FROM THE ORIGINS TO THE XVITH CENTURY
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 masnuscript 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.
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 the fifteenth century, the feudal domain of Cantemerle belonged to the Caupène family, originally from the Landes region.
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.
1579 TO 1892, THE VILLENEUVE DE DURFORT FAMILY
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 de 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.
In the seventeenth century, the jurisdiction of Cantemerle stretched over a great many noble houses, notably Gironville, Maucamp and Sauves.
In 1892, the descendants of the last of the Villeneuve family, Jeanne Armande, Baroness Charles d'Abbadie, sold Cantemerle to the Dubos family, thus ending the Villeneuve de Durfort family's "reign" of over three hundred years.
1892 to 1981, THE DUBOS FAMILY
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 négociant for the Dubos Frères establishment (sold in 1914).
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 difficult years of 1930-1940, many parcels of vines were pulled up at Cantemerle. As a result, only 61 acres were kept in production from 1945 onwards until 1981.
Pierre died in 1967; his great-nephew Bertrand Clauzel managed the estate alone until it was sold in 1981 to the SMABTP group.
1981 TO THE PRESENT: GROUP SMABTP, MUTUAL INSURANCE DIVISION
During the 1970s the Mutual Insurance Division of the SMABTP Group was making significant investments in real estate and wished to diversify its 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.
Cantemerle was a property in distress after a long period of difficulties—it was undeniably beautiful and vast, but completely exhausted. Only 20 hectares around the château were planted with vines. The production buildings and the residences had been barely maintained.
Renovation of the technical facilities and replanting of the vineyard was done with the assistance of Ets. Cordier, upon whom the Group conferred direction of the project. The work was undertaken in successive steps, in accordance with priorities appropriate to the management of a winemaking property.
The château’s technical team was terribly short on space to receive the generous quantities of grapes from the new vineyard plantings, and had to put the small “souvenir” 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.
1991–2000: 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; as it happened, these deliberations took place during the extremely tough economic climate of 1991 to 1995. At the time, the technical direction and marketing of the wines was still contracted to Ets. Cordier, which had managed the inventory from its warehouses after the wine was bottled at the château.
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 a team to oversee the property’s operations on a local level; this same team continues to direct Cantemerle’s activities today. The construction of a bottle cellar and the conversion of production buildings to prepare the wine for shipment from the property was undertaken. During the following two years there was a reevaluation of the exclusive commercial arrangements with Ets. Cordier which existed since the property was purchased. Inventory had built up in the Cordier cellars and commercial perspectives were uncertain. By mutual agreement the decision was made to let Cantemerle henceforth manage its own sales on the Bordeaux marketplace.
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.
Now, 144 years later, Cantemerle had returned to the same vineyard size it had at the time of the 1855 classification—90 hectares.
2001–TODAY: 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.
Today, the property’s quality has firmly established it in the pack of the Médoc’s classed growths, and its continued presence there will always be due to the intrinsic quality of its terroir and how successfully it finds expression in each year’s wine. At decade’s end, the pursuit of excellence driving the people at Cantemerle at every level, every day, remains as strong as ever.