Bordeaux - Fronsac - Château de Carles
Château de Carles, Bordeaux -Fronsac
Fronsac is one of the best Bordeaux satellite appellations. Located west of Libourne and close to Saint Emilion and Pomerol, their wines are delicious, rich, fine and affordable. They drink well young, and offer some of the best value Bordeaux wines.
Close to the Dordogne River, Fronsac includes seven communes: Fronsac, La Riviere, Saint Germain de la Riviere, St. Michel de Fronsac, St. Aignan, Saillans and Galgon. Two of those communes, Fronsac and Saint Michel de Fronsac, can use either Fronsac or Canon Fronsac on their labels. The region’s long history goes back to the ancient Romans. From the mid 18th century to the start of the 19th century, the top estates in Fronsac were better known and often sold for more money than many wines from Pomerol and St. Emilion. In 1936, the Cotes de Fronsac appellation was born, and in 1976 the name of the appellation was changed from Cotes de Fronsac to Fronsac.
The terroir consists clay and limestone soils that are not that different to those found in Saint Emilion. On the plateau, the terroir is mostly limestone. As you travel further down the slopes, you find clay with limestone and at the base, the soils are more sand with clay. Some of the best terroir is located on the limestone bluffs with elevations close to 300 feet that overlook the Dordogne river.
Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the two most important grapes planted in the appellation. While small amounts of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon sometimes appear in vineyards, neither of those grapes encompass much of the region’s blends.
Vineyards in Fronsac total 834 acres, divided between 106 growers. Nearly 385,000 cases of wine are produced annually. Oddly Fronsac has the largest percentage of foreign ownership in Bordeaux, with nearly 13% of the vineyards are owned by Chinese investors. Americans and Canadians owners also own several chateaus in the appellation.
Château de Carles
This château came to me in an unexpected way: One of my daughters had a classmate whose mother is French and whose father is, understandably, a Francophile. They even own a house in the Cognac region. One day he sent me an email and told me that a friend of his that also works at the same international investment bank Lazard Frères, also owned a château in Bordeaux. He offered to put us in touch. We started communicating and he sent me samples the next time I was in France. While I liked de Carles top wine, Haut Carles, I was particularly enamored with their classic wine, which showed forward fruit, intelligent oaking and great balance. Several months later, the wine was arriving stateside.
The château has a very long history: while its first stones were laid during the course of the Hundred Years’ War, the building took its current fortified form at the start of the 15th century, owned by the heralded De Carle family. Highly prominent in Bordeaux between 15th and 17th centuries, its members included, amongst others, Canon Vital Carles, who founded the Hospital of Bordeaux, Jean de Carles who presided around 1520 over the Parliament of Bordeaux during the reign of King François I, and François de Carles, Mayor of Bordeaux in 1561.
In the 17th century, Château de Carles became a beacon for thinkers and literary figures, as La Boëtie, who wedded Marguerite de Carles, and friend Montaigne wove family ties there, beyond the warm friendship that bound them. The fair and illustrious Marquise de Boufflers, whose friends included Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Beaumarchais and Diderot, would become the last Seigneur de Carles in the late 18th century. It was sold as property of the nation during the Revolution, following which many of its buildings were demolished, leaving only the current volumes standing. Such a wealth of cultural heritage could not go unprotected and Château de Carles was registered on the Supplementary Register of Historical Monuments.
At the turn of the 19th century, Guillaume Chastenet de Castaing, Member of Parliament and Senator of Gironde for 30 years or so, bought the estate. An aficionado of Fronsac wines, he acquired the property more for its vineyards than for the château, which had fallen into abandon. He would restore the interior, refurbish the terrace and plant the cypress trees that now adorn the land and so clearly mirror the landscapes of Tuscan.
Between the two World Wars, his son Jacques Chastenet de Castaing, a historian and member of the Académie Française, would speed up the property’s restoration, taking pleasure in inhabiting it and hosting many a neighbour, friend and brother-in-arms there, including fellow immortals of the Académie Française such as François Mauriac and Maurice Druon.
He would go on to leave Carles to his own eldest son, Antoine Chastenet de Castaing, who in early 1983, handed the reins to daughter Constance and her husband Stéphane Droulers.
