Location and surface area of the Château Haut-Brion vineyard
Château Haut-Brion reigns over an exceptional 51-hectare terroir in the heart of the Pessac area. While 48 hectares are dedicated to red grape varieties (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), 3 hectares are planted exclusively with white grape varieties (Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris).
With a rich heritage built on five centuries of history, this illustrious reference among the fine Pessac-Léognan wines is the oldest of the Bordeaux Grands Crus and the only one that isn’t located in the Médoc.
What is the history of Château Haut-Brion?
Prestigious Premier Cru Classé of 1855, Château Haut-Brion has a rich winegrowing history that goes back further than those of its fellow Médoc estates. Recently, the owner of this Pessac-Léognan estate, Prince Robert de Luxembourg, started a competition to find the oldest written archives of Château Haut-Brion. A researcher in medieval history discovered a reference dated 21 January 1521. The two manuscripts, now preserved in the Gironde Departmental Archives, refer to the vintages "Aubrion" and "Haulbrion". Haut-Brion is also mentioned in the cellar book of King Charles II in 1660.
An emblematic history since 1533
Following his marriage in 1525 to Jeanne de Bellon, Jean de Pontac received part of the land of the Seigneurie de Haut-Brion as a dowry, and then acquired the rights to the entire property in 1533. Passionate about defining the limits of the vineyard, Jean de Pontac undertook the construction of the château as we know it today in 1549. Following his death at the age of 101, his son Arnaud II de Pontac took over the running of the estate before bequeathing it to his son Geoffroy, who then bequeathed it to his son Arnaud III.
Expansion beyond French borders from the 17th century
A very influential politician and First President of the Parliament of Guyenne, Arnaud III enlarged the house and doubled the surface area of the estate's vineyards. He also used his political influence to make Château Haut-Brion known, particularly in England.
In the 17th century, the estate's wines were served at the table of King Charles II and quickly became the wine of choice for London's aristocrats, authors, artists and wine lovers. Arnaud III created an innovative style of wine, known in England as "New French Claret", which would later give rise to the great red wines for which Bordeaux is famous.
In 1663, Samuel Pepys, a member of the English Parliament, unknowingly contributed to the success of Château Haut-Brion by writing in his journal, "And there, I drank a kind of French wine called Ho-Bryan, which had a very nice and particular flavour that I had never tasted before...’’ The famous English philosopher John Locke visited the estate in 1677 and also praised it in his book. The legend was born.
The golden age in the 18th century
In 1749, Joseph de Fumel inherited Château Haut-Brion from his father. He created a magnificent park and garden as well as several outbuildings.
On 25 May 1787, Joseph de Fumel welcomed Thomas Jefferson, Ambassador of the United States to France at the Court of Versailles and future President of the United States. A wine enthusiast, Thomas Jefferson identified Château Haut-Brion in his private correspondence as "one of the four established as the best" in Bordeaux. With his intimate knowledge of Bordeaux wines, Thomas Jefferson predicted the 1855 classification almost a century in advance. Following his visit, the wines of the estate were served on the most prestigious American tables, including that of the White House, a tradition that would be perpetuated until the 19th century under the presidencies of James Madison and James Monroe.
The consecration in 1855
Having had several owners, and then acquired in 1836 by Joseph Eugène Larrieu, Château Haut-Brion was promoted to Premier Cru Classé in the prestigious 1855 classification, joining Châteaux Margaux, Lafite and Latour.
Following the ravages of Phylloxera in 1880, the politician Amédée Larrieu and his son Eugène gradually replanted the entire vineyard of the estate with an American rootstock. Supervising the vinification, Amedée Larrieu modernised the winery and continued to develop exports to the British market.
Clarence Dillon, the visionary
In 1923, Château Haut-Brion was one of the only Bordeaux estates to bottle its wines on the property. André Gibert acquired the property in 1925. With no natural heir, he put the estate up for sale after ten years at the helm of the latter.
In 1934, a New York banker named Clarence Dillon visited Château Haut-Brion. On his return to the United States, he received a telegram informing him that the property was for sale but that he had to act fast. On 13 May 1935, the purchase was finalised. Clarence Dillon was a wine lover and enthusiast who would forever link the history of Chateau Haut-Brion to the relationship between the United States and France.
