1964: an important date for Château Haut Breton Larigaudière
On 7 June 1964, Madame Ghislaine De Moor, Emile De Schepper’s wife, bought the estate Château Haut Breton Larigaudière in Soussans at the office of solicitor Jean David in Castelnau-de-Médoc. This estate consisted of 2 hectares of vines, one hectare of grounds, a château, and a series of outbuildings (cellar, garage, stables, workers’ quarters, etc.).
The 30 years prior to this purchase were far from glorious for Haut Breton Larigaudière. Successive sales, crises, and hard times did no good to the château’s reputation, in combination with a reduced output that kept decreasing until practically nothing was produced by the 1950s and early 60s. The vines were completely abandoned and the cellars were in a terrible state.
However, the situation had been much different in earlier times… Château Haut Breton Larigaudière was mentioned in Le Producteur as early as 1838 and listed in the first edition of Cocks & Féret (Bordeaux and its Wines) in 1850.
A passage from La Vigne by Bertall, published in 1878, shows how well Château Haut Breton Larigaudière was considered at this time:
“The is no point hiding our personal assessments, and pretending that classifications over a century old might not gain from being updated if the opportunity arose one day…Let us go to Château Haut Breton Larigaudière. This will enable you to see what a cru bourgeois is, and also show you what vintage time is like. A victoria, drawn by a beautiful, well-driven horse, takes us to the château in no time. This is located halfway down a slope, and shaded by tall bushy trees. The carriage curves gracefully around the front courtyard in order to take us to the outdoor stairway leading to the main entrance. A wonderful swarm of gracious children, with black velvety eyes and curly deep-brown hair immediately forms around us”.
“What a charming group of people are there to greet me to represent this fine region! This goes from a smiling baby at his mother’s breast to beautiful, elegant young girls, to their attractive mothers and even their aunts, who have nothing to be jealous of…The mistress of the house welcomes us declaring that ‘My house is yours’. She informs her husband that the team of pickers is ready and that they can start the following day. The male and female pickers are indeed ready to start the next morning. The carts, harnessed to vigorous horses, are waiting on the side paths. Everything takes place with the greatest of care under the watchful eye of the château owners. As at the greatest estates, the grapes are destemmed and then crushed in a press. The resulting juice is put into vat. When evening comes, the traditional beef and cabbage soup is served under the mistress’s supervision. After dinner, the pickers dance to the sound of the flute and violin before starting over again the next day”.
1964 to 1987: the estate undergoes a rebirth and a new era begins under Firmin De Schepper
Thanks to their experience acquired at Château Tour Baladoz, a 9-hectare estate in Saint-Emilion the family purchased in 1950, the new owners were able to start full of enthusiasm with the renovation of their new property in Soussans. The first 10 years were devoted primarily to building up the vineyard from scratch.
In 1964, the vineyard was divided into very scattered plots. The largest one was less than half a hectare. Since Emile De Schepper was busy much of the time with his wine business in Ghent, Belgium, he asked his estate manager, Marc Raymond (who also owned a small vineyard in Macau) to supervise Château Haut Breton Larigaudière. Thanks to his work, Monsieur Raymond knew all the local winegrowers, which facilitated the numerous exchanges, purchases, and regrouping necessary to form a vineyard of nearly 5 hectares after a period of twelve years.
The tiny crops picked during these first few years were fermented at the Arcins cooperative cellar (which no longer exists today). During this period, the wine was sent in barrels to Belgium, where the De Schepper family had a prosperous wine and spirits company. Work was also done in Château Haut Breton Larigaudière’s cellars and outbuildings in the 1970s. However, the prices winegrowers were able to charge at that time did not allow a full-scale renovation. Expanding and renovating the vineyard took up most of the money available for investment.
In 1971, at the age of 67, Emile De Schepper handed over control of the estate to Firmin, his elder son. Since his father had already laid the foundations, his son was more than motivated to follow his father’s footsteps in order to improve the quality as well as the château’s reputation. In 1971 the wine was bottled at the château for the first time.
Thanks to his extensive background in oenology, Firmin immediately recognised Haut Breton Larigaudière’s enormous potential, and decided to do everything in his power to restore the estate’s former prestige. He built a new vat room in 1979, where he installed stainless steel vats, and a new barrel cellar and bottle ageing cellar in
Firmin divided his time between Belgium and Soussans, but his trips to the Médoc became increasingly frequent. He grew to love the gravelly soil and wines of Margaux, and quickly made friends there. Every time he went to visit, his greatest pleasure was walking through his vines in Cadeou, Grand Soussans, and Liougeay (place names in Soussans) and tasting his wines in vat and barrel. He knew that to be an accomplished wine professional he needed to be extremely rigorous, tend his vines impeccably, and ferment and age his wine with the greatest care. He made sure to rely on capable colleagues and a consulting oenologist. The first new barrels began to arrive at Château Haut Breton Larigaudière, a clear sign that Firmin wanted to make use of every means possible to maximise the quality.
