Grand cru classé en 1855 Haut-Médoc
Château La Tour Carnet
1st sorting in the vineyard. Manual sorting in a vibrating table, followed by a destemming with a Pellenc Selectiv‘ process Winery. Optical sorting grain by grain. Cooling off of the harvest through a cryogenic tunnel freezer (spraying of liquid nitrogen). Vatting by gravity flow with a funnel. Fermentation in wooden vats and small capacity concrete tanks. Cold pre-fermentation maceration (8°C). Manual punching down. Alcoholic fermentation at low temperature (28°C). Maceration for 25 to 32 days. Aging in oak barrels for 16 months (30% new).
On the road to Saint-Julien -Beychevelle, a stone's throw from its church, the impressive quadrangular tower of Château La Tour Carnet rises in the axis of a monumental gate. If the thick walls could talk, they would tell us all the past stories of this authentic castle.
From rte XIIth century until today, from the Hundred Years War to the great phylloxera epidemic, La Tour Carnet crossed nobly the adventures of men and time.
Since the XVIth century, special attention was paid to the cultivation of the vine and wine quality. This exceptional work is recognized as early as 1855, during the Universal Exhibition in Paris, Chateau La Tour Carnet joined the very closed list of Grand Crus Classés.
A bit of History
On the road to Saint-Julien -Beychevelle, a stone's throw from its church, the impressive quadrangular tower of Château La Tour Carnet rises in the axis of a monumental gate.
If the thick enclosure walls could talk, they would tell of the rich historical past of this authentic feudal castle. They would awaken the sound of knights galloping across the drawbridge in the 12th century, and the sound of "drums beaten by sticks, used to announce the maturity of the harvest and scare away wolves and boars" in the 17th century. And they would summon up the glory days of the 19th century and the "1855 classification", the dark hours of phylloxera, before the great viticultural revival of the 20th century.
With the passion and the requirement that he is known for, Bernard Magrez has undertaken to raise even higher the Grand Cru Classé Haut-Médoc …
Its origins are lost to the mists of time. Initially called Château de Saint-Laurent, this ancient medieval fortress perched on one of the most attractive slopes of Médoc was used by the English to battle the French nobility, and was inhabited from the 12th century onwards. The chateau’s defensive architecture, with its famous round tower built in the 11th century, evokes the troubled period of the One Hundred Years War. Trade in Médoc wines was nevertheless flourishing and Château Saint-Laurent's production was especially popular: in 1407, a "hogshead" (roughly 240 liters) of the Château's wine would sell for 36 crowns, compared to 6 crowns for a Graves wine. At the time, "all chateau wine was believed to be wine quality, all you have to do was build one in the middle of your estate". Carnet had already had its own for two centuries.
In the 13th century, the Maison de Foix, enfeoffed to the King of England, owned the seigneury of Saint-Laurent. And when, in 1451, Bordeaux capitulated to the King of France, Count Jean de Foix and his faithful squire, Carnet, refused to submit. Their loyalty to the King of England brought them many misadventures, punctuated with military episodes.
In 1486, Carnet became the executor of the last will and testament of his master, Jean de Foix, who had died a year previously. He still refused to rally to the King of France. Fighting alongside the English who were then harvesting in Aquitaine, he maintained a long siege inside his castle and was finally defeated by "Beau Dunois", a companion of Jeanne d’Arc. The chateau was partially destroyed on the King of France's orders, but the name of the valiant squire remained.
Over the centuries, the estate had a series of owners, among them, in the 16th century, the philosopher Montaigne's brother-in-law, Thibault de Carmaing.
At the heart of the Médoc vineyards revolution
From 1500 to the Revolution, La Tour Carnet grew in an era of deep change for vineyards. Encouraged by the growing importance of the parliament established by Louis XI, an administrative aristocracy developed more interested in land than trade. This activity gradually fell into the hands of Northern European merchants, especially from Holland. They built cellars and warehouses in the marsh areas on the left bank of the Gironde River, in a district known as "Chartrons", named after the old Carthusian monastery.
