“Here in Saint-Émilion at Angélus on our ancestor’s land, vines and wine are like a religion, a passion shared by the whole family.” – Hubert de Boüard de Laforest
By the time I got to the legendary Château Angélus during my trip to Bordeaux, I hit a point of no return: After 2.5 days of going around castles stopping every so often to sample a few glasses from famous wineries and meeting renowned winemakers, my body just decided to shut down.
Maybe it was the jet lag. Maybe it was the exertion of trying to get around with what little French I knew (my charming chauffeur Philippe was particularly excited to converse with me during our several hours together). Or it could have been my exhaustion from worrying about missing my train to Paris that evening.
Whatever it was, I shut so far down that I fell asleep in the backseat of the car during one Philippe’s energetic tales. Charming gentleman that he was (who was probably at a loss trying to figure out what to do with a passed out Asian woman who needed to get to her next meeting in 30 minutes), he let me sleep, and woke me up just as we were about to go into the last château of the trip.
Having woken up with a start, I took a few minutes to recollect a few things: Where I was, who it was that greeted me with a gentle “Bonjour, vous êtes au château… Ça va?” (and why I was being spoken to, in French nonetheless), and what little French I still had left in my arsenal to be able to reply (“Ça va Philippe, pardon…”).
Thanking Philippe, I stepped out of the car, breathed in the fresh countryside air, and with my last reserves, walked towards one of the most beautiful sights in all of Saint-Émilion: Château Angélus.
Château Angélus derived its name from the Papal order issued by Calistus III after Christian armies defeated the Turks in 1456. In it, he mandated that bells from local churches ring every 7am, noon, and 7pm to signal all of Christendom to stop working and pray the Angelus as a sign of thanks and devotion.
This is a practice that Château Angélus still maintains, using their magnificent cloches situated on the renowned “pied de côte”, now an icon of the winery.
After a few moments of mentally trying to pinch myself (“Am I really here?”), I went to the reception, and after gathering enough of my mental faculties, told the lady in the accueil, “Bonjour, j’ai un rendez-vous avec…”
Then, embarrassingly, I lost my train of thought, in all three languages I knew.
Again, it might have been the décalage horaire (which I fumbled in explanation to the lady, as I frantically searched for the name of the person I was supposed to meet). Having seen my frazzled state, she gently chuckled, and in impeccable English asked, “Are you here to see Monsieur Hubert?” I sheepishly nodded my head. She laughed and said, “Don’t worry. It’s best that you are (having trouble) now, not in front of Monsieur Hubert. Also, your French was fine up to this point.”
Cheeks flushed but a great deal more comfortable than I was five minutes prior, I waited for her to call Bong Grelat-Tram, Public Relations Manager of Château Angélus for Asia.
A very friendly woman (whose family, I found out later on, was originally from Vietnam) met me and told me that my “tour” was a little unorthodox that day, as Monsieur Hubert had a busy schedule. We needed to start the interview immediately.
My heart pounded. Hubert de Boüard de Laforest is one of my wine heroes: Constantly challenging traditional winemaking techniques (and thus maximising what he learned as a graduate oenologist from Bordeaux University), Boüard de Laforest is a man fuelled by passion, an astounding level of genius, impeccable winemaking skills, and a deep pride and love for his family. The Boüard de Laforest family have been a fixture in Bordeaux since the mid-1500s, and Boüard de Laforest is proud of the fact that they’re one of the last remaining châteaux in the region that has kept it in the family (currently, his daughter Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal is on the helm as the third woman in her family to run the estate; along with her cousin, Thierry Grenié-de Boüard, both representing the 8th generation of their family to work in the winery).
A warm and welcoming gentleman (who expressed his fondness for Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines), he gladly answered my questions regarding his family and Angélus.
He told me about how he felt that the soul and spirit of his ancestors are in their soils, and that it would be impossible to separate their heritage from their winemaking. “(I feel that) we follow the spirit of our ancestors,” Boüard de Laforest said. “It’s part of the emotion (here).”
