Owner: Grands Millésimes de France
Classification: Fourth Growth
Vineyard area: 90 hectares
Average annual production: 265,000 bottles p/a
Standard blend: 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot
Other wines: Amiral de Beychevelle
The Beychevelle estate is situated within sight of the Gironde River, surrounded by regal gardens that reflect the classical elegance of the chateau. The property was once owned by Jean-Louis Nogaret de la Valette, the Duc d’Epernon and an admiral of the French navy who is said to have built the original chateau in the 16th century. The story behind the estate’s name is part fact, part fancy, with legend proffering that ships were forced to lower their sails – “baisse voile” – in homage to Nogaret as they passed. “Baisse voile”, or “bacha velo” in Gascon, became “Beychevelle” and inspired the chateau’s emblem of a ship with a griffin at the prow.
Though the admiral may be credited with renaming the estate, it was not until the 18th century, under the tenure of the Marquis Francois-Etienne de Brassier, that any real interest was taken in Beychevelle’s winemaking potential. As well as improving the land and building the venerable chateau that exists today, the marquis constructed a new vat house and bought back parcels of land that had been sold off to cover previous owners’ debts. During the French Revolution, however, large parts of the property were again absorbed into other estates and Francois-Arnaud (the marquis’ son and the owner at the time) had no choice but to quit France after killing a man in a duel. As a result, the estate was sold and resold repeatedly – during which time it was classified as a Fourth Growth – until it was purchased by Armand Heine, and then passed by marriage to the Achille-Fould family. In 1984, after three generations of ownership, the property was sold to the Grands Millesimes de France and the Japanese group, Suntory.
Having developed a strong consumer following in the Far East, Beychevelle is a prime example of the impact that the Asian market can have on previously underperforming brands. Today the quatrième cru is navigating a new path, with recent vintages in strong demand and prices firmly on the up.
The 2009 vintage
Beychevelle 2009 is a blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. Its alcohol is listed as 13%.
James Molesworth on Wine Spectator rated the most recent Beychevelle as 92. The critic describes the 2009 as having “the dark, winey cassis bush and roasted plum fruit of the appellation, but steps up the integration and length, with racy linzer torte and graphite notes and a lovely tobacco-filled finish supported by mouthwatering acidity.” Jancis Robinson calls it “neat and pretty”, giving it 16.5-17 out of 20.
Beychevelle 2009 was released in London at £540 per 12x75cl case this year – more than double the release price of the 2008. And though the vintage has seen relatively keen trade, prices have now moved slightly below the opening price.
Though it has in the past been something of an underperformer, Asian interest in Beychevelle has boosted prices tremendously in recent years, with vintages 2000-2007 rising by an average of 35% over the past year alone. Looking more closely, it seems that it is the cheaper vintages, rather than the best-performing vintages, that are garnering the most attention. Over the past six months, the 2007 (£341 per 12x75cl) and the 2006 (£435) have both climbed 38%, confirmation, perhaps, that Asian consumers are brand rather than vintage conscious. The 2008 is also seeing a strong drive upwards, having risen by 37% since the end of February. Given that Asian consumers are not regarded as big en primeur buyers, this increase is likely a result of the general rise in demand for the 2008 vintage, which tends to be comparatively cheap across brands. This is certainly true of Beychevelle 2008, which is currently trading at £352 per case – almost £600 cheaper than the 2000.
The graph below shows the price appreciation (%) of recent Beychevelle vintages over the past six months.