Château Haut-Bailly: one of the star properties of Bordeaux


Haut-Bailly is consistently one of my favourite Bordeaux Châteaux, and so it was nice to taste through some of the past vintages over lunch with Véronique Sanders, the boss.

The big change here has been the new winery, which was completed in 2020. ‘At the beginning we hadn’t plans to make a new cellar,’ says Véronique. ‘But the architect [Daniel Romeo] listened so well and devised a wow project.’ This was presented to the late Bob Wilmers (the Wilmers family have owned Haut-Bailly since 1998; he died in 2017 but now his son Chris is the proprietor) in July 2017, and he gave it the green light immediately. It took another year or so to get all the quotes, and the project started in 2018, taking two years to complete.

The cellar is striking, and fits beautifully into the landscape, with rooftop gardens. ‘We don’t use air conditioners,’ says Véronique, ‘and the water is re-used.’ They got an excellent rating from HQE (Haute Qualité Environnementale, a French green building certification that’s the equivalent of LEED). ‘The architect came up with an incredible concept,’ says Véronique. ‘We created the cellar of tomorrow, not today. Everyone is coming now to see it. It’s a technical tool adapted to the environment, with an aesthetic element.’

The new cellar is phase 2 of renovating the property. Phase 1 was to map the vineyard using new technology. ‘For the last two years we have been restructuring the vineyard to adapt it to climate change. We have been making a new pedalogical map, thinking about what the vineyard of tomorrow should be.’ These are not huge changes so far.

Since 1630 the vineyard hasn’t changed size, which is quite rare for a classed growth property. There are 30 hectares of vines here, in a contiguous block, including a four-hectare section of very old vines. This is planted with mixed varieties, that they have divided up into two groups: early harvest and later harvest, marked at veraison. It’s a block that contributes 20% of the Grand Vin, and is very important for the style.

Bordeaux has changed a lot. ‘A number that fascinates me is that in 1997 there were 14 000 wine estates in Bordeaux,’ says Véronique. ‘Now there are less than 6000. The 35 hours law killed a lot of small estates because of the cost of labour.’

A new book on Haut-Bailly, authored by Jane Anson, details the history of the estate.

Véronique’s own story is an interesting one. Her family had been associated with the Château since they purchased it in 1955, but it was sold to Bob Wilmers in 1998. ‘It was a big shock,’ she recalls. ‘I was 29. I met Bob and said I have a dream to run this estate. He said continue your studies and in two years’ time if all goes well you will get the key.’ Two years later, she was boss. She adds that even though she was young to be running a major Bordeaux Château, ‘I had the great advantage of being a woman, in that I was listening. No one noticed me.’ She says that this wasn’t work, but rather a passion project. ‘Bob Wilmers was great at human resources,’ says Veronique. ‘His superpower was to ask just the right questions.’


Château Haut-Bailly 2020 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Beguiling aromatics of sweet red cherries and blackcurrant, showing some floral perfume. The palate is ripe and expressive with a fine green hint, some blackcurrant and even a touch of strawberry. Very enticing, but with substantial structure under the fruit. 96/100  

Château Haut-Bailly 2014 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Taut with nice acidity and brightness, and has good tannic structure. Fresh and linear with bright cherry and blackcurrant fruit. This shows precision and elegance with some notes of orange peel, bright cherries and gravel in the mix. Very fine. 94/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2016 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Brooding, dark and gravelly on the nose with blackcurrant fruit. Fresh and vivid with a juicy edge and nice tannic structure. Fresh primary blackcurrant fruit the dominant theme with some grainy, gravelly savouriness. Fine, balanced and taut. 96/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2010 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Brooding, sleek and ripe, yet still fresh, showing lovely balance. This has taut blackcurrant and cherry fruit with some chalky hints and a touch of gravel. Still so youthful and fine with lovely structure under the black fruits. This is amazing. 97/100

Château Haut-Bailly 1996 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Supple, fresh and elegant with fine black cherry and blackcurrant fruit, as well as some juicy notes. There’s a touch of citrus peel and elegant, fine, fresh gravelly black fruits. Elegant and taut, showing hints of mint of olive and some fine greenness. Fine and ethereal: this is remarkable. 97/100

Château Haut-Bailly 1983 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Gravelly, spicy and savoury with notes of mushroom and earth alongside sweet, supple black cherry fruit. Nicely savoury with a touch of soy, this is showing its age now but still has elegance and freshness, with lovely purity. Very much alive. 95/100

