DOMAINE DE BARON ‘ARQUES
By John Salvi
Chateau Mouton Rothschild is spreading its wings; in fact it has already
spread them quite wide and for quite a long time now. Today there is an
important collection of wineries, Estates, Chateaux and Domaines under
its umbrella, which is known in French as the “GFA Baronne Philippine
One of the most recent ventures, and one that has just come fully to fruition,
is that of Domaine de Baron ‘arques in Limoux, appellation LIMOUX Contrôlée.
The appellation LIMOUX covers 7700 Hectares, and two Cooperatives account
for 75% of the production. These are “Les Vignerons du Sieur d’Arques,
and another, which goes by the wonderful name of “Anne de Joyeuse”.
I am sure that I do not need to explain, but just like Virgil I will do
so none the less, that Limoux is divided into four areas; Terroir Méditerranéen,
Terroir D’Autan, Terroir Haute–Vallée and Terroir Océanique
– with Limoux planted more or less right in the middle. Naturally the
Terroir Méditerranéen has the most Mediterranean climate,
with hot and humid winds. The most precocious of the four areas, it is
relatively dry and between 150 – 200 metres in elevation. The Terroir
d’Autan is rather similar, with a lot of gravelly soil. To the south,
the Terroir Haute–Vallée is the closest to the Pyrenees and the
highest, with elevations of up to 400 metres. It is the latest to ripen
and this is where Domaine de Baron ‘arques is situated, almost on the
junction of the three Terroirs – Méditerranéen, Autan and
Haute–Vallée, at Saint–Polycarpe, close to Limoux, in the Aude.
Finally the Terroir Océanique is the most westerly, with Atlantic
Ocean influence. Here the valleys are wider and the slopes gentler and
there are lots of acacia trees. Maturity time is midway between Haute–Vallée
HISTORY OF DOMAINE DE BARON ‘ARQUES
Today the Domaine, as is by now more than abundantly clear, belongs to
Baronne Philippine de Rothschild and her two sons.
It started its life as Domaine de Lambert and originally belonged to the
Abbey of Saint Polycarpe, in the 17th century. However, at the time of
the French Revolution it was confiscated from the Abbey and sold as a
“bien publique” or “public property”, by adjudication (auction), to a
certain M. Estribaud–Gaure from Carcassonne. He bought it for 19,300 pounds
(livres), consisting of “buildings, land, vines, and enclosures, cultivated
and uncultivated land”. It comprised a total of 81 Hectares. After this
gentleman, the estate passed through several hands to end up in 1875 in
the possession of a certain Michel Tisseyre. When he bought it, it is
recorded that there were “three pairs of oxen, 3 horses, one mare and
Under Tisseyre, Lambert grew to 103 hectares – its present size. He stopped
farming sheep and concentrated upon enlarging the vineyard until, in 1910,
it covered 48 Hectares – today’s vineyard surface area. He also constructed
the present Chateau, with its terraces and its gardens, from 1890 – 1900,
in a most unusual style.
The Tisseyre family continued to own the property until 1952, when it
was sold to the Parayre family and, in 1975, they, in turn, sold it to
the Odet family. The son of Madame Odet was Maître Chéreau,
a lawyer in Marseille, who was an absentee landlord, completely ignored
the property and left it to run to rack and ruin. Finally, in 1998, he
sold it to Baronne Philippine de Rothschild and her two sons. The three
new owners at once placed the running and the renovation of the property
in the hands of the family company – “Baron Philippe de Rothschild”.
As we have seen from the above story, it was regretfully in a lamentable
condition, although breathtakingly beautiful. A major 5–year renovation
and reconstruction plan was both set up and immediately put into action.
The company of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, having assumed the responsibility
for the estate, did not want to wait for all the major long term reconstruction
to be complete before making known its interest in the Limoux region.
It therefore formed a partnership with “Les Vignerons du Sieur d’Arques”,
the enormous and well known Cooperative in Limoux itself, famous for its
sparkling wines and it’s “Méthode Ancestrale” – a system of making
sparkling wine that predates Champagne and became known and appreciated
long before the birth of Dom Pérignon, in fact from 1531 in Saint
The partnership was formed with a view to producing a good quality wine
from the very start. At the beginning, the wine was made from parcels
of vines belonging to the cooperative, but selected, controlled and vinified
under the control of Mouton Rothschild’s oenologists and technical team.
This was originally Patrick Léon, who is mainly responsible for
bringing the Estate to the attention of the Baroness in the first place.
