The Bordeaux region of France is the third largest wine-growing
area in the world with just less than 300,000 acres under vine.
Only the Languedoc wine region (also in France) with over
600,000 acres under vine is larger and California in total with
more than 500,000 acres would be second. But consider that all of
the European territory of France with just over 211,000 sq. mi. is
only about 25% larger than all of California (160,000 sq mi).
Located halfway between the North Pole and the equator, there is
more vineyard land planted in Bordeaux than in all of Germany or
ten times the amount planted in New Zealand.
The biggest reason for the success of winemaking in the Bordeaux
region is the favorable environment for growing vines. Geologically
the region is dominated by limestone, leading to a soil structure
that is heavy in calcium. The Gironde estuary brings water to the
regions along with its tributaries, the Garonne and the Dordogne
rivers, and together they irrigate the land and provide a maritime
climate for the region.
Regarded one of the best, Chateau Haut-Brion was the first
recorded 'First Growth' to be imported to the United States, when
Thomas Jefferson purchased six cases during his French travels and
had them sent back to his estate in Virginia. For the centuries
since, admirals, an archbishop, a Grand Marshal of France, a
Governor of Guyenne, three mayors of Bordeaux, and more recently
the Ambassador of the United States in Paris, C. Douglas Dillon,
who was Secretary of the U.S. Treasury when John F. Kennedy was
President, have been owners of the estate. Today it is the Duchesse
de Mouchy, granddaughter of American banker Clarence Dillon, making
Haut-Brion the only first-growth Chateau to be American-owned.
"Château Haut-Brion" is the only non-Médoc estate to be
included in the classification of 'Premier Cru Classé' in the
Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Located in the
Graves region only a mile from the city of Bordeaux, the vineyard
consists of 109 acres producing 12,000 to 15,000 cases of wine each
year. The best vineyards are located on the well-drained gravel
soils that are frequently found near the Gironde River. An old
saying in Bordeaux claims the best estates can "see the river" from
Red Bordeaux, which is also known as Claret in the U.K. or Meritage
in the U.S. is generally made from a blend of grapes. Allowed
grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit
Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenere. Malbec and Carmenere are seldom used
these days, and if so, only in small quantities.
White Bordeaux, including the sweet Sauternes, is made from
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscatelle. One of the nicest whites
comes from Château Lamothe, just outside of the Graves region. It
has huge underground cellars in the quarries that were excavated in
the 17th century to build many of the other Estates around
Steeped in history, Bordeaux still sets the standard for
many, when it comes to great wine.