A Classic French Wine

A Bit About A CLASSIC French Wine

Château Haut-Brion, A Classic FRENCH Wine

Château Haut-Brion is a classic French wine, rated a Premier Cru Classé (First Growth), produced in Pessac just outside the city of Bordeaux. As early as the 1660s, de Pontac was selling his wine to fashionable London taverns and coffee houses, where it was known as “Ho Bryan.” Haut-Brion was believed to be the first wine to be sold under the name of the estate where it was produced rather than, as with every other French wine in the 17th century, the name of the parish of origin, or at any rate the owner of the estate. Most wine of that day was simply ordered as claret.

Chateau Haut Brion

Although grapes are thought to have been grown on the property since Roman times, the earliest document indicating cultivation of a parcel of land dates from 1423. The property was bought by Jean de Ségur in 1509, and in 1525 was owned by Admiral Philippe de Chabot.[1]

A New Owner Cultivates The Popularity

In 1649, Lord Arnaud III de Pontac became the owner of Haut-Brion, and the wine’s growing popularity began to cultivate. The first records of Haut-Brion wine were found in the wine cellar ledger of the English King Charles II in 1660.

By the end of the 17th century the estate amounted to 264 hectares (650 acres) of which some 38 hectares (94 acres) were under vine. The wine was often sold under the name Pontac, though the Pontac family owned numerous wine estates that could also sell their wine under the same name, it is often impossible to tell when a wine came from Haut-Brion. [2]

The Pontac family had its own dining establishment in London – actually, the city’s first restaurant – called Pontack’s Head, which was opened by de Pontac’s son, François-Auguste, who brought along Haut-Brion’s chef to create more elaborate cuisine than could be had in mere taverns. The enterprise soon became a roaring success, and provided the perfect setting for promoting the family’s wine.

Thomas Jefferson Introduces Bordeaux Wine to America

Thomas Jefferson, a future U.S. president and while serving as America’s ambassador to France from 1784 to 1789, described the terroir as such, “The soil of Haut-Brion, which I examined in great detail, is made up of sand, in which there is near as much round gravel or small stone and a very little loam like the soils of the Médoc”.[3] His notes placed Haut-Brion among the four estates of first quality, with the entry, “. Haut-Brion, two-thirds of which belong to the Count de Fumel who sold the harvest to a merchant called Barton. The other third belongs to the Count of Toulouse; in all, the château produces 75 barrels.”[4] 

Premier Grand Cru Classé

Haut-Brion became the first recorded first growth wine to be imported to the United States, when Jefferson purchased six cases during the travels and had them sent back to his estate in Virginia.,[5] as stated in his letter to his brother-in-law Francis Eppes on May 26, 1787: “(…) I cannot deny myself the pleasure of asking you to participate of a parcel of wine I have been choosing for myself. I do it the rather as it will furnish you a specimen of what is the very best Bordeaux wine. It is of the vineyard of Haut-Brion, one of the four established as the very best, and it is of the vintage of 1784 (…).”[6]

An America Banker Saves the Estate

The French Revolution brought upheaval to Haut-Brion – the owners lost their heads on the guillotine, and the estate was seized by the new government. Ownership changed hands many more times over the years and the estate began to slide early in the 20th century, as quantity became more important than quality. American banker Clarence Dillon purchased the sadly depleted Château Haut-Brion in 1935, and invested considerable sums in restoring and improving the property’s vineyards and winemaking facilities.

In the classifications of 1855 ahead of the International Exhibition in Paris, Château Haut-Brion was classified Premier Grand Cru, as the only estate from Graves among the three established First Growths of the Médoc. The prices of Haut-Brion in the 19th century were consistently higher than those of any other Bordeaux wine.[1] This trend has continued into the present day, with the price of the estate’s grand vin averaging $571.[7]

The Bordeaux region is naturally divided by the Gironde Estuary into a Left Bank area which includes the Médoc and Graves and a Right Bank area which includes the Libournais, Bourg and Blaye.


[1] Lichine, Alexis (1967). Alexis Lichine’s Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits. London: Cassell & Company Ltd. pp. 288–289.

[2] Peppercorn, David (2003). Bordeaux. London: Mitchell Beazley. pp. 325–330. ISBN 1-84000-927-6.

[3] Pitcher, Steve, The Wine News Magazine (April–May 2001). “Haut-Brion – The world’s first cult wine”. Archived from the originalon July 11, 2011.

[4] Jefferson, Thomas. Memoirs, Correspondence, and Private Papers of Thomas Jefferson (PDF). Google Book Search. pp. 152–154.

[5] MacNeil, Karen (2001). The Wine Bible. Workman Publishing. p. 134. ISBN 1-56305-434-5.

[6] Jefferson, Thomas (1955). Julian P. Boyd, ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Princeton University Press. pp. 378–379.

[7] “Chateau Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, France: prices”Wine Searcher. Retrieved 2016-11-23.

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