During a dinner with friends at Chez Philippe, a well-known restaurant on the Place du Parlement in Bordeaux, he met a young chef who wanted to go and work in the Médoc. Since there was no one living at Haut Breton Larigaudière at the time, Firmin began to see all the advantages of opening a restaurant there. So, he and the young chef struck a deal. This is how on one fine day in May 1980, the Larigaudière restaurant opened. Unfortunately, Firmin’s father, Emile, only enjoyed a meal there once because he passed away in May 1982.
Emile’s two sons, Firmin and Jacques, continued the long-term job of renovating the estate. The vineyard was by no means forgotten! In 1985, 1.26 hectares of vines (a plot called “Maucaillou”) were added, followed by 0.32 hectares at “La Coste” in 1986, and 1 hectare at “Bourriche” in 1987. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for Firmin. He was unable to accomplish all of his projects because his life came to a tragic and premature end when his Brussels-Bordeaux flight crashed 5 km from Bordeaux-Mérignac airport on 21 December 1987.
From 1987 to the present day
Firmin’s brother, Jacques, took over management of the estate. Helped by his mother until her death in 1994, Jacques was as motivated as his predecessors to reconcile traditional and modern techniques. He added 2.14 hectare at “Liougey” in 1988. This piece of land was planted with Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) and Merlot (50%). A request to join the Syndicat des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc was made, and accepted, in 1991.
By this time, the vineyard had reached over 7 hectares, which was a requirement for admission. In early 1992, Marc Raymond, who had been the manager of the estate since 1964, decided to retire and Château Haut Breton Larigaudière became the leaseholder of the 3 hectares of vines he owned in Arsac (appellation Margaux). In doing so, the estate reached a total of 13 hectares of vines.
That same year, a new manager was appointed : Jean-Michel Garcion. This enthusiastic professional graduated with a Certificate of Professional Agricultural Education with a specialisation in viticulture and winemaking from the Lycée Agricole Briacé in Landreau. He completed his degree with courses in Mâcon and numerous placements around the world. Thanks to his open mind and far-ranging experience, he quickly became Jacques De Schepper’s right arm. Both men were fully devoted to improving the quality of the estate.
Once again, priority was given to the vineyard. Certain plots were drained and the vines were retrained. A new technical team was put together between February and June 1993 and major construction works were carried out. This included :
- The demolition of the former barrel cellar, which had become too small.
- The construction of a new barrel cellar with a capacity of 500 barrels.
- The construction of a new vat room and fermentation area.
- The landscaping of open spaces.
- The renovation of living quarters.
Everything was done in a record time since it had to be ready for Vinexpo 1993.
The estate further expanded in February 2000. A 1.37 hectare plot at “Micau” was purchased and planted, which brought the total area under vine to about 15 hectares. In the meantime, business was going nicely, and it became necessary to think about new offices. from that moment on, the château was no longer used as a restaurant and in 2001 the ground floor was altered into an office space and reception area.
At the same time, the garden was laid out, fountains were added in the open areas, and a pavilion provided an elegant final touch. After all these investments in the vineyard, the vat room, the cellar, and the château, Château Haut Breton Larigaudière had become one of the most beautiful crus bourgeois in the Médoc.
The château, that has been renovated recently, offers an idyllic and calming framework that is impossible to ignore. But what would the name and the estate have to offer without the wine that it is producing?
Of course those wines would not have existed without the grand terroirs the grapes are grown on. Let us go deeper into that! For those who think Margaux is just a part of the designation Graves, could not be more wrong. The diversity that the soil of this designation has to offer, is impressive.
Our vineyard is located partly in the town Arsac (3.5 hectare divided over thirteen parcels) and partly in Soussans (11.5 hectare divided over three large parts with twenty parcels). The following words should have to convince you completely: because our vines are spread over Margaux, between or sometimes right next to renowned neighbours (Lascombes, Le Tertre, Prieuré, Lichine, Durfort Vivens, Desmirail, Brane Cantenac), we have several terroirs that each have their differences.
The Sandy, dark gravel-sand of Arsac, the clayey gravel-sand of Grand Soussans and certain places in Cadéos, the yellow and blue clay in certain veins but also the sand and the limestone of Margaux.
Margaux itself also has a large diversity, even though not every one has the same opinion about the extent of that diversity. The wines of Arsac may be lighter, those of Soussans are firm and have a good structure. Exactly due to these differences in the soil we choose vines that complete the characteristics of a parcel.
The Cabernet Sauvignon grape dominates the vinyard (65 to 70 %). For the first wine, the Haut Breton Larigaudière, at least 80% of this grape will be used for the blend. The Merlot grape makes a rather small contribution compared to other wines in this designation.
