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Cheval Blanc to launch white wine / St Emilion grand cru Cheval Blanc will release a white wine later this month, making it the first major Right bank estate to do so.

Some 4,500 bottles of the 2014 vintage will be released at around £100 per bottle. Production is expected to rise to 20,000 bottles in the coming years. Decanter reports that the 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine is the result of an eight-year experiment. Three clones of Sauvignon Blanc were planted in 2008 on land acquired from La Tour du Pin Figeac, which lost its ranking in 2006.

The wine, which will be called ‘Le Petit Cheval Blanc’, breaks new ground for the Right Bank. Only a handful of estates in Saint Emilion make any wine under the AOC Bordeaux Blanc label, with the most high-profile – Jonathan Maltus’ ‘Le Nardain’ – produced in tiny amounts of just 250 cases per year.




Designed by Christian de Portzamparc and inaugurated in June 2011, the cellar features two enormous waves of white concrete that rise magnificently out of the ground. There is a garden of wild grasses atop this artificial hill, whose gracious curves are overlooked by the château. The wine cellar lets in natural light and has a pure, simple design that seems out of time. It is entirely suited to Cheval Blanc.

The 6,000 m² cellar houses a state-of-the-art winemaking facility where technology is guided by man, and not the reverse. Human hands take precedence over machines. Despite its huge size, the building conveys a gentle, intimate atmosphere. The streamlined design leaves no room for the superfluous.  Everything is kept in proportion, like the wines that are produced there...


Natural light penetrates into the vat room, with its fifty-two vats in six rows. Built in Italy, these concrete vats come in nine different sizes, from 20 to 110 hectolitres.

Each one is devoted to grapes from a different plot and displays two plaques: one permanent one with the number and the capacity of the vat, as well as another removable one showing the plot number, the grape variety, when the vines were planted, and when the grapes were put into vat. This "tailor-made" winemaking means that vats correspond exactly to individual vineyard plots, and is conducive to fine-tuning the final blend of wines from Cheval Blanc's homogeneous terroir. The cellar is fully in keeping with the château's extreme attention to detail throughout the winemaking process.




In fact, the Cheval Blanc cellar was the first in its category to be certified for the High Quality Environmental (HQE) standard. Known for its stringent criteria, this certification recognises the care taken in choosing building materials, energy saving, waste water management, and the sorting of solid waste, as well as acoustic comfort and employee well-being.

On the 20th of November 2013, the Cheval Blanc cellar received the famous International Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum, a museum of architecture and design. The cellar also received an award from the Centre européen pour le Design d’Art architectural et d’Etudes urbaines. The latter recognises distinctive, avant-garde, innovative buildings. Cheval Blanc was the first wine cellar ever to receive this honour.


Work in the cellar begins with the harvest, as soon as the grapes come off the sorting table. The crushed grapes are put into small 450 kg vats, then transported to the fermentation vat that corresponds to their weight and the plot they came from. Every vat is filled three-quarters full by gravity flow, without pumping. The juice is left on the skins and alcoholic fermentation is ready to begin.

This starts on the second day due to the action of yeast. After about 12 hours of fermentation, the CO2 that is released pushes the skins to the top of the vat, where they form a cap. Three times a day, part of the translucent juice is pumped from the bottom of the vat up to the top to percolate through the cap. This pumping over is done delicately in order to obtain the highest-quality tannin. The operation takes place manually, and a technician makes sure to spray wine all over the cap. This pumping over is done less frequently as time goes on and comes to a halt when the desired relative density is attained. This is measured twice a day with a hydrometer. The other parameters are overseen by the château technical team and the cellarmaster, who takes a sample every morning from each vat.

The juice is left in contact with the cap in temperature-controlled vats for several days at a temperature of 28-30°C without manipulation. This post-fermentation phase helps to make the free run juice richer and more elegant, and the tannic texture more silky. The free run juice is put into another vat, and the marc is pressed. The various lots of press wine (approximately 10% of the total) are put into barrel to speed up clarification. The best lots will later become part of the château's second wine.
In order to preserve each plot’s taste profile, malolactic fermentation takes place in vat at a temperature of 20°C. This operation softens the acidity and stabilises the wine. It lasts for anywhere from three weeks to several months. Sulphur is added at the end of this second fermentation to avoid oxidation and any harmful bacteria. Only the smallest possible amount of chemical input products is used at the château during winemaking, which must remain as simple and natural as possible.






