History

A history of sacred charm to reveal the
quintessence of a unique terroir in
the heart of the Pessac-Léognan appellation

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The Dillon family purchased the estate in 1983 and immediately set to work on an ambitious
renovation program for the property, including a number of technical enhancements
designed to preserve and perpetuate its exceptional terroir as well as
other embellishments, while taking care not to interfere with the special aura,
charm and spirituality inhabiting the place.

1540

The Lestonnacs and the birth of La Mission Haut-Brion

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1572

Building the future

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1607

A lifetime of devotion

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1682

The priests of the Mission

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1698

Building and consecration of the Chapel

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1755

If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?

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1792

The French Revolution

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1821

The Chiapellas, from New Orleans to Bordeaux

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1862

The London International Exhibition

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1919

The Woltner family and the modern era

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1926

A pioneering spirit

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1983

The Dillon family

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1996

Modernisation and restoration

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2007

A tribute to the Lazarists brothers

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2009

The sixth Premier Cru wine

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  • 1540
    The Lestonnacs and the birth of La Mission Haut-Brion
    • Historically speaking, the two properties have been connected since 1540, when the Bordeaux merchant Arnaud de Lestonnac purchased a plot known as Arregedhuys, the starting point for La Mission Haut-Brion. That same year, he married Marie, the only sister of Jean de Pontac, the true father of Château Haut-Brion. Aware of the tremendous potential of Graves de Haut-Brion thanks to his relationship with the Pontacs, Arnaud de Lestonnac worked hard, plant by plant and plot by plot, to create an estate dedicated entirely to winegrowing.

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  • 1572
    Building the future
    • Upon his death in 1548, his fourth son Pierre took over the business. The year 1572 was an especially happy one: he became a “jurat” (type of judge) in Bordeaux, began new building work on the property – a house and a cellar – and his daughter Olive was born. She would play an even more important role in the history of the vineyard.

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  • 1607
    A lifetime of devotion
    • Olive de Lestonnac devoted her life and her fortune to various philanthropic and religious actions. Three times married and three times widowed, with no children, she focused on her charity work. She followed in the religious, charitable tradition started by her aunt, Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac, who founded the Sisters of the Company of Mary Our Lady in 1607, which still carries out charitable works all over the world today. Saint Jeanne was also the niece of the humanist philosopher Michel de Montaigne. It is particularly interesting to note how the connection between the great Montaigne and the history of Domaine Clarence Dillon spans the centuries. Clarence Dillon made a donation to the City of Bordeaux in 1951 so that it could purchase the “Livre de Raison” by the great philosopher and essayist.

    • Olive de Lestonnac died at the age of 80. Her will mentions 200,000 pounds donated to a number of religious causes – a colossal sum at the time, but a fraction of what she gave away in her lifetime. After a few twists and turns, this annuity led to the creation of La Mission Haut-Brion. In 1682, the legacy was transferred to the Lazarists of Bordeaux, also known as the Priests of the Mission. La Mission Haut-Brion came into being, under the ownership of the Catholic Church.

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  • 1682
    The priests of the Mission
    • On their arrival, the Lazarist priests began to develop the vineyard, transforming the remaining plots of coppices into vine. Throughout the 18th century, they worked hard to improve the cultivation of the vines and the quality and reputation of their wine. 

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  • 1698
    Building and consecration of the Chapel
    • They also built the Chappelle de Notre-Dame d’Aubrion in 1698, known as the Chapel of Our Lady of the Mission, which was blessed and consecrated for the brotherhood. The Mission Congregation accounts, drawn up on 13 February 1729, counted eight priests, four brothers and five servants. At that time, the estate produced 24 barrels of wine, the equivalent of 21.6 hectolitres.

