The Gift and the Ambition
In the Medoc, like elsewhere, there are two ways to benefit from a gift: you enjoy it, which is tempting, or you enhance it, which requires some enthusiasm, a lot of effort and an ambition. This is precisely what led Patrick Maroteaux, who manages a group that originated as a family enterprisem to choose the second alternative in 1988.
He felt enthusiastic immediately he saw the chateau. It is located on a beautiful mound on the SAint-Julien-Beychevelle plateau facing the river and occupies the practically ideal surface area of fifty hectares (120 acres) enabling it to be fully used.
His ambition was to restore the wine from this exceptional terroir to the only rank suitable for it amongst the leading wines that sustain and promote true expression of Saint-Julien.
In the shimmering light if the Atlantic sky, the vines run in waves towards the baks of the estuary or "river" as they call it locally. This mythical "river" bestows all the gifts lavished on the Medoc, and particularly the "graves" soil type made up of gravel and pebbles deposited here by Dorgogne and Garonne rivers and piled up in various places in rounded mounds. Extremely poor ground, but which is a source of untold wealth in one or two very priviledged locations.
The fact is that vines need this miserable growth medium and the seasons tempered by the ocean to give their best. So the closer the river, the higher the mounds and the deeper the gravel, the greater are the vines' chances to do well.
So even the most untrained eye can immediately pick out the terroirs, which support the most well-known appellations: Pauillac, Saint-Estephe, Margaux, and of course Saint Julien.
The Right AGe to BEar Fruit
Vines and men do have sme things in common: for example, they both reach their peak at around 35 years old.
Thirty-five years is the ripe old age at which we maintain our vines at Chateau Branaire-Ducru. There is no widespread rooting out of vines or sudden replacement campaigns, just a gentle renewal of the generations of about one to two hectares per year. The balance of grape varieties across the different plots is thus preserved.
This balance is made up of seventy per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, twenty two per cent Merlot and four per cent Cabernet Franc topped up by four per cent Petit Verdot. It is the ideal distribution taht enables the soil to express its remarkable virtues fully.
Keeping All the Options Open
Our tanks are where magical metamorphosis of juice into wine takes place. They represent the very nerve centre of our chateau's operations. It is perhaps here that our ambition to only accept the very best is the most apparent.
The harvest enters the vathouse and is fed before the eyes of inspectors, who make no concession. Any slightly doubtful looking fruit and any piece of hidden leaf are relentlessly weeded out here, Luxurious intolerance, but the tiniest detail is always significant.
We have no less than twentty-eight different sized tanks, which was the number it was decided we needed to give free rein into each plot, variety by variety, to go thw hole way in expressing its own special characteristics, right up to final blending.
Slow, deliberate ageing in round-bellied oak barrels can take a long time, up to eighteen months or longer. Every year a little more than half of these barrels are renewed.
Today, CHateau Branaire-Ducru is well known by connoisseurs of great wines in France and all over the world. It has followed the mandatory path of all the emblematic French brands that forces it to enlarge its reputation abroad, because the French, who are like children spoilt with so many gifts and offerings at home, really only recognise those that are honoured by others far away.
What could be finer than to share this employment with other people and other cultures in Saint-Julien or elsewhere on earth?