Located at the entrance to the village of Margaux, northwest of the city of Bordeaux, Château Rauzan-Ségla, occupies 62 hectares (153 acres) of vineyards. Its terroir, or the geology of its land, is composed of fine, deep gravel deposited thousands of years ago.

The Château’s aristocratic and genteel history dates back to its founding in 1661 by Pierre Desmezures de Rauzan. Generations of the Rauzan family, over the years, succeeded in running the estate. Rauzan- Ségla wines grew in reputation in a remarkable way and were some of the most highly rated in Bordeaux with the 1855 classification ranking Château Rauzan-Ségla as a second growth.

In 1903, Frédéric Cruse, took over the management of the estate and built the present Château to replace the old Chartreuse-style building, which had stood on the ruins of the original Great House. The new house was built in 1904 by the famous architect Louis Garros and the park designed by the landscape gardener, G. Le Breton.

In 1983, the then owners decided to vinify Rauzan-Ségla wines with the help of Mr. Emile Peynaud (forefather of modern oenology). They hired him as a consulting oenologist. In 1986, a modern winery – 20 new stainless steel vats – and a new maturation cellar were built. Château Rauzan- Ségla benefited from these huge investments for a few years before some financial problems hit its mother company again. CHANEL purchased Château Rauzan-Ségla in April 1994 and chose the Scotland- born John Kolasa as the manager of the estate. He immediately started a full renovation program, returning the Château and grounds to their original splendor.

John Kolasa

Then, in 1996, CHANEL acquired Château Canon, a large and imposing historic estate close to the village of Saint-Émilion, located east of Bordeaux.

The eponymously named Jacques Kanon, frigate lieutenant and corsair, acquired the estate in 1760, using the substantial profits gleaned from the missions he carried out on behalf of French King Louis 15th at the expense of English shipping. He immediately set out to build an elegant house there around which grew vines – and only vines – on every plot of land, which was extremely rare agricultural practice at that time. This revolution and, even more so, that of rich Bordeaux merchant Raymond Fontémoing, revealed the full potential of its terroir. Everyone agreed that at Château Canon, as the latter had renamed it, they produced subtle, distinctive wines. Later, in 1919, it came into the hands of the Fournier family, who achieved a great reputation for their wines. Then, in 1996, CHANEL, who undertook a program of renovation of both the vineyard and the buildings, acquired the estate. Technology, respect for the environment and efficiency are the guiding principles of this renovation work. The man chosen for this formidable job was once again John Kolasa.

Château Rauzan-Ségla

JO LEE: And now, it is a privilege to embark upon the telling of the story of a rare elegance. It could be described as a phenomenon.

John, what an honor to be interviewing you for our 10th Anniversary Issue! It’s amazing how the enjoyment of fine wine should mirror the days of my childhood, having grown up within the essence of great wines at every meal, to my father’s words: “to dine without wine – is like a day without sunshine”.

JOHN KOLASA: Jo Lee, it is a great honor to be in your 10th Anniversary Issue. An anniversary is always the climax of a lot of good work and very happy times because it’s a celebration of the result of a lot of hard work. For us, we’ve just lived a celebration of the picking of the 2010 vintage after a full year’s work in the cold, raw wind and rain, living through the birth of the vintage. A new child is born with the vintage.

Running off in the vat room

JL: Born in Scotland and educated in England as a French teacher, what was it, John, that made you say: “I want to become a winemaker”?

JK: Jo Lee, I arrived in Bordeaux in 1971 after teaching French and graphic design in London. Having always been very much in love with France, I decided the Bordeaux area would be the ideal place to live. Not allowed to teach in France without more years of studies, I looked elsewhere and was very lucky to meet an Englishman called William Bolter and an American named Steven Schneider who had a wine company.


JL: Imagine – leaping from educator to educatee to scholar. Learning the art of wine making and management must have entailed quite the agenda.

JK: I learned on the job and at school and spent the first months working in the cellars on the quays in Bordeaux, studying oenology one day a week for a year. I remained with the company until 1975 and then went to look after the properties belonging to the Janoueix family in Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. Again, I remained 10 years with the family then worked for two years for the Union de Producteurs de Saint- Émilion. In 1987 I was asked to take Jean-Paul Gardere’s position as commercial manager of Château Latour and I remained at Latour until July 1994.

When CHANEL acquired Château Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux, I was asked to look after the entire running of the Château and rebuild the reputation of what was known in the 19th century as the best of the second growths!

Dining-room of Château Rauzan-Ségla

JL: Was it intense, John? Both renovations were a tremendous undertaking!

JK: Yes indeed, Jo Lee. Both consisted of painstaking soil preparation, pruning to control each individual vine, green harvesting in summer to regulate the yields, berry selection on vibrating sorting tables, cellars and vat room renovations: And much more.

The Rauzan-Ségla vineyard was drained – a 15-kilometer network is now in place, two parcels of petit verdot were planted and three hectares of vines were grafted over with merlot. Today, 62 hectares are in production for an average total production of 240,000 bottles – Château Rauzan-Ségla and its second wine Ségla.

