AT THE BAR fronsac
since 2002, Rullier-Loussert is involved in all stages of wine production. “It’s difficult to speak
about your wine unless you are completely involved,” she says.
A royal history
Given the expertise and dedication of the vintners, the terroir and classic merlot, why is
Fronsac in the shadows of other Right Bank appellations? Louis Polcari, general manager at
Masciarelli Wine Company, a Weymouth, Massachusetts, importer/distributor, says that similar to
the international view of California cabernet sauvignon as linked to Napa, the merlot of Bordeaux
is perceived as Pomerol and Saint-Émilion.
But in previous centuries, Fronsac was viewed more positively than its neighbors. The Romans
planted grapes at this strategic junction of the Dordogne and Isle rivers. Charlemagne was so
impressed by the high plateau of Fronsac that he built a fortress to fend off river pirates. Later, the
British reigned for 300 hundred years, and Henry IV elevated Fronsac to a duchy.
Cardinal Richelieu, also Duke of Fronsac, purchased land in Fronsac in 1623 and built an Italian
villa famous for its parties. Louis XV may have influenced Maria Josepha of Saxony, dauphine, and
mother of Louis XVI, to visit the grand Château de la Dauphine, one of the largest Fronsac estates.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Fronsac was better known than Pomerol and sold for higher
prices than Saint-Émilion. But the phylloxera scourge of the late 19th century ravaged Fronsac. As
vines were replanted, the trade advantage of Pomerol, closer to Libourne, the commercial center where
the two rivers converged, and the growing fame of Saint-Émilion depressed prices for a century.
Fronsac blooms again
Since the 1980s, Fronsac has gradually regained recognition. In 2010, wineries at En Primeur,
the annual wine Bordeaux presale in April, raised their prices, giving appellations such as Fronsac
an edge in the marketplace. Another factor in Fronsac’s favor is climate. While châteaux at lower
elevations in Bordeaux were severely hit by frost in spring 2017, the impact on higher Fronsac was
less severe, also mitigated by the warming impact of the river valleys and wind.
Jean-Luc Thunevin of Château Valandraud in Saint-Émilion oversees winemaking at Château
La Vieille Cure. “Fronsac and Canon Fronsac have often been compared to a ‘sleeping beauty,’
because these appellations received three gifts: excellent terroir, climate, and men and women who
are devoted to do their best,” he says. “But Fronsac is still deep in sleep and waiting for Prince
Charming to find her and wake her up."
Vintners from a dozen of the larger Fronsac wineries joined forces in the late 1980s to
awaken interest through Expression de Fronsac, a marketing group. A new generation of vintners/
winemakers are ramping-up activity to highlight the quality of diverse “expressions of Fronsac.”
In Saillans, Rullier-Loussert continues to participate, as did her father, founding member
Michael Rullier. Thomas Hervé now represents his family at Château Moulin Haut-Laroque,
which was renewed in 1977 by his father Jean-Noël Hervé. Thomas Hervé is the 17th generation in
the lieu dit (named vineyard area) of Moulin Haut-Laroque since 1607. Caroline Noël-Barroux has
assumed leadership from her mother Nicole Noël at Château Barrabaque in the village of Fronsac.
“We aim to show the top wines of Fronsac,” says Thierry Gaudrie, seventh-generation
winemaker at Château Villars in Saillans. “Unlike other Bordeaux associations, we work together.
Our tastings during En Primeur week are very successful.”
Dan Snook, an influencer in the French wine market, is managing director of Joanne Bordeaux-USA, the U.S. subsidiary of Maison Joanne, the leading negociant/importer of classified growth
Bordeaux wines. Maison Joanne also represents several Fronsac producers. “There is a lag between
Beyond attention to quality, Fronsac
châteaux are taking several approaches
to spread the word on their wines.
Vintners and representatives from
wineries such as Château de la
Dauphine, Château Moulin Haut-Laroque and Château Gaby are traveling
the world to meet with sommeliers,
importers, distributors and media to
share their stories.
Wine tourism to the area is on the
rise, too. La Maison de Fronsac in the
namesake village offers tastings of
rotating wines from the region and a
central marketplace for wine purchases.
La Maison recently launched a
summertime L’Apero Fronsac, or apéritif
time, in the tasting room, with food
trucks and music in the parking lot.
Château Dalem plans a state-of-the-art winery with a new tasting room
built on top of the underground cellar,
while Château de la Dauphine has
an extensive visitors program, from a
simple tasting in the shop to touring the
cellar and interior of the château.
OPPOSITE, LEFT TO RIGHT:
1) Château de la Dauphine. 2) A picnic
lunch at Château La Vieille Cure. A
merlot vineyard is in the background.
3) Château Dalem’s barrel-aging room.