The late and much missed Denis Dubourdieu, who died in the summer of 2016, did more than follow his winemaking father and grandfather's footsteps. A professor of oenology since 1987, he has been described in the past as wine's most famous scientist, and he advised some of the greatest properties in the world, including Cheval Blanc and Yquem. His skills were highly sought after.
Denis and his wife Florence ran several Bordeaux properties : Château Doisy-Daëne, Clos Floridène, Château Reynon (purchased by his father-in-law Pierre in 1958 and where Florence and Denis moved upon their marriage in 1976), Château Cantegril and Château Haura. The management of these estates now falls to Florence and his eminently capable sons, Fabrice and Jean-Jacques. As well as their legendary sweet wines, they also produce an impressive range of dry reds and whites.
The Dubourdieu family owns 135 hectares of vineyards in the Sauternes, Graves, and Cadillac-Cotes de Bordeaux regions. They use a traditional ploughing system, and are committed friends of the environment: they no longer use weed killer, they fertilise the vines with organic manure, and all bud removal, trellising and leaf removal is done by hand. Their carbon footprint is a conscious issue too: they own a forest equal to the size of their vineyards as a way of repaying their debt to the land.
Although there are a few notable exceptions, much of the family's vineyards are planted on the famous Barsac red sands, composed of red clay on a limestone subsoil. This slightly porous rock stores water throughout winter that can be dispensed to the vines during summer dry spells.
Clos Floridène, named after both Florence and Denis, was established in 1982 to complement Florence's family property at Reynon and Denis' at Doisy-Daëne. Unusually in Graves, the soil is based on limestone, which allows them to make a distinctive, floral, cabernet-based red that ages well for up to a decade and a remarkable, mineral white deserving of ageing for two to ten years. Both are excellent value.
Doisy-Daëne has been owned by the Dubourdieu family since 1924. Denis' father, Pierre Dubourdieu, was one of the most original and inventive winemakers in the region, constantly experimenting, and the first on his property to make a delicious and successful dry white, Doisy Daëne Sec.
Denis clearly followed in his father's footsteps: he became a professor at Bordeaux University and was acknowledged as the leading Bordeaux expert in white wine in Bordeaux. Château Reynon, which was Denis and Florence Dubourdieu's home property, is managed and harvested, parcel by parcel, with the same care as the family's famous Sauternes, Doisy-Daëne. The vineyard at Béguey, on a gravel and clay slope overlooking the Gironde in the Entre-Deux-Mers, is planted with half red and half white grapes. No herbicides are used here, and all of the grapes are handpicked. When they moved in the vineyard was not old but was badly planted so Denis began to replant 4 hectares a year from1988. Gradually they have also replaced the cabernet and will have 10% petit verdot (first used in 2008) with 90% merlot, because petit verdot succeeds, if well-pruned, on the land at the bottom of the slope where the other grapes do not. The vineyard is on a south-facing slope overlooking the Garonne. Merlot ripens early here, as early as in Pomerol in fact.
Reynon's red wine – a blend of 82% merlot with 13% cabernet sauvignon (a figure that is gradually decreasing) and 4% petit verdot – has ripe black-fruit aromas and fresh balance, and can age for three to eight years. The white wine, with grapefruit aroma and good length, ages equally well, and is a blend of 89% sauvignon with 11% semillon. Both wines are also aged in oak, a third of which is new, which gives a rounder texture.
Château Cantegril in Barsac has been the home of The Society's Exhibition Sauternes since 2001 (it is worth remembering that all Barsac can be Sauternes, but only Barsac can be Barsac) and this lusciously sweet wine is a blend of 64% semillon, 34% sauvignon blanc and 1% muscadelle, which is aged in 25% new oak and keeps beautifully for three to ten years.
Cantegril is now also the home of Fabrice Dubourdieu, who got married in 2012. In 2013 his wife gave birth to their first child – a new generation to continue and further the family's winemaking reputation for generations to come.