There is an amazing dual hit of black fruit and fine-grained tannins here, which is rounded off with a wonderful creaminess. The fruit is encased in a huge structure, which is not always easy to assess when tasting en primeur, but it has a lovely fleshiness to it and the wine is multi-layered with flavours evolving in the mouth. Notes of cocoa, vanilla and tar show towards the finish and it all ends completely seamlessly. The tannins are extremely ripe and well-integrated. Ch. Haut-Brion is often understated at this stage, which serves to underline how fine this wine will be.
Château Haut-Brion Thomas Jefferson, the american ambassador to Paris and later President of the United States of America, visited Haut Brion on May 25th 1787 commenting in his journals about the soils of the vineyards as well as mentioning that there were four vineyards of first quality Château Margaux, Château Latour Ségur, Château Haut Brion and Château La Fite. He also wrote:"Haut Brion is a wine of the first rank and seems to please the American palate more than all the others that I have been able to taste in France.“ Jean de Pontac began constituting the Haut-Brion vineyard, in the Graves region, in 1525.
His descendants went on to produce "New French Claret," the precursor of today's great wines. Their efforts enabled Arnaud III de Pontac to sell his wine under the estate's name as early as 1660. Called “vin de Pontac”, then Haut-Brion, it gained a fine reputation and enormous success in London. The first of the Bordeaux great growths was born. Through the centuries, the owners and managers of Haut-Brion have been obsessed with perpetuating the château's reputation for quality. Classified a First Growth in 1855, Haut-Brion has done everything possible ever since then to maintain its standing. To perpetuate its Grand Cru status, an estate and its constituent parts have to be maintained over the centuries, suitable grape varieties for each plot have to be chosen, and a relentless selection process carried out. Today, a great American family, the Dillons, has been continuing this tradition for seventy years.
Mother Nature will have put us to the test in 2013, presenting an early challenge with a wet spring. Hence, difficult flowering conditions caused some coulure (shot berries) and millerandage (abnormal fruit set, with berries of uneven size). This environment paved the way for a small crop and the need for meticulous sorting during the harvest. Fortunately, a hot (especially in July), dry summer enabled the vines to recover from this difficult spring, although not enough to make up for the delay in phenological ripeness. Our vineyards were practically unaffected by the violent hail storms that devastated certain parts of Bordeaux.
The months of August and September were devoted to preparing for a late harvest. This included thinning out late-maturing bunches in each plot to retain only grapes that were ripe from a technological and organoleptic standpoint. Picking started on September 17th for the whites and on the 24th for the reds. The weather alternated between beautiful sunny periods and rainy ones. Combining two qualities essential to winegrowers – patience and vigilance – we had to find just the right balance between waiting for optimum ripeness and anticipating the arrival of rainy spells -generally conducive to the development of grey rot.
We also needed to be very rigorous in sorting the grapes to eliminate the consequences of a poor spring (millerandage) and autumn (grey rot). This was absolutely essential in 2013 in order to produce quality. To achieve this goal, we asked pickers to be extremely vigilant and to harvest only perfectly sound grapes.
In front of each vat room at Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, a sorting table was installed to produce a further selection prior to destemming and before the introduction into an optical sorting machine (a "tribaie" densimetric sorting machine at Château Quintus) which helped us to fine tune the already meticulous selections made by the pickers and sorters. The alcoholic fermentation went very well and the last vats are now finishing their malolactic fermentation.
The most salient feature of the 2013 vintage is that yields are very small – about 25-30 hectolitres per hectare, compared to 44 hl/ha last year.
The other major characteristic of the 2013 vintage is its quality, which is, of course, our ongoing and overriding concern. We are pleased to confirm that so far the wines show fine structure, reminiscent of such good vintages as 2004, 2007 and 2008.
Our work is now focusing on careful tasting to prepare the final blend – to "construct" the best possible wine for this vintage. This will be followed by barrel ageing adapted to the profile of each wine. Even though Mother Nature did not exactly make things easy for us, we can honestly say as of now that our intimate understanding of our terroirs, combined with advances in sustainable viticulture and oenology, has enabled us to produce quality wines. Such results would unquestionably have been impossible 40 or 50 years ago...