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  • 1755
    If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?
    • In 1755, Marshal Louis Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu, was appointed Governor of Guyenne province. Until that time, like most French nobles, he had preferred the wines of Burgundy, as Bordeaux was considered an “English” wine, but he now began to discover the wines of Bordeaux. One day, he tasted a wine that he considered especially remarkable and asked his servant where it came from, who said: “La Mission Haut-Brion.” Using the words of his great-uncle Cardinal Richelieu, the Marshal cried: “If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?”. From that day onwards, the new Governor regularly served La Mission Haut-Brion wine at his table.

    • His successor to the post of Governor was Marshal Philippe de Noailles, Duke of Mouchy (ancestor of Philippe de Noailles, future husband of Joan Dillon and Managing Director of Domaine Clarence Dillon from 1978 to 2003), a man of sophisticated but more austere tastes. He always served La Mission Haut-Brion wine at his table, but with more moderation. Returning to the Court of Louis XVI, where he held high office, he continued to offer his favourite wine to his hosts.

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  • 1792
    The French Revolution
    • In the early 1790s, the French Revolution hit Bordeaux hard and the estate was confiscated in 1792. The untouchable authority of the Church under the Ancien Régime led to its demise. Following the Revolution, it was forced to give all its property over to the State. The Mission therefore became a target of the Revolutionary forces, and was sold at auction as a “national asset” to a Bordeaux businessman, Martial-Victor Vaillant.The main house, production buildings and the 25 hectares of vineyard, initially estimated at 100,000 pounds, were given to Martial-Victor Vaillant for 302,000 pounds. This sum clearly shows the immense work accomplished by the Lazarists at the Château La Mission Haut-Brion.

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  • 1821
    The Chiapellas, from New Orleans to Bordeaux
    • In 1821, the estate was sold to Célestin Coudrin-Chiapella, the first American owner to fall under its charm. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1774, Chiapella was the adopted son of a rich Genovese merchant. He purchased the property with the aim of retiring to Bordeaux, where he already worked as a merchant and managed several estates, including Château Cos d’Estournel.The Chiapellas – Célestin and his son Jérôme – continued to improve the property. They enclosed the vineyard and, according to a drawing found in the Lazarist archives, built the superb wrought iron gate that still stands at the entrance to the estate.

    • To symbolise the links between France and the United States, Chiapella built a model of a ship. The original can be admired in the Mission’s Chapter Room named after the room where the religious communities held meetings. A miniature version is used as a weathervane on the roof of the residence, illustrating the powerful connections between the Old and the New World.

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  • 1862
    The London International Exhibition
    • Thanks to his links with Louisiana, Célestin Chiapella developed trade between Bordeaux and New Orleans and at the same time, he continued to develop the vineyard and improve the quality of the wine. As a reward for their efforts, Château La Mission Haut-Brion won the gold medal at the International Exhibition in London in 1862. In 1884, Jérôme Chiapella sold the estate to Établissements Duval de Paris. At that time, Château La Mission Haut-Brion enjoyed a wonderful reputation in France, Great Britain and the United States.

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  • 1919
    The Woltner family and the modern era
    • In 1919, La Mission Haut-Brion entered the modern era when it was purchased by Frédéric Otto Woltner, another Bordeaux merchant. Despite the many changes in ownership over the previous 25 years, the estate was still extremely highly thought of, even though Château La Mission Haut-Brion was still using old 19th century technology, like most of the great Bordeaux vineyards.

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  • 1926
    A pioneering spirit
    • In 1926, with the help of his two sons, Frédéric Woltner brought La Mission into the modern era. He was the first to install enamelled steel vats with vitrified interior coating. This remarkable innovation for the time helped to control the temperature better during the fermentation process.From 1927 onwards, he also produced Château La Mission Haut-Brion White. Since the 2009 vintage, the estate’s white wine, which was known as Château Laville Haut-Brion for a long time, has borne the name chosen by Frédéric Woltner.At the same time, father and son significantly changed the interior and exterior of the property. They purchased wrought iron arcades made in Toledo, Spain, similar in style to the gate installed by the Chiapellas, and positioned them along the front of the château. 

