“The quality of a Grand Cru comes from the convergence of natural and human factors. It is the result of a marriage in which, thanks to the patient virtues of empiricism, nothing is predominant or vital, but everything proves to be essential. As such, Chateau Haut-Brion stands out as a prime example. It is both a model and the precursor of the Bordeaux Grand Cru…..Through its location, beginnings, and its past and present, you will come to learn of a great Chateau where at all times attentiveness and vigilance are the watchwords to make the most of nature” (Source: ‘Forward’ in property brochure – 2014)
There is no other estate in Bordeaux that can offer documentation to such a glamorous and esteemed history than that of Chateau Haut Brion. Deriving from the Celtic term ‘Briga’ (meaning a rise or mount) – it is clear that the abitlity to cultivate vines on this land was realised as early as the 1st century. On the 23rd of April 1525, Jean de Pontac, a civil and criminal clerk of the Parliament of Bordeaux, wed the daughter of the Mayor of Libourne – Jeanne de Bellon. Within her dowry was included the land known as ‘Haut-Brion’. Within 8 years, for 2,650 Tournois (Pounds) the ‘mansion’ Haut-Brion was purchased by the couple and so brought together both house and lands, forming the birth of Chateau Haut-Brion as we now know it today.
Over the next century, the estate’s reputation grew and improved notably throughout France and beyond. By 1660, the wine was to be found on ‘cellar-ledger’ of King Charles II – and served to guests at the royal table. This is one of many references to the ‘wine of Hobriono’.
Probably the most quoted reference was made by Samuel Pepys (English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man) after visiting the Royal Oak Tavern in London on the 10th April 1663 – “There I drank a sort of French wine called Ho-Bryon that hath a good and most particular taste I have never met with”. Clearly the ‘New French Claret’ had become noticed enough to warrant inclusion on a royal dining table and join the London rumour mill and indeed in Mr Pepys’ no famous diary!
The most famous of all references over the centuries must be those made by the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Following his visit to Bordeaux in 1787 he wrote of “The soil of Haut-Brion, which I examined in great detail, is made up of sand, in which there is near as much round gravel or small stone and a very little loam like the soils of the Medoc”. He went on to list Haut-Brion as one of four vineyards of ‘prime quality’.
The now famous estate exchanged ownership between various dignitaries in 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries. In 1935, New York financier Clarence Dillon purchased the estate and began an extensive programme of renovation for the entire estate. Today, the Domaine Clarence Dillon is still overlooked by Clarence’s descendants and its future assured in the safe hands of Prince Robert of Luxemburg. Their acquisition of St. Emillion property -Chateau Tertre Daugay in 2011 certainly took many by surprise. However, the renaming into simply, ‘Quintus’ and the further purchase of it’s neighbouring property Château L’Arrosée – bringing the total area of vines to 28 hectares, is proof that their eyes are fixed firmly on the future growth for the Domaine Clarence Dilon family. In fact, Prince Robert of Luxemburg spoke of his confidence that their aim for success is true – “We anticipate Quintus in time becoming an equal to our other estates”. A truly bold statement indeed, but one made clearly with passion and dedication the family brand.
Of course it is the wines that are the real legend. Haut-Brion produces both Red and White wines, as well as a second red called Le Clarence de Haut-Brion, and a second white named La Clarte de Haut-Brion. However, it is the Red wines that have proven their worth and hold legendary status: from 1811 (known as the wines from the comet); 1874 (at time of release, up to 5,500 French francs were exchanged for just one barrel); 1929; 1945 (despite 80% of the crop being destroyed by heavy snow at the beginning of May); 1947 (hottest summer for fifty years); 1949; 1959 (thought at the time, and even before the harvest, to be the best of the century); 1961 (legendary throughout Bordeaux); 1982 (again legendary throughout Bordeaux);1989 (an outstanding year can only produce outstanding wines); 1990; 2000 (to be enjoyed today, tomorrow and probably 100 years from now); 2005 (similar climatic conditions to that of 1949 but unique in its own right); 2009 ( a wine makers dream due to the perfect conditions throughout the growing season).