Cheval Blanc Cuts 2013 Wine Price Amid Bordeaux Pressure 

By Guy Collins 

Chateau Cheval Blanc, a leading wine estate in the Saint-Emilion district of Bordeaux, cut the price of its 2013 wines by 12 percent from the previous year amid pressure on the region’s growers after cold, wet weather affected the crop.

Cheval Blanc is offering the wine at 300 euros ($416) a bottle from Bordeaux wholesale merchants, according to data compiled by the Liv-ex wine market. That still leaves it 12 euros more costly than Chateau Lafite Rothschild, at 288 euros the most expensive of the left-bank first-growth estates.

Investors have been looking to so-called en primeur sales of 2013 wines, before they are bottled and delivered, to give impetus to Bordeaux prices, which have declined amid growing interest in wine from other regions. The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 Index is heading for its eighth straight monthly drop and has declined more than 4 percent since the start of this year.

Growers have been under pressure to cut prices by 25 percent to 30 percent “to sell the vintage and get a bit of goodwill flowing again, especially as the 2013 vintage suffered from such poor growing conditions,” Will Beck, a partner at Wine Asset Managers LLP in London, said in a market report e-mailed April 23. “Some diehard and perennial primeur buyers are now opting for better value older vintages.”



Despite the icy wind and lashing rain, a large group of villagers had gathered on the narrow streets of Saint-Émilion to receive Henry IV, King of France. He was expected to stop at the village on his way from Paris to his birthplace of Pau. The weather conditions and the long journey were taxing, however, and the exhausted horses in the King’s retinue had to be replaced. The King’s famous pedantry threatened to ruin the expedition, as he would only accept a white horse for his steed. Luckily, one was found: the only white horse in the area lived in the stables of a small inn five kilometres from the centre of Saint-Émilion. The owner of the inn gave the horse to the King as a present, and so the journey could continue through the village. The horse became legendary as the white steed of King Henry IV, and was immortalised in many paintings and sculptures.

The origins of the story are difficult to trace, but it is probably no coincidence that 250 years later, those stables became the site of a vineyard named Cheval Blanc (“White Horse”). Today, the white steed carries a new king: Pierre Lurton, adorned also with the golden crown of Château d’Yquem. 

The Lurtons arrived in Bordeaux in the late 1800s. They acquired their first vineyard, Château Brane-Cantenac in Margaux, in the 1930s. The then head of the family, François Lurton, also acquired a significant stake in the celebrated Château Margaux. He later traded that for the Clos Fourtet winery in Saint-Émilion. Although Pierre Lurton’s great-uncles André and Lucien only had access to limited capital, they confidently bought more than a dozen vineyards in the years following the Second World War. Many of the estates were in poor condition, deeply scarred by the War, the economic crisis and the devastating frosts of 1956. Therefore they were sold cheaply, and, to André and Lucien’s great fortune, later turned out to be real goldmines.

            André Lurton, who owned six vineyards, had seven children. His brother Lucien had around ten estates and as many descendants. The cousins grew directly into the family’s wine business, and soon there was talk of a Lurton family empire: so powerful were they in Bordeaux. Today the family controls more than 25 châteaux in the region.

Pierre, the son of Dominique Lurton, is today the most renowned member of the family, and for good reason. He manages two of the most famous vineyards in the world, Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem. Pierre took over the reins for the Château Cheval Blanc estate and wines in 1991. He describes his demanding task as follows: “All the Lurtons are in the wine business, and they have spread out around the world. I am related to most of my business partners. I have long worked in close contact with my father and my uncle, and they have taught me diplomacy and care above all, because our family tree is very complex. Although I deal with my relatives, I have to be very tactful.”

In 1832, the prospects were poor for the Figeac vineyard in Saint-Émilion. Madame Félicité de Carle-Trajet signed an agreement to hand over 16.3 hectares of gravelly land to the Libourne Provincial President, Ducasse. As a widow, she paid a high price for her late husband’s mistakes. On the brink of bankruptcy, she was forced to give up their once magnificent wine estate piece by piece. It was now in a terrible state, with many buildings collapsed and several other varieties being cultivated there besides wine.

            In the early 1800s, Figeac had still been the most renowned vineyard in Bordeaux, together with Haut-Brion. The poor widow would scarcely have been comforted by the knowledge that her actions would give rise to a new success story, with Ducasse and his sons-in-law as the trailblazers.

