Château Branaire Ducru,
Love is in Branaire
29 December 2017
Tasting great wines represents an extraordinary voyage through a sensory world, an exciting quest for emotions of taste and smell, as decisive as the search for a soul mate. Among the flowers of the Saint-Julien designation of origin, Château Branaire Ducru is a member of the very exclusive club of the ranked Bordeaux grand crus which enable us to reach this Holy Grail.
Dressed in a strong purple robe and endowed with a seductive aromatic palette which changes according to the year, Château Branaire exhales red or black fruit notes like cassis, which was very present in the sublime 2010, as well as subtle touches of chocolate or spices such as rose and vanilla in 2009. Its impressive suppleness, the velvety nature of its texture, its silky tannins and its balance are regularly praised by critics who continue to give it higher and higher scores. The favorite wine of some great collectors, it even received praise from British author Roald Dahl in his novel Taste. Latitudes met with François-Xavier Maroteaux, President of the Saint-Julien appellation, to understand how he and his father Patrick were able to elevate this superb wine up to the position of being one of the best of the terroir.
What are the specific elements of the appellation Saint-Julien in terms of terroir, and what are the characteristics that make up the identity of Branaire in particular?
They often say that Saint-Julien is a mixture of the elegance of Margaux and the structure of Pauillac. I sincerely believe that. Geographically, we are located between the two and that gives a nice balance. In our case, I think that our distinctive feature lies in the diversity of our vineyards. Saint-Julien includes around 15 different terroirs and we are present in all of them. So that means people often tell us that our wine is a good example of what is Saint-Julien, and of the idea we have of it. It could be that part of the answer lies there. The most important thing for us is to continue to learn from our vineyards, and to work them without distinguishing between those which might yield the best or second best wine. We only make the decision which to use upon tasting, whereas other châteaux determine in advance which one will be used for one or the other.
Branaire is said to be a long-term wine, that is a wine to be kept for a long time. How many years in the cellars seem to you to be ideal to drink it at its peak?
For the great vintages, a minimum of ten years, knowing that their potential will not diminish with additional years — on the contrary. When decanted, one can drink 2010 very well even now and, if you prefer, even younger wines. The intermediate vintages fully reveal their potential after about ten years. But everything remains a question of personal preference. Some people enjoy wines aged 20 or 25 years whereas others derive no particular pleasure from them. What is certain is that we try to make wines that are accessible from their youth, while still showing potential with ageing.
Your family has been leading Branaire for almost 30 years now. What was its situation then, and what have you had to change?
It belonged to a family that already owned the Château Giscours and it was not a priority for them. We knew that the vineyard is magnificent, that the great vintages were of high quality, but that Branaire did not have a reputation for consistency with the more complex ones. Our challenge was to get to know this terroir to be able to understand it well. Over time, that has enabled us to discover certain things that didn’t work, such as some rootstocks, or that some places were planted with Cabernet Sauvignon whereas Merlot would have been better. We then added some Petit Verdot on some plots that had potential for this complex grape which
needs to be grown in the best terroirs. Since we now use it in 100% of our blending, it enables us to obtain marvelous results for the great vintages such as the past three years. We then had to build an aging cellar and a winery worthy of this name. The winery in particular, which was very modern at the time, uses gravity naturally
and we know that this pumpless method of extraction enables us to preserve all the fruit. This is especially important for us, given our philosophy based on the principle of the 3 Fs: fruit, freshness and fineness. Finally, we have had to engage in better commercialization. The previous owners had given exclusivity to the Nicolas brand which distributed almost all the production throughout France. We first had to gain the confidence of the trade which did not know our wines as well as some great names such as Talbot or Gruaud Larose, in order to build an export network. We have now succeeded in building our reputation and enhancing our image, and have established ourselves throughout the world.