Christine Austin meets the woman charged with keeping the good times flowing at Ch. Angélus.
At just 34 years old Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal is very young to be in charge of one of St. Emilion’s top estates, but they take inheritance seriously at Ch. Angélus.
“I am the eighth generation of the Boüard de Laforest family to run Ch. Angélus, and with my son due in June the ninth generation is assured,” she said with a smile when I met with her for lunch.
Last year Stéphanie, who has a background in finance, bought all of her father’s shares in the château to consolidate the business, leaving him to concentrate on his other wine consultancies. So now, with her cousin Thierry Grenié de Boüard, the property will remain within the control of the family for another generation and the astonishing progress Angélus has made in the last 30 years can continue.
Ch. Angélus, or Angélus as it is known these days, was named after one of the vineyards which seems to resonate when the Angélus bells are rung at three local churches. Formerly known as Château Mazerat, the name was changed to L’Angélus in the mid-1900s and then became Angélus soon after Stéphanie’s father, Hubert de Boüard, took over the job of running the estate.
His aim was to put Angélus at the top of any alphabetical list, but now, after promotion to the very top classification of St Emilion wines, Premier Grand Cru Classé A, Angélus doesn’t need that alphabetical advantage. On quality alone, it has joined the rarefied company of Ausone and Cheval Blanc, along with Ch. Pavie which was also promoted alongside Angélus.
Gaining promotion to this top rank was not easy. The first classification was done in 1955 by the local wine syndicate and it is revised, supposedly every ten years. Wine quality is the only criterion and so fundamental changes were made in the vineyard and in the winery to effect improvement. As soon as Hubert took over the estate he made significant changes, installing large open-top fermentation vats and small oak barrels.
In the vineyard yields were cut, new vines were planted at much higher density and long before it was fashionable, he installed a sorting table so that each berry was inspected before it was allowed to be turned into wine.
And so, step by step, vintage by vintage, improvements were made which began to show in the final wine to the point when in 1996 Angélus was elevated from Grand Cru Classé to Premier Grand Cru Classé, and then in 2012 to Premier Grand Cru Classé A.
Angélus occupies a prime site in St Emilion, just west of the town on a limestone ridge with a layer of clay and some sand. Now with 39 hectares of vines, mostly managed organically, it is an estate that embraces old techniques such as ploughing the vineyards with horses, but has also analysed its soil structure so that each plot is managed individually. It is planted with Merlot and Cabernet Franc and the final wine is usually around 60 per cent Merlot and 40 per cent Cabernet Franc.
Around the same time as its promotion, Angélus embarked on a massive building project which saw it extended to improve the cellars and facilities. It also involved the construction of a bell tower, bearing 20 bells, one of them called Angélus, which apparently can be programmed to play the national anthems of visiting dignitaries.
Now Stéphanie is at the helm, what plans does she have? “I need to make sure that the excellence at Angélus continues.” She has plans to change the wood aging of the wine, “perhaps reducing the use of new wood from 100 per cent to 90 per cent to make the wine smoother,” but will be guided by her winemaking team. She also plans to hold back more stock from the market, allowing it to age in the cellars at Angélus. Meanwhile the purchase of St Emilion’s oldest restaurant, Logis de la Cadène, has added another dimension to the work at Angélus.
I tasted 2012 Carillon d’Angélus, the second wine, made to be enjoyed earlier than the grand vin. This was delicious, fresh on the palate and bright with fruit. The 2008 Angélus started out with earthy, leathery notes, expanding into a herbal freshness with rich cassis fruit on the mid-palate, ending firm and plainly needing more time to expand its full profile.
“This has a higher proportion of Cabernet Franc than usual,” said Stephanie. The 2006 was deep and dark opening up in the glass to show silky, velvet fruit and a long, complex finish.
The current price of 2006 Angélus is around £200 (Fine and Rare, London) but if you are interested in the wines of St Emilion and Angélus there is a dinner, organised by the Jurade de St. Emilion which will allow you to taste several St Emilion wines.
The Jurade, a historic organisation of St Emilion producers, will be in Yorkshire in mid-April to meet restaurateurs and merchants. Their main event will be further south, in Lincoln, where they will hold a dinner on April 15, when eight St Emilion wines will be poured for tasting, and drinking, with dinner. Among them will be Angélus 2010, which at its current listed price of around £250 a bottle is way beyond my budget, so I will be pleased to taste it at the event. Tickets for the dinner are limited but a few are available at £100. Contact Tim Hartley at York@jurade.org.uk if you would like to attend.