The winery has been adapted and large vats progressively replaced by smaller capacities – matching the parcels’ sizes. From the 2004 picking on, grapes are sorted on two 10-meter long vibrating tables, so that each single berry is checked before entering the vats. Maturation cellars have been completely renovated and a new room built for the bottling-labelling machines – making Château Rauzan-Ségla fully independent for the entire production process. And thanks to a renovation carefully carried out according to the original plans of 1904, the Château itself looks again as it used to one century ago.

After an existence of three and a half centuries, Château Rauzan-Ségla has now gained all the required assets to remain true to its reputation. It is now considered to be at the top of the list of the second growths. The château’s tranquility and pursuit of excellence attract more and more lovers of great wines every day. Margaux’s unique terroir offers rich, concentrated grapes that give Rauzan-Ségla that generous bouquet with its clever elegance.

And so too with Château Canon: Although CHANEL secured Château Canon for an amazingly low price, major investment was required to bring the estate back to its former glory. They were faced with subsidence within the quarries beneath the property; the vines also had to be re-planted, so we re- planted more than half the vineyard! Still, regarding the vines, the Château used to grow some cabernet sauvignon, but I felt this grape variety was not suited to the terroir of Canon, which is a combination of limestone containing fossilized starfish covered by a thin layer of clay. The cabernet sauvignon does not feed well on soil with a cool temperature. So we re-planted some merlot: It gives powerful, fruity flavors, intense color, and an impressive potential for longevity. Finally, in the vat room, we bought a new harvest reception system, which has enabled us to take even greater care of the selection and handling of the grape bunches.

All these investments were aimed at revealing the elegance of Château Canon’s terroir. At the same time, extensive work continued to restore the château itself to its original grandeur.

Today, the visitor would scarcely believe that this gorgeous property was in such a bad state 15 years ago. The winery is polished, the château completely revamped. So too are the wines, which offer sumptuous black fruits, rich concentrated flavors and great power. Château Canon, once written off by wine “experts”, is considered one of the finest wines in Saint-Émilion today. We offer a unique experience at Canon with walks through private vineyards starting in medieval Saint-Émilion and ending with a VIP tour and tasting at the estate. Canon has finally regained its old reputation.

Bottles of Château Canon and Clos Canon, vintage 2005

JL: Is there a particular time of year when connoisseurs prefer to experience special tours and tastings?

JK: This comes back to what I’ve been saying, Jo Lee. A lot of châteaux in Bordeaux unfortunately close for visits during picking, but in fact, it is the most exciting time for any visitors who can taste the different grape varieties that we grow. And eventually taste the juice – the birth of the new vintage. Everything comes alive.

JL: Can you take us on a quick tour of the stages grapes would go through from vine to wine? Might this be called vinification in winemaker parlance?

JK: Well first there is harvest, then vinification.

After a painstaking selection in the vines, the best bunches are taken in small-sized crates to the vat cellar entrance. These are then carefully tipped first onto a sorting table, where a team of six to eight people controls the quality. After a gentle de-stemming, 10 more people check the berries meticulously on a second table in order to select only the best ones. As the grape bunch of cabernet sauvignon is very compact, we have to make sure that all the berries, especially those confined within the bunch, are perfectly ripe.

It is then, Jo Lee, that vinification starts.

The crop is delivered to the stainless steel tanks by gravity flow. We thereby avoid any aggressive handling of the crop through pumps and pipes. This tricky process also prevents premature oxidation of the juice. This is followed by the fermentation and maceration stages. From there it is on to aging for 18 to 20 months in French oak barrels, racking every three months (six times per vintage), fining with fresh egg whites (no filtration), and finally, bottling.

JL: Astonishing! And might you describe your special bottling procedure?

JK: Yes, we have our own bottling line and the process takes place in a temperature-controlled and extremely clean environment. In fact, every morning we begin the operation. We rinse the bottles inside and out before being used. Wine is poured in and the corks fall by gravity into the bottles after having gone through a special vacuum that removes any particles.

Gate entrance to the Château Canon built by Jacques Kanon

JL: In an average year, how many bottles of wine would the vineyards produce and is your wine shipped throughout the world?

JK: Approximately 10,000 cases of Château Rauzan-Ségla and 10,000 cases of the second wine Ségla. Regarding Canon, Jo Lee, the vineyard produces 4,000 cases of Château Canon and 2,600 cases of the second label Clos Canon. We’ve counted approximately 45 countries that we ship to through Bordeaux wine merchants (négociants).

JL: John, your estate is located in close proximity to some pretty special châteaux such as Château Palmer and Cantenac-Brown. How would you differentiate your wines in terms of character and longevity?

JK: The difference comes from the fact that we all have our own soil structures and through that, you have different proportions of grape varieties. Rauzan-Ségla will always be different from Palmer because we have a higher percentage of cabernet sauvignon. Of course, our philosophy is to make wine that will give pleasure for as long as possible. We always try to put into the blend of our wines the very best so that we’re sure the very best will age as long as possible.

