On Monday I visited with Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, owner of Château Angelus, a Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé (as of 1996). The estate manages roughly 32 hectares of vines, composed of 50% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The average age of the vines is nearly 40 years and the yields are rather low at around 25 to 30 hectoliters per hectare. The vines are planted in the Mazerat Valley, on a southerly slope. The soil is composed of calcareous clay loam and sand.
Throughout vinification there is a lot of attention to detail and the whole process is very hands on. Roughly 30 workers are employed at the sorting table and in the winery, as compared to 20 in the vineyard. The grapes go through a cold pre-fermentation maceration and the winery employs both punching down and pumping over throughout the long maceration, which lasts anywhere from 18 days to 5 weeks. Afterward the malolactic fermentation takes place in the barrel and the wine rests on its lees during a 6 to 9 month period. The above technique is considered to be traditionally Burgundian; however, similar to Château Valandraud, many Bordeaux estates employ these techniques. Furthermore, Mr. de Boüard explained that classifying such practices as Burgundian is not very useful, as these techniques have existed in Bordeaux for over 150 years. After completing the maceration, the first label wine is aged in 100% new oak barrels for between 20 and 24 months. 40 to 45% new oak is used for the 2nd label, Carillon de l’Angelus, and 20% new oak is used for the 3rd label. The annual production for the first, second and third labels is 90,000, 20,000 and 10,000 bottles respectively.
The estate has been in the de Boüard de Laforest family for seven generations, dating back to 1782. Mr. de Boüard’s daughter is in line as his likely successor. The name Angelus derives from the famous Angelus bell, which in the past could be heard ringing simultaneously from all three local churches within near vicinity of the estate. During the 60s and 70s Château Angelus was known for intense fruity wines; however, the wine did not hold up with age. In the 80s, with the help of Michel Rolland, all this changed. The estate began aging the wine in 100% new oak barrels and the results were very positive, producing a much more complex and structured wine, yet still maintaining the rich, fruitiness from earlier vintages.
Before visiting the winery and vineyards with Mr. de Boüard, I had the opportunity to sit down with him and pose a few questions…
Regarding Mr. de Boüard’s personal story in wine, it begins quite literally from day one. In fact, he was actually born at the Château. After spending his youth absorbed in the surroundings of the beautiful Saint-Emilion wine country, Mr. de Boüard enrolled at Bordeaux University where he obtained a degree in oenology. He was one of the last apprentices under the world famous Bordeaux oenologists, Émile Peynaud and Jean Ribéreau-Gayon. Throughout the 80s, Mr. de Boüard went on a “world tour” of wine, working in wineries and vineyards throughout Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, and Napa Valley. By 1985, he jumped on board at Château Angelus, as the General Director. Immediately, in collaboration with his close friend and fellow Peynaud pupil, Michel Rolland, Mr. de Boüard made a number of changes to improve the wine and the overall operations. In addition to aging the wine in 100% new oak, he reinstituted the double extraction method (pigéage and remontage) throughout the fermentation and maceration.
Mr. de Boüard’s success as head of Château Angelus allowed him to further grow his holdings. In 1997, along with Bruno Prats of Cos d’Estournel and Lowell Jooste of Klein Constantia Estates, he bought Anwilka in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The following year he bought La Fleur de Boüard in Pomerol; and just one year ago, Mr. de Boüard bought Château Bellevue, a Saint Emilion Grand Cru estate. 2008 was his first vintage. In addition to his holdings, Mr. de Boüard also stays busy as a viticulture and wine consultant for over 20 labels.
Next, Mr. de Boüard explained some of the more important characteristics of the estate’s terroir. He breaks down the southerly facing slope into three sections—Upper slope, mid slope, and lower slope. The two main distinctions Mr. de Boüard made were in the proportion of clay found in each section and the varietals of grapes planted. The upper slope is planted with virtually 100% Merlot and the proportion of clay is roughly 18%. The mid slope is planted with a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and has a 12% composition of clay. Finally, the lower slope is composed of 100% Cabernet Franc with a composition of 6 to 8% clay soil. Mr. de Boüard explained that the higher proportion of clay in the upper slope allows for the Merlot, which is always the first of the three grapes to ripen, to ripen later than normal, resulting in much closer harvest dates than what is typical.
Regarding Mr. de Boüard’s winemaking philosophy he detailed a few key points. One, he seeks to maximize the ripeness of the Cabernet Franc, producing a marked richness in the wine. However, at the same time he wants to be careful not to over ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon, which would produce overly accentuated notes of chocolate and coffee. Once in the vat, Mr. de Boüard prefers a long maceration with periodic punching down and pumping over, versus a maceration with the extraction crammed into a much shorter window. The aim behind the longer maceration is to achieve a much more subtle and soft vinification, resulting in a richer and more elegant wine. Furthermore, the estate prefers wider, versus taller vats to carry out the maceration, allowing for a larger surface area to be in contact with the grapes. I found it very interesting to learn that the estate uses cement, oak and stainless steel vats. Mr. de Boüard believes that all three types of vats have something to offer throughout the vinification. Cabernet Franc is often vinified in the cement vats; however, for the Merlot Mr. de Boüard prefers more oak and stainless steel. Furthermore, the older vines are typically vinified in oak, which imparts more structure into the wine. However, for the young vines Mr. de Boüard believes that a better marriage is achieved in the stainless steel vats.
Before ending our discussion, I asked Mr. de Boüard about his favorite vintages and his thoughts on the 2008 vintage, scheduled for bottling around September 2010. He is very pleased with the 2008, comparing it distantly to the 2005 and highlighting its very velvety, cashmere-like tannins. Regarding past vintages, Mr. de Boüard said that clearly the 1989, 1990, 2000 and 2005 are top vintages; however, he is also very fond of the 2004 and 2006, which he considers to be very characteristic of what Château Angelus looks to achieve in its wine.
Below I have summarized my tasting notes from the 2008 and 2006 vintages…
2008 Château Angelus
Blend: 62% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc
Tasting Notes: (in barrel, 3.2 TA, 3.85 pH, 13.8% ABV) Fresh, bright red fruit on the nose. Still not too expressive; however, showing nice notes of spice, mineral, and cassis. Very rich and full-bodied in the mouth, with smooth, silky tannins and a nice balance. There are flavors of dark chocolate and black fruit. The wine grows a little bitter on the finish with subtle notes of grapefruit.
Rating: 15-17/20 (WS 89-92)
2006 Château Angelus
Blend: 58% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Franc
Tasting Notes: Much creamier and more elegant on the nose, with a nice hint of cedar. There is good acidity in the mouth and the tannins are tighter and more pronounced than the ’08, nonetheless still controlled and well balanced. This wine expresses a nice fruitiness and minerality with flavors of coffee, chocolate, cedar, and cherries.
Rating: 15-16/20 (WS 93)
Price: $215 USD, upon release @ Wine Spectator