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Château Kirwan

Bordeaux, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

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about Château Kirwan

Chateau Kirwan gained its name in the 18th Century, having previously been the property of Renard de la Salle, a Bordeaux nobleman, when it was known as La Terre Noble de la Salle. In 1710 the estate was sold to Sir John Collingwood, a merchant who had established his trade in the quayside warehouses of Bordeaux. With his keen interest and knowledge it was Collingwood that established the estate as a working vineyard. Subsequently, Collingwood's daughter married Mark Kirwan, an Irishman, and the property took on a new name, one which has lasted through to modern day. Kirwan established a very good reputation for his estate, and his vineyard was one of many to be visited by Thomas Jefferson, onetime ambassador to France and subsequent US President. Jefferson had a passion for wine, and many Bordeaux estates played host and sold their wine to this travelling oenophile. His records from 1780 tell us that he was very impressed with the wine of Quirouen which, allowing for difficulties in pronunciation must surely refer to Kirwan.

The history of all Bordeaux chateaux of note always include at least two difficult periods; the French Revolution of the late 18th Century, and the economic depression of the early 20th Century (not to mention oidium and phylloxera). Kirwan is no exception. In 1789 the estate was seized, although Kirwan, perhaps by virtue of his country of birth, escaped unharmed. Under Napoleon he subsequently regained the estate, expanding it to incorporate the nearby Ganet property. In the history of Kirwan this has been the only major change in the vineyard area, and the property remains today as it was during Napoleon's time. Mark Kirwan died on the estate in 1815, forty years before his and his father-in-law's efforts were rewarded with classification as a third growth in 1855. The property subsequently came into the hands of Camille Godard, a botanist. Godard went on to become Mayor of Bordeaux, and in 1882 he bequeathed his fortune to the city. This funded the splendid Parc de Bordelais, 30 hectares of botanical paradise in central Bordeaux, designed by Eugene Bülher, and stocked with specimens of sequoia, magnolia, walnut and cypress, to name a just a few of the species provided by Godard. Sadly, Chateau Kirwan did not have the same attention lavished upon it, and at the turn of the century it was sold at auction, the purchasers being the négociant firm Schroder & Schyler.

Times, however, were hard; the depression and two World Wars, following hard on the heels of phylloxera, had a significant impact on life at Chateau Kirwan. It was not until 1950 that Kirwan showed the first signs of a turnaround. The renaissance was led by the next generation of the Schyler family, Jean-Henri. What land that was fallow - or even planted for the production of hay - was replanted with vines. He restructured the vineyards, and in the next decade introduced chateau-bottling. The wines had a commercial outlet through Schroder & Schyler's businesses across Europe, and Jean-Henri sought new contacts in North America to ensure continued commercial success. In 1991 the services of Michel Rolland were engaged, and I feel the quality of the wines improved as a result. They were not without controversy, however, as some belittled the loss of Margaux typicité, allegedly relinquished in favour of extraction and new oak. Whatever your opinion of the wines, though, it is undeniable that with commercial success comes financial rewards and thus fresh investment, and there has been no shortage of this in recent years, with a restoration of the chateau and a new barrel cellar being just two of the activities. And although the estate is still home to Jean-Henri, in the early 21st Century it is Yann, Natalie and Sophie Schyler that have taken the reins at Chateau Kirwan.

The vineyards of Chateau Kirwan lie on the Cantenac plateau, with near neighbours Prieuré-Lichine and Desmirail. The soils here are sandy, and dominated by gravel topsoil. The vines have an average age of 27 years, and comprise 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and, unusually, a high proportion (10%) of Petit Verdot. They are uprooted at fifty years of age, and replanted once the land has lain fallow for up to five years. Each year the vines see a green harvest. When the true harvest takes place the grapes see a sorting table before fermentation in small, temperature-controlled, stainless steel vats. The grand vin, Chateau Kirwan, which never accounts for more than 65% of the harvest, then sees up to 18 months in oak, one third new each vintage, before blending and bottling. This accounts for 16000 cases, whereas since 1993 there has also been 4000 cases of a second wine, Les Charmes de Kirwan.

Over the past few decades Kirwan has not been a highly regarded or sought-after wine. It has seemed somewhat lost in the motley collection of Margaux third growths, which range from luminaries such as Palmer, down to less illustrious and less frequently encountered properties such as Marquis d'Alesme-Becker. Nevertheless, reports of significant improvements in the wines of the property - with positive notes on the 2000 vintage particularly prominent - make the wines of Chateau Kirwan worth evaluating. Doubtless investment and innovation, including the introduction of the second wine, have helped considerably in the improvements here. Tasting and assessing the wines, particularly very recent vintages made in the opening years of the 21st Century, I feel that these are good although not compelling wines. They do show a lot of ripe fruit and not too much in the way of gravelly, perfumed character, but many of these features will become more apparent once the primary flavours and notes of oak have resolved - certainly this is the case with the admirable 2003, as shown by my tasting notes below. Thus I am not so ready to criticise the wines for loss of typicité as others may be. Those who nevertheless maintain a dislike of the style will no doubt welcome the news that in early 2007 Rolland terminated his contract with Kirwan, apparently due to pressure of work. This decision may be related to his establishing a new company, the Rolland Collection with David Lesage, his son-in-law, in order to market his wines outside of the négociant system. What effect this will have on the quality of the wines, only time will tell.

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Location and other information

Château Kirwan
Château Kirwan
City: Cantenac (ZIP Code 33460)
Location: Bordeaux, Nouvelle-Aquitaine
Country: France
Phone: 33 (0) 5 57 88 71