History

Approximately 2000 years ago, the virtues of these tiny quartz pebbles called gravels were discovered. The earliest written mention that we have discovered yet, specifically speaking of a wine produced from these very soils, dates back to 1521.

When he purchased Château Haut-Brion in 1935, Clarence
Dillon restored it to its former glory and to the elite circle
of the most legendary wines in the world.
This extraordinary, bold, courageous vision is now
continued by the fourth generation of the family,
represented by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, Chairman
and CEO since 2008. Located in the town of Pessac, just
a few kilometres from Bordeaux, Château Haut-Brion –
the first of the three estates acquired by the Dillon family
– is the oldest winegrowing property in the region.

1st century AD

The ancient Haut-Brion terroir

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1521

The oldest mention known yet

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1533

The Pontac dynasty

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1549

Building the Château

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1589

Consolidating the château’s reputation

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17th

The expansion

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Mid-17th

Unrivalled wines

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1660

The London success, part. 1

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1663

The London success, part. 2

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1666

Pontack’s head

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1677

The birth of a legend

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1749

The 18th and 19th centuries: modernity, unity and consecration

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1787

Joseph de Fumel and Thomas Jefferson

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1801

Talleyrand and the Empire period

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1855

The classification of 1855

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1859

The Larrieu family and “the spirit of the Girondins”

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1880

The fight against phylloxera

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1923

Systematic bottling at the estate

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1935

The arrival of the Dillon family

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1939

The estate converted into a hospital

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1975 – 1991

Château Haut-Brion enters the 21st century

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2004

An exceptional discovery

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2012

The fourth generation

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2021

The opening of the Pavillon Catelan

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  • 1st century AD
    The ancient Haut-Brion terroir
    • The viticultural history of the Haut-Brion lands dates back to the middle of the 1st century AD as evidenced by a recent discovery : found on a rump of beautiful graves, a coin bearing the effigy of the Roman Emperor Claude corroborates the dating by the Celtic origin of the place named “Haut-Brion”. At that time, the Romans taught the art of viticulture to Bituriges Vivisques, a Gallic tribe who founded Burdigala, the ancient Bordeaux.

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  • 1521
    The oldest mention known yet
    • In two recently discovered manuscripts in the Departmental Archives of the Gironde and dating from 1521 and 1526, the term “cru” in the location “Aubrion” or “Haulbrion”, refers to the wine elaborated on this terroir. These two texts announce an evolution of over three centuries that will bring Haut-Brion to the rank of “Premier Cru Classé” in the Classification of Wines of the Gironde in 1855. Thus, from the beginning of the 16th century, the first luxury brand in the world is born.

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  • 1533
    The Pontac dynasty
    • In 1533, Jean de Pontac acquired the Manorial rights from a Basque merchant, Jean Duhalde. Pontac had married Jeanne de Bellon in 1525 and her dowry was a portion of the Haut-Brion land. Once he had acquired the title, Jean de Pontac continually perfected the work begun by the Romans, expanding and renovating the estate, turning it into what it is today, the ancestor of the Bordeaux Grands Crus.

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  • 1549
    Building the Château
    • In 1549, he began building the château. Knowing the land very well, Jean de Pontac decided to build it on a sandy area at the foot of a magnificent gravel slope, used only for growing vines. Jean de Pontac was one of the most important owners of Haut-Brion and was personally very involved in the winemaking, throughout his life.
      At the end of his life, he owned over half of the vines that now make up Haut-Brion. He died at the age of 101 on 5 April 1589, having lived through the reigns of five Kings: Louis XII, François I, Henri II, Charles IX and Henri III – most probably a unique experience at the time.

