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Histoire du château

From its origins to the

In the Middle Ages, the château of Cantemerle, seat of the jurisdiction of the same name, bordered the Garonne River and made up part of the line of fortifications that defended the banks of the Médoc region, just over half a mile from the present château.

The oldest known manuscript known which mentions the name of the Lords of Cantemerle is the "Grand Cartulaire" of La Sauve Majeur Abbey, dating to the twelfth century. The monks recorded there all transactions executed within the monastic community. In 1147, the Abbey received vast territories as a gift from Arnaud, Lord of Blanquefort, before he set out on crusade. This donation was made in the presence of Pons de Cantemerle (Poncio da Canta merla). . Did he follow Arnaud de Blanquefort on pilgrimage to Jerusalem? No one knows for sure. If he did leave, he returned to France, because in 1151 he was witness to yet another donation - that of the Saint Croix Abbey by the priest of Bordeaux, Lord of L'Isle.

A century later when Aquitaine became English, we find a Lord of Cantemerle fighting beside Henri III of England: in 1242, the king sent a communique calling for support at the Battle of Taillebourg in Saintonge, which he would lose against Saint Louis.

At this time the domain was situated north of Ludon-Médoc, some 500 meters from the present chateau on a circular rise near the la Mouline spring, with dominion over the villages of Lafont, La Lagune and Paloumey. The château formed part of a line of fortified structures defending the shores of the Gironde, and was even equipped with its own port.

On March 22, 1274, Gaillard de Cantemerle and Amanieu Artaud de Cérons signed an pact of mutual recognition. The barony of Cantemerle came to rival that of d’Agassac.

One of his descendants, Ponset de Cantemerle was Lord of the estate in 1340.

The first traces of viticultural production on the property were found in 1354 - the Lord of Cantemerle paid his tithes on wine with a tonneau (tun or Bordeaux cask) of clairet (the pale red wine which inspired the English word 'claret').

In 1369, Edward III named Louis Chabot lord of Cantemerle, entitling him to receive 1/6th of the harvest—mainly grains at this time—from his subjects.

In the fifteenth century, the feudal domain of Cantemerle belonged to the Caupène family, originally from the Landes region. According to a title deed of 1422, the squire Jean de Caupène was described as Lord of Cantemerle. His son, Médard de Caupène, later became Lord until the end of the fifteenth century.

Bordeaux's book of arms shows that during the fifteenth century, a union was formed between the Caupène and la Roque families, with Jeanne de Caupène given in marriage to Henry de la Roque. Their son Charles became the Lord of Cantemerle at the beginning of the sixteenth century and took Isabeau de Lanes as his wife.

A title deed of 1536 shows that Jean de la Roque, also an equerry, was Lord of both Gua and Cantemerle. The Gironde region's historical archives mention that, in 1540, Jehan de la Roque possessed the noble house of Cantemerle, in the jurisdiction of Blanquefort, and thereby had an income of sixty Bordeaux francs in deniers, approximately five or six barrels of wine and some poultry.

In 1575, only three "tonneaux" of wine were collected - that is, 12 Bordeaux barrels - on the Cantemerle estate. During the Middle Ages and up until the sixteenth century, the Médoc was devoted more to cereal-growing than to wine production.

On 20 August, 1579, Jean de Villeneuve, second president of the parliament of Bordeaux, bought the noble houses and outbuildings of Cantemerle, la Raze and Nestérieu for 12,500 livres or "4,166 crowns and two-thirds of a crown"

Histoire du château

1579 - 1892 :

Jean de Villeneuve, Lord of estates in the regions of Toulouse and Agen, as well as of Cantemerle, Macau, Ludon-Dehors and other sites in the former province of Guyenne, married Antoinette de Durfort, of the houses of Dures and Blanquefort. Through this union, the Villeneuve de Cantemerle family became the Villeneuve Durfort's from 1600 onwards.

This change of ownership led to the adoption of a new kind of exploitation of the land that had begun to develop in the wine-producing Médoc area: "the Bourdieu". The Bourdieu is a farm whose principle activity is that of wine production. As early as the sixteenth century wine became the main industry of the lands of Cantemerle. They were no longer subject to the feudal Lordship of the Middle Ages that had imposed rents and tithes, but were managed directly by the owner through a sharecropping lease, which was clearly more profitable. The lessor received half of the crop and kept the domain under better supervision, as the duration of the lease was short, about 3 to 5 years.

In the seventeenth century, the jurisdiction of Cantemerle stretched over a great many noble houses, notably Gironville, Maucamp and Sauves.

