I spent a week with this August with my son and visited a property I had never heard of before and accompanied him to the church of Abzac, close to the château both of which area “monument historique”. My only thought was to see what the wine was like. It is a very large and beautiful building some 14 kilometres north of Libourne on the river Isle.
History of the Chateau
As we entered under the archway to the main courtyard I saw an inscription on the wall. Translated exactly, it read, “Raymond de Fronsac certifies that on 30th June 1353 Château d’Abzac transfers its allegiance to Jean le Bon, King of France (1350-1364) from Edward III, King of England”. This turned out to be an unfortunate choice for Raymond.
Here was a story worth investigating and while my son went to work on gilding the family Crest, I spent time talking history to the proprietor, Baron d’Anglade. The first mention that I can find about Anglade is the Chevalier Jean Seigneur d’Anglade, in 1311 and then Guillaume d’Anglade, his son, who went on the crusades with King Louis IX (1226-1270) in 1248.
From the beginning
To understand the history of Abzac let me start from the beginning and go back to Edward II of England (1307-1327) who gave a property to Raymond Viscount of Fronsac (1303-1363). The English, who then owned Aquitaine, were displeased and Raymond had to flee. He was on the horns of a complicated dilemma.
Philippe le Bel of France (Philippe IV, 1285-1314) had 4 children- 3 sons and a daughter who married Edward II of England. They had a son Edward III (1327-1377). Here comes the thorny bit- the French nobility refused to accept Edward III as their King and chose a cousin, Philippe (Philippe VI, 1328-1350) to be their king instead. Edward III could not accept this and sent an ironical message to Philippe saying, “to my cousin who CALLS HIMSELF King of France. This basically brought on the section of the 100 Years’ War of 1353.
Back at Abzac, poor Raymond had to make a choice as to whom to pay homage and was on the fence. Abzac was in the Duchy of Aquitaine (English), whilst the other side of the river was in France. Normally he should have paid homage to Edward III, his Seignior who claimed the throne of France but was not accepted by the French nobility BUT, Philippe was claiming to be King of France and would therefore be Edward’s superior.
It was bad luck for Raymond because the English won a war at Poitiers in 1356 and defeated France. Jean Le Bon (1350-1364), King of France and son of Philippe (1328-1350), was taken prisoner. Raymond fled and Abzac remained English until the final defeat of England at the end of the 100 Years’ War, when the ancient idiot Talbot fell off his horse at the Battle of Castillon and Aquitaine was lost to the French for evermore.
Once Abzac became French, Louis de Prie, Chambellan of the Duke of Berry, Governor of Guyenne and brother of Louis XI, King of France, became the new owner. The King transformed Fronsac into a Conté and the new owner was made a Count. The following owner was Le Marechal d’Albon Saint André. He rendered services to the King of France and was made a Marquis.
The property changed hands several times after this. First it was Geoffroy de Caumont and after him François d’Orléans-Longueville, cousin of Henri IV, King of France (1595-1631). For him the King elevated Fronsac to a Duché (Duchy) and he became a Duke. Then came Cardinal de Richelieu (1633-1639) followed by Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, the famous general of King Louis XIV. Until 1989 Château Abzac continued to remain part of the Duchy of Fronsac.
In 1662 Château Abzac was sold to Raphael de Fournel, Seigneur de Tayac, who demolished the original Château Fort and, in 1663 built the present edifice. The family ran it well for over 100 years until around the time of the revolution when it became the property of Roussel de Goderville. The last Goderville, Gabriel, was aged 26 when he married in 1789. In 1791 there was an uprising and the revolutionaries wanted to burn the Château and hang the couple.
Gabriel’s wife was pregnant, so he called for help and the Garde Nationale de Libourne arrived in the nick of time. However, the couple were now scared, fled to Germany and never returned. The property was confiscated by the Revolutionary Parliament and 5 years later was put up for auction. It was bought by Pierre Rozier who did not live there and the château remained abandoned.
