Sleeper Vintage From a Storied Bordeaux Estate

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bailly

Château Haut-Bailly is a historic Bordeaux wine estate, established during the 1530s by the Goyanèche and Daitze families in the Left Bank appellation of Pessac-Léognan. Haut-Bailly remained in the Daitze family until 1630, when it was purchased by Firmin Le Bailly and Nicolas de Leuvarde who were two wealthy Parisian bankers. It was Firmin Le Bailly who provided the estate with its name, still in use to this day. The Le Bailly family invested significantly in the improvement of the estate and its wines, passing it from generation to generation until 1736 when Thomas Barton came along. Barton, who was an Irishman, used his business savvy and connections to trumpet the quality of Haut-Bailly wines and helped spread them to England and Ireland where they became highly regarded. In 1872, Alcide Bellot des Minières purchased the Haut-Bailly estate and constructed the château which remains to this day. des Minières was also a gifted winemaker, adhering to precise and science-backed philosophies that further improved the wines and, in pricing terms, put them up with Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, and Château Haut-Brion. Unfortunately, phylloxera took its toll on the estate during the very late 1800s and Haut-Bailly entered the 20th century under a sense of turmoil.

During the first half of the 20th century, Haut-Bailly changed hands multiple times, new and questionable winemaking practices occurred, and the reputation faltered. In 1955, however, Belgian négociant Daniel Sanders purchased the estate and commenced a renaissance for both quality and reputation. Daniel and his son Jean renovated the vineyards and the winery, while also increasing the rigorous quality standards set in place to select fruit for the Grand Vin. By this point Haut-Bailly was a classified Cru Classé in the Classification of Graves in 1953 and 1959, and the wines certainly lived up to it. During the 1970s, however, the wines did take a slight dip once again as Daniel remained reluctant in his old age to give up control to his son Jean. With Daniel’s death in 1980, however, Jean fully took the helm and resumed the rise in quality. Haut-Bailly shifted into the hands of its current owners in 1988, when American banker Robert G. Wilmers purchased the estate. Jean Sanders remained on the team which later included fourth generation Véronique Sanders in a general manager capacity. Though Robert unfortunately passed away in 2017, Haut-Bailly remains in his family’s care with the same dedication and passion to this great and historic estate.

Château Haut-Bailly today consists of 30 hectares of vineyards situated in prime sandy and gravelly soils in the heart of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. The vineyards are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc, with the plots undulating and at times reaching 20 meters higher than other plots around them. Haut-Bailly also maintains 4 hectares of century-old vines planted by Alcide Bellot des Minières, and while largely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon these special vineyards have plots of Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot as well.

Harvest and winemaking at Haut-Bailly follow the philosophy of gentleness and minimal intervention. All plots are harvested individually by hand so fruit is picked at optimal ripeness for each variety. After initial sorting in the vineyards, the fruit is destemmed and sorted by hand again before transferring directly into vats for fermentation. Each plot is vinified separately as well, allowing the winemaking team a plethora of blending options to showcase the varieties and terroir in the best sense possible vintage to vintage. Following time in concrete vats, the wines age in French oak barrels for 16-18 months before they are bottled.

To view the source of the information above, please check out the Château Haut-Bailly website here. You can also view pictures of the estate and peruse their portfolio which interestingly includes a Rosé.

Today’s Wine: 2001 Château Haut-Bailly

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot; 12.5% ABV

The 2001 Château Haut-Bailly is opaque deep ruby in color with deep garnet variation at the rim. This required a good 1.5 to 2 hours to decant, but it blossomed beautifully. The nose is of pronounced intensity, showcasing classic aromas of crème de cassis, redcurrant, violet, cigar box, black truffle, scorched earth, graphite, pencil shavings, black pepper, gravel, and a touch of vanilla. Meanwhile on the palate I get flavors of pronounced intensity including blackberry, black plum, cassis, licorice, violet, dried tobacco, mushroom, a hint of green bell pepper, dried green herbs, clove, and charred cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but very fine-grained and luxurious tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Gorgeous right now but certainly has the stuffing to develop further for at least another decade.

Price: $120. 2001 is a sleeper vintage in Bordeaux, and selection can sometimes be difficult. However, this 2001 Haut-Bailly is firing on all cylinders and offers very solid value in my opinion given its complexity, performance, age, and promise for the future. Well done.

Great Value From a Historic Bordeaux 2nd Wine

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.