In 1643, Sauves was occupied by Hector de Villeneuve, brother of Louis, Lord of Cantemerle. It was to Sauves, now renamed Cantemerle that the Lord had his harvest of grapes transported.

The Gironde's religious archives tell us that, in 1654, Louis de Villeneuve, Lord of Cantemerle incurred excommunication "for having caused a great scandal in the church of Macau and creating a public disturbance during the holy service." He had kidnapped the sister of Pierre de Lacornière, Lord of Gironville, and had beaten her in the church…

Pierre de Villeneuve, husband of Marie-Anne de Loupes, was Lord of Macau and shared the Lordship of Cantemerle in 1698. In 1713, he had a violent quarrel with the permanent curate of the parish of Macau. He died in 1742.

Another Villeneuve, who was also a parliamentary councillor, succeeded Pierre before the arrival at the head of the estate of his son, the knight Joseph-Emmanuel de Villeneuve Durfort. It was he who appeared before the assembly of the nobility in 1789 and became the last Baron of Macau. In the same year, Sauves became the residence of the Barons of Villeneuve and the seat of their jurisdiction. At this time it was a building of unadorned walls with two wings forming a courtyard; in the interior angle a medieval watchtower was built, salvaged from the old château when it was demolished.

After the death of Joseph-Emmanuel Villeneuve Durfort, his son Jean Villeneuve Durfort (1757–1834), an emigrant to Holland during the Revolution and mayor of Macau after returning from exile, inherited the domain.

On December 13, 1834, Jean de Villeneuve Durfort died, leaving Cantemerle to his son, Pierre Jules. The new Baron de Villeneuve was still legally a minor, so responsibility for the domain fell to his mother, born Caroline Joséphine Françoise Josèphe de Lalande.

Nine years after coming into possession of Cantemerle, Pierre Jules de Villeneuve Durfort died suddenly in August 1844. At 29 years of age, he left no will. Control of the property returned to his mother Caroline, and his 22-year-old sister Jeanne Armande, Baronne d’Abbadie (1812–1891); together they actively managed and developed the domain.

In 1845, this led her to enter into legal proceedings, still described twenty years later as "a trial that has remained famous in the Gironde". In that year, Pierre Chadeuil, the new owner of Pibran, a neighbouring vineyard, began to label his wines "Chadeuil Cantemerle Château Pibran". He claimed that the name 'Cantemerle' had long since been associated not only with the private estate of the Villeneuve family, but also with all the lands surrounding it and that, as such, he was fully justified in incorporating 'Cantemerle' into the name of his wine because it represented its region of origin (naturally, the fact that this may lead to confusion with another wine, the quality and reputation of which would enable him to sell at prices well in excess of the majority of growths in the parish was a matter of pure coincidence - at least, according to Chadeuil). However, Madame Villeneuve Durfort did not see the matter in the same light. Producing documents dating from the 1570s, when the Villeneuve family had acquired the estate, she proved that Chadeuil's claims were without foundation. Her case was sufficiently well-documented and conclusive for all mention of Cantemerle to be removed from Chadeuil's labels, on top of which he was obliged to pay damages, as well as courts costs.

In 1852, Fleuret-Jean-Baptiste, Count of Lavergne, was a pioneer in the fight against powdery mildew. The first attempts to control it, by dusting the vines with sulphur, were carried out at the château of Cantemerle. He was rewarded for his efforts with several medals and a prize from the Academy of Bordeaux.

On 16 September, 1855, the Chamber of Commerce classed it as a fifth growth.

The Classification

A. d'Armailhacq recounts in his work Vines in the Médoc that, in 1858, the estate of Cantemerle covered 225 acres. Some of the vines were planted in Ludon, next to those of La Lagune, whilst the remainder were situated on the best slopes of Macau. Annual production was 160 tuns or tonneaux of principal wine and 30 of second wine, representing a yield of approximately 1900 litres per 2.47 acres , relatively low in comparison with today's production.

In 1866, the surface area given over to vines was a tenure of just over 270 acres (of the property's total of 1000 acres ), producing an average 150 to 160 tonneaux, or Bordeaux casks, of principal wine and 50 to 60 of second wine - that is, a yield of 1800 litres per 2.47 acres and, thus, slightly less than that of 1858, relatively low in comparison with current yields.

In 1866, the portion of the property planted with vines was a single block of 110 hectares (out of the 400 which comprised the domain), producing an average of 150 to 160 tuns of château wine and 50 to 60 tuns of a second wine. This made for a yield of 18 hl/ha, slightly less than that of 1858.

