Bordeaux vintner Denis Durantou, owner of Château L'Église Clinet in Pomerol, has passed away at age 62 after a long illness.
Durantou was a well-known figure in the area, and one of a handful of winery owners who lived in Pomerol full-time. He was known for his attention to detail in the vineyards and cellars and his sharp insights on Bordeaux in general. In addition to the high-end L'Église Clinet, Durantou produced several value priced wines from other Bordeaux areas.
"He made one of the best value wines in Bordeaux, Château La Chenade. It's a fabulous wine," said Fiona Morrison, managing director of Thienpont Wine, as well as a neighbor in Pomerol.
Durantou was born in July 1957. He studied political science in Paris, then enology in Bordeaux. In 1983, he took over the management of his family's 10-acre estate in Pomerol from his grandfather. Up until that time, the family was more focused on managing their large farm in Coutras than on winemaking.
Family documents state that Durantou's ancestor Jean Rouchut purchased vineyard plots next to the church cemetery in Pomerol in 1803 that became the start of their estate. In 1882, the family united plots from Château Clinet and L'Église, creating L'Église Clinet. In the turmoil following phylloxera's devastation of the region, the family leased the vines to a négociant and focused on other ventures.
In 1983, the family regained control and Durantou took over. The cellars were rudimentary—dirt floors and vats without temperature control, and the wine was barely known. He began modernizing the cellars and focusing on quality. In 1986, he created a second wine, La Petite Église, following the trend that allowed vintners to improve the quality of the grand vin while producing an approachable, less expensive wine to drink younger. Durantou also gradually increased the percentage of Cabernet Franc in his blend, using grapes sourced from the estate's remarkable number of old vines, which had happily escaped the ruinous frost of 1956.
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He was respected for his precision, attention to plot-by-plot vinification and the freshness and elegance of his wines. "He had a light touch and it made a huge difference," Morrison told Wine Spectator. "Merlot can be a rich, heavy wine. You can treat it with elegance and make a lovely wine. [Durantou's] wines age incredibly well, they are so lively. They are like him. Precision, education, seriousness … and insouciance."
Durantou increased his holdings by acquiring 25-acre Château Les Cruzelles with its second wine La Chenade in Lalande de Pomerol in 2000, and 44-acre Château Montlandrie in Côtes de Bordeaux, Castillon, in 2009. He also acquired plots of St.-Emilion in the commune of St.-Etienne de Lisse where he produced Saintayme.
Durantou is survived by his wife, Marie Reilhac, an artist, and his three daughters, Alix, Noemie and Constance. His daughters intend to run the winery estates with the winemaking team headed by Olivier Gautrat, who has worked for the Durantou family for the past 20 years.