Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal

Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal

5th Cru Classe, 1855

Chemin des Balogues
33250 Pauillac
+33 (0)557 88 76 65

Location: AOC Pauillac, with the vines in two plots next to Chateau Latour and Pichon Baron.

Production: 30 hectares.

Five things you didn't know about Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal:

- Owner Claire Villars was studying for a doctorate in physics and chemistry applied to archaeology when she returned to the family properties following the death of her parents in 1992. She is now a qualified oenologist, married to Gonzargue Lurton, owner of Chateau Durfort Vivens in Margaux.

- The owners in 1855, when the chateaux was named a fifth growth, were the Liberal family of wine brokers. August Liberal, who had been a licensed broker since 1811, was part of the group of brokers charged with coming up with the list of chateaux to be classified. This was done according to price, with the fifth growths pricing set at 1,400 to 1,600 francs per tonneau (compared to 3,000 and over for the first growths).

- There is a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon planted, around 75%, which has been increased in recent years (it was at 70% of the vines planted when Claire took over).

- The vineyard is currently experimenting with biodynamic winemaking.

- Claire Villars is the grand-daughter of Jacques Merlaut, who was one of the biggest négociants in the region and founder of the Group Taillan (today the group owns, among many other estates, Gruaud Larose and négociant company Ginestet).

Current owner: Claire Villars-Lurton, married to Gonzargue Lurton with three children.

Most notable previous owner: the Liberal family who gave the estate its name, and who were well-known brokers, or courtiers, in Bordeaux for over a century. The name also meant that Chateau Haut-Bages Liberale has long been served by Liberal politicians in England and northern Europe.

Other chateaux owned:Chateau Ferriere (Margaux) Chateau Domeyne (AOC Saint Estephe), Chateau La Gurgue (AOC Margaux). Her sister Céline is in charge of Chateau Chasse Spleen (AOC Moulis en Medoc). And her uncle Jean Merlot has Gruaud Larose. The Taillan group was founded by Claire's grandfather (Taillan is the family name of his wife, Claire's grandmother). In 2000 it was divided between Claire's uncles, her sister and herself. Denis Taillan received the negociant side of the business (Ginestet) plus G Verdier (a negociant in the Loire) and 40% of Gruaud Larose, Citran and a few small estates in Entre deux Mers. Jean Merlaut inherited 51% of Gruaud Larose. Sister Celine inherited Chasse Spleen (and in 2005 bought Camensac).

Commercial strategy: 100% négociants, sold 90% en primeur through the Place de Bordeaux. 70% of the production goes to export.

Second wine: La Fleur de Haut-Bages Libérale, La Chapelle de Bages, Le Pauillac de Haut-Bages Libérale.

Through the centuries:

Haut-Bages Libéral was owned by the Libéral famiy in the late 17th century. They were wine brokers who sold most of their wine to Belgium and the Netherlands (both of which remain strong markets for the chateau). As with many Médoc properties, the other part of the name comes from its geographical location – here the Bages plateau near to Pauillac. The Libéral family were still in charge in 1855, when it was named a 5th growth, but over the following years it slipped into abandon, until 1960 when the Cruse family (owners at the time of Pontet-Canet) bought the property and began a full replanting programme. In 1983 it passed over to the Villars family and is today run by Claire Villars.

Consultant: Eric Boissenot, with Thomas Bontemps as technical director

Plantation and vineyard work:Cabernet Sauvignon (75%), Merlot (25%), average age 40 years, planted to 10,000 vines per hectare. Sustainable viticulture. Harvesting is done by hand and since 2008 they have been experimenting with both organic and biodynamic farming. Today 50% of the property is in biodynamic farming.

Vinification: Traditional vinification in a mix of both concrete and stainless steel tanks (16 of each), small sized from 47 to 170 hectolitres to ensure grapes from individual plots of vines can be vinified separately (by variety, age of vines and so on). Low temperature vinification, staying between 25 and 27 degrees centigrade, to ensure elegant and fruit-filled wines. The wine is aged in oak barrels for 14-18 months depending on the vintage, with around 40% new oak. Between 10-15% of press wine is used in the final blend.

Terroir: there are two principal plots, with one of deep Gunzian gravel over a clay-limestone subsoil and the other clay-limestone and limestone-chalk. Both are located on the Bages plateau, one of the best terroirs of Pauillac.

Recent improvements or changes:

The cellar was entirely restored in 2001 and 2002. Trials in organic and biodynamic viticulture over the past few years.

Recent Decanter scores:

2012 en primeur – 16.75 points/20
2011 en primeur – 16.5 points
2010 en primeur – 17 points
2009 en primeur – 17 points
2008 en primeur – 16.5 points

Average bottle price in UK: £25-£45, depending on vintage.

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