In 1867, the Château Cantemerle received a silver medal at the World's Fair in Paris as a reward for the quality of its wine. The same year, in his celebrated work on the Médoc classed growths, Alfred Danflou accompanied his glowing remarks on the property with a photograph of the château. At this time it was endowed with two elegant towers, a sign of the brilliant success the domain had achieved. Several years later, revenue from the sale of land requisitioned to build the Bordeaux–Soulac railway was used for the construction of an annex, giving the château its current appearance.

Cantemerle was not only the worst hit of the Médoc classified growths during the phylloxera crisis, but the vines were also attacked by downy mildew between 1879 and 1887. Consequently, potential average annual production dropped by 50% (in comparison with the benchmark period of 1864 to 1878).

In 1884, mildew was responsible for a complete upheaval in the usual hierarchy of the great growths. The wines of Margaux, Cantenac, Ludon and Macau fared better than those of Saint-Julien Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. Consequently, the price obtained for 1884 Lafite fell to 1400 francs per tonneau (compared with 5000 francs for Margaux) and Cantemerle was one of two fifth growths, the other being Dauzac, to fetch 200 francs more per tonneau than the Lafite wines.

In 1891, Jeanne Armande de Villeneuve Durfort, Baronne d’Abbaye died, and on June 29, 1892 the domain was sold at auction by her heirs, ending a “reign” of more than three centuries by the Villeneuve Durfort family.

The domain was bought by the négociant firm Calvet for 600,000 francs, and two weeks later resold to Théophile-Jean Dubos (1837–1905).

Histoire du château

1892-1981 :

Théophile-Jean Dubos, husband of Charlotte Delbos, took over the estate in 1892, with the assistance of his two sons, Pierre and Bernard.

As well as being owner-producer of Cantemerle, Théophile Dubos was also vice-president of the Union of Médoc classed growths and president of the négociant firm Dubos Frères.

After Théophile's death in 1905, Pierre and Bernard Dubos shared ownership of Cantemerle until 1923, when Pierre became sole owner. During the war and the decade of economic crisis from 1930–1940, numerous vine parcels were uprooted at Cantemerle, leaving some 25 hectares in production by 1945. Pierre Dubois, a winemaker of great talent and an influential member of the Bordeaux trade, contributed greatly to the wine’s reputation as shown by INAO’s 1961 project to classify the Médoc’s growths, in which Cantemerle appears as a first growth. Upon Pierre Dubos’ death in 1962, ownership passed to his two daughters Bernadette Clauzel and Pia Binaud.

Henri Binaud, president of the négociant firm Beyerman, managed the domain with his nephew Bertrand Clauzel until 1977. From 1977, Bertrand Clauzel took sole responsibility for the property. The vineyard’s size fell to 20 hectares by the time of the domain’s sale to the SMA Group in 1981.

Histoire du château

1981 to the present :
The SMA Group

In the 1970s, the SMA Group, an insurance company for employees in the building and public works trades, had concentrated investments in real estate and wished to diversify their holdings.

In 1976, there was an offer to buy Château Margaux, but the price was too great in relation to the Group’s other investments.

However, the idea of investing in an “1855 classed growth” vineyard had taken hold and attracted the attention of Albert Parment, who became the group’s new General Manager in 1980. Accompanied by Jean Cordier, owner of seven châteaux in the Bordeaux region, Parment visited several properties and decided on Cantemerle.

  • Why?

    Cantemerle was operating below its capacities: only 20 hectares were planted on its 70 hectares of vineyard land.
    The château and its park are one of the most beautiful and charming in Bordeaux.
    It belongs to the elite group of 1855 classed growths.
    The wine’s quality showed the potential for improvement.
    The purchase price was reasonable and corresponded to the Group’s investment ratios.

Thus, in December 1980, the SMA Group became the first insurance company to acquire a vineyard in Bordeaux. Numerous insurance firms have since followed its lead, and today these companies’ vineyard holdings cover several thousand hectares.

1981- 1993 : The « rebirth »

enovation of technical installations and replanting of the vineyard were undertaken at once. This was done under the direction of Ets. Cordier in successive phases, based on winemaking priorities. Work began with the vineyard, where everything at the property begins. 33 hectares of land which had lain fallow for almost 50 years were planted within two years. It was decided to replant using traditional Médoc standards of 8 to 10,000 vines/hectare. This was a titanic undertaking on a local scale! The vineyard would progressively grow to 67 hectares in the 1990s.

