Dauzac might once have been regarded as one of the 'lost châteaux' of the Médoc, although in recent years we have seen the beginning of a very significant change for this Margaux fifth growth. Once rather an unknown, Dauzac is now, thanks to new ownership, gaining a new and exciting reputation as a source of good quality wines. This turnaround has been effected under the direction of André Lurton, who has managed the property since 1992.
The estate itself is quite ancient, records indicating that it was in existence as long ago as the 13th century, although as was the case throughout the Médoc at that time there was no viticulture ongoing here. To find evidence of this we must move forward several hundred years to the 18th century, when the estate was under the tenure of Thomas Michael Lynch. The Lynch family was of Irish descent, the most notable member being Count Jean-Baptiste Lynch, who was born at Château Dauzac in 1749, and who went on to become mayor of Bordeaux between 1809 and 1815. Thomas Michael Lynch acquired Dauzac in 1740, subsequently expanding the vineyards to cover an area which matches that of the estate today. Under the direction of Thomas Lynch the quality of the wine improved, a significant step towards eventual ranking as a fifth growth in the 1855 classification. Having said that, not long afterwards the estate was sold on, the buyer being Nathanial Johnston, a shipping firm established by William Johnston, a Scot, in 1734. His business was originally the transport of all manner of goods, but with the subsequent purchase of cellars he soon became a major player in the buying, cellaring and shipping of wine. In 1840, Nathanial Johnston purchased a share in Château Latour, and subsequently added Ducru-Beaucaillou and Dauzac to its assets in 1865.
A major problem for the new owners was downy mildew, which was rife in the vineyards of all Bordeaux near the end of the 19th century. Like Phylloxera, downy mildew was also a problem unwittingly imported from the United States, in this case caused by the fungus Plasmopara Viticola. In fact, it is quite plausible that the problem had been imported along with the American rootstocks that were rushed over as a potential solution to the great devastator, Phylloxera. By 1878 the disease was first recorded in France, being observed by Pierre Marie Alexis Millardet, Professor of Botany at Bordeaux University, and his colleague, Planchon. Millardet was a student of Anton de Bary, widely regarded as the father of modern plant pathology, a reputation no doubt engendered by having proved using rational, controlled scientific experiment that fungus was the cause of the greatest crop disease of all, potato blight. Millardet duly asserted that downy mildew was also a fungal disease, still a relatively new concept, but had no cure, until a serendipitous discovery on an October stroll through the vineyards. He noticed that those vines growing along the roadside on one particular estate were still in possession of healthy, lush foliage, whereas those further from the road displayed the usual signs of the disease, namely loss of greenery and obvious fungal attack; on inspection of the healthy plants he noted a strange blue-white deposit painted on the leaves. The vineyard in question was part of the Ducru-Beaucaillou estate, and on locating the vineyard manager, Ernest David, Millardet learnt that this mix of copper sulphate and lime was David's favoured method of preventing pilfering of the grapes by those travelling along the road. It was clear to Millardet, however, that the treatment had a much greater potential than that of a mere theft deterrent. He and Planchon, together with Ernest David, developed the treatment now known as Bordeaux mixture, experimenting not on the vines where it was originally 'discovered', but rather on the less precious vines of Château Dauzac.
So Dauzac and David played a major role in the history of Bordeaux, and of all viticulture in Europe (downy mildew had quickly spread well beyond France's borders), but not even such exalted history can save a château from the ravages of the 20th century. The quality was initially very good and the wines were in demand, as evinced by the award of an hors concours in the Bordeaux Exhibition in 1907, but then followed war, economic depression and then more war. Like many estates Dauzac was in a state of seemingly permanent decline, and the first hope of a turn around was not seen until 1966, when the estate was purchased by Alain Miailhe, who also part-owned Château Palmer. Alain's tenure, however, was ephemeral. He failed in his attempt to rename the property Lynch-Dauzac, facing opposition from the Casteja family, owners of Château Lynch-Moussas, and in 1978 tax difficulties forced him to sell the property, the new owner being French Moroccan Felix Châtelier. This was the true beginning of Dauzac's renaissance; Châtelier built a new chai, completely renovated the cellars and extensively replanted the vineyards. But Châtelier too eventually sold the estate, this time to Mutuelles d'Assurances des Instituteurs de France (MAIF). This company have owned the château and vineyards since 1988, and have engaged the services of André Lurton, already owner of other notable properties such as Château La Louvière, as manager of the estate since 1992.
Today the Dauzac estate covers 120 hectares in all, of which 50 are planted to vines. This includes a 5 hectare plot which lies outside the Margaux commune boundary but which is vinified at the estate and bottled as Château Labarde, an Haut-Médoc. The 45 hectares in Margaux have a typically deep, gravelly terroir and is planted principally with Cabernet Sauvignon (58%), followed by Merlot (37%) and Cabernet Franc (5%). The vines, planted at a dense 10000 vines/ha on the usual Riparia and 101-14 rootstocks are on the young side, averaging 20 years of age; this is because of Châtelier's extensive planting, but it is another reason why we should expect to see quality at Dauzac improve year on year. Once harvested the fruit is destemmed and crushed, then fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel, the cap broken up using a patented system. The wines undergo malolactic fermentation and then go into oak for one year before fining with egg white and then bottling. The grand vin is bottled as Château Dauzac, with 23000 cases per annum being typical, and then the second wine is La Bastide Dauzac.
Until very recently I confess I had little tasting experience of Dauzac, hence my referring to it as one of the Médoc's 'lost châteaux'. But with improved quality, brokers and merchants are once again realising the potential of Dauzac. I am certain there are yet more improvement that could be made, both in the vineyard and perhaps in the chai too, but with continued commitment from the Lurton team these wines should continue to climb the ladder of quality. The four recent vintages tasted below are all testament to the new efforts at Dauzac, and although the 2005 is the better of this quartet, it is the success seen in a less highly lauded vintage such as 2004 that is the real fruit of Lurton's dedication.