In 1955 aircraft designer and aeronautical entrepreneur Marcel Dassault fell in love for the second or third time in his life when he came across the Château Couperie vineyard- created in 1862 by Victor Beylot- on the hillside slopes of Saint-Emilion- France.
In 1955 aircraft designer and aeronautical entrepreneur Marcel Dassault fell in love for the second or third time in his life when he came across the Château Couperie vineyard- created in 1862 by Victor Beylot- on the hillside slopes of Saint-Emilion- France. Dassault subsequently bought and renovated the estate and gave his name to it. His hard work was rewarded in 1969 when the estate was recognized as a Grand Cru Classé in the Saint-Emilion classification system.
Today Marcel’s grandson Laurent Dassault is at the helm- and equally passionate about his ‘baby’. Every new Falcon business aircraft comes complete with a case of Château Dassault wine- and the two businesses - aircraft manufacturing and winemaking -are inextricably linked as a fusion of pursuing perfection and living life to the highest quality.
Laurent tells the story of how it all started. In addition to being a skilled aircraft designer- “My grandfather was a conscientious epicurean. He began to think about wine for the people who bought his airplanes. When the clients visited the aircraft factory in Merignac- they wanted to visit a French vineyard. One day the owners of the vineyards told my grandfather that they were not selling their wines to Dassault’s visitors and were no longer interested in this kind of visit. So Marcel decided to buy a wonderful vineyard in Saint-Emilion. He was aware about how important image is.
“Today- you can see that he was a visionary- because everybody wants to own a vineyard. It symbolizes our French heritage and excellence. When I was a child I also fell in love with the wine and the universe of the vineyard.”
Laurent took charge of the vineyard in 1995- working closely with winemaker Laurence Brun Vergriette (who inherited her role from her father). The pair have since strived for perfection- and every year they drain the vineyard thus reducing yields. They also employ pesticide management- as well as trim the leaves on both sides of the vine- all of which contributes to growing perfectly ripe- healthy grapes.
There is a modern vat room on site- and the grapes are carefully inspected twice on vibrating sorting tables after each harvest. The grapes from each vineyard are fermented separately- making it possible to fine-tune the final blend.
The average age of the Château Dassault vines is 35 years- and grapes grown are Cabernet Sauvignon (8%)- Merlot (80%) and Cabernet Franc (12%).
Labor of love
Laurent and Laurence take extreme pride in their work- and this is evident as Laurence explains why the vineyard earned ‘Grand Cru’ status. “The main differences are in the quality of the production due to the ‘terroir’- and also fine wine selection. Few of us are elected- and an evaluation is conducted every ten years.”
A ‘terroir’ is a group of vineyards from the same region- belonging to a specific appellation- and sharing the same type of soil- weather conditions- grapes and wine-making techniques- which contribute to give a specific personality to the wine.
The St-Emilion soil has notably good heat retention properties. The soil composition of vineyards is one of the most important considerations when planting grape vines as it supports the root structure of the vine- and influences the drainage levels and amount of minerals and nutrients that the plant is exposed to.
The ideal soil condition for a vine is a layer of thin topsoil and subsoil that sufficiently retains water but also has good drainage- so that the roots do not become overly saturated. The ability of the soil to retain heat and/or reflect it back up to the vine is also an important consideration that affects the ripening of the grapes.
Laurence explains- “Our terroir is made up of limestone- clay- siliceous soils- plus plateaus and slopes- which have evolved through several centuries.” Vine roots become more complex with age- developing their own characters and Laurence adds- “The age of the vineyard is important to understanding how long the vine has been integrated with the terroir. We find all that complexity in the wine.”
Château Dassault harvests its grapes by hand- using small trays- with an initial inspection of fruit in the vineyard. Further screening takes place on the two vibrating tables in the cellar- before the winemaking itself occurs in small- concrete- temperature-controlled vats. Fermentation then happens in new oak barrels- and ageing occurs in these oak barrels for 14-18 months.
A Matter of Taste
To create the perfect wine- it is essential to know when the grapes are perfectly ripe. There are a few signs to know this- Laurence explains. “Before the harvest- the only way is to control by tasting the berries in the vineyards… plot by plot. Without tasting the berries there is really no way to feel the ripeness of the fruit and make the right decision for the date of the harvest.”
Expert tasters can assess when the grapes are ready by checking the quality of the juice and- above all- skin and seed ripeness. There are also tests for acidity- sugar level- and tannin potential.
The personality of the grapes gives the wine its distinct flavor and character. “Grapes coming from Merlot give a lot of roundness; a velvety- fleshy aspect in the middle of the mouth-” Laurence enthuses. “Depending the ripeness- they could give a blackberry and licorice taste when the wine matures.
“Grapes from Cabernet Franc give more structure. They are fatless- but have a longer and more silky aspect. Grapes from Cabernet Sauvignon form part of the backbone of the wine. When ripe they give great wine with more red fruit- and striking tannin.”
The Château uses wood barrels to enhance the subtle flavors of the wine- which needs to be cleaned and rested during the fermentation process. Four times a year the vineyard changes each barrel- scraping the sediment from the bottom.
“During that time- there is a chemical exchange between the inside and outside of the barrel-” Laurence explains. “Oxygen will move to the anthocyanin pigments in the wine- and change its texture and the color- making the wine softer and softer. During that time- if the barrels are good ones you will add another good element to the wine to add to its complexity.”
In 2008 the Château established a new wine - Jean Pierre Vigato - named in honor of the famous French chef. There are only three barrels in existence.
Laurent Dassault explains- “Jean Pierre Vigato is a very close friend. I admire him because he is an artist. He is a passionate man- and when we began to think about the Cuvée Château Dassault- Jean-Pierre Vigato agreed to it immediately.”
Laurent concludes- “Château Dassault is the symbol of tradition- and wine is tradition. I succeeded my grandfather; Laurence succeeded her father; and Cyril Barge (the cellar master) succeeded his father and his grandfather.
“We are a family at Château Dassault. Wine is a beautiful way to share. Wine is sharing.”