Chateau Cos D’Estournel History

Cos D'Estournel lies across a marshy meadow and up a slope from what may be the world's most famous wine estate, Château Lafite Rothschild. Cos has always been an odd curiosity among the stately châteaux of the Médoc, for the property is unlike anything else in all of France. At the top of the hill with vineyards gently fanning down and out over the surrounding slopes sits the great chai - a fantastic architectural amalgam of Chinese gothic and French country château. D'Estournel is the legacy of its first proprietor, Monsieur Louis Gaspard D'Estournel, who used to breed horses and ship them to the Orient. Monsieur D'Estournel was inspired by what he saw on his many trips; the entrance to Cos D'Estournel probably best embodies the former owner's taste for the exotic and the unusual of the East. The main door to the chai once formed the entrance to the harem of the Sultan of Zanzibar and is carved with vine leaves, bunches of grapes, flowers, and wondrous animals. Three Chinese style pagoda turrets grace the structure, and a triumphal arch leads to the main road. The visual impact is almost shocking in the context of its surroundings; one can just imagine the controversy it must have aroused in the staid and somber Médoc of the early 1800's.

Unlike its immediate neighbors to the South in Pauillac - who were producing wines of world fame by 1800 - Cos was a late bloomer. Although wine may have been made on the property in the late 1700's, it wasn't until the early 1800's when, according to legend, Louis decided to sell some of his home-grown stuff on one of his trips to the Orient. However, the folks back East didn't buy a drop, and he had to cart it all the way back to France. At the conclusion of the lengthy round trip, he found that not only did his wine travel well but that time had softened it up marvelously. It fetched a very high price on the Bordeaux market; and from that point forward, Cos D'Estournel was in the wine business. Louis D'Estournel continued to improve Cos all the way into the 1850's and sold it just before his death in 1853 at a price equivalent to that paid a year earlier for the great Château Mouton Rothschild. That Cos D'Estournel had risen to a position of prominence in that era was confirmed by the 1855 Grand Cru Classification of Bordeaux. It was ranked a second cru as well as being rated the highest rated wine of the commune of St. Estèphe.

After Mon. D'Estournel's death, the estate changed ownership several times and was bought in 1919 by the Ginestets, one of Bordeaux's leading wine families. The proprietor at that time, Bruno Prats, was a son of one of the Ginestets (his mother was the sister of Pierre Ginestet, the former owner of Château Margaux). Prats spent his summers at Château Marbuzet, for there has never been a real château at Cos D'Estournel - only the great chai (the winery and barrel aging facilities). In fact, it was not until the mid seventies that the word Château was affixed to the name; before that time the label said only Cos D'Estournel. Although Cos D'Estournel has always been considered the best wine of St. Estèphe, it was never considered in the same league as some of the great châteaux of Pauillac, St. Julien, and Margaux. All that changed under the stewardship of Prats, and Cos has gone from strength to strength. Excellent wines were produced there in 1978 and 1979, and the Château probably produced the greatest wine in its history in 1982 - it rivaled the wines produced by the first growths. The 1985 was every bit as good as the 1982, this elevated the prestige of Cos D'Estournel to even higher levels.

In 1998, the PRATS brothers sold Cos d'Estournel to the Merlaut family, the owners of the Taillan group, and to Argentinian investors represented by Mr Mayano. Cos was sold again in 2000 and currently belongs to the Société des Domaines Reybier. With this most recent change in ownership came Jean-Guillaume Prats, great-grandson of Fernand Ginestet and son of Bruno Prats who was also the manager of Cos from 1970 to 1998. Since Jean-Guillaume as taken the helm many critics felt that Cos D'Estournel is producing a wine that is on par with the first growths of the Médoc!

The production of Cos D'Estournel is approximately 20,000 cases a year of a wine that is built for aging, fairly austere when young Cos needs 10-15 years of age in a great vintage like 2001 and can last for upwards of 30 years if cellared properly. The 2001 is a typically large-scaled Cos D'Estournel, but the wine still has remarkable elegance and approachability for a wine from Saint-Estèphe. This may be attributable partially to winemaking practices, partly to the grapes in the final blend (the vineyard is planted to 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot), and partly to the soil. The estate's attributes are best described by the noted English authority, Clive Coates, who says: "Cos is really a different wine from any other St. Estèphe...a wine which is somewhat softer and more elegant, less aggressively powerful...Cos, however, has both the power and finesse, both the body and the delicacy, both the backbone and the fruit”. In the words of Clive Coates, "Grand Vin, indeed!"

by Andrew Lampasone

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