Wines By Region / Bordeaux / Fronsac / Château de Carles
Château de Carles, Bordeaux -Fronsac
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 owned a château in Bordeaux, and 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, but was sold as property of the nation during the Revolution, following which many of its buildings were demolished and the estate was reduced to its current size. 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, but he and his family beautifully restored the property. Eventually, in the late 20th century, it would be passed down to his grandson, Antoine Chastenet de Castaing, who in early 1983, handed the reins to daughter Constance and her husband Stéphane Droulers. Passionate and determined, they have brought the property’s majesty 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 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. 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 region's occasional 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 old. Any new plantings are made at a density of 10,000 plants/ha, compared to 5,000 or 6,000 in the Libournais.
Very special care is taken to respect nature’s equilibrium, through reasonable agricultural practices to defend against the onslaught of disease and parasites, all with respect for the environment and the importance of sustainable soils. When the use of chemical products is absolutely unavoidable, an alternating regime of chemical compounds is used.
In order to limit yield, the vines are pruned in the winter and spring, and leaf thinning takes place in the summer to optimize sun exposure and thereby facilitate maturation and health. In addition, a green harvest restores the balance of the grape bunches on each plant. Harvest normally takes place in October, and is 100% manual. A meticulous sorting takes place immediately before the grapes go into their stainless steel vats in the fully rebuilt (in 2003) gravity flow cellars.
There they undergo pre-fermentation maceration at low-temperature for 6-10 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 Fronsac
We find this to be classic Bordeaux, showing excellent forward fruit, lovely balance and plenty of pleasurable drinkability. The fact that we could work directly with the château (rather than through a negociant) further enhanced the wine’s appeal. Made with 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, this wine from right bank appellation Fronsac (just above Pomerol) shows notes of blackcurrant, vanilla, dark cherry and spice. We love it with lean cuts of grilled beef and lamb chops.