At the same time, the cellars were entirely renovated in a manner which would enable the vinification of future harvests under optimal hygienic conditions–in these times the main objective of good winemaking was to produce clean, default-free wine. Accordingly, a modern vat room containing stainless-steel tanks with a total capacity of 2,200 hectoliters was installed; the barrel cellar was rebuilt, and henceforth the wine would be aged in one-third new oak each year. However, as a “link” to the property’s past, six small oak vats of 100 hectoliters each were reassembled using the best staves from the original tanks. This gesture would have unforeseen effects when the vat room was enlarged in 1990.

The chateau’s technical team, severely pressed for space to vinify the new plantings’ generous production, had to put the small “legacy” oak vats to use. These continued to be used for succeeding harvests, and each year it was found that the wines produced in them had a superior organoleptic profile. This led to the choice of installing oak vats with a total capacity of 3,200 hectoliters in the new vat room which came on-line for the 1990 harvest. This possibly made Cantemerle the first property in Bordeaux to voluntarily return to winemaking in traditional oak vats!

At the end of the decade the Group turned its attention to the château building itself, completing its renovation to make it suitable for receiving clients in a setting appropriate for promoting the wine.

1993 - 2000 : « The property becomes independent once more »

After 10 years of intensive investments, Cantemerle paused to consider its future on the market for Bordeaux‘s Grand Cru wines. The technical direction of the domain and sale of its wines was done under contract to Ets. Cordier. In 1993 major changes in operations by Bordeaux‘s negociants led Cantemerle’s owners to take full control of the château’s operation. The first effect of this decision was the creation of its own production team. This same team continues to direct Cantemerle’s activities today. Next came the decision to give the growth commercial freedom. This changed how the wines would henceforth be offered to the Bordeaux marketplace.

The first “open” offering of Cantemerle’s wines took place in May 1996 during the futures campaign for the 1995 harvest. This great vintage which coincided with the property’s return to the marketplace after four difficult years which marked the property’s return to the marketplace. Around 70% of Cantemerle’s Grand Vin was taken in futures by 55 negociants, successive campaigns confirmed the property’s commercial status. At the same time, the château created its second wine, “Les Allées de Cantemerle”, which was also sold through the Bordeaux negociants.

In the vineyard, the balance of grape varieties selected for the major replanting in the early 1980s was reconsidered. In effect, the proportion of Cabernet Franc at 20% was too great. The combination of terroir and grape variety did not work well and held back the wines’ potential quality.

In 1997, it was decided to embark on a project of “head grafting”, an operation which replaces the original vine variety with another while maintaining the benefits of a fully-developed root system. Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot were selected for this, and the American technique of “chip budding” was used due to its greater success rate (90% compared to 60% with the French technique). When grafting was completed, Cabernet Franc accounted for just 6% of Cantemerle’s vineyard planting.

In 1999, an excellent opportunity arrived with the availability of 20 hectares of vines located in the commune of Ludon, situated exactly between the main vineyard blocks of Château Cantemerle and Château La Lagune. Cantemerle succeeded in its acquisition and launched a ten-year program to restructure this vineyard. Although its terroir was superb, the choice of rootstock and plantation density did not correspond to Cantemerle’s quality criteria.

Now, 144 years later, Cantemerle had returned to the same vineyard size it had at the time of the 1855 classification—90 hectares.

2001 to the present: « A new vineyard approach »

The beginning of the new century was marked by a change in emphasis. After two decades of focus on oenological progress winemakers’ attention shifted back to the vineyard with an approach focusing on a greater respect for the environment and the use of “green” techniques aimed at achieving optimum quality of the grapes.

This overall reevaluation comes at just the right time for Cantemerle. The major replanting after the domain’s purchase in 1981 has reached maturity, and more than ever it is necessary to fine-tune its growth.

Analysis of the mineral and biological balance appropriate to the particle size of the soil, evaluation of the water-retention profile in large areas of the vineyard, and a long process of reevaluating growing methods has begun.

The objective is to break with the global method of vineyard management designed in response to past crises. Henceforth, vineyard parcels are organized according to a multitude of independent “quality projects” which focus on progressively abandoning chemical treatments in favor of practices favoring the use of non-residual agents. The aim is not the achievement of any agronomical certification, but rather to continually reevaluate, learn and improve, and perhaps even to invent.

There are defining stages in the history of an estate. The development of precision viticulture over the past several years is certainly among the most important of these.