Producer website - Read more about Chateau Branaire Ducru
The origin of the Branaire-Ducru vineyards may be traced back to the 17th Century, when they were once part of the estate at Chateau Beychevelle. The owner of Beychevelle, Bernard de Valette, the Duc d'Epernon, left behind a string of unpaid bills when he died in 1642. In order to meet the demands of his creditors, Beychevelle was sold off, leading to the parcellation of the estate. The chateau and some of the vineyards were regrouped by subsequent owners, but part of the estate, purchased by Jean-Baptiste Braneyre in 1680, was destined to become what we know today as Branaire-Ducru. Incidentally another part became what we known today as Ducru-Beaucaillou.
Braneyre's descendants held tenure here for well over a century although his daughter, Marie Braneyre, married Pierre de Luc, and it is the de Luc name that is associated with the early history of this estate. Pierre and Marie had a son, Laurent de Luc, born in 1730, who subsequently married Marie de Chillaud of Fieux de Larenchère in 1779. They survived the Revolution, despite having been arrested, and went on to have a total of four children, including two sons, Louis and Justin Duluc, the persecution of the aristocracy having fostered a discretionary contraction of the family name. Laurent died in 1814, followed by Marie in 1818, but not before she had purchased a small house in Bourdieu, a hamlet very close to Chateau Beychevelle. Subsequently, Louis and Justin expanded and improved their inherited property, naming their chateau Braneyre (Branaire), for their grandmother and her father, Jean-Baptiste.
The Duluc family remain at Branaire during the creation of the 1855 classification, when the property was ranked as a fourth growth. A year later, however, Louis Duluc died without a direct heir, and the property was managed by other family members, including his widow, brother, sister and nephews. By 1875 his descendant Gustave Ducru and his sister, Zélie Ravez, were in charge; Gustave purchased his sister's share, becoming sole owner, but when he died in 1879 the estate passed back to her again. In 1899 she bequeathed the estate to a clutch of nephews, the Marquis de Carbonnier de Marzac, Comte de Ravez and Comte du Périer de Larsan. These three live on today on the Branaire-Ducru label, each one represented by a crown, and yet the whole estate was subsequently sold off in 1919 to Jean-Michel Tapie. Tapie's tenure was not distinguished, the wines being a paler imitation of many other wines produced in the St Julien commune. This was still the situation in 1988, when Branaire-Ducru was purchased by Patrick Maroteaux.
Chateau Branaire-Ducru is tucked away in the south-eastern most part of the St Julien appellation, close neighbours being Beychevelle, which lies between Branaire-Ducru and the Gironde, and Chateau St Pierre. The vineyards run west-east in several plots close to the chateau, over typical Médoc terroir of Quaternary alluvial gravels. There are 50 hectares in all, planted with 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and just 4% Petit Verdot, with an average age approaching 40 years, although there are many vines approaching a century. The harvest is manual, and fermentation takes place in a modern, well-equipped cellar, funded by the Maroteaux administration and now run by managing director Philippe Dhalluin. The must and embryonic wine is fed through the cellar by gravity rather than pump, to ferment in stainless steel, temperature-controlled, before up to two years in oak, 50% new each vintage. The wine undergoes an egg-white fining prior to being bottled unfiltered. The grand vin is Chateau Branaire-Ducru, 15000 cases, and there is a second wine, Chateau Duluc, named for the Duluc family, of which there are 7000 cases per annum.
My most illuminating Branaire-Ducru experience was the 1989 vintage, tasted in a horizontal St Julien line-up. I remember the tasting quite well. There was one wine that was streets ahead of all the others, and this was revealed as Léoville-Barton; with no Gruaud or Las-Cases in the fray, what remained included the likes of Beychevelle, St Pierre, Talbot and so on. So what was this other wine, a close match to the Leoville-Barton in terms of quality, structure, perfume and pleasure? The great joy of blind tasting is that it removes preconceptions; the label was revealed as Branaire-Ducru, to some surprise. Under the direction of Maroteaux, a marked improvement in the quality of the wines, from the previously underperforming Branaire-Ducru, was already apparent by the 1989. In recent years, this trend has continued, and they have become solid buys; the 2005 vintage, tasted in early 2006, is a fitting testament to the investment made by the new owners. (18/7/06)