On the 17th of July last year, Jancis Robinson wrote an article in the Financial Times entitled ‘One Mighty Smallholder’, recounting the improbable story of La Fleur Morange. The story begins with a carpenter planting grapes on his land at the south-eastern part of St Emilion (the tip of Pey d’Armens) to prevent the local council from annexing the land for social housing. The story culminates in the 2005 vintage of this wine being mistaken by Jancis herself as Chateau Ausone in a blind tasting, awarding it 19/20. Robert Parker, an avid fan of this Estate since 2000, awarded the 2010 94+ points: everything in between is a heady mix of luck, hard work, passion and special terroir.
Jean-Francois Julien, the proprietor of La Fleur Morange, spent much of the 1990s fixing the furniture of Graf Stephan von Neipperg the aristocratic owner of Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere. Once Julien planted his own vines, he began to take an interest in viticulture, undertaking soil research, discovering that in his quarter of Pey d’Armens one finds a high concentration of iron-rich clay. It is this soil and its ability to retain water that is so important to the vineyard of Chateau Petrus. Julien and his wife then proceeded to swap land in their local village which today results in 3.8 hectares of vines, notably two hectares contain some of the oldest vines in St Emilion which are 100 years old. Armed with a text book of the famous oenologist Emile Peynaud, Julien set to work producing his first vintage in 1999, only 900 bottles fashioned in his father-in-law’s garage.
Julien began to apply the painstaking detail of a carpenter to wine. All grapes are destemmed by hand, normally done by machine. Julien even pioneered conical fermentation vats with double layers to exact greater control over temperature. Taking this a step farther, he hoists all barrels to the rafters of his winery removing the need for pumping over during fermentation and allowing for gentle malolactic conversion.
It was this toiling that led to a photographer from the local paper Sud Ouest to publish photos of this family at work. Following these photos he was visited by a local wine broker, who gave a sample of his 2000 vintage to the American merchant Jeffrey Davies. He in turn put a bottle in front of Robert Parker who was so intensely impressed that he awarded it 93 points; it sold out immediately. In 2002 Claude Gros came on board as a consultant, culminating in 96 points for the 2005 vintage. Gros added finesse to the wines yet he attributes the wonder of this wine largely to Julien’s love of his vines, suggesting that he loves them so much he practically has a name for each one. It is a romantic notion that in 2012 La Fleur Morange was promoted to St-Emilion Grand Cru Classe, the same as Canon La Gaffeliere in the nineties.
Today, La Fleur Morange produces an average of 500 cases a year and with production this low it can be made with intense commitment to detail, selection and excellence. In the magnificent 2010 vintage, one of the greatest in Bordeaux’s history, La Fleur Morange produced something very special. The vintage was produced from incredibly low yields, 17 hectolitres per hectare, leaving as few as 250 cases available to the market. This painstaking selection and ancient vines has led to a natural alcohol level of 15.5%, higher than any of the other leading estates in this vintage and the phenolic ripeness of Ausone and Petrus. Julien is making wines to be cherished, yet at unthinkable prices compared to its cost of production and the price of its peers. The 2005 started life from barrel with a 92-94 points score, marked up three years later to 96, the 2010 is on course for that and perhaps more.
The blend is 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc, the wine is 100% hand-picked, sorted, and de-stemmed. La Fleur Morange has a large US following, where a lot of the production ends up, it also has a cult following in China, leaving very little for Europe. With less than a meagre 250 cases made and an ever growing global demand, the 2010 is a wine to own and to savour. For £37.50 a bottle La Fleur Morange is an exceptional buy, not only for its wonderful quality and value for money, but also for its truly remarkable tale.
Robert Parker, Wine Advocate – 94+ Points
The more traditional cuvee, the 2010 La Fleur Morange is an equal-part blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc from a tiny, 4.5-acre parcel. This is showing better from bottle than it did from barrel. Remarkably, it has 15.5% natural alcohol, which may be the highest level of natural alcohol of any of the wines from the better estates in Bordeaux. Of course, there is not much of it, since yields were 17 hectoliters per hectare, so there are only about 200+ cases of this wine in the marketplace. Dense purple, with oodles of mulberry, black raspberry and violets, this is a beautiful wine, elegant, but at the same time massively fruity, thick, unctuously textured and long. I am sure some serious tannins are lurking beneath in this extravagantly endowed, sumptuously textured Bordeaux. Drink this wine over the next 15+ years.’ 2013-2028
La Fleur Morange 2010, 6x75cl – £225 – 94+ Pts
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