including 25 000 ha of vines, as protected from urban development, both commercial and residential. When you consider that the total vineyard of the 62 Bordeaux appellations covers just over 113 000ha – it’s reassuring.

The current terroir of Pessac Leognan

The current terroir of Pessac Leognan

But it’s not all bad, the proximately to Bordeaux is also helpful, creating a warmer microclimate encouraging early ripening; these vines are usually the first to be harvested.

It’s also an advantage for visitors – no need to worry about drinking and driving if you want to visit and taste, several chateaux are within walking distance of Bordeaux’s new tramway. This could be useful on the weekend 6/7 December, the Pessac Léognan open days. However I encourage you to venture out further than the city limits if you can.  Use the Route des Vins de Graves that includes all the Graves appellations and covers not just the Chateau but also other activities including accommodation in the region.

Chateau Haut Bailly

Chateau Haut Bailly

Where you will be able to taste the delicious West Coast Burgers

Where you will be able to taste the delicious West Coast Burgers

I would also recommend a visit to Chateau Haut Bailly in Léognan during the weekend. As well as a cellar visit and wine tasting you can sample the excellent burgers from the West Coast food truck and enjoy live jazz music on Saturday afternoon. Burgers and Bordeaux – bon appetite!


Take a walk on the white side.

The region of Graves, south of the city of Bordeaux, is considered the top terroir for the dry whites of Bordeaux. Here you will find the only classified whites of Bordeaux. The dry whites were classified along with the reds in 1953, revised and completed in 1959. Coming 100 years after the famous 1855 Medoc and Graves classification, it includes 16 properties but for a total of 22 wines (13 red and 9 dry whites – 6 properties do both – do the math!)

Carry on further south to the Sauternes and Barsac appellations and once again you are in classification country. When someone mentions the 1855 classification, we immediately think about the reds but at the time of this classification, the top dog was in a fact a Sauternes; Chateau d’Yquem was classified as the only 1er Cru Classé Supérieur, a step above even the Lafites and Latours of the time – those where the days!

Some of you will know I have a certain bias towards these wines but I feel it’s justified, as there are a total of 27 classified growths in Sauternes and Barsac, of which 10 are first growths.  For an appellation of only 2 200 ha compared to the Medoc (16500 for 60 classified growths), that’s quite an achievement.

Chateau d'Yquem, 1er Cru Supérieur

Chateau d’Yquem, 1er Cru Supérieur

But don’t ignore the dry whites produced in the Southern Graves. Many Sauternes and Barsac properties make delightful dry white wines, either from terroir that is not included in the sweet wine appellation or by choice, enjoying experimenting with the aromatic expression of their sauvignon and semillion before the famous botrytis attacks.

The white wines may only represent a small amount of Bordeaux production (8% for dry white and 3% for sweet) but they probably represent the product sector where some of the most dramatic increases in quality have been seen in Bordeaux in the last 20 years or so. Thanks to research at the faculty of oenology in Bordeaux University and the application of this research in the properties, there is marked difference in the style of the whites produced now compared to 60 years ago when white wine production made up over half of the wine production of the Bordeaux region.

The white wine of Chateau Latour Martillac aging on the lees

The white wine of Chateau Latour Martillac aging on the lees

Temperature control, cleanliness, skin contact, controlled use of SO2 and yeast selection as well as the judicious use of oak and aging on the lees have produced a new generation of crisp dry and elegant oak fermented white wines as well as the fabulous sweet wines including those from lesser known  appellation of Cérons as well as Sauternes and Barsac.

Time for an Apér'oCérons at Chateau de Cérons

Time for an Apér’oCérons at Chateau de Cérons

Talking of Cérons, book ahead to experience the ‘Apér’O Cérons’ at Château de Cérons. Following the visit of the château, cellar and vines and a tasting of their 3 wines you can call in at their little grocery store to stock up on local specialities such as foie gras, tapenades, bouchons de Bordeaux, etc. for an ‘apéro-picnic’ under the magnificent magnolias in the park around the château, followed perhaps by a walk along the river or a horse and carriage ride to neighbouring Château Myrat.

