Clarendelle, an inspiring redesign.
Pursuing the theme of an earlier post on the continued evolution of Bordeaux brands, here’s an update on the re-design of a brand emerging from the shadow of its big brother.
It’s a huge advantage to have a name that is known throughout the wine world. Prince Robert of Luxembourg, CEO of Domaine Clarence Dillon, is in just such a lucky position with Chateau Haut Brion. Although records do show that even names as famous as this one aren’t always easy to retain. In 1663 in Samuel Pepys diaries it is recorded as Ho Bryan and even earlier in 1660 in King Charles II cellar book as it down as Hobrionno.
The American banker Clarence Dillon bought Chateau Haut Brion in 1935 and the family acquired neighbouring Château La Mission Haut Brion in 1983. The two properties remain separate, as tempting as it might have been to try to bring them under a single Premiere Grand Cru Classé entity. Chateau Haut Brion was awarded Premier Grand Cru Classé status in the 1855 Classification; Chateau La Mission Haut Brion was classified as a Grand Cru Classé des Graves 100 years later. The wines are made by the same team but in two different cellars. The blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are similar, varying slightly from vintage to vintage, but the style of each wine remains unique. Despite what some believe La Mission Haut Brion is not the second wine of Haut Brion, as prices and scores over recent years clearly show.
A long and venerable history doesn’t preclude innovation, both technical and commercial; Haut-Brion was the first of the great growths to use stainless steel fermentation vats in the 1960s and to introduce clonal selection for vines in the 1970s.
Innovation continues in marketing; the 1958 vintage Château Haut Brion reinforced its unique identity by releasing the wine in a distinctive bottle, emulating designs of old bottles. This has been their signature ever since. Since the 2007 vintage, this same bottle shape has been used for the second wine of the property, rechristened from Bahans Haut Brion to Le Clarence de Haut Brion, a nod to the founderfor the75th anniversary of the purchase of the property.
Both vineyards produce a small amount of dry white wine; originally the white wine of La Mission Haut Brion was known as Laville Haut Brion, taking the name of the Clos Laville vineyard, purchased in the 1920’s. This was relabelled in 2009 as Château La Mission Haut Brion Blanc, establishing a clearer connection to the brand. White wine production is so tiny that the second white wines from both estates are blended together to produce one single label, previously labelled Les Plantiers du Haut Brion; it is now sold as La Clarté de Haut Brion.
So far so streamlined,but as production remains small, exclusive and expensive, how to grow this established brand?
Their answer was to open their own Bordeaux wine merchant, Clarence Dillon Wines. Since 2005, it has the classic role of a Bordeaux merchant, buying and selling wines from across Bordeaux, but it also gave them the vehicle to create their own Bordeaux brand; Clarendelle. Launched with the 2002 red Bordeaux it carries the strap line ‘Inspired by Haut Brion’, as the wines are blended by the Domaine Clarence Dillon team of oenologists.
A dry white Bordeaux Blanc, Sémillon/Sauvignon blend, followed two years later and then a Bordeaux Rosé and their ‘Amberwine’. The amberwine is a sweet white wine, sadly pigeon holed in the description as a dessert wine, and even more sadly (in my admittedly biased opinion) from the Monbazillac appellation rather than one of the Bordeaux sweet appellations. A Saint-Emilion and a Médoc Clarendelle followed with the 2014 vintage launched in 2017 completing a range of six listings.
The reds are sourced across Bordeaux including Pessac-Léognan, with some wine sourced from the Domaine Clarence Dillon vineyards. The whites are unsurprisingly sourced mainly from the Graves and Pessac-Léognan. Marketed as “vins de garde”, the wines are cellar aged before being released when the team considers them ready for drinking.
This whole range has been re-launched this month with a new and very elegant label. The CD initials surrounded by vine leaves make up the signature logo now used across the company. First introduced for by the merchant company, Clarence Dillon Wines, it is now as the logo for the mother company Domaine Clarence Dillon. It also appears at the beautiful La Clarence restaurant and La Cave du Chateau wine shop in the Hotel Dillon in Paris. Another clever way of growing the brand, which is obviously working as Le Clarence won 2 Michelin stars within a year of opening.
For the new Clarendelle label the CD logo is adorned with a crown and two lions taken the Dillon family coat of arms. Presented in the Classic Bordeaux bottle, all the wines have the same label with the colour changing with the appellation. The reds in green blue and ‘claret’ (I daren’t use the term burgundy here), the white wine in white with silver embossing and the amberwine, in a 50cl bottle, also has a white label but with gold embossing. The rosé shines through a clear label.
The only member of the family not adorned with the CD logo is the most recent. Chateau Quintus in Saint Emilion was created from the amalgamation of two classified growths, Chateau Tertre Daugay, purchased by the Domaine in 2011 and Chateau l’Arrosée purchased in 2013. Although the label is clearly signed Domaine Clarence Dillon, the Quintus logo is a dragon. Perfect for any Game of Thrones fans. A different, and perhaps unintended way of reaching a larger clientele.
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