JL: How would you explain “uniqueness” to those yet to experience your wines?

JK: Uniqueness is the most difficult exercise. If you come to Rauzan- Ségla and taste the wine, you will see that Rauzan-Ségla, decidedly, has its own uniqueness because it has its own identity, which comes from the terroir – an identity which you find in every vintage.

JL: Do you think the proper stemware, John, enhances the properties of the wine?

JK: Definitely! If you have a glass with a stem it means it’s uplifted from the table and lightens with the light all the way around it and underneath against the white table cloth.

JL: John, I’m most interested in grape varietals. How many different kinds of grapes are mixed for the wines of say – Château Rauzan-Ségla?

JK: Jo Lee, we have four grape varieties spread over 6,600 to 10,000 plants per hectare. In future, as we re-plant, we plan a density of 10,000 plants on each hectare. We grow predominantly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a sprinkling of petit verdot and cabernet franc.

JL: And, what about Château Canon?

JK: Château Canon’s density of plantation reaches 5,500 to 6,500 plants per hectare and its blend is composed of 75 percent merlot and 25 percent cabernet franc.

JL: Without giving away any Château secrets, what is Mother Nature’s role in the making of your fine wines?

JK: Mother Nature gives us the great earth that we call terroir. Three key factors compose the terroir – the soil, the climate, the work of man. In France by law we cannot irrigate. The vine has to manage in this context, and we just check its growth. At Château Canon for instance, the subtle combination of “starfish” limestone covered by a thin layer of clay gives freshness and finesse to the wines. But there’s more. Last year is a case in point: After the magnificent summer of 2009, the grapes were harvested under ideal conditions from the 23rd of September until the 5th of October. During the summer, warm days where followed by cool nights, which favored a natural concentration of the berries. The perfectly healthy state of the grapes made the selection work easy for our team of pickers.

May I add that 2009 also marks a key stage in the renovation and re-birth of the estate. The reconstruction work in the vineyard, which began after 1996, when the Wertheimer family (CHANEL owners) purchased the property, continues to bear fruit: The plots of merlot which were re-planted in 1998 are already very promising and have been included in the composition of the “Grand Vin” (premium wine) this year!

Stainless steel vat of Château Canon

JL: Among your extraordinary wine-growing years, which would you say produced some of your best vintages and what do you feel were the contributing factors?

JK: Definitely the most contributing factor in any great vintage is the weather, Jo Lee – receiving the different components from nature. However, we need to grow perfect grapes. My motto is: Only with perfect grapes do you make perfect wine.

JL: How did the responsibility of taking on both of CHANEL’s vineyards affect you?

JK: As you mentioned above, in November 1996, CHANEL Inc. bought a second estate on the right bank of Bordeaux: Château Canon, first growth in Saint-Émilion. Of course, a new challenge began for me as manager of the estate. A renovation program was undertaken to reveal the finesse and the elegance of its terroir and to get back to the great wines of Château Canon.

It has all been a wonderful opportunity for me. I think it is the most exciting thing that could happen to someone who has learned the business by spending 22 years working very hard and ending up completely in love with fine wines.

JL: John, can you describe some of the bottles in your cellars and what might some of the oldest vintages be?

JK: There are fabulous bottles full of history, Jo Lee. They carry us back in time! And when we pick up bottles of Rauzan-Ségla in such great vintages as 1870, which is like a communion, you don’t necessarily need any food to go along with them. It’s so amazing. And then, Jo Lee, I’ve tasted 1928 and 1929, which were magnificent! Also, 1937, 1945, 1947, 1949, 1955, 1959, 1961, etc. It is a very special experience.

JL: What is the highest satisfaction a vineyard seeks in its journey toward excellence?

JK: The highest satisfaction is to see the balance you can find from a particular plot of land that consistently will give you the best grapes for both Canon’s and Rauzan- Ségla’s blends.

JL: And some of the most striking historical differences between Château Rauzan-Ségla today and their wines of the past would be? Also, what direction do you see the wines of the Médoc going forward stylistically?

JK: Jo lee, we were classified. We’re going to celebrate our 350th Anniversary next year. When you’re classified, the great challenge is to bring back the quality of the original heritage. We’ve come back to what the great Rauzan-Ségla should be. I hope people find a huge difference today compared with what was coming out 20 to 30 years ago.

JL: Imagine – 350 years of seductive elegance! May I ask, what will you be drinking on Christmas Eve?

JK: What is absolutely delicious at the moment is the 1996 Rauzan-Ségla, which was a fabulous year for cabernet sauvignon. Just like 2010 will be, Jo Lee.

JL: What an honor! To you, slainte mhorà, à votre santé, in buon salute. Merry Christmas to the distinctive John Kolasa.

JK: Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year, Jo Lee, and may 2011 bring us another beautiful baby.

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