Château Branaire-Ducru

This Saint-Julien property got its name from its first owner, Jean-Baptiste Braneyre, in 1680, almost 200 years before it achieved fourth growth status in the 1855 Classification. From 1988 it was owned, until his death in 2017, by the charismatic Patrick Maroteaux, who bought it with money made in his family’s sugar business, and who did much to improve its reputation and the consistent quality of its wines.

Located at the southern end of Saint-Julien, the 60 hectares of vines are planted on deep gravel over clay, and overlook the Gironde estuary. They have an average age of 35 years, which, the team here believes, is the age at which the vines achieve their fullest expression, and this average age is maintained by a gentle renewal system of 1 to 2 hectares of vines each year. The younger vines are used to make the estate’s second wine, Duluc de Brainaire-Ducru.

The grapes are all hand harvested before being passed to the winery team. Patrick was a shrewd employer: his first manager, Philippe Dhalluin, now manages at Mouton Rothschild, and Jean-Dominique Videau (who remains in charge) made significant changes in improving the vineyard and cellar, where the first gravity-fed winery in the region was constructed in 1991. This technology ensures the grapes are minimally handled, the better to retain their aromas and character.

The blend is generally a mixture of 70% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot, 4% cabernet franc and 4% petit verdot. They are fermented plot-by-plot in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks before spending 18 months in oak barrels, 60% of which are new.

The château style favours elegance, finesse and balance over power, so the wines are enjoyable relatively early, but keep well for between seven and 25 years.