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  • 1589
    Consolidating the château’s reputation
    • On his death, the château went to his fourth son, Arnaud II de Pontac. When he died in 1605, his nephew Geoffroy inherited Haut-Brion. The two generations after Jean de Pontac did everything they could to make their name known, producing and selling the wine from their estate, but it was the following generation, that of Arnaud III de Pontac, who really consolidated the château’s reputation.
      According to all reports, Arnaud III, Geoffroy’s son, was a true Renaissance man. An erudite humanist, he was reported to have had one of the largest private libraries in France. He quickly became one of the most influential politicians in Bordeaux, when he was appointed First President of the Guyenne Parliament.

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  • 17th
    The expansion
    • As soon as he inherited the estate, Arnaud III began to expand the residence, adding an additional wing to the Château and doubling the surface area of the vineyard. He also used his political influence to extend the fame of his wine. At that time, in the early 17th century, Bordeaux was no longer under English domination, but still exported most of its wines to England.

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  • Mid-17th
    Unrivalled wines
    • The name of Arnaud III de Pontac is engraved in the history of Haut-Brion and indeed in the history of French wine, above all because he created a new style of wine, the origin of all modern-day Grand Cru reds. On the English market, the main traditional customer of Bordeaux wines, this totally new style of wine, the direct ancestor of our modern-day “vins de garde” (long-keeping wines), enjoyed success under the name “New French Claret”. Years later, many historians would refer to this period as a “wine revolution”.

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  • 1660
    The London success, part. 1
    • In 1660, after 11 years of Puritanism, the English monarchy was restored, with the accession of Charles II to the throne. He will serve Château Haut-Brion at his table, for the first time in the year of his coronation. The cellar book (officially known as the Office of the Pantry, the Butler and the Cellar of the Lord King) mentions that in 1660-1661, Joseph Batailhe received for “169 Bls [bottles] 1 parcel wine of Hobriono [Haut-Brion] for himself personally delivering for the Lord King and hospitality at 21s 4d per Bl with full jugs”.

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  • 1663
    The London success, part. 2
    • In the space of three years, the King’s tastes were shared by other circles, firstly the Court and then in London’s upper class. Samuel Pepys, the famous English diarist, wrote in his journal in 1663: “… And there drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryan (sic), that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with…”

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  • 1666
    Pontack’s head
    • In 1666, Arnaud III sent his son François-Auguste de Pontac to the English capital, accompanied by a French chef. Here, they opened an upscale tavern called “Pontack’s Head”, from a portrait of his father’ hanging on the door. The location was excellent, very near several clubs of influential intellectuals. It immediately became “… the only fashionable establishment in all of London…” and was a tavern, restaurant and delicatessen. Pontac sold his Haut-Brion here at a high price – 7 shillings a bottle, compared to the usual 2 shillings paid for all other wines. The establishment became a meeting place for intellectuals, serving Haut-Brion wine and a cuisine that was much more elaborate than the fare served in other London inns at the time. Aristocrats, artists, writers and wine lovers all gathered to taste and buy the bottles of Haut-Brion, praising its incomparable qualities.

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  • 1677
    The birth of a legend
    • Following the Royal example, famous personalities took an interest in Haut-Brion wine, in an attempt to understand the origin of its “very particular taste”. John Locke, the famous English philosopher, visited the estate on 14 May 1677 and wrote about it in his book, The Works of John Locke: “The wine of Pontac, so revered in England, is made on a little rise of ground, lieing open most to the west. It is noe thing but pure white sand, mixed with a little gravel. One would imagin it scarce fit to bear anything.” The legend of Château Haut-Brion was born.

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  • 1749
    The 18th and 19th centuries: modernity, unity and consecration
    • Less than a century later, in 1749, Joseph de Fumel inherited Château Haut-Brion from his father. A new golden age then began. He created a large, French-style park and designed a more intimate garden, still in existence near the château. He also built an Orangerie and new outbuildings around the main courtyard.

