Ben Kennedy
The views expressed in db Reader do not represent the views of the drinks business.

The bells, the bells!

A sneak preview of the renovations at St Emilion’s Château Angélus.

Angélus1I was treated like royalty, they played the national anthem on their new carillon of bells, which sparkled brilliantly against a frosty, cloudless sky. Only I did have to point out after a couple of bars that I was not one of the Hyannis Port Kennedys, but the common or garden British variety, at which point my host punched “44” into the handheld remote control – each anthem is given it’s country’s telephone dialling code – and a novel rendition of “God save the Queen” ensued.

When you’re promoted to the highest level, in this case being classified as a Premier Grand Cru Classé “A”, you have to mark the occasion in a meaningful way, and Château Angélus have found meaning in the installation of a splendid set of bells, to honour their site so named in the Middle Ages because this was the spot where the bells of three local churches could all be heard chiming at once.  This also echoes the bell on their label, which has become the emblem of the château around the world, and their second wine which is appropriately named Carillon.

The 20-bell installation was cast at the leading French bell foundry of Paccard in Annecy (there’s a pun in there for computer people, Paccard bell…?) and as I understand it, it is unique in France as it is privately owned.  At any rate, it makes a very eye-catching centre piece for the renovation works which are reputed to have cost 9m€ and will be declared open at Christmas for the family, and at primeur time next spring for the trade and press.

When I first saw the main building in the summer, half-timbered with a transverse open gallery below the roofline, I was somewhat confused by its architectural references which seemed to me to be more Hospices de Beaune than château de Bordeaux.  I was informed that this style was common across all of France in the late Middle Ages, Aquitaine included, although few examples remained here because the region had been so ravaged by war.  We politely circumnavigated any suggestion that this was “our” fault.

I was further reassured by the fact that the architect who designed the building had previously been in charge of the protection and heritage of St Emilion itself for many years, so he certainly knows his subject.  As you might expect for a property of this standing, all the work has been undertaken with the utmost respect of tradition, including salvaging timbers from a medieval monastery in Normandy.

Nearby Château Pavie, which was also raised to “A” status alongside Angélus, completed their new chais this summer, just nine months after the official announcement of the classification.  A very brief gestation period for a major building project, begging, for some perhaps, the question, “vinileaks”?  Or much more likely, a tax-efficient response to the increased income from the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

Future visitors will not fail to be impressed by the new look Angélus, although when booking your primeur tastings you may want to check you’re not preceded by any Greek importers: their anthem runs to 158 verses!

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