Although this Margaux estate existed in the 18th century, it didn't get its name until 1814, when it was purchased by General Charles Palmer. A veteran of the Napoleonic wars, he was a man with a reputation for fast living, and this lifestyle ultimately led to him being forced to sell the property in 1844.
It changed hands twice in the decade leading up to the 1855 Classification, giving neither owner time to make the changes necessary to fulfil Palmer's potential, and so it was awarded third growth status. Despite this classification, its track record and now its price place it higher than the second growth Margaux châteaux, and between the years of 1961 and 1979 it made consistently finer wine than first growth Château Margaux.
Palmer's reputation was established in 1938, when it was purchased by a consortium of Bordeaux negociants: Mähler-Besse, Sichel, and Ginestet. Today there are 24 shareholders, most of whom belong to the Mähler-Besse family, with Sichel owning one third, and Ginestet no longer directly involved.
The total vineyard area covers 55 hectares, which sit proudly atop the excellent gravel plateau in the heart of the Margaux appellation, overlooking the river, and next door to Château Margaux. Palmer is unusual in having a higher percentage of merlot than its neighbours. Planted on some of its best gravelly terroir, it no doubt contributes to the generous, voluptuous flavour that supports the wonderful fragrant bouquet that makes this wine so distinctive.
In 2004, after gaining winemaking experience in California and Tuscany, the talented Thomas Duroux returned to his native Bordeaux and became Château Palmer's CEO. He has overseen a quiet revolution at the property. Innovative cellar techniques include a large variety of stainless-steel tanks, each numbered and divided by shape and size, which allows for small batches of grapes to be vinified separately and with greater accuracy.
The grand vin has equal parts merlot and cabernet sauvignon (47% of each) with petit verdot making up the remaining 6%. Palmer has two separate chais - known as the 'first year chai' and the 'second year chai' - and the ageing of the grand vin makes use of both. It spends 12 months in the first before it must make way for the next vintage, and so the wine is moved to the second chai, where it spends a further eight months in oak. 60% of the barrels are renewed each year.
The grand vin now represents only just over half of the crop, and needs laying down for at least 12 to 15 years, although it can take up to 40 years to reveal itself in all its splendour. The château's second wine, Alter Ego de Palmer, is deliberately made to be enjoyed earlier, and can be approached after four to five years.