Today’s Story: Château La Mission Haut-Brion
Château La Mission Haut-Brion is a highly regarded Bordeaux wine estate with history dating back to 1540. That year, merchant Arnaud de Lestonnac purchased the land that would become La Mission Haut-Brion and he married Marie, sister of Jean de Pontac of neighboring Château Haut-Brion. By the time of his death in 1548, the estate produced great wines and management fell to his son Pierre who set about enhancing the reputation further. A century later, in 1682, Pierre’s daughter Olive de Lestonnac (who had devoted her life to charitable works and had no children) gifted the estate by annuity in her will to the Lazarists of Bordeaux and La Mission became property of the Catholic Church.
The Lazarists quickly set about developing the vineyards further, with great emphasis on improving farming practices, quality of the wines, and reputation. By the early 1700s, La Mission produced 24 barrels of wine annually and, by the mid 1700s, became recognized by French nobility for the immense quality of these wines. The incredible improvement and quality under the Lazarists shifted hands, however, in 1792 when the property was confiscated by the state during the French Revolution. Businessman Martial-Victor Vaillant purchased the estate in auction, however his family’s ownership was short-lived when his daughter sold it to Célestin Coudrin-Chiapella in 1821. As its first American owner, Chiapella continued to improve La Mission and set about retiring there one day. Having come from New Orleans, the family also stressed the importance of trade and Old World/New World ties which catapulted the estate to high regard throughout France, the UK, and the US.
Château La Mission Haut-Brion shifted ownership again in 1919 when Frédéric Otto Woltner, another Bordeaux merchant, purchased it. The Woltner family helped bring the estate into the modern era, in part by implementing the use of stainless steel vats to better control fermentation and, since 1927, producing a white wine. Frédéric passed away in 1933 and passed the estate to his three children, with Henri leading management. During WWII, the family was forced to house German officers at the château but miraculously kept them from raiding the cellars by demanding respect from their “guests.” Following the war, the Woltner family regained complete control until Henri passed away in 1974.
With La Mission up for sale yet again in 1983, Domaine Clarence Dillon came in and purchased the estate through a very natural transition. The Dillon family immediately started improving the estate even further, beginning in the vineyards and progressing through renovations to construction of new buildings and cellars. Though the estate has lived through a somewhat tumultuous history due to ownership changes and wars, they released highly revered wines over the centuries known for quality and consistency that is largely unmatched anywhere in the world.
Château La Mission Haut-Brion consists of 29 hectares of vineyards in the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Situated on an elevated gravel terrace, the soil of La Mission is particularly suited for growing wine grapes with a subsoil of clay, sand, and limestone. Of the 29 hectares, 25 are planted to red varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc; the remaining 4 hectares are planted to white varieties of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. All fruit is harvested by hand and sorted before fermentation in steel vats. After two weeks, the wines are drained and transferred to new oak barrels for 20-24 months before ultimately moving to bottle and aging further.
To learn more about this great estate, run through their wines over the years, or view images, I encourage you to visit the website here (also the source of the information above).
Today’s Wine: 2014 La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion
45% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% ABV
The 2014 La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion is opaque deep ruby in color. I gave this about 3 hours to open up, and the nose showcases aromas of plum, blackcurrant, violet, tobacco, gravel, truffle, dried underbrush, pepper, and cedar. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackcurrant, black raspberry, fig, cigar box, smoke, forest floor, crushed rock, and bell pepper. The Cabernet Franc is quite evident in this one. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine grained medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.
Price: $65. I think this is one of the better value Bordeaux wines, particularly for the second wine of an estate with as high stature as Château La Mission Haut-Brion. Coupled with the fact the 2014 vintage can be often overlooked, this is a very nice wine for its cost.