Patrick retired and was replaced by Philippe Dhalluin, and it was he who
so very kindly invited my wife and myself to accompany him on one of his
visits, and who provided us with all the information in this article.
The blended wine was called Baron ‘arques. The first vintage that was
put onto the market was the 1998, and this was followed, quite logically,
by the 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. These blends were bottled by Baron ‘arques
and marketed by Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
The policy was to terminate the blend when the property had been fully
restored and when its vineyards were producing wine that met the demanding
standards of the Baroness. To this end, 30 of the 36 Hectares of vines
were uprooted and 42 hectares of new ones were planted. With the 6 that
were left the total under vine was brought up to 48 Hectares. When all
was completed, and the wine was superb, the name was changed and became
Domaine de Baron ‘arques, according to the wishes of the Baroness and
her sons. The Cooperative of the Vignerons du Sieur d’Arques became minority
shareholders in the Domaine. In 2003 the new wine was born! It was fortunate
enough to benefit from exceptional circumstances. On the one hand, the
wine was of quite exceptional quality. On the other hand, the Institut
National des Appellations D’Origine (INAO) created the new Appellation
Contrôlée Limoux, for the red wine, to be applicable from
the 2003 vintage and just in time for the birth of the Baroness’ new baby.
Thus 2003 is Year One for Domaine de Baron ‘arques and it joins the other
prestigious estates of Baronne Philippine de Rothschild. The wine was
presented for the first time at the famous “Toques et Clochers” 2005,
in Limoux, under the new A.O.C of “Limoux”.
The estate is planted with 48 Hectares of vines on its 103 Hectares total
Its altitude is between 250–350 metres above sea level and the soil is
principally calcareous limestone (argilo–calcaire) with a few parcels
of sandier soil and sandy gravel. The decomposition of the bedrock looks
very like sand and is very poor in organic matter but of course rich in
minerals. On the highest point of the property there is “garrigue”, with
the bedrock so close to the surface that the vines planted there simply
will not grow – no organic matter!
The vineyard comprises:
50% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc (Atlantic Grape
10% Grenache, 10% Malbec, 10% Syrah (Mediterranean Grape Varieties).
I Hectare is planted with Chardonnay and the wine is not marketed but
kept for their own delectation. It is delicious. On the high point of
the vineyard the soil is “galets” or “large pebbles” from the moraine
glaciers, which is the same, but at an earlier stage, as those, which
eventually became the gravel of the Médoc.
Density of plantation is 7500 vines per Hectare on 10 Hectares and 4600
on all the rest. Most of the vineyards in this area only plant at a density
of 3000–3500 vines per Hectare.
Since the 1998 purchase, a great deal of work has been done on adapting
the rootstocks to the Vinifera grape variety and to the different soils,
all of which has vastly improved the harmony and therefore the ultimate
quality. Six different rootstocks are used for these varieties.
Some of the stakes have been raised to 1.9 metres to increase the canopy,
applying the classic 0.6–0.7 equation.
In order to be able to profit from some old and mature vines, and having
hardly any here, seven Hectares of fine old varietals, belonging to the
Vignerons du Sieur d’Arques, were leased by the Domaine.
Pruning is on the Guyot system although the old Cordon de Royat system
is used on the Grenache (see later rules for plantation).
Naturally the grapes are picked by hand, into 12 kilos “cagettes”, just
as at Mouton Rothschild. Rigid and meticulous parcellar selection is practiced.
Philippe says that two main items tend to fix the date of the vintage
1. knowing the way each parcel in the vineyard behaves and reacts
2. Tasting the berries and the pips at least twice per week or more.
3. Both the above factors, supported by very precise laboratory tests
and analyses, paying particular attention to the polyphenols and their
Sorting is done in the CUVIER and the grapes are moved by gravity feeding,
in order to avoid any manhandling or bruising. Domain de Baron ‘arques
does not use dry ice for cooling the grapes, but has the necessary equipment.
After a light destalking and crushing, the grapes are sent to the stainless
steel fermentation vats. Gentle pre-fermentation maceration is done at
We all laughed at a fantastical conception of impractical perfection –
the conception of taking each and every grape off its stalk by hand, by
120 young persons employed just for that, as done for show at a famous
property a couple of years ago. Having gone that far, why not go just
one step further and depip each and every grape individually, perhaps
by 220 students with some spare time, sort and select the pips one by
one, and put the best and ripest ones back in with the grapes!!! Nothing
succeeds like excess!!!
