As we drove towards Chateaux Cantenac-Brown we stopped on the side of the road (a) to take a photo, and (b) to take in the grandeur of the architecture.
Château Cantenac-Brown is a winery in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux, France. The wine produced here was classified as one of fourteen ‘third growths’ in the historic Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855.
The vineyards were planted in 1754, by Jacques Boyd, who was of Irish descent. The Brown in question was none other than John Lewis Brown, who also owned Chateau Brown in Pessac-Léognan; he acquired the Boyd property in 1806 when he married into the Boyd family.
Acquired in 1860 by Armand Lalande, who also owned Léoville-Poyferré. It was he that chose the name Cantenac-Brown, in honour of Brown's tenure there, and he was also responsible for the construction of the chateau, one of the most distinctive of the Médoc. Whereas most of the region's chateaux were built using local stone, which gives them a pale appearance, Cantenac-Brown was constructed of a brown brick.
From Armand the estate passed to the next generation of the Lalande family, a daughter, and then again to her son. Then after a long period of turmoil the estate was purchased by AXA Group in 1989. The AXA team, led at that time by Jean-Michel Cazes, and under the direction of Christian Seely, began to turn the estate around. It came as somewhat of a surprise, then, to find the estate sold earlier this year - 2006, the new owner a British businessman Mr Simon Halabi. It will be exciting to see what plans he has for Cantenac-Brown.
The Cantenac-Brown vineyards cover 54ha, mostly around Cantenac, although there are other plots nearby. The vineyard soils are typical gravel and are planted with 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. José Sanfins the general manager / winemaker (was only able to spend a brief time with us - as fruit was coming in while we were there) - has stayed, and has improved vineyard practices including the reduction in use of chemical fertilizers.
All grapes are hand-picked, and then fermented in new temperature-controlled stainless steel. The wine is then transferred into oak barrels for up to 18 months, with 60% of the barrels replaced each vintage. Chateau Cantenac-Brown is typically 15000 cases, and there is also the Brio du Chateau Cantenac Brown label. There is also a Bordeaux Supérieur, produced from a vineyard of 8ha, named Chateau Brown Lamartine.
Over the years I have enjoyed several vintages of Cantenac-Brown, and the past few vintages of the estate hold great promise for the future. Simon Halabi certainly has the financial where-withal to continue the investment. We tasted a barrel sample of the 2005 vintage and two vintages of all the labels. All the wines are honest to their terroir and heritage - bright and approachable, not trying to be anything more than they are and very versatile with everyday cuisine.