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Recent Tasting, 3 Wines Vintage 1998

Chateau Canon St. MichelIn

The 1950’s, Mr Jean Garnier purchased several parcels of vines located on the lands of the villages of Fronsac and Saint Michel de Fronsac.In 1979 the property was leased to a friend of the family for 18 years. In 1998, Jean-Yves Millaire, Jean Garnier’s grandson, took over the family property after studying oenology and working on several different properties from 1992 to 1997. In 1999, Christian joined Jean-Yves on the property and the vineyard and storehouse were reorganised, renovated and the property extended with the lease of several very well-exposed neighbouring parcels.

The property today covers 17.50ha divided into 7ha of AOC Canon Fronsac, 3.5 ha of Fronsac, 0.5ha of AOC white Bordeaux and 6.50ha of AOC red Bordeaux.During the first few years, the vineyard was cultivated using "integrated" farming methods, but we very quickly turned towards organic and biodynamic farming.

The 1998 vintage you have purchased was probably a product of 2 generations, vinification by Jean-Yves and looked after by Christian

A terroir…

The AOC Fronsac and Canon Fronsac parcels are located on argilo-calcareous type soils. Chalk tends to predominate on the hills and plateaus whilst the slopes and combes are more marked by Fronsadais molasse. These characteristics of the terroir are accentuated by the diversity of the very uneven terrain. The two rivers protect the vineyard from spring frosts and the green oaks which grow here are proof of this privileged climate.

A method of farming…

Chateau Canon St. Michel focussed on quality and environmental respect naturally led us towards organic farming and biodynamics. Indeed, thanks to farming techniques using no weed-killer, fungicide, insecticide or other synthetic pesticides, we can offer natural wines which are a perfect reflection of their terroir. Chateau Canon St. Michel attached great importance to tillage, cover planting, leaf removal and most especially, very close monitoring of each parcel, as organic farming is entirely based on anticipation and prevention. The vinification process takes place naturally with no artificial aid, solely based on the winegrower’s skill. This rediscovered symbiosis between man and his vines brings out the quintessence of our wines.

Château Canon Saint Michel and vintage 1998

Château Canon Saint Michel is located in the Canon Fronsac appellation, one of the oldest and smallest AOC in the Bordelais region, and borders on Saint- Emilion and Pomerol. Château Canon Saint Michel covers 7 hectares, divided between several small parcels with different grape varieties and exposures, giving this vintage an excellent aromatic complexity.

The Château Canon Saint Michel 1998 is composed of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% de Malbec. The density of the vines is quite high, between 5,500 and 8,000 vines/ha. The average age of the vines is 40 years and they are located on argilo-calcareous slopes with Fronsadais molasse and sandy clay.

Chateau Canon St. Michel grows the vines according to organic and biodynamic methods of farming certified by AGROCERT and ECOCERT. All grapes are harvested by hand and our wine storehouse is also FNIVAB-certified. We do not add any oenological products to our wines apart from very small but essential amounts of sulphur carry out cold pre-fermentation followed by 3 to 4 weeks of fermentation depending on the vintages, with cap-punching and occasional rack and return “délestages”. The wine is then matured for 12 to 14 months in 225-litre French oak casks. Over the years, we have selected a number of coopers with very high quality woods. Chateau Canon St. Michel considered the cask to be a container allowing the micro-oxygenation of the wine over several months and not as a means of flavouring the wine. For this reason, Chateau Canon St. Michel only use 20% of new casks each year, plus casks which have contained one, two or three wines. After 12 to 14 months maturing in casks, we blend the wines which then remain in the vat for another 6 months to refine. The wine is then bottled without being clarified and often without being filtered either, this having already been achieved by time and the maturing process.

The Château Canon Saint Michel 1998 is a deep ruby-red colour with a red fruit nose and a delicious intensity in the mouth. It also gives notes of tobacco and vanilla on a strong tannic structure. When young, the vintage reveals aromas of bitter cherries with a pleasant minerality, then with more than 14 years, notes of truffles and undergrowth appear, characteristic of great wines grown on argilo-calcareous soils.

General Background of the Appellation Fronsac

Canon Fronsac has been renowned for its wines for centuries – the very first Bordeaux wine to appear in a Christie’s catalogue in 1780 refers to “a hogshead of Canon Claret” and the wines were popular at the Court of Versailles. In 1783 the entire output of the Château Canon was reserved for the court of the Dauphin at Versailles. However wine making in this little appellation stretches back much further.

