Branaire Ducru, St Julien – a wine that has marked my life

There are some wines that seem to accompany our lives, even if it arrives a bit by chance. Branaire-Ducru is one of those wines that seems to have just been there during those important moments of my life. And it is exactly the type of wine I love. Its classy (one can taste its wonderful terroir). Its not overstated just subtle and authentic.

The Maroteau family have owned this classy château and run it since 1988 (so rare in these big chateaux in the medoc to hear children playing and laughing in the gardens) and it is archetypal St Julien (living between the feminine Margaux and the more full bodied Pauillac, for me this appellation is a perfect balance of the both – for me this appellation is the best choice on a restaurant wine list if the price is right as it is a small one but the terroir is great right across it).

Branaire Ducru is however not the usual St Julien price – and in this year’s futures campaign it has created a furore with its sensible pricing!

It was the chosen wine at the Polidor Restaurant near to the Sorbonne in Paris on 16th April 2007 my 40th birthday.

Polidor Restaurant near the Sorbonne, Paris

It was 1997, not a great year (vintages ending in a 7 rarely are in Bordeaux). But it was classic BD; fresh, fine, cedary, savoury, class. (This lunch with a mix of friends, old neighbours, sisters, partners long forgotten was an important milestone in my life – perhaps it was the wine that helped me to change my life radically that very day – but that is another story).

Their vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon packed together leave not much room in between the rows. The infertile gravel soils do best when vines are grown at a density between 8500 and 10,000 vines per hectare (it’s around 7000 in the glacier soils of St Emilion)

For my 50th (10 years later in 2017), it was another experience. Expecting for the third time (14 year break between kids)  with the new man of my life. And another vintage of Branaire Ducru – this time 2007! An under estimated year which was just perfect drinking that day – you know when you give a wine time it can tell a wonderful story when it’s ready to be told(perhaps like 1967…..but that story has gone largely untold to date..

So I was very happy to revisit recently to taste the baby 2019 Branaire Ducru (still ageing in the barrel). It is the younger generation, François Xavier Maroteau who runs the estate today (who worked with his father since 2015 who unfortunately died at the age of 67 in 2017).

Branaire Ducru 2020 is en route (cab sauv shown here). Even in the well drained gravel soils of St Julien, the intermittent wet and humid episodes have made getting onto the land to sulphate has been hard (one treatment was applied by hand with knapsack sprayed!) in order to spray when needed to keep this season’s ever present mildew at bay.
Looking upwards at Branaire Ducru

Developments; They are renovating the old winery to enable grapes to come in using only gravity. They are sticking with stainless steel but with more smaller truncated cone vats (increasing the number of vats from 28 to 65) to enable true plot by plot fermentation. They will have a double lining to allow great cold soaks and accurate temperature and apparently to use the space to a maximum they will be suspended!

2019 Branaire Ducru; 56% Cab sauv, 35% Merlot 4% cabernet franc 5% petit verdot. Beautiful pristine flavours, aromatic black fruits, velvety but as always quite restrained and classic. Nice freshness. A lower amount of cab sauv than usual more like 65% (due to loss due to coulure at flowering). A fragrant wine that is not too shy to show itself off.

Following a heatwave during end June and later in the summer (hydric stress concentrated the berries) very fortunate rainfall mid september saved the day. Ripeness but the best wines due to their terroir retain some freshness.

Released at a very reasonable price as always. We have always known this, now many others are in the know too. I’d better rush and buy a bottle ready for my 60th….

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