The Bartons have been in the wine business since the 1730s, when Irish-born Thomas Barton set up a wine company, but it wasn't until almost 100 years later that the family owned its first vineyard.
This was when Thomas' grandson, Hugh Barton, bought the estate now known as Langoa Barton in the south of the Saint-Julien appellation in 1821. He acquired his portion of the famous Léoville estate, in the centre of Saint-Julien, in 1826. Three generations of the Barton family followed, during which time Léoville Barton was awarded a second growth status and Langoa Barton a third growth in the 1855 Classification, before Ronald Barton took over the family business in the 1924.
It was Ronald who restored the vineyards after the ravages of the Second World War, and who was responsible for some of the estates' most memorable vintages, before his nephew Anthony took over in 1983. His arrival marked a new renaissance for the properties, which have gone from strength to strength under his leadership.
Anthony still assists with the running of the estates, alongside his daughter Lilian and her children, Mélanie and Damien, who are the eighth generation of Bartons to be involved. This means these two estates have been in the hands of the same family for longer than any other classed-growth château.
The 51 hectares of Léoville and 17 hectares of Langoa are planted on gravel with a clay subsoil. Both vineyards contain a significant amount of old vines to ensure the best possible quality, giving the vines an average age of 35 years at Langoa, and 38 years at Léoville.
The aim of the estates is to achieve the typically Saint-Julien qualities of elegance and finesse rather than too much power or extraction, and this is achieved by picking the grapes at their maximum ripeness and fermenting them at controlled temperatures.
Notably, the Bartons avoided the trend to convert the cellars to stainless-steel tanks, opting instead to continue to ferment wines in the more traditional wooden vats. Although they knew stainless-steel provided temperature-control, they trusted in the wooden vats' decades of positive results, and chose instead to wait for temperature control to be developed for wooden vats. They firmly believe this decision has paid off greatly in the long run.
Anthony's wines have been extremely popular with members of The Society, not only for their quality, but also because he resisted the trend of his peers to raise prices substantially from one vintage to the next. This meant his prices remained at a level he considered fair, and so for many years his third-growth Langoa Barton was sold at more modest price than many of its second growth neighbours.
Today, Léoville Barton is a superlatively good traditional Saint-Julien, combining power and finesse with the ability to age and improve over many years. A blend of 72% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot and 8% cabernet franc, it ages for 20 months in oak barrels (50% new) and will age for 12 to 40 years, in many cases longer.
Langoa Barton is a blend of 72% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot and 3% cabernet franc, which spends 18 months in oak barrels, 60% of them new. Although it tends to be ready sooner than Léoville Barton, it will age extremely well for between seven and 25 years.