    • Inside, the new decor consisted mainly of objects and statues of religious origin, in honour of the estate’s past. The Woltners collected holy water fonts of all shapes and sizes to decorate the walls of the château and the chapel. The chapel was once again blessed and consecrated and occasionally used for religious services.Frédéric Woltner launched the tradition of inscribing the most prestigious Château La Mission Haut-Brion vintages in gold lettering in the Chapel. Positioned at the base of the Notre-Dame d’Aubrion vaulted ceiling, they seem to pave the way to the gates of Paradise.Upon his death in 1933, the estate passed on to his three children. Having worked alongside his father for a long time and studied oenology, Henri was the natural heir designated to manage La Mission.

    • Henri Woltner died in October 1974, having overseen the production of 50 vintages at Château La Mission Haut–Brion. Francis Dewavrin, the husband of one of his nieces, then managed the business successfully for several years.

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  • 1983
    The Dillon family
    • When Château La Mission Haut-Brion was put up for sale, Domaine Clarence Dillon was one of the primary candidates to take it over. Their offer was accepted in 1983, with the sale taking place on 2 November. This acquisition was the culmination of a relationship fostered over 40 years between Seymour Weller, manager of Domaine Clarence Dillon, and the Woltner family.Inspired by the ecclesiastical ethics and devotion of the Lazarists, the Dillon family immediately began to improve the whole estate and take La Mission into a new Renaissance. Like the Good Fathers, the Dillons started with the vineyard. A new, ultra-modern vat house was installed, opened to mark the 1987 vintage, followed by significant renovations to the château, chapel and cellars.

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  • 1996
    Modernisation and restoration
    • In 1996, a new bottling chain was introduced and a new tasting room was built, christened the Chapter Room, in honour of the Lazarists. In addition to the new buildings, refurbishment and the modernisation of production, the roads and paths on the estate were enlarged, and some were even paved. Although the French-style gardens were kept, they were simplified to make them more appealing, while the famous iron arcades imported from Spain and the 19th century gate were meticulously restored. This gate is of such historical interest that it is now listed in the Inventaire Supplémentaire des Monuments Historiques. In 2000, all the rooms in the château were completely redecorated by the Duchess of Mouchy.

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  • 2007
    A tribute to the Lazarists brothers
    • In 2007, new cellars were built as well as a bottling centre and an improved storage area, plus a tasting room sculpted by the best Italian woodworkers, which now features original engravings by Albrecht Dürer. However, the jewel in the crown of this major renovation project is a vibrant new tribute to the Lazarist brothers. Returning to the Frontenac quarries – which in the 18th century supplied the stone for the most beautiful monuments in Bordeaux – the estate chose this material to build the Grand Chai, described as a “modern cathedral to wine”. Finally, a cloister was built to welcome visitors before they enter the Grand Chai.The new tasting room, the Grand Chai, the cloister and the new gardens, inaugurated in 2009, were the brainchild of Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who drew the initial sketches, inspired by the charm of this magical place.

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  • 2009
    The sixth Premier Cru wine
    • On 10 March 2009, Liv-Ex, the leading global marketplace for fine wines, reviewed the 1855 classification to create a new classification for Bordeaux wines in the context of the modern economy. The most notable difference was the inclusion of Château La Mission Haut-Brion as a Premier Cru wine! In May 2008, 26 journalists gathered in the London restaurant The Square to taste 51 Château La Mission Haut-Brion vintages. Prince Robert of Luxembourg invited the greatest critics in the world to take part in a rare chronological tasting from 1953 to 2005, to celebrate 25 years of the Dillon family’s ownership of the estate. Robert Parker wrote in Vintage Profile: “In my personal collection, I have more bottles of La Mission Haut-Brion than any other wine in the world. La Mission has been one of the best wines for a long time, and one of the most constant in terms of quality.”

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