For 400 years one of the oldest wine families in St Emilion have managed to continue to make wine at their estate despite increasing pressures from all sides. Today it is the 13th and 14th generation of the David Beaulieu family that run the 12 hectare property of Château Coutet St Emilion Grand Cru located on the prestigious limestone plateau and its south-western slope. Not a drop of synthetic chemicals has ever been sprayed in its history. Botanists and Naturalists from around the world come to study the rare plants and wildlife that have been able to survive in this forgotten corner of St Emilion – a valley that literally ‘the ravages of time’ has left behind. (The photo shows the rare Tulipa radii that proliferate in the vineyards and date back to Roman times).
Today one of Bordeaux’s most famous villages is being overtaken by famous luxury brands such as Chanel (Château Canon), Louis Vuiton (Château Cheval Blanc) and Dassault (Château Dassault) the aeroplane manufacturers. Land on the prestigious limestone plateau of St Emilion is today worth a figure in its millions of euro per hectare (2.5 acres). Château Angelus; neighbour to Château Coutet, has recenttly been promoted to the top echelon of the St Emilion classification – Premier Grand Cru Classé A and the price of its wine has exploded.
The French Inheritance system discourages the passing down of estates to future generations by charging 44% of the current value of the land to be paid to the State. This forces most properties to be sold rather than passed on and kept within a family.
How can the rich heritage of small family wine producers in St Emilion compete with this new world of business, glamour, and marketing who hone their talents in the luxury markets across the world? The rules are being rewritten to enable these luxury châteaux to shine even brighter. In the St Emilion Classification system, since 2012, extra points have been awarded to producers who have a smart reception and tasting area or car park., leaving less importance for the wine.
At Coutet they have opted out of the Classification system, which is renewed every 10 years. A number of generations live on the small property that lies on the southwestern slope of the limestone plateau. Their priority has been one of continuity, to be able to pass the property down through the generations. They form a small team and work together with passion.
The David Beaulieu family have come up with an ingenious plan thanks to the chance finding of an antique bottle of wine under the floor of their beaten earth cellar – thought to be the oldest in St Emilion if not Bordeaux. What makes it special is that it is still full of wine after almost 300 years of ageing! They hope their idea will secure the future of their special property for generations to come.
Fifteen years ago Alain David Beaulieu, 13th generation, found an old bottle in a corner of the family cellar. It was full of a light coloured red wine and had a glass stopper in it, in the shape of a heart (thought to have been a gift for a wedding possibly). (His father had unearthed it from the beaten earth cellar floor some years before and had forgotten about it). Alain in his turn forgot about it for a few years until Adrien came across it recently. And he had a bright idea – to recreate the same bottle using old techniques of glass making and to fill it with wine made in exactly the same way as they would have done in the early 18th century – to produce a limited number of these bottles as collector’s bottles and promote the age-old story of his family and their desire to continue.
Château Coutet is in the unique position to be able to do this authentically. The grapes have been grown in soil untouched by chemicals on one of the highest vineyards of the plateau with no neighbour’s products affecting them.’Peycocut’ is one of the ancient vineyards used since 15th century by the Brotherhood of St Emilon wines to decide on harvest date. This ground is cultivated uniquely by horse as it was in 18th century. The vine stock of the Merlot (special type ‘red tails’ queue rouge) and Cabernet Franc (Bouchet) is cultivated from the age old vine stocks developed onsite over hundreds of years.
Detailed analysis of its glass makeup revealed that the bottle dates back to around 1750 – probably the oldest bottle full of wine in St Emilion – possibly Bordeaux. They are working in partnership with Mr Guillot a renowned glass specialist (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) who has succeeded in recreating the original bottle’s glass make-up and the emery stoppering which involves using micro diamonds to cut the glass with precision.
The wine has been made using traditional techniques of winemaking and vinified in a traditional wooden oak vat. A limited edition of 200 numbered bottles were produced of this collectors wine in 2014 and will soon be for sale.
For more details:
David Beaulieu Family http://chateau-coutet.wine