A Visit to Chateau Cheval Blanc, Saint-Emilion, France

Chateau Cheval Blanc, 1st Grand Cru Classe A, is one of the top 4 Saint-Emilion wineries according to the most recent Saint-Emilion classification.

It is believed that vines have been grown at Cheval Blanc at least since the 15th century. 

The most prestigious period of Cheval Blanc’s history began in 1832, when Jean-Jacques Ducasse, President of the Libourne Trade Tribunal, started to buy plots of land from Château Figeac assembling the 39-hectare vineyard of Chateau Cheval Blanc which has remained practically unchanged since that time. 

Jean Laussac-Fourcaud replanted part of the estate in the 1860s with the unusual mix of grape varieties: 50% of Merlot and 50% of Cabernet Franc. The blend of of Chateau Cheval Blanc still remains almost unchanged.

Today, the winery is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton and continues to produce one of the most prestigious wines in France.

The old classic chateau with a chapel is adjacent to the futuristic new cellar designed by Christian de Portzamparc, the winner of the 1994 Pritzker Architecture Prize. 

This building containing the new vat room and the cellar was completed in June 2011 and allegedly came at a cost of approximately $20 million.

Chateau Cheval Blanc is on the border of Saint Emilion and Pomerol, home of another Bordeaux gem, the legendary Petrus. 

The terroir of Cheval Blanc is unique in a way it combines three different types of soils: fine soils textured with clay, coarse soils textured with gravel, and large gravel with sand. The 39-hectare estate of Cheval Blanc is divided into forty-five distinct parcels. 

A view on Chateau L’Evangile in Pomerol from the tasting room of Chateau Cheval Blanc.

The estate uses the original combination of grape varieties: 52% Cabernet Franc, 43% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  A larger proportion of Cabernet Franc is unusual for Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, where most blends are dominated by Merlot, the king of the RIght Bank.

Each of the plots is characterized by its soils, microclimate, grape varieties and age of vines.

Chateau Cheval Blanc’s Merlot vineyards after harvest.

Sorting tables, destemming equipment and vertical press base. 

Vertical press is used to extract pressed wine from skins after the alcolohic fermentation has completed. 

Pressed skins will be given to the state as a from of tax, and later will be used to make medical alcohol and such.

We are in the famous state-of-the-art cellar of Cheval Blanc. Here, each of the 52 vats is assigned to a specific parcel in the vineyard. The vats made in Italy of the new-generation concrete are marked with a parcel number and the grape variety.  

The capacity of each of these vats is adjusted to a size of an individual vineyard. In fact, the vats come in 9 different sizes varying from 20 to 110 hectoliters.

As the wine produced from each plot has its own profile, the separate vinification method gives potential to express unique qualities of each vintage during the blending process.  The winemakers are creating a blend made from vines of different ages and grown on different types of soils.

The vast underground cellars of Chateau Cheval Blanc hold between 300 and 450 barrels where the wine spends sixteen to eighteen months at a constant temperature of 14°C, or 57.2 F. 

The barrels for Chateau Cheval Blanc are made exclusively from French oak trees coming from the famous forests of Tronçais in the Allier department and Bercé in the Sarthe department of France. 

The oak trees are often aged for 180 to 200 years, or even 350 years, prior to becoming barrels for the Cheval Blanc wines.

New oak barrels for the new vintage of Chateau Cheval Blanc are waiting to be filled with precious wine.

Among the best vintages of Chateau Cheval Blanc are 1947, 1961, 1964, 1982, 1990, 2009 and 2015.

Along with the grand wine, Chateau Cheval Blanc, the estate produces two second wines: Le Petit Cheval and Le Petit Cheval Blanc (white).

Another special experience at Chateau Cheval Blanc is the cellar roof with a garden. The rooftop opens to a great view on Saint Emilion and Pomerol vineyards. 

The reference for Grands Crus

This artsy elevator runs from the cellars to the rooftop. 

A glimpse of the classic interiors inside the old castle.

A sunlit terrace overlooking the vineyards.

If you are interested to taste Cheval Blanc in the US, some vintages and futures are available through Millesima, a Bordeaux wine merchant in the United States.  

At the time of this article, they had the 100 Parker points 2010 vintage available, as well as the excellent 2006 (97 Parker points) and the legendary 1982 in stock.

 

See my blog for more tips on visiting Bordeaux vineyards and learn about my private Bordeaux wine tours.

Subscribe to blog updates