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Château Palmer, The Prince Regent and Palmer’s Claret

What we now know as Château Palmer was once called Château de Gascq and was part of the ancient estate of Château d’Issan. The de Gascqs were a powerful dynasty who were active in local parliament and the wines of Château de Gascq were served at the court of Versailles under Louis XV. However the château was sold in 1814 to General Charles Palmer – a gentleman, officer, and friend of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV of England). General Palmer had fallen under the spell of Bordeaux as well as the charms of Marie de Gascq. The General was famous at the English court as a ladies man and also for his military victories and Marie was a beautiful widow. She convinced the General during a stagecoach ride delicately referred to as “turbulent” according to legend, to buy her estate.

General Palmer was a friend of the Marquis of Bath and Lord Cambden while studying at Eton and Oxford. In 1808, he succeeded his father as Mayor of the spa town of Bath and was elected a Member of Parliament. General Palmer purchased a commission in the prestigious 10th Regiment of Hussars, commanded by the Prince Regent and was appointed the Prince’s aide-de-camp.

The Napoleonic period was drawing to a close in 1814 when General Palmer arrived in France with the future Duke of Wellington after the Peninsular War between Napoleon and England. Parliament decided to reward him with a large sum of money in gratitude and he used this to acquire Château de Gascq, renaming it Château Palmer.

A passionate man, General Palmer devoted a great deal of time, energy, and money to developing his property. From 1816 to 1831, Palmer bought land and buildings in the communes of Cantenac, Issan, and Margaux. The General lived mainly in England, and so the estate was managed by his authorised representative, Mr Grey, who helped to increase the wine’s reputation among wealthy connoisseurs. Palmer’s interests elsewhere in Bordeaux were looked after by the shipper Paul Estenave and the financial manager Jean Lagunegrand.

While these men took care of his affairs in France, General Palmer did his best to promote his wine in England thanks to his connections at court. He married Mary Elisabeth Atkins, the daughter of a wealthy family, on February 14th 1823. This strengthened his social position and was the beginning of a more regular and calm existence. Thanks to his influential relations and charm, “Palmer’s Claret” was much sought after by London clubs, and was particularly appreciated by the Prince Regent, whom the General often accompanied during his night time excursions.

The Prince Regent is remembered nowadays for the extravagant lifestyle of drinking, womanising and gambling that scandalised the country and got him heavily into debt. It is reported that every time he had a love affair with a woman he would cut a lock of her hair and place it in an envelope with her name on it. Upon his death an astounding 7000 such envelopes were discovered.

Like the Prince, General Palmer remained a lover of fine food and wine, spending lavish sums on his gastronomic pleasures and living an increasingly ruinous lifestyle. He was obliged to sell his magnificent Médoc estate in 1843. Despite this setback, General Palmer could be proud of leaving an estate with a tremendous potential to his successors.

Today Château Palmer is owned by several families of Bordeaux, English, and Dutch extraction (the Sichel, Mähler-Besse, Ginestet, and Miailhe families), all involved in the wine trade, united to buy the château in 1938. The descendants of the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families are still major shareholders of the Château, furthering the work done by their grandparents. Château Palmer has a loyal following and is ranked as a Third Growth (3ème Cru) but it frequently out performs the Second Growths.

Château Palmer’s vineyards span 128 acres and lie on gravely rises several metres thick in the communes of Margaux and Cantenac, overlooking the Gironde Estuary. The soil consists of brittle black lydite, white and yellow quartz, quartzite mottled with black, green or blue, and white chalcedony. There is a saying in the Médoc that the greatest terroirs are “within sight of the river”. This saying stresses the importance of the layer of gravel essential for growing quality wine grapes. The grapes grown are 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot. This is an unusually high percentage of Merlot and makes a soft, well rounded wine.

