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.
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.
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.
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