|Stephan von Neipperg carries family winemaking history into the 21st century in Côtes de Castillon and St.-Emilion.|
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Score: 90 | Price: $30
Stephan von Neipperg comes from a family of generals and ambassadors who made wine in their 30-village earldom in the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, this 45-year-old count is building his own wine fiefdom in St.-Emilion, where he owns four estates: châteaus Canon-La Gaffelière, Clos de l'Oratoire, Peyreau and La Mondotte.
Neipperg is proud of his heritage -- his family traces its origin to the 12th century -- but he's not weighed down by traditions and he dared invest outside the usual wine trail. His latest project is Château d'Aiguilhe, in the pastoral landscape of Côtes de Castillon. He bought the estate, which includes a medieval castle and 271 acres of woods, pasture and vineyards, for 12 million francs ($2 million) in 1998.
Château d'Aiguilhe is named after a rocky outcrop that looks like an aiguille, which means "needle" or "peak" in French. Much of the château and a tower burned in 1908 and lay in ruins. Renovation is going on in the old stables, a mansion and a building that will serve as a barrel chai. Neipperg wants to restore the château and turn it into a tourist attraction, but for now the place looks like a construction site.
Côtes de Castillon lies about 10 miles east of St.-Emilion, but the count believes this obscure appellation has a future. "Stephan de Neipperg fell in love with the place," says the vintner's consulting enologist Stéphane Derenoncourt.
Neipperg is also investing about 3 million euros (about $3.2 million) to complete a showcase winery; octagonal-shaped, fully computerized, it was built partly underground so grapes could be dropped into the fermenting vats without having to be pumped.
Although the new winery became operational during the 2002 vintage, Neipperg and Derenoncourt managed to make the best of a rustic winery when they produced 8,300 cases of the 2000 Château d'Aiguilhe (90, $30). The estate also makes a second wine, Seigneurs d'Aiguilhe (5,000 cases).
The 103 acres of vines (80 percent Merlot, 20 percent Cabernet Franc), which average nearly 30 years of age, are exposed due south and planted on clay-limestone soils with good drainage.
The challenge in Côtes de Castillon is to compensate for a microclimate that ripens grapes rather late, but Neipperg will apply techniques he's tested in St.-Emilion, including reasonable yields and organic farming. "I believe it is practically the same terroir as on the plateau of St.-Emilion," says Neipperg, who cuts a dashing figure with a trim moustache and red- and black-dotted ascot.
One difference, however, is that an acre in St.-Emilion can cost 40 times more than an acre in Côtes de Castillon, says Neipperg, who made waves in recent years with the expensive La Mondotte, a cult garage red. "Château d'Aiguilhe is the antidote of La Mondotte; the idea here is to make good quantity and good value," says the vintner.