The name Grand-Puy, already mentioned in documents from the Middle Ages, comes from the ancient term "puy” which means "hillock, small height”. True to its name, the vineyard sits on outcrops with a terroir similar to that of the Médoc's first growths. From Since the 16th century the property remained attached to a single family from generation to generation, in a direct line through marriage until 1920, before connecting with another family in 1978—the Borie.
Grand-Puy-Lacoste's listing in the 1855 classification placed it among the "elite” of Bordeaux wines.
Grand-Puy-Lacoste's reputation is of long date. In 1776, the King's Intendant in Aquitaine, Dupré de Saint-Maur, ranked "Saint Guirons & Lacoste” (its name at the time) fifth in a classification of Pauillac estates. This reputation for quality grew and became "official” with the 1855 classification created for the first Universal Exposition held in Paris that year. The classification, still recognized today, lists 61 properties with 18 in Pauillac—including three first growths which are among the most celebrated wines of Bordeaux. Pauillac boasts more classed growths than any other commune, and its 18 classified properties are some of Bordeaux's finest. At the time of the classification, Grand-Puy-Lacoste was named a "fifth growth”; today, connoisseurs and wine writers (among the better-known is Hugh Johnson) agree that it deserves a higher ranking. There's no doubt about the considerable improvement in the wine's quality due to the care and effort it has received over the years.
Grand-Puy-Lacoste is situated in the terroir of Pauillac, one of the Médoc's six communal appellations along the Gironde estuary's left bank.
The Pauillac appellation is limited to the communal district covering 2,274 hectares. It boasts 18 properties classified in 1855 (around 85% of the appellation's total production). The commune is separated from Saint-Estèphe to the north by the marshy area of Breuil, and from Saint-Julien to the south by the hollow formed by the Juillac stream.
The plateau of Grand-Puy is west of the village, above the hamlet of Bages. This outcrop of the terrain (called a "puy" in the old local dialect) rises to around 20 meters above sea level.
The site possesses a number of major benefits: the quality of the soil, a favorable climate, the experience and expertise of its people. The result is a unique conjunction of forces...
Grand-Puy-Lacoste enjoys an exceptional terroir. The soil is gravel, the alluvial stones which ensure an excellent drainage of rainwater.
The originality of the Médoc's soil comes from two million years of history. Its gravel is the geological product of the quaternary era, when stones brought from the Pyrenees by the Garonne were deposited along the banks of its estuary, the Gironde.
Today layers of varying depth are composed of gravel mixed with sand and a little clay. They form "gravel outcrops”, separated by small streams called "jalles” in the local dialect which drain water to the Gironde. In Pauillac these vast and numerous outcrops are recognized as being particularly well-suited for top quality vine growing.
This gravely soil has the advantage of absorbing heat during the day and releasing it to the grapes at night, eliminating excessive variations in temperature and promoting even ripening in the grapes.
The vineyards of Grand-Puy-Lacoste are planted on very deep gravel, forcing the plants to develop an extensive root system to find the water and nourishment needed for growth. Because of the soil's poor quality, the vines "suffer for their beauty” and become more resistant with age, producing fully developed grapes with a fine sugar-acid balance. Cabernet Sauvignon is particularly well suited for this type of soil: it's a late ripening variety which needs a longer period to reach maturity than Merlot, so the heat given off by the gravel helps accelerate its growth.
The estate of Grand-Puy-Lacoste comprises 90 hectares - 58 planted with vines - that are entirely located around the Château.
Since its acquisition by the Borie family in 1978, the vineyards at Grand-Puy-Lacoste have been patiently replanted. Today the balance between young and old vines is fully established at an average age of 38 years.
The domain is planted with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon is the ideal noble grape variety, forming the backbone of Grand-Puy-Lacoste's wines. The two other varieties bring nuance to the assemblage which emphasize this growth's typical character.
Grand-Puy-Lacoste is deeply committed to a very precise management of its vineyard: during 20 years, chemical treatments have been halved. No insecticide has been used in the past 10 years, restoring the natural fauna. The soil has always been worked manually, using physical labour, no herbicides, double Guyot pruning.
High-density planting is a factor in quality. At Grand-Puy-Lacoste there are 10,000 vines per hectare, one plant per square meter.
For François-Xavier Borie and his team, the best techniques mean nothing if they don't give expression to the terroir.
A vat house equipped with the latest technology is used for a carefully controlled, classic vinification. Forty-three temperature-controlled vats of different capacities allow very precise winemaking that respects the unique character of each parcel of vines.
Vatting lasts around three weeks. First, the grapes ferment for 8 to 10 days. Grand-Puy-Lacoste favours soft extractions at a temperature of 28°C, with daily pumping over to help alcoholic fermentation and enrich the wine's colour and tannin with each pass through the layer of grape skins.
Maceration lasts around 10 days more to complete this extraction. During this period the temperature of each vat is carefully checked and adjusted according to its grapes' potential. Then comes malolactic fermentation to stabilize the wine and lower its acidity, making it more supple and round.
Grand-Puy-Lacoste's philosophy is simple: work with nature and follow its progress carefully; adapt to each vintage's profile as precisely as possible; minutely adjust the château's "signature” as needed. Even the most sophisticated techniques mean nothing without a basic, guiding principle: to make the best wine possible taste your samples, and then taste again.
The assemblage is the decisive moment in the creation of each vintage, calling into play the talents of all. Each vat is regularly tasted to get an early understanding of the vintage profile before the assemblage takes place, usually in December. This is a team effort, with François-Xavier Borie, his wife Marie-Hélène, their daughter Emeline, their consultant oenologist Eric Boissenot, their research and developpment director Christel Spinner (who is also an oenologist), their cellar master Philippe Gouze and their vineyard manager Antonio Flores.
After assemblage the wines are put into barrels and transferred to the ageing cellar which is kept at constant levels of temperature and humidity. Grand-Puy-Lacoste selects barrels made from fine-grained Allier oak for its delicate and subtle tannin. Two-thirds of the barrels are new each year, with one-fill barrels completing the total. The Château limits its purchases to just three trusted cooperages.
Depending on the year, ageing will last from 16 to 18 months, with gravity racking every three or four months. All work is done with the greatest respect for the classic methods which have produced the Médoc's finest wines. During the entire period of ageing, the mysterious alchemy between wine and wood is at work. Great care is constantly taken to follow the wine's development right up to the time of bottling.