The alcoholic fermentation lasts some 8 days at a temperature of about
28°C, or maximum 30°C. Post fermentation maceration lasts another
2–3 weeks, depending upon both regular tasting and upon the grape varieties.
This is done at a slightly lower temperature and the 21 vats of different
sizes are all thermo–regulated. At the end, very careful pressing is done
for the vitally important “vin de presse”.
After malo–lactic fermentation, done in the vats, the wine is put into
oak barrels where it spends some 12–18 months. 30–50% of them are new
each year. The others are either 1–year or 2–years old. The selection
for the first wine is done before the wine is put into the barrels.
Normal rackings are carried out as required, and the wine is fined before
bottling, to rid it of any excess polyphenols, which might eventually
become heavy and become a mass of depositable colouring matter. Colour
stability is taken very seriously by this team of technicians.
The wine is bottled on the property and on the label is stated “mis en
bouteilles au domaine” or “domaine bottled”.
The 2004, which we tasted from the barrel, had a production of 2000 Hectolitres
of which 1/3rd, or 670 Hectolitres, went into the First Wine – the Domaine
de Baron ‘arques. It is now ageing in barrels 1/3rd new, 1/3rd one–year
old and 1/3rd two–years.
The 2003, at the time that we visited, which was the 2nd of June, was
scheduled for bottling on 6th June. It had been put back into vat in January.
Thus it would have passed something over 12 months in barrel. This is
the new wine, the very first vintage, and will carry the new appellation
The label is pure Mouton. Sober, clean, unglazed and simple.
Philippe Dhalluin was our gracious host. He drove down with us from the
Médoc, coolly and in comfort, to overnight and dine elegantly at
the Domaine d’Auriac, just outside Carcassonne, where we were joined for
dinner by Vincent Montigaud, the General Manager of Domaine de Baron ‘arques.
He brought with him two bottles from the estate, which allowed us to form
a first impression of the development of the wine since the start of the
venture in 1998. A fine dinner in this delicious “relais and chateau”
hostelry set the wines off perfectly and led to a good night’s sleep.
The next day, after breakfast, Vincent picked us up and drove us on a
guided tour of the four regions of the Limoux district, before taking
us to Domaine de Baron ‘arques for a detailed tour of the vineyards, the
cellars and the wine making installations. An attractive, charming and
knowledgeable host, he is also an inexhaustible mine of fascinating information.
Our visit terminated with the most delicious lunch in the so far only
partly restored Chateau. Personally I found it very lovely already. Cool
and fresh and soberly elegant. Their own Chardonnay, fruited and fragrant,
with a fine fish terrine, followed by the 2003 and 2004 vintages of Domaine
de Baron ‘arques, drawn from the vat, to accompany an unctuous Cassoulet,
rich and redolent with Confit de Canard. This was termed a “working lunch”
and is the sort of work that I could subscribe to every day! It put us
both contentedly to sleep for the better part of the drive back to Bordeaux!
2003 was a very hot year. Average temperatures were higher than in 2002.
The winter preceding the "canicular" summer had been extremely
Budding was early – end March. Thanks to a rainy May vegetation was rapid.
Flowering was also precocious – 25th May to early June – and it took place
under good conditions. Chardonnay flowering started 30th May. For the
red grapes, 1st June saw the halfway stage of the flowering (mi–floraison).
The hot summer speeded up vegetation even more and therefore maturity.
In spite of the dry summer the vines suffered very little from drought.
Picking started here on 15th September under perfect conditions and with
splendid, fine, ripe and healthy grapes. The very last patch of Cabernet
Sauvignon was picked on 31st October.
The 2003 has:
69% Atlantic grape varieties
11% Cabernet Franc
7% Cabernet Sauvignon
31% Mediterranean grape varieties
It is perhaps important to note the complicated, unnecessarily complicated?
Laws concerning the grape varieties in the vineyards and in the wine for
AOC Limoux Rouge. These laws were promulgated in November 2002, published
2003, and must be observed. Carignan must be uprooted and disappear by
2010. Limoux Red must have a minimum of 50% Merlot and 0–20% of Cabernet
Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon. These Atlantic grapes can comprise up
to a maximum of 70% of the total and Mediterranean grapes must comprise
a minimum of 30%, made up to the producers choice of Syrah, Grenache and
Malbec (Cot). In the final blend the wine must contain a minimum of three
grape varieties. The law also states that Grenache MUST be pruned on the
Cordon de Royat system or the Gobelet system, which is why those parcels
of Grenache here have not been adapted to the Guyot system. All other
varieties MUST be Guyot Single or Double.