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  • 1787
    Joseph de Fumel and Thomas Jefferson
    • On 25 May 1787, Joseph de Fumel received Thomas Jefferson at Château Haut-Brion for the first time. Jefferson gave his first impressions of the vineyard that day: “The soil of Haut-Brion, which I examined in great detail, is made up of sand, in which there is near as much round gravel or small stone and a very little loam.” The next day, he wrote to his brother-in-law Francis Eppes: “I cannot deny myself the pleasure of asking you to invest in a parcel of wine I have been chosing for myself. I do it the rather as it will furnish you a specimen of what is the very best Bordeaux wine. It is of the vineyard of Obrion, one of the four established as the very bestand it is of the vintage of 1784. Six dozen bottles of it will be packed separately addressed to you.”

       

    • Jefferson’s account is of even more value as his private correspondence demonstrates how knowledgeable he was about Bordeaux wines. He identified “four first-quality vineyards” for red wine: Château Lafite, Château Margaux, Château Latour and Château Haut-Brion, anticipating the classification of 1855. Ironically, the same year that Joseph de Fumel was guillotined, Jefferson was elected President of the United States, staying true to “his” Château Haut-Brion. After appearing on the Royal tables of England and France, Haut-Brion wine was a regular guest at the White House dinners of Presidents Madison and Monroe.

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  • 1801
    Talleyrand and the Empire period
    • Over the next 40 years, the estate passed through different hands. In 1801, it was purchased by Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince of Benevento, Minister of External Relations for Napoleon Bonaparte, the future Emperor Napoleon I. His wines were introduced to the highest political circles. A man of taste and a lover of good food, Talleyrand commissioned the services of Marie-Antoine (known as Antonin) Carême, nicknamed “the King of chefs and the chef to Kings”. A clever strategist, he made use of Carême’s inimitable dishes, served with Château Haut-Brion wines, to further his political ambitions and was fond of saying, “My diplomacy is done through my pans and my kitchen.” As he was extremely busy with his political career, he did not have much time for the estate, which he sold in 1804.

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  • 1855
    The classification of 1855
    • In 1836, Joseph Eugène Larrieu bought the Château and devoted himself to the property. In 1855, he received just reward for his efforts for Château Haut-Brion. That year, at the Paris World Fair, the Association of Bordeaux Wine Merchants, on request from the Gironde Chamber of Commerce, drew up an official classification of the best wines of Bordeaux. The merchants based their conclusions on the prices achieved on the markets over the previous centuries. Château Haut-Brion was named one of the four “Premiers Grands Crus Classés” for red wine, alongside Margaux, Lafite and Latour. Historically, in many aspects, this 1855 classification was the direct descendant of the remarks made by Thomas Jefferson in 1787.

    • Despite this success, the three generations of the Larrieu family, who owned the estate from 1836 to 1896, suffered as a result of the political upheavals and the diseases that affected Bordeaux vineyards in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1859, on his father’s death, Amédée (1807-1873) took control of Château Haut-Brion’s destiny.

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  • 1859
    The Larrieu family and “the spirit of the Girondins”
    • Like many Haut-Brion owners, he combined winemaking with a political career. As the head of the estate, he successfully coped with the ravages of powdery mildew, gradually replanting the vineyard. He also modernised the cellars, supervised wine production and developed outlets in the English market. After 1870, he was re-elected as member of Parliament then became Prefect of the Gironde. The Bordeaux people said proudly of him that he embodied “the spirit of the Girondins” of revolutionary France

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  • 1880
    The fight against phylloxera
    • Amédée de Larrieu died in 1873, leaving his son Eugène (1848-1896) in charge of the estate. Born in Château Haut-Brion and a lawyer like his father, Eugène was famous for stating with conviction that “phylloxera would not dare to show its face here!” Unfortunately, the aphid devastated vineyards all over Europe, hitting Château Haut-Brion hard in 1880. He led a very fierce fight against the disease, which he managed to overcome by completely rebuilding his vineyard using a rootstock from North America, the riverbank grape (Vitis riparia).