The Graves has a big advantage for visitors. As well as the range of wines; red, dry and sweet white, it also offers a range of prices points from Cru Classé to affordable. If you want to learn more about this area and its wines, it has now become much more accessible; the wine producers of the 3 appellations of Graves, Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes and Barsac have joined together to create an interactive web site to help you discover the region. ‘La Route des Vins de Bordeaux en Graves et Sauternes’  is unique as it has a daily update of properties are open to public for visits and tastings. You can also see which properties are happy for you to just drop in, as well as those that require an appointment.

Chateau Olivier, that dates back to the middle ages

Chateau Olivier dates back to the middle ages

Graves is considered the birthplace of the fine wines of Bordeaux, with some properties dating back to the middle ages. This cultural and historical heritage is also detailed on the website along with details of where to eat, from Michelin stars to local bistros, and where to stay from B & B S to 5-star luxury.

It’s a one-stop shop.You can plan your trip and reserve directly on-line. It also keeps you up to date and what’s happening and other attractions in the region.

Samedi Blanc

Samedi Blanc

This Saturday for example is the ‘Samedi Blanc’ an opportunity to visit 12 white-wine producing properties of the Pessac Leognan appellation in the Northern Graves. They are all open for tastings and visits as well as a giant picnic across several of the properties. You  can just turn up for the tastings but  book on line for the picnics on info@pessac-leognan.com or by phone : 05 56 00 21 90










Pre-Christmas round up

As the Christmas lights were turned on all over London this week I feel as if I can now officially talk about the approach of the festive season. Bordeaux will be ready with it’s traditional Christmas market on the Allées de Tourny from 29th November until the 29th December.

Bordeaux’s Christmas market

The Grand Theatre will be showing a performance the Romeo and Juliette ballet from 16th – 31st and if you cross the square to The Grand Hotel you you can admire the ballet and Shakespearian themed decorations around the 4.5 m high Christams tree while sipping a whisky based Romeo or Champagne based Juliette cocktail.

Once you are in the festive spirit head out to the vineyards. If you are in the Entre deux Mers this weekend the spectacular Chateau Camarsac is holding a Christmas Market. Alternatively head North to Margaux for the 3rd edition of Margaux Saveurs with châteaux tastings, a lunch at Chateau Dauzac and events including golf, music, a market and art exhibitions in the 5 villages that make up the Margaux Apellation.

Chateau Camarsac

The festive season is the high spot for consumption of the sweet white wines from Bordeaux, if you missed the Sauternes and Barsac open doors last weekend do not despair, the Loupiac and Foie Gras weekend is on 23/24th November and on the 14/15 December the chateaux of Saint Croix du Mont are opening their cellar doors with the ‘Saveurs Croissés de Noël’ weekend.

December starts with a busy weekend, Le Chai au Quai in Castillon  will be celebrating advent and the festive season, throwing open wide its doors on Saturday 7th from 12-6pm with ‘Au Jardin de la Riviere’ and ‘Au Plaisir Gourmand’ selling their soup and cheeses respectively, there will be music from Chantamicale from 17H00 and of course the wine and wine makers from Le Chai !

View over the Dordogne from Le Chai au Quai

Closer to Bordeaux the propeties of Pessac-Leognan are holding a Portes Ouvertes the same weekend, a great opportunity to stock up with wine or to enjoy the tasting dinner on Saturday evening. Just across the river the ‘Foire au gras’ in Langoiran is the next day, on the 8th. This is a traditional Foie gras market, perfect to accompany the sweet white wines mentioned above. Local producers will also be selling chocolates, cheeses, patisseries and wines in the traditional market place.