By 1810, Goderville was dead, but Guillemanson, his son in law, came to meet Rozier in 1815, on behalf of the three daughters of Gabriel de Goderville. Rozier generously agreed to give it back to him. However, Guillemanson said, “we do not want to live among people who wanted to kill my parents and my wife knows nothing about Abzac, having been born and bred in Germany”. They came to an agreement to try and get the best possible compensation subsequent to the confiscation. A few years later Guillemanson contacted Pierre Rozier to say he had obtained a far greater compensation than he ever expected.
Later in 1857, plans were set afoot to restore the property, which was in bad shape. The mill, that belonged to the property was still working and provided a certain income. In 1847 Pierre Rozier died, still owner of the property. His son, Henri, loved Abzac and was a rich Bordeaux Négociant. It was he who restored it to its former glory. His architect wanted to transform it into an Italian style villa, but he refused and the existing structure was refurbished. After Henri Rozier inherited, his grand-daughter, the last of the family line, inherited and married Jean Roger D’Anglade, the ancestor of the present owner. Through this alliance the D’Anglade family became owners; thus Château Abzac belongs to the same family since 1796.
Even the story of the present owner’s family is quite exotic. As far as wine is concerned the vineyard was already planted in the 17th century when Rafael de Fournel bought it. The Gunz soil is similar to that of Pomerol, with red gravel brought by the river Isle. Originally, a million years ago it was desert and half a million years ago tectonic movements pushed up the hills, created the course of the river Isle and brought both the gravel and excellent drainage. It is planted with 90% Merlot.
CHATEAU ABZAC TODAY
Today the property is owned and run by Baron d’Anglade. More about the wine below; it carries the simple appellation of Bordeaux Supérieur, which is probably why a property with such a fantastic history is not better known.
Wines of Chateau d’Abzac
Although the article was written to describe the quite amazing history of the property, it would be entirely inappropriate to finish without talking a little bit about the wines. It is a 35-hectare vineyard on Gunz soil, with a layer of clay on a thick bed of red gravel. It is planted with 90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The soil is in many ways similar to that in Pomerol as it lies only 14 kilometres to the north of Libourne and therefore close to both Pomerol and Saint Emilion. The average age of the vines is 25 years. The gravel, of course, was brought in the distant past by the river Isle on which the property lies and provides fine drainage for the vineyard. The Baron makes several different wines.
There is a Bordeaux Supérieur that spends two years in stainless steel tanks. There is a Reserve Bordeaux Supérieur that spends 12 months in the finest oak barrels. There is a “Les Tours d’Abzac” that is a Bordeaux Rouge from the younger vines. He also makes a Rosé under the name of Château Bellevue de l’Espy. He has won a multitude of medals and accolades at various wine tasting competitions since 2005.
Among these are the “Concours Agricole de Bordeaux- de Paris, de Macon, de Bruxelles and de Lyon. Also, Wuhan in China, the Challenge Internationale and the Los Angeles International Wine Competition. Finally, but surely not the least, is the “Concours Mondial des Vins Féminalisé”. I tasted all the wines. The Baron, being something of a perfectionist, which is unsurprising given the history, both of the family and the property, makes wines that are considerably superior to their very modest appellations. They have a pleasurable purity of fruit, are supple and round, redolent of ripe red fruit and quickly ready to drink, although the Baron feels that they are at their best after 5 years. They fall perfectly into the category of good wines at sensible prices that are becoming so hard to find in Bordeaux and much appreciated when discovered.
The Baron is quite a personality in a very laid-back way. He has been and still is, the mayor of Abzac for around 20 years. He owns and runs the family company Groupe Abzac, founded in 1928, housed in the old mill (mentioned above), built in the 18th century and classified as a historical monument. This is the Head Office of the company that specialises in the production of paper tubes and cores, but also in fibre drums. They have 11 factories, four of them overseas in Canada and the USA. Today, his four children manage the business.
John Salvi, Master of Wine