Ausone and Cheval Blanc were long ago recognised as the two outstanding properties of Saint-Emilion, classified as premier grands crus classés (A). More recently and more controversially they have been joined by Pavie and Angelus, whose recent vintages have fetched high prices, but whose track record has a much shorter span.
Ausone is supreme among the properties on the limestone plateau above the town of Saint-Emilion, neighbour to other great premier cru (B) vineyards such as Belair-Monange – once in the same ownership – and Canon, while Cheval Blanc is at the other end of the appellation, next to Pomerol.
Ausone has a very long history dating back to Roman times (it is named after the Bordeaux resident and Roman poet Ausonius) and was once owned by the British Knollys family, but in 1891 it belonged to the Dubois-Challon family whose descendant – Alain Vauthier – runs it today with the help of his daughter Pauline.
From 1974 to 1995 two branches of the family were at loggerheads and no significant investments were made, and there has been a marked improvement in the depth and quality of the wine since Alain Vauthier took full control, though the elegance and finesse of the vineyard with 55% cabernet franc and 45% merlot were always evident.
With only seven hectares and a production at most of 2000 dozen, Ausone is the smallest of Bordeaux's first growths (Cheval Blanc makes five times as much and used to make more). The Vauthier family, however, control close to 100 hectares in the region, and their Château du Fonbel, which The Society often follows, is excellent value for those daunted by the cost of Ausone, which world demand makes very expensive.
In the early years of the 21st century there has been considerable restructuring of the vineyards and cellars, as well as refurbishment of the château itself, securing Ausone's unique position for future generations.