Château Ausone: The Ethereal Estate of Saint-Émilion

Visiting Chateau Ausone during En Primeur Week, we were fortunate enough to spend some time with owner Alain Vauthier and his son Edouard (who has grown up working at the Chateau) to discuss the changes afoot at Saint-Emilion’s most prestigious address. Chateau Ausone has, without question, been producing some of the finest wines in the world for many decades, but a change of style since 2012 has taken the winery to new heights. We wanted to know what their secret is and what prompted the change in style…

When you taste Chateau Ausone (and frankly all of the wines that exist in the Vauthier portfolio) there is a real distinct thread that runs through all of them. There’s a common theme of elegance, finesse and a sense of weightlessness that is not what you would expect from a region known for full-bodied tannic reds. However these wines remain powerful and with a high concentration of tannins, yet the purity of fruit, the finesse and the exceptional balance in the wines make them feel ethereal on the palate.

Alain’s change of heart in terms of style came in 2012; he reached the conclusion that tannic structure needs to play second fiddle to purity of fruit. The fruit must dominate the palate first with the tannins sitting in the background. He believes greater longevity comes from wines with a better balance, they can also be enjoyed younger too. To achieve this meant taking a more delicate approach to tannin management in the winery. Asked what he does to extract such delicate tannins, Alain replied: “Virtually nothing. I don’t extract”. The tannins that come through in the wine are naturally infused by a long but very gentle maceration on the skins.

His son Edouard jokes that doing “nothing”, in his father’s terms, is actually an incredibly intricate and obsessive approach to protecting the wine in all its parts – particularly from oxygen following maceration. This “doing nothing” is in reality a painstaking approach to protecting the wines natural perfumes and flavours. Alain has always been obsessed with perfection and even doing “nothing” has been perfected.

Another key influence in the change of style came as the result of an investment into a density machine used for sorting grapes prior to fermentation. Edouard explained that these machines were initially invented for the pea industry, sorting through petit pois. Since introducing them to the winery they have worked brilliantly for Vauthier’s wines, initially trialled at Chateau Ausone in 2012 before being rolled out across the whole portfolio.

The grapes are placed in a solution bath which determines the minimum density required for the grapes to be good enough. The ones that sink to the bottom are selected; the ones that float to the top are discarded. Famille Vauthier couldn’t be happier with the results and believe they have played a huge role in the overall improvements at the estate.

Edouard tells us of other wineries that have invested in the same machine, with improvements in the wines being immediately apparent. This list includes Chateau d’Yquem, Chateau Latour, Chateau Soutard and Chateau Valandraud. On a visit to another F+R favourite in Saint-Emilion – Clos de Sarpe – we discovered they were the first to introduce the machine to their winery way back in 2005.

This change in style and investment in technology – along with the other essential element, exceptional terroir – has helped put Chateau Ausone at the very top of the tree in terms of quality in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux and beyond. It has also allowed them to produce exceptional wines at the more affordable end of the scale too, making this unique style available at every price point in the form of Chateau de Fonbel, Chateau Simard, Chateau Haut-Simard, Chateau Moulin Saint-Georges and Chateau La Clotte. These wines have a common Vauthier thread of finesse and elegance, employ the same winemaking team and share use of this new winery equipment, making these wines some of the best value for quality in the region.

The standout for us is La Clotte;  a single 4 hectare plot that neighbours Chateau Ausone. Following a decision by the winery to uproot half the vineyard, they are currently producing just 10,000 bottles. This wine is truly exceptional and has to be one of the best buys in Bordeaux today. With so little produced it is one you will rarely see outside of the En Primeur release. Another highlight is Chateau Haut-Simard. Again, the wine has wonderful Vauthier elegance and finesse, great clarity and cleanness of fruit. These are wines you can enjoy in their youth as you wait for your Chateau Ausone to mature. The Vauthier estate couldn’t be in better shape and these wines are ones not to be missed during this year’s En Primeur campaign…