During this same period, in certain estates, expert cellar masters not only managed to conserve wine but also to improve it by letting it age. While the idea of vintage did not yet exist, buyers began testing before sealing any deal. At La Tour Carnet, the estate was always maintained in good condition. From 1725, with the emphasis now on quality over quantity, light fertilization and short pruning were the order of the day; a wine of "new merit" was already being produced.
The Revolution of 1789 spared the estate which became the possession of a Swedish nobleman, a wine-merchant working in the Chartrons area, Charles de Luetkens. The acquisition was a godsend for the property. In the hands of a foreign national, it was not subject to revolutionary laws. Moreover, under Luetkens guidance, La Tour Carnet gained lasting prestige.
Luetkens' descendants, who became French, did all they could to develop La Tour Carnet's huge potential.
In 1855, under the direction of Angélique Raymond, Jean-Jacques Luetkens's wife, Château La Tour Carnet was rewarded for the quality of its wine when it was listed as a "Grand Cru Classé" for the occasion of the Universal Exhibition in Paris.
While the title offered a guarantee of quality and formidable publicity, the owners were now obliged to keep producing superb wine to keep their ranking.
At the time, La Tour Carnet's vineyard covered 52 hectares.
In 1861, Angélique's son, Charles-Oscar de Luetkens, took over the Château. A local political figure (mayor of Saint-Laurent-de-Médoc under the Second Empire and under the provisional government of the emerging 3rd Republic), he also proved to be very influential in the vineyard, and was acknowledged by his peers as a "distinguished winemaker".
Gradually destroyed by phylloxera, the vineyard underwent a period of decline, like most other grands crus classés. The value of properties decreased, and many were bought up by investment companies more interested in finance than wine quality.
The 1960s revival
It was not until 1962 that the virtually abandoned estate began to arise once more from the ashes. A new owner, Louis Lipschitz, owner of a towing company in Bordeaux, undertook to renovate, rebuild and restore this grand cru classé.
He set about replanting abandoned plots, restoring the chateau and renovating the viticultural buildings. He thus preceded the general move to rehabilitating vineyards by 10 years. From 1978, his daughter Marie-Claire Pelegrin continued his work with the same application.
As she quite beautifully said: "My father left me a diamond he had not finished cutting." The vineyard was reconstituted and its area increased to 45 hectares, while the outbuildings were rehabilitated, enlarged and modernized. Her creative husband, Guy François, invented a rotating sorting table and a high-clearance tractor with tracks, the prototypes of which are conserved at the chateau. Hence the estate regained the splendor of its 1855 classification.
Celebrating quality again
As part of this drive for quality, Bernard Magrez has already undertaken a program of restoration and renovation. Not only is it his intention to raise La Tour Carnet, covering 126 hectares with 48 hectares of vines, to the level of excellence enjoyed in the glory days of its eight-century history, but also to ennoble one of the most original terroirs of Médoc using the latest cutting-edge knowledge and techniques. In the words of the previous owner, Marie-Claire Pèlegrin, it is his aim to finally cut the diamond.
To understand what makes the richness and unique personality of the wines of La Tour Carnet, we have to both understand what makes the originality of its soil and its technical excellence in viticulture and winemaking.
The terroir of Château La Tour Carnet is a mosaic of multi diversity land. The use of the most modern techniques such as drone acquired by Bernard Magrez to analyze the plots, has optimized the virtues of this land by assigning the most suitable varieties: the hill is a soil conducive to Merlots, hillsides rather the Cabernets.
But obtaining exceptional grapes would be nothing without careful winemaking techniques to make the best of it. This is why, for several years, Château La Tour Carnet returned to traditional methods that rely heavily on manual labor.
The originality of the Saint Laurent Médoc terroir lies in its diversity.
It is a patchwork of soils composed, in the far west, of sand and gravel, becoming siliceous-gravel, siliceous-clay and calcareous-clay toward the west and center. To the east are the gravel slopes of the finest vineyards, including La Tour Carnet. Here, the soil is mainly composed of graves (fluvial pebbles, gravel and sand) from the Gunzian glacial era and is very similar to the neighboring appellations of Pauillac and Saint-Julien.