            Ducasse began by having a castle built on the land, and later extended the plot by a further 15.4 hectares. After this, the estate’s muddy, gravelly and water-logged soil was dried to improve the quality of its wines. Ducasse continued to sell his wines under the Figeac name until 1853, when the first bottles of Cheval Blanc were launched on the market. Son-in-law Jean Laussac-Fourcaud continued Ducasse’s praiseworthy efforts in quality development. He can be credited for instance with planting Cabernet Franc in the vineyards in 1870, which has since become an essential part of the Cheval Blanc identity.

            Having later changed his name to Fourcaud-Laussac, Jean became internationally recognised at the London and Paris fairs in 1862 and 1867. The diplomas received at those fairs still have pride of place on the Cheval Blanc label. Despite this acknowledgement, it would take another 50 years for Cheval Blanc to become truly world-famous. Then came the breakthrough.

Although Cheval Blanc had received recognition in international fairs, it was by no means among the most esteemed wines in Bordeaux. The famous classification of 1855 had mercilessly left all the right-bank estates in the shadow of Médoc, Graves and Sauternes. After the ownership changes and a later infestation of phylloxera, Figeac was but a shadow of its former self. Belair and the historic Ausone, which had once again shot to fame, were the only prominent wineries on the right bank. The 1921 vintage changed everything, however. The extremely hot year produced two legendary wines: Château d’Yquem and Cheval Blanc, both of which beat all other Bordeaux wines. With this vintage, Cheval Blanc rose to the vanguard of great Bordeaux wines and achieved star status, especially on the British market, where its breakthrough was down to one man in particular. Wine Director Michael Broadbent of Christie’s declared Cheval Blanc the best red wine of 1921. 




Behind Cheval Blanc’s unique character and blend lies a multilayered soil base in which Cabernet Franc thrives better than anywhere else. The 41-hectare estate is located on a gravelly plain on the northwestern edge of Saint-Émilion, flanking the legendary region of Pomerol. Its closest neighbours are L’Evangile and Le Conseillante. Pétrus is just a stone’s throw away.

The earth comprises three different ground types. On the surface are sand and gravel, i.e. low-nutrient materials. Below these, at a depth of 80–90 cm, is ferrous clay. In some parts of the vineyards, there is still a multilayered gravelly soil stratum beneath this. The large number of stones on the surface of the earth bind warmth and thus guarantee the ideal ripening of the grapes even in cooler weather. “The soil is an essential part of the concept of the terroir. At Cheval Blanc, it is a combination of gravelly topsoil and heavy, clay-based soil deeper down. The gravel content gives the wine its refined nature, whereas the clay provides its full-bodiedness and velvety tannins. The great Cheval Blanc is born out of the combination of these two soil types,” Lurton explains.

The warmth of the soil ripens the grapes relatively early. This supports the use of later grape varieties such as the tannin-rich Cabernet Franc rather than the early-ripening Merlot. Just over one half of the cultivated area on the Cheval Blanc estate grows Cabernet Franc, while a bit less has Merlot. In addition, around one per cent of the acreage consists of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. “My main aim for the near future is to maintain the Cheval Blanc character and style while increasing its quality by limiting the harvest and further specifying the choice of grapes,” Lurton says.

Quality assurance at Cheval Blanc is maintained by restricting yields to the low quantity of 35 hl/ha. This is achieved thanks to the older-than-average 33-year-old vines, with minimal use of natural fertilizers and by grafting the vines onto low-yield Riparia rootstock. Yields are kept low using the Guyot Simple single-cane vine training system, in which the number of flowers is lower than average. In very sunny and warm crop years, the vines must be thinned out in order to maintain quality.



Lurton has also made development efforts in the production process. Fermentation takes place at a temperature of 30–32 degrees Celsius, which is allowed to fall naturally without artificial regulation towards the end of the process. At the initial stages of fermentation, Lurton uses the pumping-over method for colour extraction and to prevent reductive aromas from building up. After fermentation, skin extraction continues for three weeks before pressing. The extraction time is determined based on the amount of extraction agents formed in the grapes, and is decided after tasting by a jury. The jury includes former management members from the estate, who have solid experience of various vintages of Cheval over the decades.

For pressing, Lurton’s team has after numerous tests found old-fashioned hydraulic presses to be preferable to pneumatic ones. They found that their wine tasted better before blending when it came from a pneumatic press rather than a hydraulic press, yet after blending, the hydraulically pressed wine surprisingly had much higher quality. After blending, the wine matures in French oak barrels, of which only some are new; this is to ensure that the terroir can be perceived in the wine above the oak.

