I’ve seen a dragon in Saint Emilion.
Yes, really. I’m not kidding.
It’s about 3.30 p.m. on a sunny, warm autumn afternoon in November. We walk uphill into a bosky, oak wood with sunlight filtering through the leaves. The ground is covered in acorns that crunch noisily under our feet in this quiet space.
There before us with wings spread wide is the Quintus Dragon
All two tons of bronze on a stone plinth.
“Why is there a dragon here?” we ask our host, François Capdemourlin, the Estate Manager at Château Quintus.
He tell us that, in mythology, dragons protect treasure or special places. The proprietors of Chateau Quintus in Saint Emilion consider that their 28 hectares of wine growing slopes are special. Hence the protective presence of the dragon, he says.
Commissioned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, President and CEO, Domaine Clarence Dillon and created by Mark Coreth, a world renowned British sculptor, who specializes in large scale, dynamic animal and wildlife sculptures, the Quintus Dragon is spectacular.
The view from this wine property is also spectacular. On a clear day such as we enjoy, its possible to see not only famous Saint Emilion chateaux, such as Chateau Angelus before us across the vineyards but also the areas of Pomerol and Fronsac, great wine areas in the distance.
Chateau Quintus is owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon, which owns Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion in Pessac Leognan in the Bordeaux Wine Region. I wrote about Chateau Haut Brion in January: see the Whisper of History.
Chateau Quintus represents a relatively new venture for Domaine Clarence Dillon as it extends into creating the more merlot-centric wines of the Right Bank of the Bordeaux wine area through the acquisition of two existing but separate wine properties. Merlot, as the predominant variety in Saint Emilion wines, is the grape variety that gives softer tannins to wines.
As we talk about Merlot based wines, we smile as we reminisce about the 2004 film ‘Sideways’ featuring proponents of Merlot and Pinot Noir and wonder how many people remember that film now.
Back at Château Quintus there is an aura of calm efficiency about the property. This is a working vineyard: no wine tourist shop or public tasting area in sight. This is the norm in the Bordeaux wine area with only a few exceptions. Visits are by appointment only. Wine tourism centres for this area are located in the UNESCO heritage town of Saint Emilion.
We tour the new winemaking area in the renovated chai or vat room and then drive to the Chateau business centre in a different area of the property, where there is a small tasting room. Behind the tasting area, we can look through the glass partition to the wine barrel ageing room where the wine is quietly and patiently ageing.
It’s in this tasting room that our host tells us the story about pirates!
Images of Pirates of the Caribbean and swashbuckling figures come to mind and I can’t wait to hear the tale.
This is what happened. On a diving expedition in the Indian Ocean, off the Island of Mayotte, some years ago, divers found a cache of treasure on the seabed. In this cache, covered with the debris of years on the ocean bed, was a 19th century wine bottle, still intact. On the neck of the bottle was the raised seal of Chateau Haut Brion engraved on the glass, still visible after all these years. Inspired by this historic find, the wine bottles of Chateau Quintus are especially made in the same 19th century style, in this instance with the raised engraved seal of Chateau Quintus.
I’ve mentioned dragons and pirates, now its time to mention the wine!
Chateau Quintus focuses on red wines and these wines are part of the Saint Emilion appellation. As mentioned, the grape variety grown is Merlot together with Cabernet Franc. In terms of wine production, the vintage has been controlled by Chateau Quintus since 2011.
Out of interest, white wines made in the Saint Emilion wine region are characterized as Bordeaux Blanc.
We taste a Chateau Quintus 2014 and their second wine, Le Dragon de Quintus 2014. 2014 was a challenging year with a hot Indian summer in the area that saved the vintage after difficult summer conditions.
The Chateau Quintus 2014 is made from 69% Merlot and 31% Cabernet Franc. This is a smooth wine with red fruit and spicy notes. It is a wine to age and enjoy over the next decade or so.
Le Dragon de Quintus 2014 is made from 77% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc and is a wine with soft tannins and plum notes to fully enjoy now.
It is interesting to hear the Estate Manager talk about vineyard management and the wine making process used at Chateau Quintus as it benefits from the expertise of the teams at Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, all part of the Domaine Clarence Dillon organization.
Several examples of this collaboration are discussed:
One example is that the vineyard workers have been specifically trained in the way that Domaine Clarence Dillon prefers to prune the vines.
Another is that Chateau Quintus benefits from the on site cooperage or barrel making service resident at Chateau Haut Brion.
Yet another example is that the staff from the three different chateaux gets together for the wine blending process to determine the percentages of varieties in the year’s vintage. Team members share their expertise to arrive at the optimum blend. Once the blending has been determined the wine is put in oak barrels for ageing over approximately two years.
I am always interested to know about initiatives that develop talent and skill within an organization and enjoy hearing these examples given by François Capdemourlin, who is clearly enjoying his exciting role managing this integrated wine estate. Chateau Quintus is a new name in the Saint Emilion wine world, finding its way and supported by the investment of resources from the Domaine Clarence Dillon. Watch this space, as the pundits say.
We’ve enjoyed an interesting and informative visit to Chateau Quintus and its time to thank the Estate Manager for his time, find our car and drive off towards road D33..
D33 is the main road on the way from Bergerac to Libourne and the city of Bordeaux. Up high on the right hand side sits the town of Saint Emilion with its vineyards spread over the hillsides. We frequently drive that road.
Now I know where the Quintus Dragon lives, in that bosky wood on the hill high above the road. I know where to look when driving by.
Next time, I will raise my hand in a silent salute.
Château Quintus. http://www.chateau-quintus.com
Mark Coreth: Check his Facebook page. There are several websites and galleries including Sladmore Gallery in London and Messums Wiltshire that refer to his work.