With its south-southwest exposure, a large part of the calcareous clay subsoil slopes are covered in a thick layer of Garonne River and Pyrenean graves. On this broad border of gravel slopes are located the finest vineyards. The 1855 classification confirmed this reality, and especially distinguished the Château La Tour Carnet. In the western part of the estate is ridge of asteriated limestone with Sannois clay slopes. This is the “Butte de La Tour Carnet” a geological curiosity that still leaves experts in wonder. The eastern part stretches across the south-southwest facing slopes of a gravelly hill typical of Médoc's grands crus. The calcareous clay subsoil is covered with a thick layer of Garonne and Pyrenees graves. The final part in the north consists of a large plateau of fine graves.
Years of painstaking experimentation have enabled us to get the very best from these soils by planting them with the most-suitable grape varieties—the Butte is most suitable for Merlots, while the slopes are best suited to Cabernets.
From planting to harvesting
Achieving a wine of quality first requires good grapes. From the planting stage, a rigorous approach is essential not only for choosing grape varieties and root stock but also for maintenance—a young plantation should be tended like a garden. The vine stock then requires constant attention throughout its life. Pruning, tilling and interventions on the plants (especially leaf and cluster thinning) are part of the same desire for perfection. Experienced winegrowers use the “Guyot double” training method where two canes, known as “astes” are conserved. Only 3 buds per cane remain to reduce yields and boost quality.
Great wines are produced from vines with low yields. At Château La Tour Carnet, control of yields is essential. Adequate pruning, rigorous maintenance, and sensible cluster thinning lead to low quantities of exceptionally concentrated grapes. Cluster thinning, where excess clusters are removed, is carried out in two stages to make the whole operation more precise. Leaf thinning, also performed in two stages, as well as increasing the height of the trellis, helps guarantee quality grapes. The average yields obtained are around 40-45 hectoliters per hectare.
Grapes are harvested by hand at optimum maturity. Sometimes only part of a row can be harvested while the remaining section is harvested several days later, when the grapes are perfectly ripe. This plot-based management of our crop is specific to the Château La Tour Carnet, and requires great knowledge of the vineyard and impeccable organization. The speed with which our many harvesters intervene enables us to optimize grape ripening.
Grapes are sorted by the pickers, and then placed in small crates to minimize the risk of the fruit being crushed.
In the cellar
The crates' contents are carefully placed onto a sorting table. Undesirable scraps such as leaves and leafstalks etc. are eliminated along with green or spoiled bunches. The grapes are then destemmed to remove the fruit from the stems. Pressing is not performed systematically. The grapes undergo further selection on a sorting table and are then conveyed to the oak fermentation vats. Any plant debris likely to bring a “grassy” flavor is thus removed to focus on the roundness characteristic of Château La Tour Carnet's wine. From next year onwards, 50 % of the Grand Vin will be vinified in 18 wooden vats, which will be replaced every four years. The remainder ferments in stainless steel vats. The usual technique of pumping-over is replaced by hand-plunging, where the cap is pushed into the fermenting juice to gently extract substances desired, such as tannins, anthocyanins, and polyphenols, etc. The flow of the grapes by gravity, the use of oak vats and hand-plunging are a return to the traditional methods used in the Médoc region in the past. The aim of these techniques is to obtain a complex, silky wine, with powerful balanced tannins and great aromatic persistence.
Fermentation temperatures never exceed 30 to 32° in order to aid the development of delicate aromas. Alcoholic fermentation takes place for 8-9 days. Maceration, meanwhile, lasts three weeks. The free-run wines are separated from the press wines. Malolactic fermentation takes place in new barrels.
1,500 new barrels are bought each year! These barrels hold the new vintage and are gathered together in the impressive amphitheater-shaped cellars of the Château La Tour Carnet.
Grand Vins are matured in barrels for 18 months—50% of the barrels are new. Vinified according to the same method as our first wine, Les Douves de Carnet, Château La Tour Carnet's second wine, has a round and pleasantly fruity structure, but is less intense than its distinguished partner, so may be tasted younger. “Les Douves de Carnet” is aged in barrels for about15 months. Racking is performed delicately, on specific days of the month, and without pumping. We use the traditional method of egg white fining.
A month before bottling, the wine is returned to vats to round it off and then is blended, the final step that will reveal Château La Tour Carnet's vintage.