Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou is named after the beautiful, large stones found in its unique wine-growing terroir. This exceptional ecosystem produces fine, elegant, tasty wines, with a long finish – in short, archetypal Saint-Julien wines.
Perched on an exceptional site with incomparable views over the Gironde estuary, in the centre of a hundred-year-old park, Ducru-Beaucaillou is a majestic, Victorian-style castle, which has, over time, become one of the great symbols of the Médoc. Unusually for Bordeaux, it is built directly above the barrel cellars, enveloping its owners, who have lived here for over sixty years, in the sumptuous aromas of their wine.
Today, the estate is managed by the company Jean Eugène Borie SA, which is owned by Mrs Borie, her daughter Sabine Coiffe and her son Bruno-Eugène, CEO since 2003, the third generation of the Borie family to head the estate.
There are very close links between this estate and the five families who have been its successive owners.
The Bergeron family
The estate’s history starts at the very beginning of the 13th century. Owned by the Bergeron family from 1720, the estate rapidly obtained a good reputation, in France and abroad: as early as this, visitors came from Scandinavia. The Municipal archives in Bordeaux dating from the French Revolution reveal that a sword and pistol were confiscated by the authorities from some Swedes, who were staying in the castle at the time.
The Ducru family
The estate was sold in 1795 to Bertrand Ducru who added his name to that of the castle, which then became known as “Ducru-Beaucaillou”. Ducru hired Parisian architect Paul Abadie to renovate the residence. The architect transformed it into a charterhouse in the Directoire style, adding a floor and an elegant façade which looks out over the eastern bank of the Gironde estuary, where, the intense 18th-century maritime traffic provided an animated show of sea-faring ships.
Bertrand Ducru also invested heavily in the vineyard over the barrel cellars. The investment paid off when Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou came second in its class at the Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855. The daughter of Bertrand Ducru, Marie-Louise, married Antoine Ravez, the son of a famous Bordeaux lawyer who was a member of parliament from 1816 to 1829 and junior minister. Legend has it that when he was Speaker of the French parliament, he replaced the glass of water traditionally given to orators with some Ducru-Beaucaillou to honour the wine of his daughter-in-law.
The Johnston family
In March 1866, after having owned the estate for seventy-one years, the Ducru family sold the castle to Lucie-Caroline Dassier (1841-1876) for one million francs. She was the wife of the famous Bordeaux wine merchant and earthenware producer, Nathaniel Johnston (1836-1914).
Johnston had inherited the family business set up by his ancestor William, who arrived in Bordeaux in 1743. Descended from the Scottish Hartfield family, the Johnstons, Marquesses of Annandale, had emigrated from Ireland in 1640.
Nathaniel Johnston, a brilliant student, was passionate about the Médoc (he was even elected to represent the area) and in particular his village, Saint-Julien. He was mayor from 1903 to 1908 and built a Protestant church, a hospice and a nursery in the village for the families of his employees. With the help of Ernest David, the innovative estate manager, Nathaniel Johnston restructured the vines and cellars of Ducru-Beaucaillou. He carried out several experiments on varietals and on vine diseases.
In 1878 he and David perfected a blend of copper sulphate and lime milk called the bouillie bordelaise, or Bordeaux soup, an efficient remedy against the terrible mildew that was ravaging the vines. This remedy was quickly adopted by all vineyards worldwide.
Two years after the death of his first wife, Lucie-Caroline, Nathaniel married Princess Marie Caradja of Constantinople (1845-1910), the daughter of Prince Constantine of Turkey. Wanting to make Ducru-Beaucaillou as beautiful as its wines, the pair called on architect Michel-Louis Garros, a native of Barsac in the Gironde, graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and winner of the Prix d’Architecture in 1887). Garros built two Victorian towers on the northern and southern flanks of the former charterhouse and added two wings to give the building a more harmonious and majestic U shape.
Garros redesigned the castle’s general layout and decorated all the reception rooms in luxurious Victorian style.
As exoticism was very fashionable at the time, but also perhaps to alleviate Maria Caradja’s homesickness during the long hard winter, Garros built a beautiful large conservatory the length of the north wing, on the left of the main courtyard, facing a hedge of sumptuous camellias, and filled the park with groves and palm trees.
On the eastern façade, he also designed a landscaped park with 3 levels of terraces descending progressively towards the Gironde, where the English lawn and flowerbeds gave way gradually to larger, rarer species and complementary foliage. Tiny original gardens with charming follies were interspersed at regular intervals along the alleyways, providing walkers with restful stopping places.
A large area was reserved on the left-hand side of the park for the garden. Surrounded by white walls covered in black tiles, supporting espaliered pear trees and trellises of dessert grapes, this garden housed the glasshouses and cold frames which provided plants and flowers for the park and vegetables for the kitchen. There was also an orchard and even a watercress bed.
A remarkable horseshoe-shaped building was erected, housing stables, cowsheds, garages and workshops on the ground floor, and staff accommodation and haylofts on the first floor.
Thus increased in size, Ducru-Beaucaillou became a symbolic site on the D2, the mythical ‘Route des chateaux’, known to wine-connoisseurs worldwide.
Sixty-three years after they purchased the castle, the heartbroken Johnstons were forced to sell Beaucaillou during the economic crash of 1929.
They retained a profound and sincere attachment to this estate, so much so that the daughter of Nathaniel Johnston and Princess Marie Caradja, Fannie Catherine Johnston, who was born in Beaucaillou, asked to be buried on her death in 1971, in the cemetery of Saint-Julien, so that she could stay within sight of her beloved Ducru-Beaucaillou.
The Desbarats family
Johnston sold to Desbarats, a wine merchant from the Médoc who had married a Miss Burke from a powerful Irish family. After trying to combat the catastrophic consequences of the 1929 crash and the French defeat in 1939, and after several bad harvests and serious disagreements with his son-in-law, Desbarats sold Beaucaillou, after only twelve years, to Francis Borie, a wine merchant from Corrèze, who already owned vineyards in the neighbouring town of Pauillac.
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