Gruaud is a neat producer for several reasons. First of all, they have continued to make their wine from the same plot of land (in Saint-Julien-Beychevelle)-- it's technically 75 plots of land, grouped together in a single rectangle, with the building in the center of the plot.
Bordeaux is a strange place, because the AOC system there functions in tandem with the sometimes-official, sometimes-unofficial 1855 Classification (Lewin 2009:45-47). To collectors and consumers, the classification trumps specific terroirs. A First or Second Growth wine producer can sell and buy plots of land, but the title of First or Second Growth will stick with the Chateau name. This paradox amid a culture that so tirelessly eschews the values of terroir can make it difficult to do comparative tastings over long swaths of time. And difficult for some people to accept the 1855 Classification as having the same value merit today that it did a century and a half ago.
But Gruaud Larose is a unique exception in all this. They haven't expanded their property since 1781 (long before the Classification was set). Their property has been split apart in the past, and the wine was produced separately and sold under different labels, but the estate was reassembled in the early 1900s, making it a fascinating case study.
Their plantings are primarily cabernet sauvignon, followed by merlot, cabernet franc, and tiny parcels of petit verdot and malbec. The blend very roughly follows this ratio, but is subject to change depending on the fruit quality of any given year. At Gruaud Larose they currently love the effect that a particular low-yeilding petit verdot clone has on the blend, and are in the process of changing the ratio of plantings by increasing petit verdot from 3% to 6%. Though it is just a dream at this stage, they wonder what effect carmenere (which has been in exile in Chile for some time) would have on the blend if it were brought back home to Bordeaux-- especially in the wake of global warming, which in recent years has had an effect on the ripening of certain varietals.
Some important years:
- circa 1725- knight Joseph Stanislas Gruaud begins to assemble vineyards
- late 1700s- two of Gruaud's descendants joined their properties and made two cuvees: Abbé Gruaud and Chevalier de Gruaud, named after the professions of Gruaud's descendants: a priest and a magistrate.
- 1787- Thomas Jefferson visited Bordeaux to do research for then president Monroe. Jefferson placed La Rose (the wine was known as La Rose at that time) just after the First Growths, and on the same level as Rauzan and Leoville. (Ginestet 1984:140)
- 1812- the property was auctioned off and run jointly by several owners.
- 1855- Gruaud Larose was named as a Second Growth in the 1855 Classification System.
- 1867- the property officially split into two properties.
- 1872- a ship carrying 2,000 bottles of Gruaud Larose 1865 sunk near Singapore on its journey to Saigon.
- 1935- the Cordier family bought the parcel of land that reassembled the original Gruaud Larose property.
- 1986- Gruaud Larose had been making unofficial second wines for years, but the 1986 was the first official year that Sarget de Gruaud Larose was released as the second label of Gruad Larose.
- 1992- the shipwreck from 1872 was discovered, and the bottles of 1865 Gruaud Larose were tasted.
- 2006- last vintage of winemaker Georges Pauli
- 2007- first vintage of new winemaker, Philippe Carmagnac
- 2010- richest Gruaud Larose ever produced, at 14%
Ginestet, Bernard. (1984) The Wines of France: Saint-Julien. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Kissack, Chris. (circa 2000-2013) Chateau Gruaud-Larose. www.thewinedoctor.com
Lewin, Benjamin. (2009) What Price Bordeaux? Dover: Vendage Press.