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  • 1923
    Systematic bottling at the estate
    • Château Haut-Brion was also one of the first to bottle its wine systematically on the estate, from 1923 onwards. In January 1925, André Gibert, an eccentric character but a good winegrower, purchased Château Haut-Brion and managed it for nine years. Old and sick, without an heir, he began looking for a sufficiently powerful and influential character to stop his treasured land being built on and to restore the château to its former glory.
      And so the person who would offer Château Haut-Brion its third golden age, whose descendants are still at the helm of the estate, entered the frame.

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  • 1935
    The arrival of the Dillon family
    • In 1934, Clarence Dillon, a New York banker, visited Château Haut-Brion during a trip to France. While he was on the steamer taking him back to the United States, he received a telegram informing him that he could buy Haut-Brion, but only if he acted quickly. His response was clear: “Act quickly!” The purchase was finalised on 13 May 1935 and a fourth dynasty took over the reins. The modern era of Haut-Brion could now begin. The history of the Dillon family follows that of 20th century France. From 1935 to the present day, no other vineyard has been associated for such a long time with an American family, who adored France and its way of life.

    • When Clarence Dillon bought Château Haut-Brion in 1935, he came even closer to France. A visionary, he made an impulse purchase, aware that he was buying a part of the history of the country he loved, despite its trials and tribulations, economic crises, the war and the fall in wine sales.Clarence Dillon and his nephew Seymour Weller did everything they could to modernise the estate. They immediately installed electricity and a new plumbing system, redesigned the park and its grounds, cut the trees and renovated the cellars.

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  • 1939
    The estate converted into a hospital
    • In September 1939, when the Second World War broke out, Clarence Dillon converted Château Haut-Brion into a hospital, to receive wounded officers from the French Army. Throughout this period, he worked as an unofficial liaison agent between the American and British governments. His crucial role was not recognised until much later.

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  • 1975 – 1991
    Château Haut-Brion enters the 21st century
    • In 1961, they modernised the vat room, bringing in new stainless steel vats. From 1975 to 2008, his granddaughter Joan Dillon accomplished an impressive project that would enable Château Haut-Brion to enter the 21st century. Passionate about interior decor and a woman of great taste, she completely renovated the château interior, building and installing the elegant entrance gates and creating the park that surrounds the château. In 1979, she was joined by her husband the Duke of Mouchy, who worked alongside her to manage the family company. In 1991, she inaugurated the high-tech vat room at Château Haut-Brion, next to the brand new Cour des Artisans.

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  • 2004
    An exceptional discovery
    • In 2004, an exceptional discovery was made in a partially submerged cave on the island of Mayotte: a diver came across an ancient pirates’ cache and its many varied treasures. Among them was a bottle of Château Haut-Brion, dating from around the 1850s, as confirmed by some coins found in the same place. This unique example, now back at the property, was a source of inspiration when creating the bottle for Château Quintus, the Right Bank property of Domaine Clarence Dillon, acquired in 2011.  

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  • 2012
    The fourth generation
    • Under the leadership of her son, Prince Robert of Luxembourg, the renovation of Château Haut-Brion’s magnificent buildings was completed. Certified to High Quality Environmental standard (materials that comply with sustainable development as much as possible, energy efficiency, water efficiency and harmonious relationship with the immediate environment), these include new reception rooms, new offices and a kitchen suitable for top chefs, so that the art of hospitality, so dear to Domaine Clarence Dillon, can be practised. Designed by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, the Château Haut-Brion library is a circular room with shelves that go from the floor to the ceiling with hidden doorways.

    • It is very highly regarded throughout Europe – much like the library of Arnaud III de Pontac several centuries before – for its first editions and rare books on gastronomy and wine.

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  • 2021
    The opening of the Pavillon Catelan
    • The Pavillon Catelan is the outcome of the renovation of an old building dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. It is designed to welcome visitors in a setting that celebrates the French art of living, to offer services and bespoke reception venues, as well as to provide guests with access to wines of the group to be tasted on the premises or in the shop, La Cave du Château, Bordeaux.

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