Bordeaux is home to some great wine making dynasties and you’ll find that their members are spread out across the whole region if you dig deep enough. With wine making in their blood descendants of these families often branch out and buy their own chateaux. Each new generation improves the family business by bringing the latest technical knowledge and improved wine making practices to the business. The Thienponts are one such family and I recently visited Chateau Clos Fontaine in the Côtes de Francs appellation of Bordeaux, established by Dominique Thienpont and run by his sons Florian and Jan.
The wine making history of the Thienpont family goes back to Camille Thienpont who founded a wine merchants business at their 16th century manor house Hof te Cattebeke in Flanders (Belgium) in 1842. His grandson, Georges, bought Chateau Troplong Mondot in Saint Emilion in the early 1920s and took up residence there. Four years leter he purchased Vieux Chateau Certan in Pomerol.
The Wall Street Crash and Great Depression of the 1930s forced Georges to sell Troplong Mondot but he was able to hang on to Vieux Chateau Certan and the family tree began to grow. Georges fathered 6 children and ended up with around 37 grandchildren . . . and it was at this point that the wine making dynasty really took off. Each generation of Thienponts continued to trade in wine, purchase, inherit and manage chateaux; the most famous of which is Le Pin in Pomerol, one of the most expensive wines in the world.
Not all the Thienpont’s chateaux are as well known as Le Pin but they do have one thing in common which is the Thienpont’s wine making know how. Today the family own dozens and dozens of chateaux including the First Growth Saint Emilion, Chateau Pavie Macquin. There are at least 7 wine makers in the family, at least another 5 who trade in wine and one Master of Wine.
Dominique is Georges’ grandson and he too was driven to produce his own wine alongside the Crus from the family. His idea was to bring together his knowledge of the Bordeaux Côtes de Francs best vineyards with the wine making tradition of the Thienpont family to produce a fine wine.
The Côtes de Francs is the smallest of the Bordeaux AOC’s and is only 6 miles east of Saint Emilion. Centuries ago the wines from the Côtes de Francs were bought mainly by the vintners of Saint Emilion to improve their wines. The terroir is similar as the Côtes de Francs lies on the same rock plateau as Saint Emilion and Pomerol, known in ancient times as ‘the Plateau of Wonders’ because of the excellence of its wines. Dominique’s instincts seem to have been right – the Côtes de Francs is full of potential and several wine making families have set up shop there (you can learn more about the Côtes de Francs here).
He purchased 7.66 acres of old Merlot vines in Saint Cibard on the steep valley slopes on ‘the Plateau of Wonders’ near the foot of Chateau Puygueraud (which was bought by his father in 1946). Dominique named his vineyard ‘Clos Fontaine’ (Clos means ‘walled vineyard’ in French and Fontaine refers to the ancient spring that can be found there which is the source of the Palais stream). The first vintage was in 2003.
Being a fairly recent venture and – as yet – relatively unknown in the UK, Chateau Clos Fontaine is very reasonably priced and is most definitely a bargain. It’s reputation is growing and it’s well worth tracking some down!