St-Emilion’s Château Canon has emerged as one of the stars of the 2020 Bordeaux en primeur campaign – a potential 100-point wine for Decanter critic Jane Anson, who named it her Right Bank wine of the vintage. But its success has been a quarter of a century in the making. In 1996, the estate was acquired by Chanel – the luxury house’s second Bordeaux buy in two years, following the purchase of Margaux’s Château Rauzan-Ségla in 1994. What drew a business better-known for fragrance and fashion to diversify into fine wine? The answer, according to Nicolas Audebert, director of both properties, was a combination of heritage and unfulfilled potential. ‘Both were more or less in the same way,’ he explains. ‘Fantastic properties, incredible terroir, extremely high-level wine in terms of perception – but they were in bad shape at that time. Chanel bought the properties based on the capacity of the terroir to produce great wine.’ What followed was a study in patience – the kind of patience that goes with deep pockets and long-term thinking. Half of Canon’s 34-hectare vineyard was ripped out and replanted under Audebert’s predecessor, John Kolasa (formerly with Château Latour), and everything was renovated, from the winemaking equipment to the extensive underground cellars and the château itself. ‘It was little by little, step by step,’ says Audebert. ‘Chanel is a house looking extremely far ahead and not trying to get back their investment fast. They take their time to do things properly. It was quite a brave decision to take away half the vineyard and replant it at that time.’ And now? ‘Now I have the key to the car, and the car is perfectly restored. I have the capacity now to accelerate and go a little bit faster, getting into the details to increase year after year the precision of the style of the wine. Canon is flying now for that reason.’ One of the key lessons of 25 years of study and experimentation is, at first glance, counterintuitive: the benefits of younger vines. Like most winemakers, during his agronomy studies Audebert was taught that great wines tended to come from old vines. Now he says: ‘I’m not so sure that’s always true regarding the terroir we have. ‘At Canon, with the limestone expression where we can have a style of wine very fresh, with great minerality – having a kind of young vineyard is very interesting. We look to keep the vineyards young, and I have no problem in taking away 30-year-old vines just to keep that vibrancy.’ Vibrancy, elegance, finesse and precision are watchwords here, and factors that unify Canon with its fellow Chanel-owned property, Rauzan-Ségla. On the surface, the estates – in terms of Bordeaux at least – could hardly be more different: Canon’s single vineyard block of limestone/clay soil, versus Rauzan-Ségla’s ‘mosaic’ of 20 different soil types, and four grape varieties. ‘If you want to check over the vineyard at Canon after a storm, you can go around it in 20 minutes,’ says Audebert. ‘At Rauzan-Ségla, it would take you a day.’ The contrasts extend to winemaking. Blending Canon’s wine is subtractive, with Audebert removing anything that doesn’t fit his parameters of quality and style. At Rauzan-Ségla, the process is constructive, combining different components to build a high level of complexity. ‘Yes, they are different, and we don’t want to produce the same wine,’ says Audebert, ‘but they are both owned by the same house, and our passion is around vibrancy, precision, elegance. Both are going that way in their style. Both are wines not over-extracted, overripe, too impacted by wood. It’s too easy to be big, and much harder to be elegant and precise. That’s our global philosophy.’ That global philosophy is now being applied to Château Berliquet, another St-Emilion estate and Canon’s much smaller (10ha) next-door neighbour. Chanel acquired it in 2017, and initial thoughts that its vineyard would be subsumed by Canon have been reversed thanks to its obviously distinctive identity. Audebert likens Berliquet to the cartoon character Asterix – small, beset by much larger rivals (Canon, Bélair-Monange, Beauséjour, Angélus), but fiercely independent and well capable of fighting its own corner. ‘It’s very interesting,’ he says. ‘There are three types of soil: one-third limestone plateau at the top, one-third pure clay on the slope, one-third limestone, clay and sand at the bottom; southwest-facing, the best orientation. ‘It’s surrounded by Canon on three sides, so it was obvious to us from the beginning that Berliquet is in our garden and it can’t be the property of someone else. We didn’t know if we would keep Berliquet on its own, or it would join Canon. But little by little, working the vineyards, getting into Berliquet, we understand the speciality, the style of the property, and it is now fully on its own strategy.’ And its potential? Audebert makes a comparison with Château les Carmes Haut-Brion, another small estate and a rising star of Pessac-Léognan. ‘I’m not sure that, 10-15 years ago, anyone would be able to imagine where les Carmes Haut-Brion would stand next to its famous neighbours,’ he says. ‘An outsider, a small vineyard, a unique property – a good example of where Berliquet could be in a few years.’ Already Audebert feels that strides have been made. ‘After three years we really consider that this year [the 2020 vintage] we are a step above 2018 and 2019, because we had time to do quite a lot of things. Five years from now we will be quite close to where we consider we can be.’ In the meantime, the patience and long-term sensibility of owner Chanel means that there is no pressurised timescale to realise that potential tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. Given how much this approach has already achieved at Canon and Rauzan-Ségla, Château Berliquet could be a name to watch in St-Emilion in the coming years.


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