The Despagne family has a history in Bordeaux which spans 250 years. Today, Vignobles Despagne is responsible for six properties spanning 300 hectares, and is known for taking more care of its vines than some classed growths.
The family shines like a beacon in Entre-Deux-Mers. In 1990, it acquired Château Bel-Air Perponcher here, and has developed as high a reputation for its whites as its reds at this property. The vines, which are immaculately tended, comprise sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle for the whites and merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc for the reds and the company’s rosé. Vines have been cultivated organically since 2008.
The ‘grand vin’ here is 80% merlot, with 10% each of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, and is aged in new oak barrels. Drink it between four to eight years after the vintage.
A lighter, unoaked wine is also made, as well as a semillon-dominant white which is cool fermented to achieve a refreshing, aromatic character. The property’s rosé is made using cabernet sauvignon (plus around 30% merlot and a little cabernet franc), the grapes for which are picked at optimum ripeness to retain their freshness.
This property is run by Basaline Despagne, and her brother Thibault runs Château Mont-Perat, a fantastic example of a Premier Cotes de Bordeaux from the right bank of the Garonne. Acquired in 1998, the four splendidly positioned hills of vines here are managed by Jean-Pierre Cousinié.
A quarter of the estate is given to the white wine: a blend of 80% sauvignon and 20% semillon fermented in French oak, around half of which is new, before being matured in oak for a further eight months. The red is normally 70% merlot with the remainder made up of 20% cabernet sauvignon and 10% cabernet franc. This is aged in oak, 50% of which is new, for seven to ten months, and will keep well for four to 12 years. Mont-Perat was featured in a Japanese Manga publication called Drops of God, in which drinking it was compared to attending a Queen concert, and the wine has subsequently developed an enormous Asian following.
The talented Joël Elissalde is the oenologist here, and has been since 1987, and his hard work over the years means that Mont-Perat could often pass for a much more expensive wine. He also works with Thibault on Girolate, a superb 100% merlot wine that is a consistent hit with the critics.
There are 10 hectares of Girolate vines, planted on south-facing limestone slopes, much like those in Saint-Emilion. Each parcel of vines is fermented separately in oak barrels which are rotated twice a day to soften the wine’s tannins.
The Despagne family also owns and runs Château Tour de Mirambeau, Château Rauzan Despagne and Château Lion Beaulieu. Both the Despagne family and its team are constantly striving for improvement, and Vignobles Despagnes has earned much well-deserved respect over the years, as well as a popular place in the tastes of Society members.