With more classified estates than any single appellation in Bordeaux — including such luminaries as Châteaux Beychevelle, Branaire-Ducru, Ducru-Beaucaillou, and of course the estates of Léoville (The Lion’s Village) Léoville-Barton, Léoville-Las Cases and Léoville-Poyferré — you might think that Saint-Julien is one of Bordeaux’s largest appellations. But, with only 910 hectares (2,243 acres), Saint-Julien is actually Bodeaux’s smallest producing region. Pauillac by comparison has 1,212 hectares (2,997 acres), Saint-Estèphe consists of 1,228 hectares (3,036 acres), while Margaux, the largest of the Left Bank appellations, comes in at 1,529 hectares (3,780).
Bordered by the Gironde estuary on one side, Saint-Julien is about 3.5 kilometers wide (2.17 miles) and close to 5.5 kilometers (3.41 miles) long. The appellation has soils consisting of gravel, sand, limestone and clay, making the terroir here among the most varied in the Médoc. The topsoil is covered with large white stones called galets. Underneath, deep mounds of gravel are peppered with quartz pebbles, sand, flint and clay. Saint-Julien rises in terraces moving westward, away from the Gironde estuary.
Situated between Pauillac on the north with Haut-Médoc and Margaux on its southern border, Saint-Julien’s wines are often described as a blend of Pauillac’s power and substance with the elegance and refinement of Margaux — pure and polished fruit as well as enough muscularity to age beautifully. Generally, the châteaus along the Gironde tend to make more refined wines featuring minerality, whereas properties farther inland display a burlier structure and less minerality. Also notable is that Saint-Julien, while it has no First Growth estates, has more Super Seconds than any other appellation.
Perhaps the best known of the Saint-Julien estates, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou has been managed by the Borie family since 1953. Currently Bruno Borie, known for his charismatic leadership, manages the estate. “Ducru-Beaucaillou is at the top of their game these days. The wines produced now offer intense concentration of flavors, ripe tannins, supple textures, purity of fruit, the structure to age and a unique sense of harmony, that is only found in the best Bordeaux wines… 2009 and 2010 vintages are candidates for legendary status in the history of Ducru-Beaucaillou.” (Wine Cellar Insider)
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Duke of Épernon owned Château Beychevelle. This great French admiral was so admired, that boats passing in front of his estate lowered their sails as a sign of respect and allegiance. This practice gave rise to the château’s emblem, a ship with a dragon-shaped prow; its name in Gascon, Bêcha vêla, meaning baisse voile (lower the sails), later became Beychevelle.
More recently, Beychevelle’s dragon ship labels have attracted Chinese collectors, who traditionally use images of dragons for good luck and to symbolize power and strength — certainly a fortuitous coincidence for the Château! The property is also esteemed for its spectacular architecture and gardens, earning it the moniker “Versailles of Bordeaux.”
The winemaker for Beychevelle is Romain Ducolomb, previously with Château Clinet. Ducolomb’s influence can been seen in new cellars, completed in 2016 and in winemaking style exhibiting more purity and elegance.
Originally part of the Beychevelle estate, the property that is now Branaire-Ducru was sold off to Jean-Baptiste Braneyre in 1680. In 1824, the grand Château, which is still in use today, was built. Some 200 years later, Gustave Ducru, a distant relative took over the property and added his name to the label.
In 1988, Patrick Maroteaux bought Branaire-Ducru and, although his background was in banking, he quickly adapted to the world of wine and was one of the first producers to use gravity-flow systems.
Maroteaux also hired a young, exceptionally-talented Philippe Dhalluin to assist with the modernization. Dhalluin is now the winemaker for Château Mouton Rothschild, while Jean Dominique Videau took over responsibilities at Branaire-Ducru.
In 2017, François Xavier Maroteaux stepped in as the owner-manager of Branaire-Ducru, in place of his late father.
Châteaux Léoville-Las Cases, Léoville-Barton, Langoa-Barton & Léoville-Poyferré
The history of Léoville, the sub-appellation within Saint-Julien, begins in 1638, when Jean de Moytie, a member of the Bordeaux Parliament, bought the first vineyards. The estate, named Mont-Moytie at this point, remained with the family for almost 100 years. Through marriage, another aristocratic family, de Gascq, acquired the property. Alexandre de Gascq renamed Mont-Moytie as Leoville — and lions officially became the brand for the area.
By 1740, Domaine de Léoville had become the largest estate in all of Bordeaux, with over 300 hectares (741 acres). Vineyard managers at Léoville introduced a number of progressive innovations, including the cultivation of smaller berries grown on trellised rows. Particularly avant-garde at the time was a procedure for cleaning oak barrels with a sulfur solution before aging the wine!