In the cellar, several rows of piled-up barriques stand on the ochre-coloured floor. They contain everything that will go into the 2008 vintage of Cheval Blanc. “Our technique is very traditional, even old-fashioned,” explains Pierre Olivier Clouet almost apologetically. The young winemaker studied agriculture in Normandy, after which he qualified in winemaking from the esteemed École du Vin in Bordeaux. He was recruited as an oenologist by Cheval Blanc immediately after graduation, which is a remarkable achievement. “The wine slopes are divided into 32 plots whose aromas vary significantly due to the different soil compositions,” he says. “The grapes from each plot are fermented separately in their own tanks, and the oenologists do not decide which plot’s wine to use for the Cheval Blanc blend, and in what proportions, until after the winemaking process.”

The estate only produces approximately 35 hectolitres per hectare, so the vines must be cut during the summer to restrict the crop. The wine matures in new French oak barrels for 20 months, in order to develop its characteristic structure and tannins. “We love oak,” Clouet confesses. “During fermentation and aging, wine samples are only pumped out once or twice, and even that is done very carefully to prevent oxidation.”

This handcrafted process has its price, but the end product is worth it. It makes the wines more intense and complex. The cuvée (blend) is made after two months of barrel aging, as a team effort between the oenologists and Managing Director Lurton: “There are no guidelines for the proportions of grape varieties in the wine. Nor is the quantity of finished wine decided in advance. At the end, all that matters is that the wine is a typical Cheval Blanc,” Clouet says. After this, the cuvée is aged in wooden barrels for another year. Once the label is stuck on, the price of the bottle can exceed EUR 400, depending on the vintage. The subscription price for 2006 was EUR 480, while the price for the 2007 vintage is already around EUR 500.

 Lurton has mixed feelings about the price trend. “Price inflation has been a problem for the most renowned wines. Of course I understand you have to pay for a quality wine. Cheval Blanc, for example, is clearly a luxury product – very expensive and rare. However, it is not my aim to produce a wine that is objectified and used as a bargaining chip by investors. We produce wine for people to drink; it’s that simple. I do understand that the price is an inevitable consequence of the quality and desirability of our wines, but we will not change our style just to receive better scores from critics. Many critics seem to like our style of winemaking, and this naturally leads to our products being traded in auctions,” Lurton says.


Inside information

Co-Owner of Château Cheval-Blanc Albert Frère Dies

The richest man in Belgium, Frère was a passionate wine lover worth an estimated $5.8 billion.

Albert Frère, co-owner of Bordeaux's famed Château Cheval-Blanc in St.-Emilion, died Dec. 3 at age 92. The Belgian billionaire was a co-investor with Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH, when they acquired the legendary estate in 1998.

"I am deeply saddened by the death of my friend," said Arnault, in a statement. "Albert was an extraordinary man and a truly exceptional entrepreneur. Throughout our 35 years of faithful friendship we forged extremely close ties, both personal and professional."

With diverse investments that stretched from steel to fashion to oil, the Belgian business titan was also famously passionate about wine. He enjoyed his times at Cheval-Blanc, where he developed a strong camaraderie with the team running the estate. 

"He was both a businessman and a man of the Earth, a real vigneron. He often came to see us and he was a great ambassador for our wines," Pierre Lurton, director of Château Cheval-Blanc and Château d'Yquem, told Wine Spectator. "He was a real visionary."

Frère was the wealthiest man in Belgium, with a fortune estimated at $5.8 billion. King Albert II of Belgium made him a baron in 1994. Frère started his rise to riches during World War II, at age 17, when he left school to run the family's modest nail business.

From the start, he was a savvy entrepreneur, rebuilding the company in the years after the war. By the 1950s, he was investing in steel factories. Two decades later, he dominated Belgium's steel industry. Eventually, after a lucrative merger, he sold his steel business and created a holding company, Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, that invested in oil, insurance, telecommunications, finance and other sectors. He helped negotiate some of France's largest mergers and acquisitions.

In addition to Cheval-Blanc, Arnault and Frère bought Château Quinault l'Enclos, also in St.-Emilion, in 2008. "Beyond his innate business sense, I will always remember Albert's passionate love of life, his great skill in unifying people and his tremendous commitment to everything he undertook to accomplish," said Arnault. 

Frère is survived by his wife, Christine, two of his three children and several grandchildren.


3 different wines with 138 vintages

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