Passionate and determined, Constance and Stéphane have brought the property’s majesty and lustre of yesteryear back to life and now produce several excellent wines, looking ahead to the day when they will be able to pass it on to their daughters Eléonore and Oriane.
A man of passion for everything he undertakes, Stéphane Droulers has put all of his professional talent behind the undying quest for the absolute quality, on which he has embarked with Carles. While the Mouex firm once controlled vinification, since 2007 has relied on Jean-Luc Thunevin and Doctor Alain Reynaud, legendary figures in the Libourne region, while also taking on board Jean-Philippe Fort, a rising oenology star at Michel Rolland’s Wine Consultancy.
The domain of Château de Carles can be found just outside the village of Saillans, on the third knoll of Fronsac, high above the vineyard, Vallée de l’Isle and Libourne. From the Château’s terrace, the view juts beyond Pomerol and extends all the way to the bell tower of the Abbatiale de Saint-Emilion and the knoll on which Château Troplong-Mondot is perched. The domain’s vineyards span some 20 hectares, around the château, in the village of Saillans and within the Fronsac appellation. The vineyards are primarily south- and east-facing, on the clay-limestone and clay-silicium slopes that end in Vallée de l’Isle and protect the vineyards from the rigours of extreme heat. The dominant grape variety is Merlot (90%), with Cabernet Franc (5%) and Malbec (5%) also represented. The vineyards’ average age is 30 to 35 years. In keeping with the best practices amongst Médoc Grands Crus Classés, the new plantations are made at a density of 10,000 plants/ha, compared to 5 to 6.000 in the Libournais.
Very special care is taken to respect nature’s equilibrium, through reasoned agricultural practices to defend against the onslaught of disease and parasites, all with respect for the environment and the importance of sustainable soils. It follows that mechanical work is preferred over the use of chemical products and, where the latter prove unavoidable, an alternating regime of chemical compounds is implemented in all cases.
In order to limit yield, the vines are rigorously shornin the winter in order to keep the buds from spreading and determine which boughs will be used in the next year’s vintage. Once the buds have burst in the Spring, the young excess branches are pruned, and the trellises are raised to increase the foliar surface, which is the vector for photosynthesis. Leaf thinning takes place in the summer to optimise sun exposure and thereby facilitate maturation and foster optimal sanitary condition. In addition, a green harvest restores the balance of the grape bunches on each plant and achieve a fully homogeneous harvest.
The decision to harvest is made and carried out, lot by lot, when the grapes have reached optimal maturity, most often in October. Fifty people then troop down on sprightly yet careful feet, entering the lots to manually harvest the grapes, placing them in small cases so as to maintain their freshness and quality. With the most exacting eye, the grapes are sorted before being allowed into the vats, so as to preclude impurities and diseased or unripe grains.
Fully rebuilt in 2003, the cellars were designed in accordance with 2 central principles: (1) Striving for the highest standard in hygiene, thus implying the absence of any and all identified or suspected pollutants capable of affecting the wine’s quality and the purity of its fruit. (2) Relying only on pure gravity, so as to bypass the use of pumps that can be too brutal to the wine. The principle of gravity is put in action from the time the grapes leave the sorting table and continues to be applied throughout the vinification and maturing cycle.
The grapes are poured into a set of 10 stainless steel fully thermo-regulated vats, where they undergo pre-fermentation maceration at low-temperature for six to 10 days prior to the alcohol fermentation process and the post-fermentation maceration. The wine is then poured into oak barrels, in which they will remain for 18 to 24 months in a gently air-conditioned maturation cellar. Malolactic fermentation takes place in barrel.
Château de Carles is the property’s traditional wine, conceived of in the same exacting spirit as Haut-Carles, but with less intensity and concentration. The resultant wine is simpler, more supple, openly fruity, less oaky and delicious to drink young although they can also age harmoniously for seven or eight years. Annual production is around 30,000 bottles.
We find this 2012 to be classic Bordeaux, showing excellent forward fruit, lovely balance and plenty of pleasurable drinkability. The fact that we could work directly with the chateau (rather than through a negociant) further enhanced the wine’s appeal. Made with 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, this right bank appellation (just above Pomerol) shows notes of blackcurrant, vanilla, dark cherry and spice. We love it with lean cuts of grilled beef and lamb chops.