He explained the influence his family has given to Angélus. He fondly spoke of how his parents gave him a great taste for wines, and how his father taught him the value of patience and humility. “(One) must be humble with the weather. I can’t do anything about that,” he said. He also stressed the importance of harmoniously working hand in hand with the next generation, emphasising how “new blood needs the old.”
After being signalled by Grelat-Tram of his next appointment, Boüard de Laforest allowed me to take his photos and even signed a coffee table book for me (it was akin to having a rockstar autograph his biography in my world), and left me with Grelat-Tram for a “surprise.”
Grelat-Tram and I walked out onto their courtyard facing the famous bell towers of Angélus. She brought with her a device and told me to press one of its buttons. Luckily, I had the foresight to start recording with my camera, because I was shown the most wonderful surprise in all of my years in wine:
Voilà, the Philippine National Anthem, played in the heart of Bordeaux on the legendary cloches of one of the most iconic wines on earth.
French passers-by moved along, asking us what was playing. As Grelat-Tram explained what it was, I found myself lost in emotion and teary-eyed, feeling especially proud to be Filipino at that moment.
I was grateful that she managed to get me out of that state with the only thing that would have been effective at the time: A curated wine tasting.
Château Angélus is famous for their liberal and skilful use of the Cabernet Franc grape grown in some of the most ideal terroir for the grape to thrive. Personally, I find winemakers incredibly ambitious should they find a predilection for using this grape in their wines, as I find it incredibly off-kilter if done incorrectly (I often use the word “tart” in my tasting notes whenever I encounter wines with a large proportion of Cabernet Franc, which happens too often). I had, however, no doubts with the quality of Angélus, largely because of the amazing skills of the family coupled with the years they’ve had in perfecting their craft.
My confidence was not unfounded when I tried their 2011 vintage (nicknamed “Le Ciselé”). This 60:40 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc came about before one of the legendary vintages (the 2012 is lauded as one of the best vintages from the region in recent history), but still did not fail to disappoint. The gorgeous ripe fruit aromas tapered off to elegant tannins and showed a promise of further improvement upon ageing (it was recommended that this vintage be consumed between 2025-2040… I guess I know what I’ll be serving during our kids’ graduation).
I was also treated to a 2013 Château Bellevue, a juicy, fruity, but equally subtle and structured cousin of Angélus (which I find to be a great idea should I need an Angélus but don’t have the money for it that day). Pleasantly surprising with its restraint and refinement, the wine should be amazing a few more years down the line.
“The commitment for me is almost like a priestly vocation, which I take up with faith, passion and gratitude. We are only the guardians of a history that preceded us and will survive us, so our role is to sustain it in the best conditions we will be able to achieve. We serve our family’s past, our present and most importantly the generations’ future, who will in turn become guardians of the history. It will be our responsibility to prepare them for these duties, so that they can do the best job possible, when the time comes.” – Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal
As I was about to leave, I was shown a beautiful bottle of the 2012 (nicknamed “Le Premier”). The vintage marked several milestones of the winery: The 8th generation of the family joining the estate’s directorate, the 230th year of the Boüard de Laforests’ arrival in Saint-Émilion, and having been awarded the status of Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’. To commemorate these achievements, Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal decided to bottle the 2012 vintage in chic, elegant, black vessels (foregoing the traditional paper labels and producing gold-etched bottles that included the family crest as well as the Angelus bell).
As I left the estate, I thought about how the story and history behind a wine is as important as the wine itself (though the degrees of importance may vary with each person). I left satisfied, having been wonderfully welcomed by the people of Angélus, taken a peek into their proud traditions rooted in family, spoken to one of the legends in winemaking, and partaken with some of the best wines in the world.
Special thanks to Mr. Hubert de Boüard de Laforest and Ms. Bong Grelat-Tram for their time and hospitality
Special thanks to Ms. Jo Ramos and Ms. Carla Santos of Wine Story. To purchase Château Angélus in various vintages, visit any Wine Story branch near you.
Extra special thanks to Philippe. Vous êtes le meilleur et vraiment un ami.
Some photos used courtesy of Château Angelus