In any introductory wine course you will come across the name Chateau Haut Brion, one of the five 1st Growths from the 1855 Classification. I had the chance to visit this Chateau, and it’s neighbouring property, La Mission Haut Brion.
These estates are in the centre of the town of Pessac which makes for an easy Chateau to visit if you’re without a car. Taking bus line #4, I was dropped off almost in front of the main gate. Walking through the rows of vines to get to the office reception, observing the stony and gravely soils with root stocks averaging 35 years of age. Haut Brion’s beginning dates back to 1525. The land was part of a dowry when Jean de Pontenac married the daughter of the mayor of Libourne and grew the estate.
In 1935 the Chateau was acquired by Clarence Dillion from New York after a period of crisis. Dillion’s successor was his grand-daughter and have named their second label after her grandfather, Le Clarence de Haut Brion.
The Chateau has their own cooper on site which is a rarity. He makes 5 barrels a day and totals 1,000 per year. I was able to smell the freshness of the oak and see the small open fires in the centre of the barrels, used to give them a medium toast.
The neighbouring property, La Mission Haut Brion was acquired by the Dillion family in 1983. The Chateau has a pious history as a mission for the Pères Lazaristes who were bequeathed the property in 1664.There is a small chapel which gives it’s name to their 2nd wine, La Chapelle. The chapel is small, with original stained glass and a border around the perimeter scripting the top vintages of La Mission.
In the barrel cellar at La Mission Haut Brion, I heard a very interesting history about the origin of canalés, the traditional bordelaise cakes . A common way to “fine” the wine and remove particles is to put egg whites in the wine, this acts as a magnet to these particles. Centuries ago, this left many, many egg yolks left over which were then used to make the traditional Bordealaise pastry, Canalés.
The visit concluded with a tasting of the 2007 vintages of Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion. I found both wines approachable with Haut Brion showing more body and structure. Both properties have the same winemaker and go through the same vinification. The only difference is the terroir.