The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Château Margaux – Four Centuries of Winemaking, Part 1

Posted on | April 16, 2015 | Written by Robin Kelley OConnor | No Comments

Château Margaux

Château Margaux

Aside from the topography, grandiose estates, great wines, and the power of nature, one of the aspects of Bordeaux that has always intrigued me is how certain properties endure. Château Margaux is one of those rare entities: an estate that has enjoyed four centuries of excellence. I have had the rare privilege recently to partake in two Château Margaux intensive seminars: the first one was hosted held at the Consulate General of France in New York City, and the second was this past weekend at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine event in Monterey Bay, hosted by the estate’s Commercial Director Aurélien Valance.

In the twelfth century, Château Margaux went by the name “La Mothe de Margaux” (the Margaux mound). It wasn’t until 1572, when many Médoc estates abandoned grain for wine, that the noble Lestonnac family began planting vines. By the end of the seventeenth century, Château Margaux comprised 655 acres, a third planted to vine. This time period say innovations at Margaux that may simple to the ear today but were quite novel for the era. First, red grapes were separated from the white grapes and vinified separately. Second, they stop harvesting at dawn when the grapes were covered in dew, whose humidity caused color dilution and paling. In essence, this was the birth time of modern viticulture and vinification, when owners, estate managers, vineyardists, and cellar masters started to understand the importance of the soil, and the influence of the terroir.

Grapes and terroir at Château Margaux

Grapes and terroir at Château Margaux

The eighteenth century was known as the “Golden Century” for its Bordeaux expansion. In 1705, the London Gazette advertised the auction of 230 barrels of Margaux, calling it a great Bordeaux growth. The 1771 was the first Bordeaux vintage that Christie’s catalogue called “claret,” and in the late eighteenth century, the notion of Bordeaux First Growths or ‘Premier Crus’ came into being. United States Ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson developed a deep love for Bordeaux and, in particular, for Château Margaux. During his ambassadorship, Jefferson bought casks of Margaux, shipping many back to his Monticello wine cellar, writing, “There couldn’t be a better Bordeaux bottle” when he placed an order in 1784.

1855 saw the Second Universal Exhibition in Paris, when Emperor Louis Napoléon III mandated a classification of selectBordeaux wines from the Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac. A blind tasting was organized in Paris to divide sixty-one properties—sixty from the Médoc and one from Graves—into five quality levels, which led to the creation of the official classification of 1855. Margaux was classified as a First Growth, or Premier Grand Cru Classé, just one of four châteaux to receive such honor. For 160 years, Margaux earned its elite position as the best of the best through continual innovation, dedicated research, and leadership willing to make the necessary sacrifices to maintain the status of Premier Grand Cru Classé.

A château as great as Margaux needs more than one blog post. Stay tuned for the next installment, which will take a look at 1855 to the present, exploring why Château Margaux is a leader in the making of world-class wine.

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