Petrus is a Bordeaux wine estate located in the Pomerol appellation near its eastern border to Saint-Émilion. An estate of limited size, it produces a limited production red wine almost entirely from Merlot grapes, on occasion with small amounts of Cabernet Franc, and produces no second wine. The estate belongs to the family of the Libourne wine merchant JP Moueix.
Although the wines of Pomerol have never been classified, Petrus is widely regarded as the outstanding wine of the appellation by consensus, and leads a duo of Pomerol estates of extreme prices, along with Le Pin, that in the modern era are consistently among the world’s most expensive wines.
Originally a 7-hectare (17-acre) vineyard, the estate was owned by the Arnaud family since the middle of the 18th Century, and the name first appears in records from 1837. In the 1868 edition of Cocks & Féret, under listing Crus bourgeois et 1ers artisans Château Petrus was ranked behind Vieux Château Certan and alongside Château Trotanoy. Some vintages of this period were labelled Petrus-Arnaud. At the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878, Petrus won a gold medal, at a time when such an event had great consequence, establishing a selling price at the level of a Médoc second growth, the first wine of Pomerol to do so.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Arnaud family founded La Société Civile du Château Petrus, which offered shares in the company to the public. Around 1925, the owner of the Hôtel Loubat in Libourne, the widow Mme. Edmond Loubat, began to buy shares in the estate and continued the acquisition progressively until 1949, when she was the sole owner of the domaine.
According to David Peppercorn, “the great age of Petrus” began with the end of World War II and the successful 1945 vintage. Jean-Pierre Moueix of the Libourne négociant house Établissements Jean-Pierre Moueix acquired exclusive selling rights of Petrus in that year and the international reputation of Petrus began to grow. Mme. Loubat, who also owned Château Latour à Pomerol, remained an active vigneronne throughout her life, known for her meticulous dedication to detail and quality, and strong determination that her wine deserved to be priced equal to the great crus.
In the following years the efficient partnership with Moueix became prosperous. Petrus became introduced to the United States, and the wine was served at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947. Mme. Loubat later presented a case of Petrus to Buckingham Palace for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
After the 1956 winter frost that devastated the grapevines of the Bordeaux region and killed two-thirds of the Petrus vineyard, Mme. Loubat decided not to replant but to regraft new vines on surviving rootstocks; this process of recépage had been previously untried in the region; her success ensured that the vines’ average age remained high and established a tradition that has since been followed. Petrus was traditionally sold off in cask as well as in bottle, a practice which came to an end in 2013.
Petrus’ fame in the U.S. grew in the 1960s, with the promotion by Henri Soulé, owner of the restaurant Le Pavillon in New York. According to Alexis Lichine, “[Petrus] was served at Le Pavillon in the days when Onassis sat at a corner table. After that, Château Petrus became a status symbol, the sort of name dropped by people who wish to imply not only that they know wine but that they are in wine”.
On the death of Mme. Loubat in 1961, the estate was divided between a niece and nephew, Mme. Lily Lacoste-Loubat and M. Lignac, and a share was left to JP Moueix to allow for equality between the two heirs, thought to be in conflict, and to ensure Moueix’ continued influence. For a period the estate was represented by the niece, but in 1964, JP Moueix bought the Lignac shares, and the oenologist Jean-Claude Berrouet became permanently attached to Petrus. Prior to this, Émile Peynaud had been employed as a part-time consultant. In 1969, 5 hectares (12 acres) of vineyard were added to the estate, purchased from neighbouring Château Gazin.
Following the death of Jean-Pierre Moueix in 2003, his son Jean-François Moueix, head of Groupe Duclot, is the owner of Petrus and controls distribution within France, while the younger son Christian Moueix, has been in charge of Petrus since 1970, is overseeing the vineyard, vinification, marketing and export distribution, along with his son Edouard Moueix. When Jean-Claude Berrouet retired as technical director after 44 vintages in 2007 he was replaced by Eric Murisasco. Berrouet’s son Olivier Berrouet was appointed the new winemaker, and is in training to become technical director as Christian Moueix stated in 2008 his intention to distance himself from Petrus, limiting his role to that of a consultant.
There is no château on the estate, but rather a modest two-storey country house, with decorations of symbols and keys of St. Peter. Christian Moueix has stated, “Petrus doesn’t deserve the name ‘château’. It’s just an old farmhouse, really”.
The vineyard of Petrus extends 11.4 hectares (28 acres) and is located on a plateau in the eastern portion of Pomerol. The grape variety distribution is 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.
Located on top of a 20-hectare (49-acre) island mound, the Petrus boutonnière or buttonhole, the topsoil and the subsoil beneath Petrus’ original vineyards consists of a high percentage of iron-rich clay termed crasse de fer, that differs from neighbouring vineyards where the soil is a mixture of gravel-sand or clay-sand. The 1969 land acquisition from Château Gazin does not sit on top of the buttonhole.
The average age of the vines exceed 45 years. The estate was among the first in Bordeaux to implement green-harvesting or éclaircissage as a way to lower crop yields and raise the quality of the remaining grapes. Grapes are hand harvested over two to three days, although the vineyard’s small size permits harvesting to be completed in one day if necessary.
A severe pre-assemblage vat selection is carried out and certain parcels are rejected from the Grand Vin. In modern times, Petrus is almost exclusively a Merlot varietal wine, with the available Cabernet Franc only applied in infrequent vintages. The young wine is aged in new French oak for around two years. An average year might yield at most 2,500 cases (220 hl; 5,900 US gal).
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