Among our colleagues, quite some important names are following the trend to add more Merlot to their blend. We, however, are rather conservative and are aware of our history and we fully want to exploit the incredible potential the Médoc is offering due to its geographical position, its even relief and its climate. It is a perfectly adequate location to obtain an optimal physiological ripeness without an exaggerated alcoholic ripeness that damages the freshness and the fruity aromas of the wine
There is no other region with so many different characteristics and this is among others due to the synergy of the Atlantic and the estuary of the French river the Garonne that come together at a low altitude and offers unique geological qualities. In order to breed a perfect, ripe wine, the temperature has to be situated between 11° and 11.5° Celsius. The Cabernet Sauvignon can have these qualities if every element is respected and if we pay attention to every detail to obtain an extraordinary ripeness.
At château Haut Breton Larigaudière we do our utmost to reach this aim. It is also important to mention that our vineyard would not be complete without the presence of the Petit Verdot grape that completes our blend due to its complexity.
Only four months before the end of the summer, or the beginning of the autumn, the grapes are starting to become visible. When we are walking along the vines to see how ripe the grapes have become, we notice that it is time to start picking them. Well coloured, full of sugar and tasty, just as we want it, it is about time to start harvesting and thus to start one of the most beautiful transformations.
Fill the glasses with the most juicy and crunchy grapes…
With those grapes the most delicious beverage is made.
Viticulture – Fermentation – Ageing
Like all wine estates, Haut Breton Larigaudière is subject to the vagaries of the weather, which make every vintage unique. However, everything that can be done to make the most of the terroir is put into practice. We are aware that it takes several decades to make, or rather fine-tune the making of a great wine.
Unceasing efforts have been made ever since the château was purchased in 1964. All these years of hard work have not only contributed to improving the state of the vineyard and renovating buildings, but also to producing grapes with a higher natural concentration.
Every vineyard operation (planting, pruning, suckering, leaf thinning, bunch thinning, etc.) is quality-oriented, something which is also part of our strategy for every other aspect of the wine production: viticulture, winemaking, bottling, and sales.
We chose the most suitable rootstock after an in-depth study of Haut Breton Larigaudière’s soil and subsoil. We went on to select the sprouts best suited for our terroir, preferring quality and concentration over high yields. This criterium applies to all of the vines that have been planted recently. However, we are also very attached to our oldest vines for which we adapt our working methods.
Pruning is essential to ensure the vine’s survival and its fruit bearing capacities. We use the Guyot double system, which respects the vigour of each vine as well as the maximization of the quality of the grapes and it provides fruit bearing canes and spurs for the following years.
We have reintroduced this practice, which is being applied with the greatest care. This is because we think that it is necesssary to encourage the development of fruit-bearing canes and spurs at the beginning of the growing season by removing all extraneous growth that drains the vine’s vigour. We nevertheless make sure to prune shortly after the winter.
We thin the leaves at the end of July on the eastern side of the vine and on the western side in early September. We believe this operation is essential to obtain the best result possible and to maintain a reasonable amount of leaf area with regard to the total leaf canopy. However, we make sure sufficient leaves are present to protect the grapes. We have also raised the maximum height to which the vines are trimmed by 20 centimetres.
Bunch thinning or “green harvesting” is done twice a year: during the onset of ripening and at the end of the growing season when it is easy to see which bunches are less ripe and therefore can be removed.
Fermentation at Château Haut Breton Larigaudière is done the traditional Médoc way, but with one or two variations. Our gravelly soil and iron pan, limestone, and gravel subsoil produce a great diversity of full-bodied, powerful wines with plenty of tannin. However, we are also committed to reflecting our terroir’s finesse. We thus do all we can to produce wines that are in line with our objectives namely producing a well-structured, but also elegant and balanced wine with solid, but silky tannins.
Our winery is perfectly adapted to the type of wine we wish to make. Our concrete and stainless steel tanks are small enough to ferment many different lots separately: different grape varieties, wine made from vines of different ages, and wine from different vineyard plots. Bringing out the body, structure, and the aromatic elegance that reflect the characteristics of our terroir calls for specific winemaking methods.
At Haut Breton Larigaudière, alcoholic fermentation takes place at relatively cool temperatures
(28-32° C, depending on the vintage) in order to bring out the wine’s intrinsic aromas. Maceration lasts for 15-30 days. The period of time during which the flesh stays in contact with the skins is determined vat by vat after regular tasting. The frequency of pumping over also varies according to the vintage. If the extraction does not take place as desired, the cap is pressed. Once again, this is done on a vat by vat basis.
At the end of fermentation, all the lots of wine are still separate based on their plot, grape variety, and the age of the vines. The structure of the wine in each vat determines the age of the barrels it will be aged in. The wine that has most structure is put into new barrels. Of course, we make use of a wide range of coopers, types of oak, and degrees of toasting. Thanks to constant tasting, we become very familiar with the personality of the wine in each barrel, and are thus able to compose the best possible assemblage or final blend.
This blend is greater than the sum of its parts, and we always have our customers’ satisfaction in mind while making our final product. This careful monitoring of the wine as it ages, with all the various operations this entails, goes on for 18-24 months, after which it is ready to be bottled.