It was an Irishman, Bernard Phelan, who established Château Phélan-Ségur in the early nineteenth century, after combining two smaller estates here in what is now the St. Estèphe appellation on Bordeaux's left bank.
Prior to his ownership, the estates had been managed by the Count of Ségur, who was also known as 'prince of the vines', and had managed soon-to-be first growth properties such as Lafite and Latour. Bernard was a great entrepreneur and both he and his successor, his son Frank, established Phélan-Ségur as an exceptional model of its kind. Rather unusually, Bernard decided when extending the property to add the new agricultural buildings (such as the cellar, storerooms and winemaking buildings) as an extension to the original château, creating one unified whole.
After Bernard and Frank died, the château changed hands over the years, until eventually it was bought by Xavier Gardinier in the early 1980s. He and his sons, Thierry and Laurent, have renovated the entire property since then, bringing production methods in line with modern technology.
The property is situated to the east of Saint-Estèphe, and borders Château Montrose and Château Calon-Ségur, as well as the Gironde estuary. The estate now stands at 70 hectares of vines, with an average age of 30 years, 60% of which are dedicated to cabernet sauvignon, 30% of which are merlot, and the remainder is mostly cabernet franc. Thanks to the proximity to the estuary, soils are generally gravelly alluvial soils, which provide good drainage.
The vines are intensely managed, with action taken throughout the year to ensure they are as healthy as possible, and ready to give the finest expression of their character. All grapes are harvested by hand separately according to each different plot.
The winery was renovated in 2011 and now boasts smaller vats, meaning much more precise parcels of vines can be vinified, allowing even greater complexity and character. Grapes are sorted by hand prior to destemming and crushing, and are then fermented in stainless-steel temperature-controlled vats that are double walled for extra thermal precision. Malolactic fermentation takes two to four weeks, after which the wine is blended: for Phélan-Ségur, this is one of the most crucial aspects of the entire process. This is very much a team effort, involving the winemakers, consultants and vineyard managers, with the aim being to achieve the best possible expression of the vintage.
The type of oak used changes every year, coming from different forests or undergoing different toasting methods, and this further enhances the character of the vintage. 50 to 60% of the oak is generally new, and the various batches of wine are aged separately until the final blending. The estate's Grand Vin ages for 14 to 18 months, whereas the second wine, Frank de Phélan, and the estate's other, cabernet-dominant wine, La Croix Bonis, both remain in barrel for 12 months.
Even the type of cork selected for bottling varies each year. This incredible attention to detail produces wines of great finesse and elegance with the potential to age for up to 15 years.