Home > History of Wine > Chateau Margaux, the Racehorse and the Wine

Chateau Margaux, the Racehorse and the Wine

In conducting research in the Maryland Historical Magazine on the early history of Maryland winemaking I came across an article on “The Thoroughbred Horse and Maryland” which had been read in 1921.  I was surprised to learn that the thoroughbred horses Chateau Margaux and Claret were imported into America in 1834.[1] Every year Jenn and I host a tailgate party at the International Gold Cup in Virginia.  Despite our love for drinking wine at the races, it never occurred to me that a racehorse would be named after a famous Bordeaux chateau.  It turns out that Chateau Margaux was fouled by Whalebone with a first dam of Wasp in 1822.  Claret, in turn, was fouled by Chateau Margaux with a first dam of Partisan in 1830.  Though both horses had different breeders and owners, they were simultaneously imported by Merritt & Co.[2]

Chateau Margaux.  Image from

Chateau Margaux. Image from The American Stud Book. 1878.

Chateau Margaux was first entered as Brother to Addy having been bred by the Earl of Egremont.  Brother to Addy first ran at Newmarket in 1825, ridden by William Arnull.  The Claret Stakes was a flat race first held in 1808 at the Ditch-In course at Newmarket.  Brother to Addy ran the following year in which he won by two lengths over Enamel.  Apparently due to this win, Brother to Addy was subsequently renamed Chateau Margaux.    There are other raceshorses named after the famous wines of Bordeaux.  D’Estournel of 1864 fouled Father Claret in 1873.  At the end of the century the brown mare Haut Brion was fouled in 1897.[3]  Lastly, it must be admitted that Chateau Lafite, fouled in 1915, was a descendant of Zinfandel fouled in 1900.[4]

#742 Chateau Margaux - Vintage 1865.  Sale 9550 - The Magnificent Cellar of Lenoir M. Josey. 30 November - 1 December 2000. Image from Christies.

#742 Chateau Margaux – Vintage 1865. Sale 9550 – The Magnificent Cellar of Lenoir M. Josey. 30 November – 1 December 2000. Image from Christies.

Chateau Margaux was purchased in 1836 by the Spanish nobleman and banker Alexandre Aguada, Marques de las Marismas.  On August 28, 1865, a curious advertisement appears in The Times regarding the “Chateau Margaux Estate”.  In January, 1864, the English houses of J. Allnutt &Co., Boord, Son, & Beckwith, and Trowers & Lawson purchased the “whole wine produce of the Chateau Margaux estate for a term of years”.[5]  This transaction may have taken place due to a string of bad vintages since 1858.  Of the 1859 vintage Cocks and Feret wrote “Very irregular temperatures…if some have given satisfaction, many others have produced disappointment in development.”[6]  It was dismal in 1860 when it was “rainy and cold and is one of the worse that we have to register.”  There was a bubble in 1861 when there were “Favourable temperature to the vine, inducing hopes of wines of fine quality…very large purchases are effected at very high prices…hopes have been disappointed…ended in yielding a very ordinary quality.”  The vintage of 1862 was a bit better with “red wines of tolerably good colour, but lacking vivacity.”  The next year of 1863 had “unfavourable temperature…the red wines very indifferent.”

Thus after five lack-luster vintages, Alexandre Aguarda may have been motivated to sell his entire yield.  The timing advantageous for the British merchants for the 1864 vintage had “Great heat previous to vintage…The red wines possess mellowness, delicacy and elegance, but are slightly deficient in body.”  The following vintage of 1865 was generous to the British as well with “…one of the most favourable temperatures to the vines…the red wines present in the commencement a perfect maturity, much body and colour and the character of a great year…the highest prices which have even been accorded to red wines.”

Chateau Margaux. Cocks and Feret. Image from Bordeaux and Its Wines. 1883.

Despite these merchants having purchased the entire production, they must have sold the wine in cask and not bottled all of it.  For in the June 6, 1874, issue of The Spectator, Messrs. Christie, Manson and Woods auctioned off some of the 1865 vintage of Chateau Margaux at the Important Sale of Clarets.[7]  The sale included some 3,4000 dozen bottles of Lafite, Margaux, Leville, Cos D’Estournel, Ducru, Palmer, Rauzan, Giscours, Kirwan, Duhart Milon, and others of which “[t]he whole were bottled by Messrs. Tod-Heatly and Co in the Autumn of 1868, at their cellars in Adelphi, where they still remain.”  In 1879 the estate was sold by the son of Alexandre Aguada to Vicomte Pillet-Will.[8]  By April 24, 1897, the wines had returned to being bottled in Bordeaux.  The British wine merchants Edwards, Southard, and Sons advertised the 1894 vintage of which “we have bottled the whole of this Vintage…in fine condition, and possessing all the qualities of delicacy and bouquet which are the characteristics of Chateau Margaux.”[9]  Their bottlings consisted of 19,815 dozens of Grand Vin and 2,541 dozens of Second Vin.

Michael Broadbent’s vintage rating some nearly 110 years later mirror those of Cocks and Feret.[10]  He tasted two bottles each of both 1864 and 1864 Chateau Margaux.  These were bottled by Cruse and tasted at Binpin’s May 1987 and Rodenstock’s September 1987 tastings.  The Cruse family owned several chateaux in Bordeaux.  Herman Cruse is known for purchasing and modernizing Chateau Pontet-Canet beginning in 1865.  In the Catalogue General of the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1867, the “36. Exposition collective des vins de Bordeaux” lists H. Cruse of Pontet-Canet and Allnut, Boord et Beckwith, Trower et Lawson of Chateau Margaux. [11]  Why did Cruse bottle a portion of the first two vintages of Chateau Margaux which were owned by the British merchants?  Cruse built new cellars and modernized the winemaking facilities at Pontet-Canet.[12]  Perhaps the updated facilities seemed like an attractive place to bottle these new vintages of Chateau Margaux.  It appears that some of these wines eventually made their way to America.  On May 8, 1890, an auction in New York City included “A cellar of rare and choice Wines” including “1865 Leoville, Chateau Langoa, Chateau Beycheville, Chateau Margaux, and Chateau Lafitte, of Baron & Gustier.” [13]

[3] The General Stud Book, Volume 20. 1905. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=jkU5AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[5] The Times, Monday, Aug 28, 1865; pg. 10; Issue 25275; col E
[6] Cocks, Charles and Feret, Edouard.  Bordeaux and Its Wines.  1883. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=dSBEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] The Spectator, Volume 47. June 6, 1874. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=htMhAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP7#v=onepage&q&f=false
[8] Peppercorn, David. Bordeaux.  Faber and Faber Limited. 1991.
[9] The Times, Saturday, Apr 24, 1897; pg. 6; Issue 35186; col E
[10] Broadbent, Michael.  The Great Vintage Wine Book. Alfred A. Knopf.  1991.
[11] Catalogue général: exposition Universelle de 1867 à Paris. Des arts libéraux : matériel et applications ; (Groupe II, Classes 6 à 13). 1867. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=7NI-AAAAcAAJ&pg=PP5#v=onepage&q&f=false
[12] History of Chateau Pontet-Canet.  URL: http://www.pontet-canet.com/histoire-en.php
[13] Date: May 5, 1890   Paper: New York Herald (New York, NY)   Issue: 125   Page: 9
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