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.