I remember that Haut Brion, Bollinger and Yquem were served at Berry Bros. & Rudd’s 300th Anniversary Dinner in 1998, presented by (in same order) HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg, Ghislain de Montgolfier and the Comtes Alexandre de Lur Saluces. I think it was at the Ritz Hotel just around the corner from, where I worked at the time at Berry Bros & Rudd (Royal Warrant holders and traditional wine merchants since 1698), 3 St James’ Street, Piccadilly, London.
My very first memory of Haut Brion was many years earlier when I first started working in the wine trade at traditional wine merchants, Lay & Wheeler, in the Christmas of 1985. Terry and Tonka who had worked in the cellars for thirty odd years referred to this wine they had to pack for an order as ‘Hort Bryan’. My knowledge of wine then was very limited, but little by little over the years I have built on the experiences I had in those early years; the look of the label, the bottle, where it went on the shelf in the shop which gave me an idea of regions and countries and good foundations for the future.
Interviewed Jean-Philippe Delmas, the Estate Manager of Chateau Haut Brion, one of the five First Growths and the only one outside of the Medoc. Haut Brion is located in Pessac, a suburb of Bordeaux, about half an hour from the city centre. Its soil of gravel and sand with clay underneath is very typical of many of the ‘terroir’ of the first growths.
During its history Haut Brion has been the setting of many firsts in winemaking. Even as far back as the 17th century, it had it had one of its first firsts. It was in the marketing of wine.
Owner, Arnaud de Pontac III, was the first to ‘market’ his property’s wines under its own name. He set up the first ‘wine bar’ in London, the Royal Oak Tavern. This is where Samuel Pepys in 1663 first tasted what he called ‘Ho Bryan … (a wine with) a good and most particular taste’ and recorded it in his famous diaries.
We talked of the people that played an important part in the history of Haut Brion including the American bankers, the Dillons, who bought the chateau in 1935. And finally we came to talk about Jean-Philippe’s family, the Delmas, who since 1923 played a significant role in the innovative development of Haut Brion. His father, Jean-Bernard, was born in the chateau and went on to be very influential in the continual updating of the winemaking of Haut Brion. Never abandoning tradition, but always one of the first to introduce innovation; stainless steel fermenting vats in 1961, grape variety cloning in the 1970’s, green harvesting in the 1980’s, the property’s own tonnellerie in 1990’s…Since 2004 his son, Jean-Philippe, has taken over the reins having spent 10 years learning first-hand from his father. With his own clear vision he is continuing the family tradition into the twenty-first century.
We ended the morning with a tasting of the 2003 and 2004 vintage of the Grands Vins of La Mission and Haut Brion and their second labels – where we clearly tasted the difference of terroir and climate in the glass. We finished with, to refresh our palates before lunch, the white 2004 Laville and Haut-Brion Blanc.
Comparative tasting of 2003 and 2004 – Ch La Mission Haut Brion and Chateau Haut-Brion and their Second Wines. For tasting notes see blog ‘Tasting Notes’.
Haut-Brion Rge: 45 ha
La Mission Rge: 21 ha
Average breakdown of Grape Varieties on both properties: 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, Cabernet Franc 5%
2004 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion
2004 Le Bahans du Chateau Haut-Brion
2004 La Mission Haut-Brion
2003 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion
2003 Le Bahans du Chateau Haut-Brion
2003 La Mission Haut-Brion
HB Blc: 2.5 ha
La Mission Blanc (Laville): 3 ha
2004 Laville Haut-Brions (70% Semillon, 27%Sauvignon, 3% Muscadelle)
2004 Haut-Brion Blanc (63% Semillon, 37% Sauvignon)