I mentionned last year several château that have opened boutiques selling a lot more than just their wines, here’s another one for your Christmas shopping. Château Lestrille in the Entre deux Mers has a wonderful shop selling wines but also local crafts and amusing gift items all based on wine. Further up the road you can visit Terra Safran  where Laurianne Gouyon has taken over the family vineyard, Château Les Prenes in Nerigean, and has planted crocus to produce Saffron as a compliment to their wine production. Her second harvest will be dried and ready for sale around mid December – perfect timing for Christmas.

Saffron strands ready for drying at Terra Safran

A Bordeaux negociant at the top of their game

In all the excitement over the prestigious châteaux in Bordeaux, the role of the Bordeaux negociant or wine merchant is often overlooked.
The 300 Bordeaux wine merchants sell 70% of the volume of Bordeaux wine with the 8 leading companies representing 57% of this business. Their role covers the range of Bordeaux wines from the top classed growths to custom bottling, negociants account for almost half of the bottling of Bordeaux wines.
Cordier Mestrezat, one of those leading Bordeaux negociant houses, this year celebrates its 125th birthday. Historically Cordier owned such prestigious estates as Château Lafaurie Peraguey, Gruaud Larose, Meyney and Talbot and after a merger Mestrezat the company is returning to its prestige roots with several new top end projects – they should know a thing or two about luxury branding with TAG as one of their shareholders.
To celebrate the anniversary they have launched two new collections: the Club Elite, 12 château bottled wines in a revived bottle style previously associated with Cordier estates, and the Époque collection; 4 château bottled wines selected to represent the diversity of Bordeaux styles: a Saint Estephe, a Saint Emilion grand Cru, a Pessac Leognan and a Medoc.

Another innovation, these wines are presented together in a ‘Four box’ a unique 4-bottled wooden case. Don’t fancy that selection? All is not lost, the Four Box can be made to measure for you including a range of wines starting at €100 up to €25 000 or how about the Golden 4 Box? Four 1st growth Sauternes, including d’Yquem of course.
Not quite luxurious enough for you? Take it a step further they have created 3 unique Louis Vuitton 4 boxes for 4 of the 1st growths from the 2008 vintage.

Just so convenient for travelling!

More close links between Bordeaux and California

Vinexpo seems a way away now a couple of months down the road but a reminder recently arrived on my doorstep.
One of the pleasures of Vinexpo is to be able to taste wines from all over the world and California was well represented for a region whose wines are under represented in the French market place. The Napa Valley Vintners had not just a great stand but also ran a fascinating seminar presenting the results of their research into the reality of climate change in Napa and its effects on winemaking practises. Not that anyone dared say they were climate change deniers but there was definitely an undercurrent that wine style was affected a lot more by agricultural and wine making practise than by any inherent change in the climate. Not dissimilar from what we hear from a lot of producers here in Europe. we have more in common than it would seem.
Yes there is some rising in temperature but nowhere nearly sufficient to explain the rise in sugar levels over the same period, so global warming cannot be blamed for the rise in alcohol levels to such dizzying heights as we are seeing in many regions and not uniquely California.
These high levels of sugar and hence alcohol are explained much more by agricultural decisions, from trellising to planting densities and the all-important picking date. This trend is a response to market demand, despite what some of us more traditional consumers from the old world might think, there is a huge demand for wines with lots of fruit and high alcohol levels in many markets, not least the USA and of course the power points awarded by some critics that can make or break the market for these wines. What producer wouldn’t respond to such market pressure?
Please will the consumers out there that prefer ‘drinkability’ stand up and make themselves heard so producers will respond to their legitimate demands too?

The reason this was brought back to mind was a wonderful surprise from friends at Ponzo vineyard.

Not from Napa but nearby Sonoma, Phil and Barbara Ponzo grow grapes in the beautiful Russian River. They supply several local wine makers for their single vineyard wines; Nickel and Nickle, and Hawley amongst others.
I met them thanks to the dynamic Susan Graf, stylist to all the lady winemakers of Sonoma County. As well as a full time job as a style icon Susan helps run the Healdsburg Food Pantry charity and mutual friends, Jim and Sally Newsome, bid on a wine tour with me and brought along their fellow wine growers the Ponzos to discover how we grow our grapes in Bordeaux in a viticultural ‘compare and contrast’ week.

