Vieux Château Certan
Managing a vineyard is a life-long activity
Vieux Château Certan is certainly the most beautiful and historic château in Pomerol. The name is said to date back to the 12th century where it was recorded as “Sertan”. The estate was created in the 16th century by the Scottish family de May while the name “Vieux Château Certan” has existed since 1745. The Château is a magnificent “chartreuse” situated in the heart of the famous Pomerol plateau. In 1858, the estate was sold to Charles de Bousquet who completely renovated the château. It’s appearance has remained unchanged ever since – even with its odd towers that flank the north and south sides of the château; one with a slate roof and the other with terracotta tiles.
Vieux Château Certan has been owned by the Thienpont family since 1924. After the death Georges Thienpont in 1962, the estate was run by one of his sons, Léon Thienpont. During this period the vineyards were completely renovated and much replanting was carried out after the Great Frost of 1956. In 1972 a new chai was installed with large oak fermentation vats made by the Seguin Moreau cooperage which are still in use at the château and were greatly responsible for the return to wooden fermentation vats in many of Bordeaux’s grands crus.
Upon the untimely death of Léon Thienpont in 1985, his son Alexandre took over the estate and moved with his wife and four children into the château. Alexandre’s education was completely dedicated to wine. Apart from oenology studies, Alexandre had worked at Château la Gaffelière in Saint Emilion to gain valuable wine making experience.
Helped by continued investments from the family, Alexandre has continued to improve and build on the Thienpont tradition of winemaking excellence. His modesty and unassuming manner hide the pride and sense of deep responsibility he has in running Vieux Château Certan. He lives and works for his wine and is known in Bordeaux as the manager who intimately knows each vine in his 14 hectare vineyard. Two things can lure him away from Pomerol – gliding and endurance cycling in the Pyrenees Mountains. Over the last couple of years, Alexandre has been working in tandem with his son Guillaume whose winemaking studies have taken him all over the world. Guillaume brings a modern vision to Certan and a technical discipline (he has recently built a wine laboratory at Certan) which has permitted the estate to understand the difference in their vineyard parcels more precisely and adapt the winemaking to each terroir.
Today the vineyard comprises 14 hectares in one contiguous plot. The vineyard is planted with 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The high proportion of Cabernet is unusual in Pomerol and belies Certan’s proximity to Château Cheval Blanc which is located just across the road that divides the appellations of Pomerol and Saint Emilion. The terroir at Vieux Château Certan is a mixture of gravel, clay and sand on an ancient plateau which contains a high content of “crasse de fer” (iron oxide). This explains the presence of the three major Bordeaux varieties. Strict pruning leaving only six buds per vine, limited spraying and treatments, green harvest and leaf stripping are part of the vineyard management program at Certan. Harvesting takes place around the middle or end of September with a team of 40 local pickers.
In the cellar, the crop is hand sorted, destemmed and lightly crushed before being fermented in close-top wooden vats with fermentation and maceration lasting around three weeks. Ageing is carried out in new French oak barrels for 18 months. The wine is gently fined with egg whites but never filtered.
Alexandre and Guillaume take great care in the blending of the wine according to the vintage conditions. In years such as 1996 or 2000, the Cabernets ripened beautifully making up the full compliment in the blend. In vintages such as 1998, it is the Merlots that dominate. Barrels that are not judged of sufficiently high enough quality for the “Grand Vin” are used to produce a second label, “La Gravette” or sold off as generic Pomerol. Approximately 45,000 to 60,000 bottles are produced each year.
Under Alexandre, Vieux Château Certan has reached its golden age. For centuries, considered among the top châteaux of Pomerol, the wines have received world wide acclaim for their purity, elegance and rich fruit character, typical of the supple and complex style of the Pomerol plateau.
Alexandre & Guillaume Thienpont
Vieux Château Certan
33500 Pomerol, France