Château Montrose

The story of Château Montrose, written by three families of owners over two centuries, is a reflection of their spirit, marked by their pursuit of excellence and by legendary vintages. As pioneers in the Médoc, visionary builders and astute managers, they tended and got the best out of its unique terroir. It is they who laid the foundations to which Montrose now owes its image and its unique place in the world of great wines.

On his father’s death, Etienne Théodore Dumoulin discovered the patch of heathland that everyone had forgotten about, sold to his family by Nicolas Alexandre de Ségur. It is here that the first chapter in the story of Château Montrose opens, written by the man who cleared the scrub. In 1815, he planted the vineyard and built the necessary facilities to operate the estate and make the wine.

1855 marked the birth of a Grand Cru with the inclusion of Château Montrose in the official classification, a spectacular achievement for a vineyard barely 40 years old. Encouraged by this success, Etienne Théodore Dumoulin continued to expand his vineyard and by the time of his death in 1861 he left his heirs an estate spanning 95 hectares (234 acres), its current size.

Mathieu Dollfus, a factory owner from Alsace, acquired Château Montrose in 1866 and began to reorganise the estate. He redeveloped the existing buildings and built new ones, modernised the facilities and introduced new vinegrowing and winemaking methods. From the vineyard to the winery, he endowed Château Montrose with the best technology available at the time.

He was also a pioneer in human resources, creating ideal, unique and generous working and living conditions for his staff, including housing on the estate, free healthcare and profit sharing. Designer of the “Montrose village” with its squares and streets, he had a huge influence on the life of the estate. A visionary entrepreneur, he managed to halt the scourge of phylloxera by installing a windmill which pumped water from an underground well and flooded the land, saving the vineyard. The windmill, preserved by successive generations of owners, is now one of the symbols of Château Montrose.

From 1896 to 2006, following in the footsteps of Mathieu Dollfus after his death in 1886, the Charmolüe family guided the estate along the path of stability and excellence. For over a century, with these managers at the helm, Château Montrose steadily enhanced its reputation. The estate regularly produced legendary vintages, maintaining consistently high quality even during difficult times.

Château Montrose remained in the Charmolüe family despite a severe economic crisis and two world wars. In 1960, Jean-Louis Charmolüe started to replant the vineyard and modernise the facilities, consolidating Château Montrose’s position as one of the finest Médoc wines.

Succeeding three generations of the Charmolüe family, Martin and Olivier Bouygues acquired Château Montrose in 2006. They loved its wines, to which they had been introduced by their father, Francis Bouygues. Aware of the potential of its unique terroir, they appreciated the advantages and riches of the estate and decided to invest in it. Under their impetus, Château Montrose entered the 21st century with a spectacular reconstruction.

This exceptional project took seven years, from 2007 to 2013, a timespan justified by the wish to respect the estate’s cycle of activity. The 10,000m² renovation met four major challenges set by Martin and Olivier Bouygues:

- to give Château Montrose the finest vinegrowing and winemaking facilities, including a new 1,000m², 11 metre-high main barrel hall where the grand vin can mature in ideal conditions
- to identify and take advantage of every opportunity to save and produce energy, especially through a geothermal system and 3,000m² of rooftop solar panels
- to respect the environment and significantly reduce the estate’s carbon footprint
- to preserve the overall architecture of Château Montrose in the typical 18th century Bordeaux style

Following on from their predecessors, Martin and Olivier Bouygues aim to further enhance this unique terroir, a single sweep in an ideal location on the banks of the Gironde estuary. Under the direction of Mélissa Bouygues and managed by Hervé Berland, the estate benefits from a combination of youth and experience in a multi-generational team in which vinegrowers and winemakers rub shoulders with technical specialists and academic experts.

Blessed with undisputed natural assets combined with advantages nurtured over the centuries, Château Montrose has one of the region’s most privileged winegrowing terroirs. The 95 hectares (234 acres) of vineyards surround the château, the winery and the outbuildings in a single continuous sweep, an exceptional and historically very rare feature. As well as making the vineyard easier to work, this unity means that it can be treated as a single entity, providing ideal conditions for efficient organisation and for monitoring the condition of each parcel.