The Newsomes and the Ponzos at a tasting lunch in the new dining room
at Château Troplong Mondot

After a week of sipping Bordeaux with them the tables have turned, a case of their wines has arrived for me and it’s my turn to taste some of their Sonoma wines – tasting notes to follow when I surface!

A line up of Ponzo single vineyard wines ready for tasting

There’s more to these primeurs than meets the eye.

Yes the primeur tastings are all about discovering the new vintage but it’s also an opportunity to discover new wines.
Outside the main drag of the UGC (Union des Grands Cru) tastings there are a multitude of possibilities to discover, not just the new Bordeaux vintage, but wines from all over the world made by or consulted ‘on’ (not sure that’s the right expression but you know what I mean) Bordeaux wine makers and consultants. It’s also a great opportunity for Bordeaux chateaux to slip in their new babies.
This morning I tasted the delicious new wine from the Bonnie stable. The Bonnie family acquired Pessac Leognan Grand Cru Classé Château Malartic Lagravière in 1996, one of only 6 Pessac Léognan properties to be classified for both their red and their white wine. The investment in both the vineyard and the technical facility has now largely paid off in recent vintages, with this property becoming a leader in the appellation. In 2005 they also purchased a lesser-known neighbour, Chateau Gazin Roquencourt, and the 2010 vintage sees the first edition of the white Pessac Léognan from this property.
It is a tribute to the skills and lessons learnt at Malartic Lagravière; 100% Sauvignon it is an elegant and aromatic expression of the dry whites of the appellation – the production is tiny only 10 000 bottles will be offered – you have been warned!

Three approaches to dry white wine production

Three visits in Pessac Leognan and Sauternes today to see the beginning of the dry white
The grapes arrive in the cellars of Château La Mission Haut Brion in a refrigerated truck.

Using dry ice to protect the crop during pressing at Château Guiraud for Le G de Guiraud

A little help picking the grapes at Château Sigalas Rabaud for the second vintage of the La Demoiselle de Sigalas dry white.

SO MANY CHATEAUX, Not enough weekends ……..

Spring is definitely allowing Bordeaux château to open up their doors
This weekend was the open door weekend in Saint Emilion, and next weekend is the turn of the Côtes de Bourg. Everything from treasure hunts to car rallies and tastings to fashion shows you name it to discover the vineyard on the other side of the estuary.
However do not despair if you’re not free on those dates – every Saturday in May Chateau Carbonnieux and Chateau Haut-Bailly, both classified growths of Pessac Leognan, will join forces for a ‘bicolore visit’ with the white wines of Château Carbonnieux, and the reds Château Haut-Bailly.
If you have time for lunch – call ahead and reserve a picnic hamper (including wine of course) prepared by local restaurant Le Pistou, and enjoy the lawns of the properties. Book ahead with on

If the weather doesn’t hold or you don’t fancy a ‘déjeuner sur l’herbe’ Le Pistou is running a special bicolcore menu for the month.

copyright Château Haut Bailly

In the pink at Château Bonnet

I was lucky enough to have lunch with Mr Andre Lurton yesterday at Château Bonnet . This wine grower and Bordeaux icon both in the Entre Deux Mers and in Pessac Leognan (which he invented) was as delightful as ever and it was a great occasion to see just how Bordeaux can create quality wines at both the top and affordable level of the market place ;
Château Bonnet has just released their 2009 for the Rosé and their white and both are delightfully fresh, aromatic and perfect for drinking now ; a tribute to the modern wine making techniques used at this historic property that recently celebrated 100 years in the family.
Always innovating Château Bonnet has just launched it’s latest ne product a NV Cremant de Bordeaux Rosé which we also had the pleasure a tasting, all rose petals and bubble-gum pink – an excellent and very affordable alternative to pink champagne for Valentines day next week !