I just returned from Bordeaux where I had attended En Primeur, a week long tasting for international fine wine journalists to taste the new 2009 vintage. I had the good fortune to catch up with Chateau Brane-Cantenac owner and oenologist Henri Lurton, whose grandfather bought the second-growth estate in 1925.
All week long, I overheard other fine wine journalists raving about Brane-Cantenac — not just this vintage, but as the “first of the seconds” and that many of them collected it in their cellars. After the 2009 Margaux blind tasting, I discovered I too had given it top marks.
So naturally I asked Mr. Lurton about the vintage …
Mr. Lurton, the new vintage of Brane-Cantenac is showing very well and got very high scores from me in a blind tasting. What, if any, challenges did you have during the growing season?
It has been an easy vintage. The most challenging for me was to find the best moment for picking. We had to find the moment when the skins were perfectly ripe without losing the freshness of the fruit.
Did you learn anything during the growing season this year that will help in the 2010 vintage?
We learn every vintage! 2009 was a dry year and for some parcels — young ones mostly — it was very interesting to notice their ability to resist the dryness and even if was too soon for them to go into the first wine, they are still very qualitative. In addition, our newly planted Carmenère was impressive.
Do you see some dramatic shifts in the market this year? For example, is Asia buying more Brane-Cantenac and America more Baron de Brane?
The market, and mostly Europe or America, will buy more Baron de Brane. The quality is very high, it’s a wine that will be able to age for many years and the price is very fair. I think also in those markets, buyers will want to have some Brane-Cantenac in their cellars. The price of Brane is always reasonable and will surely be so this year for a top château in this vintage. But you may be right, the demand in Asia will make it more difficult.
During the week, I overheard many journalists (who are also collectors) speaking very highly of Brane-Cantenac, especially in terms of its ability to mature and how it is showing right now. Their comments seemed directed not at this particular vintage but your brand in general. Would you attribute this to any one element — for example, extreme selection and care in the vineyard?
The care in the vineyard is really our top priority. The selection is extreme because I want to make the best wine possible. There is another reason: the quality of the soil of Brane. The ability to mature and the aromatics qualities have been linked to Brane since the 18th century. And the reputation of the Château and the prices made it very close to the first growth during two centuries. In addition, the quality of our team is yet another great factor.
I had the honor of having dinner at Chateau Brane-Cantenac last summer during Vin Expo, with Mr. Lurton acting as guide for the visiting journalists. As he led us through the estate and vineyards, I felt such a sense of wonderment. The terroir is as it has been for hundreds of years … yet the winery had been of course modernized. Still, the letters of the year the family acquired it, 1925, were engraved on the cellar interior.
The estate was first founded by the Gorce family in the early 18th century. The reputation of the wines attracted the Baron of Brane, and he bought the estate after selling Baron-Mouton in 1833. The vineyard area is 90 hectares (222 acres) and the grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon 65%, Merlot 30%, Cabernet Franc 5%. The date of the harvest is decided based on phenolic ripeness, technical ripening tests, and by tasting the berries. When the grapes are harvested they are weighted and sorted once again before being de-stemmed and crushed. The must is pumped into vats, and after each batch the pipes are flushed with compressed air to ensure complete separation of grapes from one plot to another. Oak vats are used for Cabernet and Merlot from the plateau of Brane, and for the others fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tank or epoxy-lined concrete tanks.
The must undergoes a pre-fermentation cold masceration, and is punched down to accelerate the extraction of pigment and flavor compounds. After fermentation (20 – 28 days) the wine is aged on the lees for two months. Blending is done by the end of February and 60% of the wine is then aged in new oak. The barrels used in Brane-Cantenac are made of fine grained French oak from several coopers.
I found the Brane-Cantenac 2009 having very concentrated fruit, smooth, well balanced, and with good integration overall. And I really appreciate how Mr. Lurton respects the terroir and devotes himself to letting the wine really express its sense of place. He is extremely generous with his time, and I’m glad he was able to give you his thoughts about this vintage.