Château Palmer is a historic winery in the Margaux AOC, on the Left Bank of Bordeaux.
Believed to be more than 300 years old, it is one of the most famous producers in the world. It produces two wines, the eponymous Château Palmer and Alter Ego de Palmer.
Before it was purchased from Englishman Major General Charles Palmer in 1814, from whom the château gets its name, the estate already had a long history as part of the properties of Château d’Issan. In 1748, Château de Gascq purchased 50 hectares to form what was the foundation of the estate that we know today.
The estate was already believed to produce wines at the level of the top estates in Bordeaux under the ownership of Palmer and in the fifteen years between 1814 and the early 1830s, Château Palmer was expanded both in terms of the vineyard surface, increasing to 80 hectares, and by enveloping the buildings around Issan, Cantenac and Margaux.
From 1840, economic difficulties led to not only many changes in ownership of the domaine, but also a major decline in its ranking. The famous 1855 Bordeaux Classification hence rated Château Palmer as only a Third Growth.
By 1870, the estate was extended to 177 hectares, of which 109 were vines. The iconic, eponymous châteaux hosting the headquarters of the domaine today was built few years before by the architect Burguet joining the estate, in 1870.
In the late 1930’s, the domaine was sold to a syndicate called Société Civile de Château Palmer, where the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families, respected negociants in Bordeaux, had the most significant portion of control. They remain the main shareholders of the domaine today.
A certain level of stability helped the estate regain its former glory, with its wines unofficially classified as SuperSecond, testifying to their quality, despite the initial classification.
In 1998, the estate purchased 8 more hectares of vines and started producing Alter Ego from them. The wine is defined as a counterpart of the flagship Château Palmer, made from different plots and following a different style, hence formally refusing the label of “second wine”.
Today, the estate still takes development and growth very seriously. Château Palmer has 22 different shareholders In 2010, some of its most important assets were also renovated, including the grape reception area, vat rooms and the barrel cellar, as well as the bottling facilities and a room dedicated for tasting.
The epicentre of the estate is believed to be the Village, a physical community space where the estate’s expertise is shared daily.
The vineyard area of Château Palmer today is approximately 55 hectares. The grapes are mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, each accounting a solid 47% share, with a small 6% represented by Petit Verdot.
Annual production on the estate is 20,000 cases, out of which, Alter Ego de Palmer represents around 40% of the sales.
The château also produces a very small amount of rare white Bordeaux wine, which is not available commercially.
Since 2004, Château Palmer has been managed by winemaker Thomas Duroux, previously employed at the glorious Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia, in Tuscany.
Château Palmer is a firm believer of biodynamic farming. Since its first inconclusive trials in 2008, several meetings were held with followers of this specific method to perfect its various techniques.
Château Palmer focuses on “a return to the essence of farming”, bringing organic viticulture to a new level. Usage of chemicals on the vines has been totally eradicated, instead a belief of complexity as a source for enrichment in winemaking is emphasised.
The soil under the vineyards is difficult for agriculture, but highly suitable for growing grapes. It is typically described as having a gravelly terrace and rests between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gironde estuary, making it rich and well-drained.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the main grape varieties, but Petit Verdot is thought of as a signature of Château Palmer, rare in Médoc but commonly used in the domaine’s blends.
Each plot is vinified separately for the estate to keep a closer control on blends. The grapes are transferred to a room with 54 conical vats for sorting and pressing, which occurs straight after harvest to begin fermentation as soon as possible.
Blending happens in the tasting room, where each lot is tasted, classed and selected for Palmer or Alter Ego. Many are simply discarded should the quality not live up to expectation.
Ageing occurs in the barrel room and lasts for approximately 20 to 22 months. The amount of new oak depends on the wine, with a limit of 60% for Château Palmer and less than 50% for Alter Ego. The estate has two cellars, one dedicated to the first year of ageing, with wines remaining there until replaced by those of the following vintage.
One of the most interesting aspects of this domaine is the experimental room, a dedicated place where winemaking practices are studied, analysed and reassessed on a regular basis, using small vats to ensure that blending follows the highest standards.
Château Palmer’s signature is its blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which is almost equally shared. Added to this is just a touch of Petit Verdot. The Cabernet Sauvignon brings power and structural richness, while the Merlot imparts generosity, grace and a velvety texture that has become the estate’s trademark. The Petit Verdot brings just a touch of spiciness.
We have selected for you a 2008 Alter Ego de Palmer, which is fruitier and more approachable than the Grand Vin.