Clarence Dillon started major modernisation work on the château and the production tools, as well as the redevelopment of the estate's grounds. During the Second World War, Clarence Dillon converted the château into a military hospital to care for wounded soldiers of the French army. In 1961, he modernised the vat house by introducing stainless steel tanks. Between 1975 and 2008 his granddaughter, Joan Dillon, completely renovated the interior of the château, raising its style to a level worthy of such a historic property. She runs the family business with her husband, the Duke of Mouchy, and opened a brand new vat room in 1991.
Today, Château Haut-Brion is owned by their son, Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who has completed the renovation of the château using sustainable materials certified as High Environmental Quality. Prince Robert has also established a magnificent circular library, famous for its vast selection of first editions and rare books. The estate is managed by Jean-Philippe Delmas, who succeeded his father Jean-Bernard Delmas.
All there is to know about the terroir of Château Haut-Brion
Location and exposure
Located near Bordeaux, Château Haut-Brion is the only property to have the double distinction of Premier Grand Cru Classé in 1855 and Cru Classé de Graves. The property benefits from an ideal western exposure.
Geology: a unique terroir
Following his visit to the property on 14 May 1677, the English philosopher John Locke described his discovery of the Château Haut-Brion terroir in the following terms: "The wine of Pontac, so highly esteemed in England, is produced on a mound facing west, in a region of white sand mixed with a little gravel, from which it might be thought that nothing could grow.’’
The estate's vineyard is on a terrace with two thin ridges, mostly composed of different varieties of quartz, also known as gravel, and sand. Numerous medieval manuscripts and maps of the time list this stone under the name "Haut-Brion".
These gravelly soils rest on a subsoil made up of clay, sand, limestone and shell limestone dating from the end of the Tertiary period. This terroir, whose thickness varies from about twenty centimetres to more than 3 metres, benefits from an ideal exposure and optimal drainage.
The Pessac-Léognan appellation enjoys a mild, temperate climate. The influence of the Atlantic Ocean is combined with the natural protection offered by the Landes forest.
For many generations, the vineyard has been managed with a deep respect for the environment and the soil, resulting in a strict limitation of human intervention and the absence of chemical inputs. The vineyard and the 4 hectares of woodland are real ecological and biodiversity treasures, all on the outskirts of Bordeaux. The work and rigour of the teams have been rewarded by obtaining the High Environmental Value (HVE) certification in 2018 and ISO 14001 in 2019.
Hand-picked at optimum maturity, the grapes are sorted and then destemmed before being placed in temperature-controlled vats to begin fermentation. The best batches are selected to be included in the Grand Vin blend. The final blend is the one presented "en primeur" a few months later, and is the true know-how and signature of Domaines Clarence Dillon.
Lastly, the wine is aged in new oak barrels for 20 to 24 months, during which time its tannins soften and its true personality is revealed. The proportion of new oak is adapted each year according to the profile of the vintage.
The style of the wines by Château Haut-Brion
An illustrious reference among the greatest wines of Bordeaux, Château Haut-Brion is the fruit of a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and, depending on the vintage, a small proportion of Petit Verdot.
On the nose, this wine gives off rich aromas of black fruits, complemented by a subtle minerality. When aerated, the bouquet reveals characteristic empyreumatic notes of chocolate, cedar wood, cigar box and roasted touches.
Round and enfolding, the mouth is seduced by this wine’s texture, its soft, supple and precise tannins. The palate is exceptionally long, stretching to a persistent and complex finish.
In addition to its unique style, the shape of the Château Haut-Brion bottle also helps to establish the uniqueness of the estate's wines. This distinctive shape was first introduced to the estate in 1958 by Clarence Dillon.
The estate's white wine, Château Haut-Brion Blanc, is a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. A symbol of excellence and produced in very limited quantities, this white wine harmoniously combines aromatic richness, elegance and refinement.
Produced since the beginning of the 20th century, Clarence de Haut-Brion is the Second Wine of Château Haut-Brion. Initially named Château Bahans Haut-Brion, this wine has been renamed since the 2007 vintage as a tribute to Clarence Dillon. More accessible than its predecessor, this Second Wine exudes a harmonious nose, revealing black fruit fragrances mixed with hints of tobacco, as well as a smooth, juicy texture.
Lastly, La Clarté de Haut-Brion is the estate's Second White Wine, made from the vineyards of Château Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. Comprising a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, this dry white Bordeaux wine has a fruity, floral nose and an incredibly fresh and complex palate.