Château Canon-La-Gaffelière

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The von Neipperg family is descended from a noble line dating back to the Holy Roman Empire. This family has included great soldiers and illustrious diplomats throughout the centuries, and is responsible for numerous legendary military exploits. The family's long history is grounded in their attachment to their land. Located in Schwaigern in the Württemberg Valley, Germany, the von Neipperg fiefdom covered as many as thirty villages and the family has been making fine wine there since the 12th century. The family still owns an estate in its original fief in Germany and it is managed by Stephan von Neipperg's older brother.

The family tree of the present von Neippergs dates back to Adam-Adalbert von Neipperg's first marriage to Countess Paula de Treviso in the late eighteenth century. It was during this troubled time that the von Neipperg holdings were annexed by the Duke of Württemberg who had been proclaimed king. The family managed to hold on to some of its land and, at this juncture, the von Neippergs devoted most of their energy to winegrowing while continuing to be involved in their country's political affairs.

What made the family decide to buy vineyards in France? Count Joseph-Hubert von Neipperg acquired four wine estates in Saint-Émilion: Canon-La-Gaffelière, La Mondotte, Clos De l'Oratoire, and Château Peyreau in 1971. There were several reasons for these purchases by someone who already owned vineyards in Germany. First and foremost, they were seen as a sound investment as Bordeaux wine has long been famous around the world. Joseph-Hubert von Neipperg set his sights on Saint-Émilion as he was attracted by the number of family-owned properties there. As the father of eight children, he was very concerned about passing on a legacy to the next generation and making sure the vineyards remained in the family. Initially the Saint-Émilion vineyards were not directly managed by the von Neippergs. For ten years, Monsieur Boutet, a chartered surveyor specialising in vineyard terroir, looked after the estates.

In 1983, Joseph-Hubert asked one of his children to take charge of Canon-La-Gaffelière. Aged 26, Stephan had a solid background in finance, management, and agronomy thanks to his education not only in Germany, but also in Paris and Montpellier. The time had come for this well-read young man, passionately interested in history and classical music, to focus his energies on his family's outstanding terroir in Bordeaux.

Stephan von Neipperg spent the next two years becoming intimately acquainted with the estate. He discovered the countless details involved in making wine, "a unique and emotional product". He continues to perfect his mastery of the many facets of winemaking, from the vineyard to the cellar, as well as ageing in barrel and in bottle, and international sales and marketing. Unlike other agricultural products, Stephan von Neipperg believes that "added value in wine is always rewarded". He therefore decided to take a path from which he has never since deviated: to make the most of his terroir and to adopt a long-term approach.

Stephan was officially named estate manager and proceeded to make in-depth changes at Canon-La-Gaffelière. He started by making a complete analysis of data concerning his vineyard and then drew logical conclusions of what needed doing. His collaboration at a later date with Stéphane Derenoncourt also contributed to Canon-La-Gaffelière's reputation around the world. Stephan's personality and entrepreneurial spirit quickly left their mark. He went on to acquire other vineyards, succeeding in making the most of their specific terroirs as well. His passion for winegrowing has also extended beyond Saint-Émilion into Bulgaria.

Château Canon La Gaffelière is one of the oldest estates in Saint-Émilion and it has had a fine reputation for over 150 years. In the 19th century, the estate was called La Gaffelière-Boitard (or Canon-Boitard), after its owner, Monsieur Boitard de la Poterie. It was later purchased by Doctor Peyraud, but there are few documents to describe his time as owner. The estate was acquired by Pierre Meyrat, the Mayor of Saint-Émilion, in 1953. After his death 1969, the château was sold once again and was finally acquired by the von Neipperg family in 1971.

Château Canon-La-Gaffelière is located on the outskirts of the medieval town of Saint-Émilion, at the southern foot of the slope. The 19.5 hectare vineyard has an outstanding yet complex terroir of clay-limestone and clay-sand soil. The topsoil is primarily sandy, increasingly so as one moves away from the slope.

The average amount of Merlot planted on Saint-Émilion estates is approximately 70% where it contributes roundness and opulence. The unusual proportion of grape varieties (55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) planted at Canon-La-Gaffelière is dictated by the soils. The high percentage of Cabernet Franc is unquestionably well-adapted to the estate's warm soil. This variety accounts for an exquisite bouquet with spicy, floral overtones, as well as power and aromatic complexity. The old Cabernet Franc vines do especially well on soil with a high clay content. Seeing as the Cabernets are usually late-ripening, they take full advantage of the estate's warm soil and they mature much earlier here than in most other parts of the appellation.

The vines, averaging 45 years old, are deeply rooted in the soil and absorb all of the goodness in the terroir. They are mostly replaced individually rather than plot by plot to maintain the average age. The last major replanting dates back to 1986. Mass selection is practised, especially useful in perpetuating the precious old Cabernet Franc vines. It not only maintains the vineyard's genetic heritage, but also its unique balance.

Remarkably well-structured, always elegant, and unfailingly long on the palate, Château Canon-La-Gaffelière eloquently illustrates Stephan von Neipperg's philosophy and dedication.
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