A respected Hong Kong wine connoisseur perfectly summed up the essence of Château Haut-Bailly by saying, “You know a person knows his wine when he knows about Haut-Bailly… If he does, then I serve him the good stuff”.
Personally, I can describe Château Haut-Bailly in three words:
Prestigious. Elegant. Sophisticated.
I had this in mind when I visited their château last September… And to be absolutely honest, I worried about feeling out of place during the trip.
Which is why I confess, I got embarrassingly tongue-tied meeting the great Veronique Sanders, 5th generation owner of Château Haut-Bailly.*
The place has a long history, as rich as the vines that they still have, with illustrious personalities passing ownership of the estate from one to the other.
The first recorded mention of the territory was back in 1461, referring to the vines as “Pujau”, or of “small height” in Gascon (Gascon refers to the language used by the Gascony, the inhabitants of the southwest of France before the French Revolution).
During the 1530s, the Goyanèche, and eventually the Daitze families (wealthy Basque merchants), started buying what were then considered prime lots. These lots now define the limits of their land.
In 1630, the Parisian bankers (and lovers of wines from the Graves region in Bordeaux) Firmin Le Bailly and Nicolas de Leuvarde bought the grounds, gave it a name, and put up the famous manor house.
Between 1655-1736, the estate was passed on from heir to heir until Thomas Barton, an Irish trader of fine wines with a significant number of English clients (fans of what was then known as “New French Claret” wines, predecessors of today’s Bordeaux wines) procured it.
In the 18th century, the prominent family of de Laufarie (the father, Christophe, was a baron and one of the members of the Bordeaux parliament; the son, Laurent, was the mayor of Bordeaux and eventually became a Senator) owned the château, but eventually had to sell it to Alcide Bellot des Minières in 1872.
This was the golden era of the château, as Minières was credited for “(building) the château as we see it today”. He was both an entrepreneur and one of the great vignerons. He poured his heart, soul, and his scientific knowledge into improving the estate, and thus was known as the “King of Vintners”. Such was his impact that despite Haut-Bailly transferring ownership from over and over again after his death, it never lost its prestigious reputation, eventually getting awarded the Grand Cru Classé de Graves classification in 1953.
In 1955, Daniel Sanders, a Belgian wine merchant from Barsac (near the Gironde river of Bordeaux) purchased the vineyards and introduced significant changes based on the potential he saw. He then passed it on to his son Jean who focused on improving the selection process (ensuring nothing but good quality grapes goes into the making of his wines).
Today, Château Haut-Bailly still enjoys the prestige of being one of the premier wines of Bordeaux, not only because of its history but also because of its unique terroir: Situated on a high ridge of land (thus ensuring excellent drainage), with sandy soils mixed with gravel and sandstone “petrified with remains of prehistoric fossil shells” which adds a distinctive characteristic to the wines. They even own four hectares of old vines that were grafted by des Minières after the great phylloxera plague during the late 19th century (that devastated most vineyards in France). These Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carmenère, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec vines add richness to the wines that the estate produces.
I was humbled to have the privilege of sampling some of their wines and I can attest that all of the factors I have mentioned (the history, the soil, the aged vines, and the craftsmanship) have had a significant contribution to the quality of each bottle.
I’ve been known to say that wines are often a reflection of its origins. That said, given the fact that Château Haut-Bailly exudes an all-encompassing spirit of elegance, it was no surprise that their wines projected a sense of subtlety, depth, and restraint, without sacrificing a level of complexity that I do believe only the house is capable of.
Take for instance La Parde Haut-Bailly 2011. The label started out as a “second wine” of the estate but ended up developing a “special personality” of its own. The wine was dark ruby in colour, with a nice depth, minerality and spice, punctuated by subtle wood flavours and ripe red fruits.
The wine was quite distinctive versus the icon wine, Château Haut-Bailly 2011. It was what I believed to be the estate’s quintessential expression of elegance and subtlety, with its muted flavours of black currants and blackberries.
Those who truly want to immerse themselves in a multi-sensory experience on living in gastronomic elegance can choose to book a stay in Château Le Pape. This beautiful hideaway is not only a peaceful respite, it is also a dream come true for wine lovers: Staying in the villa grants guests access to Château Haut-Bailly’s cellars and a sampling of Château Le Pape’s wines (now owned and operated by the Robert G. Wilmers, who also owns Château Haut-Bailly).
Those who wish to try the wines here in Manila can get Château Haut-Bailly from any Wine Story outlets.
That said, I hope to track down the gentleman from Hong Kong one of these days, and hopefully get some of the “good stuff.” Cheers!
*I promised myself I’d show that I’m a better writer than a “talker”… I hope this article makes up for letting my nerves get the better of me. 🙂
Merci beaucoup to Madame Veronique Sanders and Ms. Anne-Sophie Brieux
All photographs in this article are used with permission from Château Haut-Bailly
Wines of Château Haut-Bailly are available in all Wine Story branches
Special thanks to the staff of Wine Story for making this trip possible