Another Wine Byte 16: A Little Bit of Blarney
We have a running dialogue in our household about the legitimacy of my Irish ancestry. Joe claims he is Irish but I’m not. Around Saint Patrick’s Day, he teases me with “If you were Irish, you would know this,” when talking about his Shepherd’s Pie Recipe or Corned Beef and Cabbage Wine Pairing or other things Irish. He bases this entirely on the on the fact that a “crest” with his surname was sold in a San Francisco Irish Imports store, and mine was nowhere to be found.
Neither a bit of blarney nor my pointing out the fallacy in his logic will convince him otherwise. “Power” is a fairly common last name albeit often spelled “Powers.” This creates a rather large market for the Power crest. My surname, on the other hand, is not nearly as common, thus providing little incentive for said Irish Goods Store to stock products emblazoned with “Corron.” Second, there are numerous accounts of “Corron” in Irish records, including this one in the Census of Ireland, 1911, in the National Archives.
While my Irish origins are not a myth, there is one in the wine world that continues today.
No Lucky Charms at Château Haut Brion
The oldest wine property in Bordeaux, Château Haut-Brion traces its origins to the 16th Century. Rated Premier Cru in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, Château Haut-Brion is the only estate from outside Medoc to be included. The French classification system of ranking red wines from first to fifth was created at the request of Emperor Napoleon III for a display of wines for the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris. Brokers from the wine industry used trading price and the reputation of the château, which at that time was directly related to quality.
The 1855 classification encompassed all the wines of the Gironde region, including Haut-Brion. It was included in part because of its senior status, but, more to the point, because its prices in the 19th century were consistently higher than those of any other Bordeaux wine. St.-Émilion and Pomerol wines were not included because the judges didn’t consider them good enough. (The fifth First Growth, Mouton-Rothschild, came later.) – “Weaving Past Into Future at Haut-Brion” by Frank J. Prial New York Timespub. March 6, 2002
Many a sommelier student has heard that Haut-Brion was named such by an Irishman named O’Brian or O’Brien, who wanted to make wine but knew that no Frenchman would consider wine made by an Irishman worthy of his palate. So he adopted a French spelling and pronunciation of the name. But according to Château Haut-Brion archives and local history, nothing could be further from the truth.
The estate Château Haut-Brion dates back to April 1525 when Jean de Pontac married Jeanne de Bellon, the daughter of the mayor of Libourne and seigneur of Hault-Brion, who brought to him in her dowry the land. In 1533 bought the mansion of Haut-Brion, while construction of the château was begun in 1549. Château Haut-Brion enjoyed a colorful history of ownership until the early 20th century when it was purchased by the Dillon family, who currently manage the estate.
In 1935* former Texan Clarence Dillon bought Château Haut-Brion for 2,300,000 francs. According to the Château Haut-Brion website, the “château itself was sold unfurnished and run down so Dillon was able to restore and redecorate it to his own tastes.” In 1983 the Dillon family bought La Mission Haut-Brion. It also became a part of Domaine Clarence Dillon under the aegis of Joan Dillon, Duchesse de Mouchy, now P.D.G. of the vineyard. “Haut-Brion,” we’re told, comes from an old local dialect and had something to do with a small hill.
The next time someone repeats the myth that Château Haut-Brion was once Irish, feel free to dispute that. As for me, yes I am Irish!
Éirinn go brách
*Thanks to @randulo for help with the dates. It seems a typo in the website led to our initial error.