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LES CARMES HAUT-BRION - THE CLOSEST VINEYARD TO BORDEAUX



The Loire Valley-like chateau was built by the CHANTECAILLE-FURT family in the 19th Century. Today, it is lived in by Didier and Caroline Furt.


Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion is the closest vineyard to the City of Bordeaux. It is just a road and a small lane away from La Mission Haut-Brion and First Growth Chateau Haut-Brion.


Didier FURT (and his wife Caroline) are the proprietors of Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion which, in the 16th Century, was part of the original estate of Chateau Haut-Brion.


Penelope FURT-ROCHE studied winemaking in Bordeaux but has also worked in New Zealand, Australia and Spain's Ribera del Duero. She made her first vintage at Les Carmes Haut-Brion in 2005, succeeding her father Didier FURT who was winemaker from 1987 to 2004.

Story By Ch'ng Poh Tiong
Photos By Yew Xin Yi

"Defying the odds" would not be an entirely accurate phrase. After all, in the late 16th century, it was already part of the estate that produced the great wine that was subsequently classified as a First Growth in 1855.

"Discovering the estate" would certainly be too pretentious. Were I to make such a claim, the big-headed insensitivity would be no different from that of Western adventurers who condescendingly 'discovered' Singapore, Malacca, India or the Nile when, as far as all those places (and the people who lived there) were concerned, there was nothing to discover since they have been there all along. The so-called 'discoveries' were entirely on the part of the strangers. So, if I were to claim that I have made the 'discovery', I would merely be advertising my ignorance.

The fact is, in the past three or four years, I have been consistently impressed (in blind tastings in Bordeaux), by a wine that is relatively unknown in Asia until the last year or so.

Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion was once part of Chateau Haut-Brion, the grand-daddy of the First Growths. When the two were one, it was the property of Jean DE PONTAC (1488 1589) who came into the estate in the form of a dowry when he married Jeanne DE BELLON.

One of the wealthiest and most influential men of his age, de Pontac lived to the extraordinary age of 101. He married a total three times and perhaps even more incredibly, his last matrimony was celebrated when he was a sprightly 76 years young! Altogether, de Pontac sired 15 children.

GIFT TO THE CARMELITES

Just as La Mission Haut-Brion refers to the religious mission of the Carmelite order, so it was to this branch of Catholic Christianity that Les Carmes Haut-Brion owes its name.

"In 1584, seeing perhaps his days drawing to an end since he was then already 96 years, Jean de Pontac of Haut-Brion, to secure his entry into Paradise, divided up his estate. He gifted a small water mill surrounded by vineyards and meadows to the Camelite Order of Notre Dame. The monks kept the appellation Haut-Brion for over 200 years. Gradually, locals referred to the new estate as 'Carmes Haut-Brion'," Didier FURT informed. When the French Revolution broke out, Carmes Haut-Brion was confiscated as state property and auctioned off. The successful bidder was Leon COLIN.

When I visited Chateau Carmes Haut-Brion on Friday 13 February 2009, it was a particularly cold day in Bordeaux. I was, however, warmly welcomed by Didier Furt and his daughter Penelope FURT-ROCHE, direct descendants of Leon Colin. Actually, I was welcomed by 'two and a half people' because Furt-Roche is expecting her first child. This also explains why a French and Canadian flag fly proudly in front of the vineyard as Penelope's husband is from Vancouver, Canada.

"Where you park your car in front, that's in Bordeaux. Here, after the gate, the vineyards are in Pessac," Furt revealed.

Chateau Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion are just up a road avenue Jean Cordier and a little L-shape lane named rue du Chateau d'Eau. Carmes Haut-Brion is actually the vineyard closest to the City of Bordeaux. Although a tiny 4.6 hectares, it would represent something of a goldmine for a real estate developer. The temptation to trade in must be enormous.

"We do get offers from time to time but we tell them, 'We are happy to plant and make wine here. We are not for sale'," Penelope Furt-Roche smiled as she declared the family's heart-held view.

The soon-to-be young mother had studied winemaking in Bordeaux. After that, she cut her teeth by working in Australia, New Zealand and Spain's Ribera del Duero. Furt-Roche still relishes the hope to do two vintages a year, one in Southern Hemisphere New Zealand and the other in downtown Bordeaux (well, near enough to downtown).

Her first vintage at Carmes Haut-Brion was 2005. She succeeded her father who had made the wine from 1987 to 2004. Didier Furt himself had succeeded his father-in-law Philippe CHANTECAILLE, who had declined for Chateau Carmes Haut-Brion to be considered for the original 1959 Classification of the Graves.

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