Following the French Revolution, the mighty estate was carved up and the histories become a bit more complicated… One portion of the property was sold off and purchased by Hugh Barton who renamed the property Leoville-Barton. The remaining property was split between two members of the Las Cases family, creating Léoville-Las Cases and Léoville-Poyferré.
Château Léoville-Las Cases
Pierre Jean de Las Cases, the eldest son of the Las Cases, named his portion of the estate Château Léoville-Las Cases. Today the property is managed by the Delon family: Jean-Hubert and Geneviève d’Alton. The Delons also own Châteaux Nenin in Pomerol and Potensac in Haut-Médoc.
The current Château is still quite large, at 98 hectares (242 acres). The property includes a parcel of 90 year-old Cabernet Franc as well as an revered section known as the Grand Clos. This walled parcel is situated in the north of Saint-Julien, bordering Pauillac. In fact, only a small stream, named Juillac separates Léoville-Las Cases from Château Latour.
“Léoville Las Cases produces arguably the most exotically perfumed wine in the Médoc and this can be partially attributed to the must being fermented at lower than average temperatures, which leads to its youthful aromatic richness being retained. On the palate it is powerful and concentrated and marvellously well-balanced.” (Decanter)
When the massive Las Cases estate was split up in 1840, Jeanne de Las Cases, the sister of Pierre, received a portion of the vineyards as well. She in turn, left her share to her daughter, also named Jeanne, and the wife of Baron Jean-Marie de Poyferré.
And famously, while the vineyards for the two branches of the Las Cases family were separated, the buildings remained connected. Even today, the two Châteaux share common areas and a parking lot!
In the 1920’s, the Cuvelier family bought Château Léoville-Poyferré. With a long history as Bordeaux négociants, the Cuveliers bought up several other estates, including Châteaux Le Crock, Camensac and Moulin Riche. More recently, Didier Cuvelier has worked to upgrade the property. Over 20 hectares of vines have been replanted and, in 2014, new cellars were constructed with 20 stainless steel, double skin vats, allowing for parcel by parcel vinification.
Ratings for past vintages of Léoville-Poyferré have been stellar. Wine critic Neal Martin writes that “the 2020 builds on the success of recent offerings…a very suave and sophisticated wine that will give 30–40 years of drinking pleasure. Easily one of the classiest offerings from this Saint-Julien in recent years.”
Châteaux Léoville-Barton & Langoa-Barton
Hugh Barton, an Irish merchant of Bordeaux wines, fulfilled his dream of becoming a landowner in Bordeaux when he purchased the Langoa estate in 1821. Four years later, Barton purchased a quarter of the former Léoville domaine, the collapse of which was due in part to the French Revolution. In buying what would later become Léoville-Barton, Hugh only actually purchased the domaine’s vineyards since he had no need for the winemaking facilities, already having those at Langoa.
Incredibly, 200 years later, three Barton generations continue managing the estates: Anthony Barton, his daughter Lilian Barton-Sartorius, and Lilian’s two children, Damien and Mélanie, who represent the 10th generation in the Bartons’ Bordeaux dynasty. The family also recently purchased Mauvesin Barton in nearby Moulis.
“Léoville-Barton has always been one of the best values in blue-chip, age-worthy Bordeaux. Most of the region’s top properties routinely ask higher prices for their wines.” (Wine Spectator)
Refreshingly, profit is not a primary goal for the Bartons. Another testament to the family’s integrity — the only forest in the St.-Julien appellation lies within the boundaries of Léoville Barton’s property. The family could clear the land and plant more vines, increasing their bottom line. Instead they have chosen to leave it as forest, feeling that maintaining a healthy ecosytem is the better long-term plan.
Below are our offerings from the grand estates in Saint-Julien, with many verticals as options. All products can be ordered directly online. Write [email protected] or call 850-687-1370 for additional information.
2017 – JD-95. $79.99. 8 bottles
2005 – NM-95. $154.99. 6 bottles
2009 – JD-100 RP-100. $238.99. 3 bottles
2010 – JD-99. $159.99. 3 bottles
2012 – WE 94-96. $75.99. 1 bottle
2014 – NM-95. $73.99. 1 bottle
2015 – JD-97. $104.99. 16 bottles
2016 – DC-98. $119.99. 24 bottles
2017 – AG-97. $79.99. 8 bottles
2010 – WE-100. $169.99. 22 bottles
2012 – WE 94-96. $94.99. 48 bottles
2014 – WE-95. $88.99. 1 bottle
2016 – WS Wine of Year. $146.99. 78 bottles
2017 – AG-96. $79.99. 8 bottles
Château Du Glana
2008 – $39.99. 3 bottles