Château Palmer’s wines are famous for their finesse and elegance. The subtle balance between powerful, but understated tannins and aromatic richness makes Palmer an incomparably charming wine, even when very young. The dark inky red wines yield aromas of black currant, coffee and spices. The wines are very well structured, rich and sometimes exotic – somewhat like their long dead General who fell in love with the de Gascq widow all those years ago. Should you be interested in buying a case or two of this classic Bordeaux wine log onto www.interestinwine.co.uk where several vintages can be found.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

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6 Responses to Château Palmer, The Prince Regent and Palmer’s Claret

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nic Hello, Well written & very entertaining interesting essay.Could you please confirm where the portrait of Gen. Palmer was sourced? Many Thanks. All the best Cheers Arthur Beau Palmer

  2. Nick says:

    Hello Arthur, thanks for your comments.

    You could find the portrait at http://www.chateau-palmer.com. As they have redesigned their website I am not sure whether it is still there. The portrait is of John Palmer, the General's father. He was Mayor of Bath until his son succeeded him in the post in 1808.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Cheers

    Nick

  3. Chris says:

    This is most interesting, I am a long lost family member of the Aitkyns Wright’s, do we know what happened to General Palmer after he sold the estate. There was another estate or two in England, one was Crowsley Park, Oxfordshire. which his wife’s family owned

  4. Nick says:

    Thanks for your interesting comment Chris – I’m not aware of what happened to the General but will look into it. I will include my findings in a future blog on Chateau Palmer. Thank you for the information about the General’s other estates in England, I wasn’t aware that he had any and this will be most useful in my research.

    Cheers

    Nick

  5. Adrian Green says:

    Hi Nick

    Just read the blog and thought you might like to know that the Prince Regent didn’t like Palmer’s claret initially forcing the General to rip up the vines and replant. There is a section on this in The Reminisences of Captain Gronow.

    • Nick says:

      Thanks for the information Adrian, it’s very much appreciated and provides an insight to the story! I have found The Reminisences of Captain Gronow online (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=1453536&pageno=1) and it is a fascinating read. It seems that the Prince Regent enjoyed Palmer’s Claret at first, calling it’s bouquet ‘holy Palmer’s kiss’ but that his enjoyment was somewhat sabotaged by Lord Yarmouth who preferred the British Claret (ie Hermitaged Claret only produced for the British market). For readers who would like to learn the circumstances I quote from the Reminisences:

      “Palmer’s claret, under his auspices, began to be talked of in the clubs; and the bon vivant was anxious to secure a quantity of this highly-prized wine. The patronage of the Prince Regent was considered essential, who, with his egotistical good nature, and from a kindly feeling for Palmer, gave a dinner at Carlton House, when a fair trial was to be given to his claret. A select circle of gastronomes was to be present, amongst whom was Lord Yarmouth, well known in those days by the appellation of “Red-herrings,” from his rubicund whiskers,
      hair, and face, and from the town of Yarmouth deriving its principal support from the importation from Holland of that fish; Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, Sir William Knighton, and Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, were also of the party. The wine was produced, and was found excellent, and the spirits of the party ran high; the light wine animating them without intoxication. The Prince was delighted, and, as usual upon such occasions, told some of his best stories, quoted Shakspeare, and was particularly happy upon the bouquet of the wine as suited “to the holy Palmer’s kiss.”

      Lord Yarmouth alone sat in moody silence, and, on being questioned as to the cause, replied that whenever he dined at his Royal Highness’s table, he drank a claret which he much preferred–that which was furnished by Carbonell. The Prince immediately ordered a bottle of this wine; and to give them an opportunity of testing the difference, he desired that some anchovy sandwiches should be served up. Carbonell’s wine was placed upon the table: it was a claret made expressly for the London market, well-dashed with Hermitage, and infinitely more to the taste of the Englishman than the delicately-flavoured wine they had been drinking. The banquet terminated in the Prince declaring his own wine superior to that of Palmer’s, and suggesting that he should try some experiments on his estate to obtain a better wine. Palmer come from Carlton House much mortified. On Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt attempting to console him, and saying that it was the anchovies that had spoiled the taste of the connoisseurs, the general said loudly enough to be heard by Lord Yarmouth, “No; it was the confounded red herrings.” A duel was very nearly the consequence.

      General Palmer, feeling it his duty to follow the advice of the Prince, rooted out his old vines, planted new ones, tried all sorts of experiments at an immense cost, but with little or no result.”
      Cheers

      Nick