Older notes (October 2011):

Château Haut-Bailly 1986 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
This is unusual in that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromatic, complex and mineral with some evolution on the nose. The palate is mellow, spicy and a bit earthy with nice tannic grip. A very stylish mature wine. 94/100 

Château Haut-Bailly 1989 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Slightly lifted nose of sweet cherry and berry fruits. Smooth, ripe, pure and open with elegant berry fruits on the palate, and silky tannins. Quite mature, but drinking perfectly now. Sweet, supple and smooth. 93/100

Château Haut-Bailly 1990 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Beautifully aromatic, sweet dark black cherry and blackberry fruit. Nice elegance. Quite sweet but also with nice density and some earthy notes. Silky, smooth and elegant with lovely maturity and some subtle undergrowth characters. 95/100

Château Haut-Bailly 1995 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Sweetly fruited and elegant, with lovely broad textured cherry and berry fruit. Quite dense and structured with notes of earth, tar and spice emerging from under the fruit. Grippy structure and a drying finish. 93/100

Château Haut-Bailly 1998 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Nicely elegant with some gravel and chalk notes. Quite silky in texture with stylish blackberry and black cherry fruit. Very nice tannins. Drinking beautifully now but still has some distance to go. 95/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2000 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet, slightly gravelly nose with lovely aromatics . Smooth, pure and quite elegant with cherry and blackberry fruit. The palate is fresh, elegant and well balanced with subtle hints of gravel and earth. Fresh, pure cherryish fruit. Nice structure here. 94/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2001 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot. Nice fresh, slightly lifted blackcurrant and blackberry fruit nose. The palate is fresh and structured; assured, with lovely depth and nice gravelly notes. Good concentration, with some firmness. Classic Graves. 94/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2002 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
‘We’re quite proud of our 2002,’ says Véronique. ‘It has a ripeness that wasn’t easy to achieve that year.’ Firm, grippy and angular with black cherry and plum fruit, and hints of roast coffee. Some gravelly structure. Fresh and not without elegance, the structure suggesting it has a good future ahead of it. 92/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2003 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Veronique describes this as her Californian vintage. Sweet, aromatic, ripe berry fruits nose is fruity and quite seductive. The palate is supple, soft-textured and ripe with some chalky tannic structure. Ripe but still elegant. An outlier. 90/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2004 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Lovely rich, ripe, sweet, elegant cherry and berry fruits. Firm but fine-grained tannic structure. Silky and seductive yet classic Graves with real finesse. A lovely wine, showing power and elegance, that needs more time. 95/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2005 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
This was a hot vintage harvested only in the mornings, because of the high temperatures. It was the first time this had been done, and the harvest took 11 days in all. Taut, mineral blackcurrant and blackberry fruit nose has some sternness to it. The palate is firmly structured with high acidity and firm tannins. Blackcurrant and berry fruits dominate this dense wine, and the firm structure is currently locking everything down. Not for drinking young. 93/100 (but with the potential for a higher score in a decade)

Château Haut-Bailly 2006 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Sweet, elegant and aromatic blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Inviting and quite open. The palate shows some lushness and sweetness: it’s ripe and approachable with lovely fruit and a nice mineral dimension, as well as good structure. Classic and nicely balanced. 94/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2007 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Sweet blackberry fruit nose with some gravel and roast coffee notes. The palate has nice fresh green notes as well as ripe blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Fresh and appealing with some structure. I actually really like the subtle greenness. 92/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2008 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Ripe, aromatic cherry and berry fruit on the nose with some subtle roasted oak. The palate is taut and fresh with new oak showing. Quite ripe and supple with firm structure and good acidity. Classic style, but in need of time to  integrate the components. 93/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2009 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Sweet, almost lush black cherry and blackberry fruit nose. Very pure and sweet and aromatic, and fruit-driven. The palate is ripe, lush and generous with an open character. Dominated by smooth, ripe, primary black fruits at the moment. Deceptively simple. 93/100

Château Haut-Bailly 2010 Graves Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
This was a cask sample. Lovely sweet, aromatic, intense berry and blackcurrant fruit nose. Seductive and intense. The palate is sweet, concentrated and intense with amazingly vivid, lush ripe blackberry and black cherry fruit, backed up by oak spice. Forward, seductive and powerful. 93–96/100

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