As iconic wines go, Petrus is undoubtedly one of, if not the, most well-known in the world. Today its wines are the most expensive in Bordeaux, yet its popularity just continues to rise. So what is it that makes Petrus such an iconic wine?
When Victor Hugo said that “God made only water, but man made wine”, he didn’t mean just any wine. He meant Chateau Petrus, the sexiest, glossiest, most celebrated wine of the 20th century. A household name in more than just one household, Petrus has garnered legendary status due to its superiority and, well, yes, its expense. Hands down, it is the world’s most impressive wine, the famous red type on the label speaking volumes before the bottle is even opened. If you want to make a splash, Petrus it is.
An introduction to Chateau Pétrus
Yet it wasn’t always this way. Petrus is one of the oldest estates in Pomerol (yet one of the youngest in Medoc), with records going back to the mid-1750s. There is a certain amount of archive chatter that dates back even further – to Roman times no less – that states that the vines grew on the Right Bank plateau of “stones and rock”, aka Petrus.
A brief history of Chateau Pétrus
Chateau Petrus became “Chateau Petrus” when Jacques Meyraud bought the vineyard and set about making it one of the best in Bordeaux.
From 1770 Chateau Petrus was owned and operated for over 100 years by Antoine Arnaud, who laid the foundations for the wine’s stellar reputation it enjoys today. By 1850, despite the Revolution and, latterly, phylloxera, it was considered the third-best wine in Pomerol. However, the estate’s real time to shine was when Jean-Pierre Moueix took over the production and distribution of the wine. Under Moueix’s steerage, the potential quality that Petrus had always shown became a reality.
Moueix became the owner of the estate in 1969 and kept it as a family business until 2015, when he sold a 20% stake to wealthy Colombian businessman Alejandro Santo Domingo. Domingo reputedly paid €200 million for his share, which values the winery at €1 billion.
Learn more about Chateau Petrus’ history in our detailed Chateau Petrus wine guide.
Chateau Pétrus: Vineyard and viticulture
So, what gives Petrus its unbeatable star-studded status? One word. Subsoil. Blue clay subsoil, if you really want to be exact.
Petrus’ clay subsoils are over 40 million years old, yet the thick gravel that covers it is “only” a million years old. Layered over that is dark clay topsoil that is between 60-80 cm thick. These layers create three very definite strata, forcing the roots of the vines to grow sideways (rather than down) as they cannot penetrate the hard layer of dense, deep blue clay. However, when it rains, water remains on the top layer of subsoil, feeding the vines with moisture all year round, including the hot summer months.
This topographical oddity is unique to the little (11.5-hectare) vineyard. The result is a wine with one of the highest levels of tannins in Bordeaux (and the highest in Pomerol) yet remains one of the softest in texture. While neighbouring vineyards have a portion of the famous blue clay subsoil, Petrus is the only estate that can claim it in its entirety.
Chateau Pétrus winemaking process
Understandably, harvesting and winemaking are taken very, very seriously at Chateau Petrus.
In the vineyards, they do not harvest green, preferring to clip the bunches to reduce the yields. Furthermore, the estate was one of the first vineyards to abandon the use of chemical fertilizers, preferring instead to plant weeds to help dry out the soil during the winter months. To make sure that absolutely no nutrients are lost, the same weeds are then repurposed and ploughed into the soil.
The harvesting is treated with extreme care. The grapes are hand-picked one at a time, so the yields are tiny. Curiously, while many other vineyards pick the grapes early in the morning when the temperature is cool, at Petrus, they wait until midday when any moisture has been evaporated from the grapes before picking. The fruit is always destemmed.
The fermentation takes place in 12 temperature-controlled concrete tanks, which means each parcel of land vinifies separately. When complete, the wines from the different vineyard plots are blended and then aged for 22-28 months in primarily new French oak barrels.
Why is Chateau Pétrus so expensive?
Yes, Petrus is expensive. It’s the sixth most expensive wine in the world, generally retailing for at least €4,000 a bottle, sometimes far, far more depending on the vintage. Is the price justified? Well, maybe. Nine vintages have been rated 100/100 by Robert Parker, the American wine advocate whose influence can make or break a producer.
Annual production is low, between 15,000-30,000 bottles (remember the vineyard is only 11.8 hectares, very small by Bordeaux standards). Furthermore, the chateau keeps distribution to a minimum, with only one distributor worldwide, although negociants are still allowed to buy and sell futures. “We want to identify where Pétrus will be best to be sold, to ensure that customers can get hold of it and to drink it. We don’t want it concentrated in a few hands,” said Christophe Jacquemin Sablon, the sole distributor of the Bordeaux wine.
Why should you invest in Pétrus wine?
The beauty of Petrus is that even in bad years, it’s good. Petrus has excellent potential, and when looking at the trends compared to the rest of Bordeaux, the figures speak for themselves.
As an En Primeur option, Petrus is also incredibly interesting and perhaps a more accessible access point for investors who don’t have bottomless pockets. Although it may be one of the most expensive futures on the market (2017 data ranks it as the number one most expensive future at an eye-watering €2,585 per bottle, a huge €1,743 more than its other right bank celebrity Chateau Cheval Blanc), you quickly make your money back as soon as it is ready for sale.
Five years on, and the 2017 is selling at almost €4,00 and is set to go up and up. And spectacular vintages can command more or less the price they want at auction. Case in point: the legendary 1961 sold for over €116,187 at auction in 2011, setting the record for the most expensive Petrus ever sold.
So, if making money isn’t a good enough reason to invest in Chateau Petrus, then we don’t know what is!
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like us to source a case or bottle of Petrus for your portfolio.
How can I know for sure my bottle of Pétrus is authentic?
Buyers beware! Like most things that become victims of their success, counterfeit bottles of Chateau Petrus are high. However, there are some points that you, the buyer, can note prior to parting with your cash.
Chateau Petrus produces very few large format bottles, so proceed with caution if these are being offered. Vintages pre-1975 are hard to come by (but not inexistent), so please get these thoroughly vetted before purchase. Additionally, check the label (fakes tend to have darker ink), check for case bottle irregularities, as well as wine which is filled up to the neck. It is nigh impossible for older bottles of wine not to show any signs of ageing, and no bottle, especially older bottles, will completely lacking any real conditions of age on the labels or capsules. Always buy from a trustworthy source.
With the rise of online wine exchange platforms, the sale and resale of wine has become very easy. If you are purchasing online, make sure that the vendor platform is fully secure and offers only authentic wines. Look out for platforms that have only ex-Chateau and negotiate bottles, and avoid those that let any third parties put their wines up for sale. You want Sotheby’s here, not eBay.
Certain platforms, such as Vindome.net go even further and secure all their wines with the NFC tag and use blockchain to record all their transaction. The NFC tab serves as a track-and-trace device and guarantees the wine’s provenance. If you can find a wine exchange platform that has both of these, then bingo.
Learn more about how to avoid wine fraud by reading our article here.
The best vintages of Chateau Pétrus
The famous nine vintages that so impressed Robert Paker are the 2010, 2009, 2000, 1990, 1989, 1961, 1947, 1929 and 1921 vintages.
However, the unparalleled best vintage of Chateau Petrus to date is the “space vintage“, where some bottles of the 2000 vintage were sent 300,000,000 km interstellar for 14 months to see how this would affect its ageing. Back on earth, the price of these bottles is given with an estimate that explodes all previous wine records: 1 million dollars! Ground Control to Major Petrus, you’ve really made the grade…