Chateau La Mission Haut Brion in the words of Robert Parker, “has been one of the best wines for a long time and one of the most consistent in terms of quality.” Nestled across the street from its esteemed sibling, Chateau Haut-Brion, La Mission shares a deep-rooted history with the illustrious First Growth estate. La Mission, however, proudly holds the distinction of being a "super second" Bordeaux, a testament to its exceptional quality that rivals the prestigious first growths. When it comes to accolades, La Mission has proven its mettle, garnering more 100-point scores from Robert Parker than its celebrated neighbor Haut-Brion, boasting a remarkable 10 to 9 advantage. Impressively, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion stands as one of Bordeaux's most esteemed estates, and while its price tag may sometimes match that of a First Growth, it offers unparalleled value in off-vintages. It comes as no surprise that esteemed critic Jancis Robinson dubbed it "the quintessential insider's wine."
What sets La Mission Haut-Brion apart is the fact that it was excluded from the prestigious 1855 classification, making it a rarity among producers of its caliber. Yet, against all odds, La Mission has managed to outshine even the illustrious Haut-Brion. In fact, both Chateaux share the same owner, the esteemed Domaine Clarence Dillon, which has been at the helm of Haut-Brion since 1935. When the opportunity to acquire La Mission arose, the Dillon family seized it promptly in 1983, integrating the Chateau into the Domaine Clarence Dillon portfolio.
Domaine Clarence Dillon
Upon acquiring La Mission, the Dillon family set about refining the estate's winemaking processes. Certain vineyard plots requiring extra care were replanted, and a second wine was introduced, allowing only the finest fruit to grace the grand vin. A new vat room was constructed in 1987, a style later adopted by Haut-Brion in 1991. Over the years, the Dillon family has consistently endeavored to enhance every aspect of the property and its winemaking facilities.
A unique charm of Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion lies in its familial lineage of winemakers. Presently, Jean-Philippe Delmas, the third generation of his family, holds the reins of winemaking at the Chateau. Before assuming this role in 2004 from his father Jean-Bernard, he inherited nearly two generations' worth of intimate knowledge of La Mission's terroir, a treasure that only the world's finest producers possess. The most valuable lesson passed down to Jean-Philippe was “to treat La Mission just like Haut-Brion insofar as it must be very good every year.”
A Colorful Past
However, La Mission Haut-Brion's journey to greatness hasn't always been smooth. Throughout the 16th century, the Chateau changed hands multiple times before coming under the control of the Roman Catholic Church in 1664. The clergy, overseeing La Mission Haut-Brion, built a small chapel in the vineyards before constructing a new chapel on the property in 1713. In contrast to wines from the nearby Chateau Pape Clement, which were reserved for the clergy, La Mission's wines remained available on the Bordeaux market, positively influencing the Chateau's reputation. In 1815, the estate was acquired by a prominent American family, who also happened to own Chateau Cos d'Estournel at the time.
Despite its extraordinary quality, La Mission Haut-Brion was omitted from the 1855 classification due to its location outside the Medoc region. Remarkably, Chateau Haut-Brion remains the sole estate outside the Medoc to be included in the prestigious classification. Nevertheless, La Mission continued to produce wines of unparalleled excellence, passing through various proprietors until eventually falling into the hands of the Woltner family in 1919.
The Woltner Era
The Woltner family revitalized the estate, which had experienced a decline under previous ownerships. During their stewardship, La Mission Haut-Brion produced legendary wines in vintages like 1945, 1955, and 1961. The reins were later passed to a nephew, who had differing views on profit distribution within the family, leading to the eventual sale of the estate to Clarence Dillon, ushering in a new era for La Mission Haut-Brion.
Vine to Bottle
Today, the vineyards of Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion extend across roughly 75 acres, with 67 acres dedicated to red wine cultivation and the remaining 8 acres to white varieties. The vineyard boasts an average vine age of 27 years, resting upon two gravel hills that peak at 82 feet. The soils, a blend of gravel and sand, mirror those found at Chateau Haut-Brion.
Distinguishing La Mission Haut-Brion's wines from Haut-Brion's is their characteristic boldness and more prominent tannins, often outperforming the first growths in specific vintages. The final blend is carefully crafted before any influence of new oak, and the wines mature for 16 to 18 months in 75% new oak barrels.
Despite being excluded from the 1855 classification, there is little doubt that if it were reassessed today, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion would rank as a First Growth. Yet, it proudly stands as the premier "super second" Bordeaux, consistently surpassing even the most established first growths. Though it may not always offer the same value as other "super seconds" in exceptional vintages, La Mission shines as an unrivaled Bordeaux value during off years.
The legacy of this distinguished Chateau only continues to grow with time, and its wines' value is sure to rise in tandem, reflecting their unparalleled quality. For the discerning collector or aspiring connoisseur, owning a bottle of La Mission Haut-Brion is a must. Keep a vigilant eye out for off vintages and seize the opportunity to experience the greatness of profound Bordeaux wines, such as the iconic 1945, 1955, 1961, 1982, and 1989 vintages, if and when they become available.
Written by: Craig Headding