The name of this old Graves estate relates to its ownership by Carmelite monks from the 16th to the 18th century, having been given a mill, spring, meadows and vines on the site by the owner of the Haut-Brion estate, Jean de Pontac.
The monks were wise enough to expand the estate, and the latest owner, real estate entrepreneur Patrice Pichet, has followed their lead, quadrupling the holdings of the property since he acquired it in 2010.
Not content with this outlay he commissioned Philippe Starck to design a stylish, minimalist reception area and a winemaking facility feeding a new barrel cellar below by gravity. What is seen above ground resembles nothing so much as a ship afloat on water, echoing the ancient trade in Bordeaux wines across the oceans.
The vineyards here are notable for the unusually small number of cabernet sauvignon vines at just 15% of plantings, behind 59% merlot and 26% cabernet franc growing in soils that are a mix of glacial gravels, sand, clay and some stones over limestone bedrock, the whole lying on a gentle slope rising to just over 30 metres at its highest point.
Though there are just over 25 hectares of vines at Carmes Haut-Brion only 6.4 hectares are currently designated for the grand vin, though this amount will doubtless increase as the younger vines gain maturity. These 64 hectares are divided into 17 plots, all of which are harvested and vinified separately in a number of vats tailored to each parcel by the passionate and energetic winemaker, Guillaume Pouthier.
Guillaume uses a technique taken from the Rhône in that he presses some bunches destemmed and others with stems on, laid in alternating layers in the press, with the intention of ensuring increased freshness in the finished wine. That wine then spends 18 months in 100% new French oak, with a very small percentage aged in clay amphora. A second wine, Les Clos de Carmes Haut-Brion, is made from the other vineyards, including those more recently acquired and replanted.