The Montrose terroir corresponds to what geologists call “elite cores”. Over millions of years, a complex process of geological layering resulted in the creation of outcrops, ideal for making fine wines and ensuring natural drainage towards the estuary. The soil on these terraces consists of gravel mixed with sand on the surface, over a clay-rich subsoil in which natural water reserves form at depth, providing the vines with the moisture they need.

At Château Montrose, the largest parcel is two hectares (five acres), the smallest only a few hundred square metres, but each has its own personality, its own particular soil or subsoil, and vines whose age, yield, variety or rootstock are different from those of its neighbour. In the end it is the wine itself which, in its own way, brings this amazing patchwork together, since it is both the result and the synthesis of each micro-terroir.

Five kilometres north of Pauillac in Saint-Estèphe, the northernmost appellation in the Médoc, Château Montrose is situated on a very well-drained and ideally exposed gravelly outcrop which runs for over a kilometre along the Gironde estuary. The presence of a broad estuary, the largest in Europe, has a decisive effect on the local microclimate. Montrose is one of the few estates to enjoy such a highly privileged situation.

The proximity of this vast water mass acts as a natural regulator. It attenuates the excessive cold which can be so devastating in the form of spring frosts, and it tempers the destructive effect of heatwaves which starve the vines and grapes of water in the height of summer. That is why the Montrose vineyard escaped the frost in 1991 and the development of botrytis during the 2013 harvest. Montrose’s situation, on an outcrop overlooking the estuary, is precious to the vineyard because of its exposure to wind and sun. The rows of vines are planted north-south, enabling the grapes to take full advantage of the sun throughout the day. The dominant north-west winds dispel excessive humidity when it rains.

The mix of grape varieties at Château Montrose, with Cabernet Sauvignon predominant (60% of the vines), is typical of the finest Médoc estates. Cabernet Sauvignon gives its best on warm, gravelly and permeable soil with clay subsoil which helps to store the water the vines need in drought conditions. The Garonne gravel terroirs found at Montrose are its preferred home.

Parcels of Merlot (32%), Cabernet Franc (6%) and Petit Verdot (2%) are also planted where the soil suits them best, enabling the grapes to reach full maturity and express the complexity typical of the terroir. Each variety is planted on the terroir, in the parcel and with the density that will optimise its qualities.

At Montrose, Merlot brings a gentle, feminine touch along with silky tannins and aromatic flavours. Cabernet Franc is a very high-quality variety, known for its elegant aromas, which gives fresh and complex wines, while Petit Verdot brings colour, along with pleasant spice and pepper flavours.

After an initial selection in the vineyard during picking, the grapes are brought to the vat-house. Built in 2000, it has three reception lines. In pursuit of the highest quality, a team of nine people sort the bunches by hand before they are destemmed. The individual grapes are then sorted optically and again by hand before being finally transferred to the vats.

All the vineyard work of tasting the grapes and harvesting them parcel by parcel is continued in the winery. The vat-house contains 70 temperature-controlled stainless steel vats of different sizes, meaning that wines can be made to measure. They are vinified with complete respect for the grapes. Each stage in the process is designed to reveal the expression of the terroir and obtain a particular style, that of Montrose. The wines are vatted for 25 days at most, respecting the fruit and the substance. All the lots are kept separate after running-off so that all the different profiles of the vat wines are available for blending. The pomace is pressed with a high degree of precision. The press wines are then stored in barrels and selected: the finest will be used in the first wine.

Blending tastings start in December. All the samples – nearly 60 different lots – are tasted and classified according to their style and profile. They are then selected and blended according to the personality sought for each wine.

From January, each vintage is barrel-matured in a specific barrel hall. The grand vin, Château Montrose, is matured for 18 months in 60% new French oak barrels from eight different coopers. For the second wine, La Dame de Montrose, the proportion of new barrels is 30% and the wine is matured on average for 12 months. The Saint-Estèphe de Montrose is matured for 12 months in 20% new barrels.

During the maturing process the wines are racked every three months or so. The traditional method used at Montrose involves transferring the wine from one barrel to another by gravity so that the clear wine can be perfectly separated from the lees which settle naturally at the bottom of the barrel.
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