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.
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