The Soils

Click to Enlarge Do Château Haut-Chaigneau and Château La Sergue have a terroir?
by Bernard-Henri Enjalbert

Soil types in the Lalande de Pomerol appellation are not very well-known, even among specialists who acknowledge that several estates there come into the great wine category. How should Lalande de Pomerol be classified in the hierarchy of the Libourne region's terroir?  ?

Although some parts of Lalande de Pomerol have soil that is hardly outstanding for winegrowing, other parts have superb soil, which explains why informed investors have recently purchased estates in Lalande de Pomerol and Néac. Furthermore, the price of Lalande de Pomerol on the Bordeaux marketplace over the past decade shows that the local wine trade considers it among the finest wines in the entire region.

The quality of the terroir at Haut-Chaigneau and La Sergue, which both belong to Vignobles J&A Chatonnet, can be explained by three main factors. The first is history. The second is the geomorphological and agrological nature of the soil and subsoil. The third is that Haut-Chaigneau, and, to an even greater extent, La Sergue, are "viticultural creations" where the human element is very important. These three aspects enable us to define the relationship between the quality of wines made at Haut-Chaigneau and La Sergue and the vineyards where they are produced.

The history of the wine-producing parish of Néac and the Lalande de Pomerol appellation « Chaigneau »

is the name of a hamlet that can be traced back to the early 18th century, when it consisted of several tenant farms. Most of these belonged to André Garde, a Royal Notary in Néac, who owned a great deal of farmland and vineyards in the Saint-Emilion area. We are fortunate in that he kept precise records, including a land register. These show that he found a variety of ways to make money from his land, but was wise enough to manage the most profitable activity, winegrowing, by himself..

Once André Garde acquired the Chaigneau tenant farm, he decided it should be entirely devoted to making wine. It was, in fact, in this very empirical way that much of the best vineyard land in Bordeaux was discovered. Garde was very happy with Chaigneau, which brought him a regular income, and he extended the vineyard. There are records of his sending Chaigneau to Libourne shippers "in new oak barrels", which was extremely rare in the region at that time (1). In the late 18th century, the famous wine brokers Tastet-Lawton noted "Chaigneau's good ageing potential", a highly unusual quality in this time of prehistoric oenology.

All these factors confirm "Chaigneau's" ability to produce fine wine. The historical background of "Chaigneau", comprising present-day Châteaux Haut-Chaigneau and part of La Sergue (2), is very significant in terms of quality. Why? Because by the middle of the 18th century, the best vineyard land in the area had already been spotted and planted! Furthermore, the Chatonnet family were deeply involved in this vineyard development process in Saint-Emilion, at La Magdelaine and later at Ausone with Jean Cantenat. The basic delimitation of quality vineyards has changed relatively little in Bordeaux over the years. The "core" of finest estates have stayed remarkably the same.

No fantastic new terroir has been "discovered" in the past three centuries. The geomorphology of soil in Lalande de Pomerol and at Chaigneau Haut-Chaigneau and La Sergue are located on the "Chaigneau" (3) and "Chevrol" (4) terraces, on a north-south facing plateau opposite the Pomerol plateau.

retour (1) New oak was primarily used at this time in the Médoc, at estates such as Latour. This was in response to demand from the Bordeaux brokers on behalf of their main buyers in London and Bristol.

retour (2) Part of La Sergue's terroir is on the Chevrol plateau, on top of a Gunzian terrace. The soil is similar to that of Pomerol, but the topsoil is less gravelly because higher in altitude when this was the river bed of the Barbanne, a tributary of the l’Isle.

retour (3) or "Chagneau", near the place named "Chatain", which dates back to the 12th century and is possibly derived from the Latin word castaneus, meaning chestnut trees. It could also be derived from chêneau (1323), meaning "young oak", which comes from "chêne" (for "oak"), which is a deformation of chasnes, from the vulgate Latin word cassanus, which came originally from the Gauls.

retour (4) whose etymology is from chèvre or chièvre, which comes from 12th century chevreuil (chevroel), meaning "roebuck". As per Charlemagne's trip through a forest full of chevreuils (roebuck).