Chateau Sansonnet had been classified as a grand cru classe until 1996, when it was dropped to grand cru during a review of St.-Emilion's classification system, which is done about every 10 years. "The quality of the wines suffered at the property in the '90s, partly due to the fact that the grapes were harvested mechanically," explained Patrick d'Aulan, son of Francois and general director of the estate. "We really went ahead with the deal due to the great terroir and potential here. The vines are in very good shape, but we shall be returning to harvesting the grapes manually and carrying out extensive renovations to the winery." He said he hopes to bring the estate back up to grand cru classe status by 2006.
The d'Aulans plan to increase the percentage of Merlot from 60 percent to 70 percent by replanting a small section of Cabernet Sauvignon vines; the remainder of the estate will be made up of 20 percent old-vine Cabernet Franc and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. They will produce two labels this year at Sansonnet: Chateau Sansonnet will represent 60 percent of the production, and a second label, whose name is yet to be determined, will make up the remainder. The overall production is estimated at 3,000 cases. Patrick D'Aulan commented, "We prefer to start with lower yields to attain a higher quality."
Francois d'Aulan's company, Sopalia, also owns Champagne Becker, a small house that produced its first vintage in 1996. The estate consists of 20 acres that he retained after selling Piper-Heidsick to Remy Martin; for most of the past decade, the grapes from the vineyards have been sold to other houses. He has also invested in Argentina, where he is planting 74 acres of vines in the Mendoza Valley. Through that project, the d'Aulans met Jean-Michel Arcaute of Chateau Clinet, who will be the winemaker for Sansonnet.
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