There are some who claim that Fronsac was the first vineyard in Bordeaux. The vineyards descend down from the limestone bluff, the Tertre de Fronsac and from prehistoric times the region was inhabited. The Gauls had an Oppidum (a Celtic fortified town) on the Tertre and later the Romans built several villas and a temple there.

Today, the ruins of Château de Fronsac stand at the summit.

Smaller than Fronsac, the Canon Fronsac Appellation occupies higher and steeper terrain. The resulting wines are stronger and more substantial. Fronsac and Canon Fronsac sit side by side with Saint Emilion and Pomerol and are bordered by the Rivers Isle and Dordogne. The land is irrigated by a series of small streams reaching down to feed the rivers.

Canon Fronsac consists of two communes – Saint Michel de Fronsac and Fronsac. There are the remains of an ancient necropolis under the church of Saint Michel. Saint Michel, by the way is named for the Archangel Michael who was usually honoured on mountain tops and high places – the Tertre falls into this category. Michael is also the patron of mariners and many legends attribute him drawing springs forth from the rock (Egyptian Christians placed their life giving river, the Nile, under his protection and Mont Saint Michel in Normandy is a world famous sanctuary dedicated to him).

More than 12 centuries ago, the Emperor Charlemagne commanded a fortress to be built in 769 to control the neighbouring area and to defend the Libournais against marauding pirates. It was built on the ruins of the temple on the Tertre.

For three centuries, Fronsac remained an important stronghold around which the culture of the vine has continued. The site was known as Fransiacus – the Château of the Francs – and it’s also how Fronsac got it’s name! This fortress on the Tertre de Fronsac was the most powerful in Western France and was the headquarters of the military district of the West. The Emperor made his son, Louis, King of Aquitania, and made Louis’ brother of the Seigneur de Forsath, Viscount de Fronsac in 825 AD.

The Franks were an army of knights and nobles of different European races confederated together although the greater number of them were of Germanic origin. Sentiment rather than kinship was the basis of their organization and the name Frank meant ‘free” — not in the modern sense of free but in the ancient sense – in other words, they recognized no lords as their superiors. Charlemagne was so fond of the red wine from his fine Corton vineyards in Burgundy that, in his enthusiasm, he would sometimes spill it, colouring his noble beard. His wife felt the stains were hardly appropriate for her husband, the Holy Roman Emperor. To silence her complaints, he ordered some of the red-wine vines of Corton uprooted and replaced with white.

He ordered that crushing of wine grapes no longer be done with the feet, but that a mechanical screw press be used. Likewise, wine was no longer to be stored in skins, but in wooden kegs instead. Charlemagne also introduced the securing of the wine barrels with metal hoops for transport. Viticulture became so successful during Charlemagne’s reign that there was an excess of wine. Thus, “banvin” had to be imposed, which meant none of the tenants could sell their wine until the lord had sold his own. The ultimate indication of his affection for the vine occurred when he renamed the months of the year in his own language. October became “windume-monath” that is, the month of the wine harvest.

In 1623, Charlemagne’s fortified castle was razed and 10 years later, the great Cardinal de Richelieu bought the land – and the title of Duke of Fronsac – for the children of his younger sister. Richelieu classed the wines of Canon Fronsac wines amongst his favourites and introduced them to the court of the King of France. His nephew – Louis François Armand du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu and of Fronsac, Governor of Guyenne and Gascony, Marshal of France – and libertine – took the opportunity to promote the production of Canon Fronsac’s vineyards at Versailles and at parties that he gave in the small château he had constructed on the Tertre.

If you are wondering where the name “Canon” comes from it may be due to the fact that ships anchored on the Dordogne upstream of St. Michel de Fronsac in the 1600s used the western flank of the Fronsac hill as a landmark to fire salvoes into the marshes, the only area at the time which was not given over to cultivation. The aim of these trials was to test the ballistics and power of the ships’ canons. It was even possible to measure their range, by observing where the canon balls fell into the marsh.

Over the last 100 years, the winegrowers of Canon Fronsac have changed the types of vines planted – Malbec used to be planted on the hills but when it was proven scientifically that Merlot was better suited to these clay limestone soils, the producers adopted it (70% of vines planted). Canon-Fronsac wines have a dark ruby colour with purplish hints, which turns garnet with age. They have a concentrated nose, with notes of raspberry, strawberry, red currents that develop into stewed prunes, leather, and mocha with time.

Wines from this area are less well known than their famous neighbours but their wines are excellent and undervalued so you can buy wines that are made with great care but don’t cost a fortune.

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