1996 Chateau Pichon Baron Second Growth, Deuxieme Grand Cru Classe, Pauillac, Bottle (750ml) AG94

Chateau Pichon Baron: An Enduring Bordeaux Legend and Modern Marvel

Just a stone's throw away from the illustrious Chateau Latour, this estate has earned its place as "One of the lynchpins of Pauillac," according to Neal Martin, who adds, "In many ways, it is the quintessential Pauillac." A lofty claim, and one well-deserved. Today, it's part of the impressive AXA Millésimes portfolio, alongside other renowned names like Chateau Suduiraut, Quinta do Noval, and Domaine de l'Arlot. Since AXA's acquisition in 1987, this estate has consistently produced exceptional wines producing an impressive list of 95+ rated wines, including the acclaimed vintages 1989 and 1990. Under AXA’s leadership, this "super second" Chateau has begun to reach its peak, crafting the highest quality wines in its history.

A Tale of Two Chateaux

The history of Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron is intertwined with that of its sibling, Chateau Pichon Lalande. Initially, both were part of the vast Pichon estate, led by Bernard de Pichon-Longueville. However, upon Bernard's passing in 1850, the legacy fragmented. Three-fifths became Chateau Pichon Lalande, passing to his daughters, while the remaining two-fifths, forming the core of Chateau Pichon Baron, were inherited by his sons. Unity was brief, even through the 1855 classification, before their paths diverged.

Raoul de Pichon-Longueville assumed control after Bernard's death. In 1851, he erected the Chateau that stands today, replacing a structure that had graced the property for three centuries. For the next decade, despite the estate's division among Bernard’s heirs, the vineyards remained undivided yielding a single wine. However, in 1860, Raoul passed, making the vineyard split official and giving birth to Chateau Pichon Lalande. Pichon Baron passed to Raoul’s cousin, who coincidentally shared the same name. The estate remained in the family until 1933.

In 1933, Jean Bouteiller, hailing from a lineage linked directly to Louis XIV, acquired the estate. His family, already established in Bordeaux, owned a lesser-known estate in the Haut-Medoc. Under Bouteiller's stewardship, Chateau Pichon Baron continued to bask in its prestigious reputation, but the shadow of decline loomed after his passing in 1961. The '60s and '70s were trying times as the Bouteiller family struggled to invest in the property and find a worthy successor to Jean. Fortunately, in 1987, AXA Millésimes stepped in, ushering in a new era for the Chateau.

AXA's Renaissance

AXA immediately launched a comprehensive overhaul, enlisting Jean-Michel Cazes from Chateau Lynch-Bages to oversee Chateau Pichon Baron. In 1988, a full-scale renovation began, revitalizing both the vineyards and the Chateau itself. The following year marked Chateau Pichon Baron’s triumphant return to prominence with the stellar 1989 vintage, followed by the equally impressive 1990. These successive vintages solidified the estate's resurgence.

Jean-Michel Cazes remained at the helm until the dawn of the new century. In 2001, Christian Seely assumed leadership, overseeing not only Chateau Pichon Baron but also AXA Millésimes' other properties. Seely, alongside the longstanding technical director, Jean-Rene Matignon, played a pivotal role in the estate's revival. Matignon, who officially retired after the 2021 vintage, leaves behind a legacy of contributions, including the introduction of hand-harvesting and more rigorous sorting processes, both of which have significantly enhanced wine quality.

Terroir & Craftsmanship

Spanning an expansive 185 acres, the vineyards of Chateau Pichon Baron is planted to 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. These ancient vines, averaging an impressive 65 years in age, yielding exceptional fruit. Predominantly planted on the Pauillac plateau, they overlook Chateau Latour and extend to Chateau Leoville Las Cases. The soils, predominantly composed of gravel, sand, and clay, span across four distinct blocks, with the crown jewel being a parcel adjacent to the Chateau, first planted in 1943.

Crafting wines at Chateau Pichon Baron is a harmonious blend of tradition and precision. Forty-four vats of varying sizes facilitate meticulous parcel-by-parcel vinification. But it's not just the parcels; each grape variety receives equal attention, with Cabernet Sauvignon in stainless steel tanks, Merlot in wooden vats, and Petit Verdot in amphorae. The wines mature in 80% new French oak barrels for approximately 18 months, a testament to the commitment to excellence.

A Modern Legacy

Chateau Pichon Baron's storied history in Bordeaux has not always been a tale of peak performance. However, since 2009, it has stood as one of Bordeaux's most consistent estates. Critics have taken notice, with Decanter asserting, "Quality has never been higher than it is today." The Wine Advocate's William Kelley even draws parallels between Chateau Pichon Baron and its illustrious neighbor, Chateau Latour. It's evident that this estate now operates at an unprecedented level, offering wine enthusiasts around the world a treasure trove of delights. Whether you are a collector or connoisseur, Chateau Pichon Baron is an acquisition worth considering. With its rich history and ascending quality, it's only a matter of time before this "super second" estate ascends the price ladder.

Written by: Craig Headding

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