Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion is a walled urban vineyard estate surrounded by the city of Bordeaux
Is it a prow of a ship, or perhaps a blade of a plough cutting through the same soil that nurtures the roots of its vines? The chillingly cool minimalism of the new cellar building of the Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion estate seems at first strange and otherworldly, as if it had fallen from the sky. Stripped bare of any references to the rich wine making traditions of this land, the polished matrix concrete building is both powerfully present yet discreetly elegant, blending effortlessly in with the park-like surroundings.
Designed by world renown creator Philippe Starck and Bordeaux-based architect Luc Arsène-Henry, the new cellar marks a major turning point in Les Carmes Haut-Brion’s centuries-long timeline. The history of the estate goes back to the 16th century, more specifically to 1584, when Jean de Pontac, the lord of Haut-Brion donated a large mill with surrounding meadows and vines to the Carmelite Order.
The Carmelites remained the sole owners of the estate, which eventually became known as “Carmes Haut-Brion”, until it was confiscated by the state during the French Revolution. Half a century later, in 1840, Les Carmes Haut-Brion was sold to a Bordeaux wine merchant and ancestor of the Chantecailles-Furt family, owners and caretakers of the estate for many generations to come.
“Its home had to be evocative, a minimum, an intuition, a reflection…” Phillipe Starck
A new chapter began in 2010 when Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion was purchased by the Pichet real estate group as part of their diversification strategy and, perhaps more importantly, a reflection of the founder’s passion for Bordeaux wine and his strong belief in the unique potential of one of the most beautiful estates in the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Major investments have since been made in the vineyard, cellars, wine-making facilities and work force. The cellar building was officially opened in June 2016.
The wine is produced in accordance with sustainable viticulture practices using traditional methods. Since 2009, only natural products, totally organic, are used to work the soil with the utmost respect for the land and the environment. The grapes are handpicked and horses are gradually replacing the tractors.
Separated by a stream bed, Le Peugue, the terroir consists of two slopes with soil made up of gravel, clay and sand in variable proportions. This unique combination of soil and micro-climate clearly contributes to Château les Carmes Haut-Brion’s finesse and elegance.
Vines average about 41 years of age with a density of 10,000 vines per hectare. The cellars are buried below the surface of a body of water to avoid any temperature or humidity fluctuations, while maintaining air quality and energy self-sufficiency.
A BORDEAUX PESSAC-LÉOGNAN APPELLATION The atypical blend of grape varieties (40% Cabernet Franc, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot) is yet another factor in what makes the estate so special. These proportions are particularly well-adapted to the terroir and contribute to the wine’s unique profile: complex aromatics, both powerful and refined, in keeping with the very finest wines of Pessac-Léognan. Since 2012, the vinification process uses whole grapes with a small proportion of stalks in vats ranging from 21 to 86 hectolitres. The wine is aged in wooden barrels (80% new) for 18 to 24 months.
Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion produces two excellent wines in distinctly different but complementary styles; the elegant and complex grand vin and the full-bodied and more up-front “Le C”:
- The grand vin, the Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, is a refined wine with considerable freshness, bright fruit and a floral note throughout. The tannin is very smooth. The wine consists of approximately 40% Cabernet Franc, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot.
- The “Le C” des Carmes Haut-Brion is made of up to 80% Merlot, hence it has noticeably more body and concentration compared to the grand vin. The colour is deep and brilliant and the wine is silky with a long aftertaste.
The wines are available at the estate or at retailers such as La Vinothèque in central Bordeaux.
Visits by appointment. For information: Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion
Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion
All photos by Asgeir Pedersen, IN Editions, except where indicated
This is a revised version of an article first published 23 March 2017.