The JJ Buckley wine staff recently had a chance to learn a bit more about Chateau Latour-Martillac, one of the top estates in the Pessac-Leognan appellation south of Bordeaux. Tastings with owners and their winemakers or marketing managers at our offices are always an important way to add to the knowledge we gain during our annual visits to Bordeaux. This visit, however, afforded us the chance to learn about something other than soils and varietals.
The domaine has a long history that starts with an ancient tower from the 12th Century that gives rise to the winery’s name. Vines were not planted until the middle of the 19th Century yet the quality of wine from the estate was soon recognized by Edouard Kressman, a negociant from Bordeaux. His son purchased the chateau and its 100 acres of vines in 1930 (about 80% is planted to red varieties with the rest planted to semillon and sauvignon blanc). The domaine remains in the family’s hands while members of the Kressman family still work as negociants.
The vineyards are located outside the little village of Martillac, some ten minutes southeast of the small town of Leognan that comprises part of the appellation’s name. The weather and soil composition of the two villages are quite similar but differ markedly from the Pessac wineries located next to the city limits of Bordeaux. There’s a sense of elegance and finesse found in the wines made here compared to the power and concentration found in wines from Pessac. Thanks to the heat generated by the warmth of the city, Pessac’s grapes there are picked two weeks earlier than in Martillac and Leognan.
2014 marks the 80th anniversary of the Kressman family’s purchase of the domaine and the creation of the winery’s distinctive label. As explained to us by Wilfrid Groizard, the estate’s Marketing Director, the label has remained unchanged since it first appeared. It was designed at the height of the Art Deco era and was based on a small diary owned by Alfred Kressman. (See photo on left) We were all quite fortunate to get a chance to examine this beautiful notebook which was carefully brought over to us directly from the winery.
But what really caught our interest lay inside the covers of this fragile journal, a detailed account of Alfred’s tastings over the years accompanied with sketches of labels and bottles. (See photo on right) It provides a fascinating insight into the wines that traveled across the tables of a top negociant during the early 1930s. In less than a month, wines from the 1864-1875 (Margaux,
Malescot and Chasse Spleen among others) were complemented by more recent wines from 1911-1920 including a Petrus from Pomerol and St. Estephe’s Tronquay. But the most intriguing entry was for a bottle of 1911 Haute Rive from “Etats Unis”, more evidence showing that wines from America made it across the Atlantic. (See upper left corner) Unfortunately, little is known about this winery or what state it came from.
While it was great to taste through their wines (including a sumptuous 2001 blanc along with a ripe and powerful 2009 rouge), it’s often stories, history and context that make wines richer. Our session certainly proved this adage to be true.