A Visit to Château Ducru-Beaucaillou

Passing across Saint-Julien and Beychevelle, there’s one Château that stand out a lot, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. It is perched on the slight hill where the sun shines the most, overlooking the river and the stone castle is just breathtaking. I mean, even more than the hundreds of other castles in the region. It has the honour to be one of the 14 second growths from the 1855 classification, but it is also considered as one of the rare “super seconds”. Now that’s a title that is appealing to me. My experience there as a modest visitor was quite a revelation and added a strong sense of place to the identity of this great wine. Why did no one told me about how truly fantastic this was going to be. I wasn’t ready.

I arrived ever so slightly late, some would say fashionably but I’m normally rooting for right on time. I was greeted by a very cheerful mister wearing a bright yellow apron. I learned rapidly that it was in fact Mr. René Lusseau, cellar master, accomplished winemaker and a product of the Médoc. He seemed to have something to say on every little detail. I know about the trouble he had with his Barrel cap supplier, the name of each worker that we crossed on our guided path, the perfect spots for pictures, that the lighted cat art in the barrel room did help to get rid of small unwanted visitor, the age of each tree, why he liked the traditional candles in the barrel room, etc. This man is a fun burst of information.

Here’s some of it.

Five families have succeeded as owners of the estate. As early as the 13th century, the Bergeron family was already receiving visitors at the estate and built a good reputation. In 1795, the estate was sold to Bertrand Ducru who gave his name to the estate along with the “beaux cailloux” or nice rocks just in between gravel and pebbles that are the basis of the terroir. The next reign was the Johnson family. Nathaniel Johnson with the help of Ernest David, the manager of the Left Bank estate, created the first solution to the recurrent Bordeaux mildew problem. It is now known as “Bouillie bordelaise”. It was with a broken heart that he sold the estate to the Desbarats family after the economic crash of 1929. The Desbarats only kept the property for twelve years, unable to bring it back to its previous reputable state.

The fifth and last family to own Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is the Borie Family. They also own Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste, Château Haut Batailley in Pauillac, Lalande-Borie produced from a vineyard purchased from Lagrange in the 70s as well as other vineyards in the region. Bruno Eugène Borie has joined his father in 1994 in the management team of the wine company. He was also Chairman of the “Conseil des grands crus classés” from 1997 to 1999.

Mister Borie, Master of the Castle is one of the few owners that uses the estate as habitation. The huge Palace has this homey feel to it. During my visit, he made a perfect grand entrance by slowly coming down the noble outdoor stairs towards us. He likes to meet and greet personally every visitor when possible as a perfectly suitable host. We had a discussion on the situation of the estate, its evolution, his passion and some politics thrown in there. Well, the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau did pay the estate a visit before, apparently a good friend of the family.

A little while prior Bruno Borie came in charge of the estate, there was a big TCA contamination. In the cellars, all the bottles from 1986 up to 1994 were contaminated and destroyed. All other vintages remaining have been recorked to stay in perfect condition. It is now a problem of the past but still feel like a fresh wound when Mr. Lusseau talks about it.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is an admirable example of the St-Julien appellation with the luxury of a widespread representation of its terroir. Château Lalande-Borie, also part of the Borie group is located on the west façade. It is truly a soft, fresh and stylish accessible wine; Croix de Beaucaillou is at the epicenter of the appellation Saint-Julien to be considered as an ambitious terroir wine and not a second wine; and of course, the Grand vin wearing the bright yellow iconic color.

Overall, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou stands out, yes for its beauty and quality, but furthermore for the rather Un-Bordeaux-Like proprietors. This estate will remain in my heart as welcoming, merry, down to earth, the actual rocky earth and ever so special. It’s magical when you can add a big dose of personality to an already great wine.