“Let me not die while I am still alive. ”
Dassault by the Bottle
When I asked Stephan Gabart, my host at Château St. Jacques Calon, a vineyard-turned-B&B just outside Saint-Émilion, France, for help finding the Château Dassault winery, he had to confess he'd never heard of the place. "Let me check," he said, leaving me by the pool and returning after a few minutes with a hand-drawn map. "What do you know," he said, "it's only two miles from here."
Owned and operated by the Dassault Group, the maker of Dassault Falcon business jets, Château Dassault is one of hundreds of small winegrowers clustered around Saint-Émilion, an idyllic ancient town nestled on a plateau of gently undulating hills in southwest France. The region's abundance of limestone, hard clay and sandy soils are ideal for growing the merlot and cabernet franc grapes that have made this appellation famous.
Dassault Falcon's main factory is nearby, at the Bordeaux-Merignac Airport, and the company often hosts vineyard tours for visiting customers. Laurence Brun, the chateau's manager since 1995, said Dassault also serves its grand cru classé wines on customer demonstration flights, as well as at airshows and sponsored events.
Brun succeeded her father, Andre Vergriette, as Château Dassault's manager in 1995. In the time since, she has undertaken a complete overhaul of the winemaking operation, including replanting entire plots across the 60-acre property while carefully preserving older vines, which yield better wine.
Marcel Dassault, the family patriarch, bought the vineyard on a whim in 1955 and installed Vergriette- one of his aircraft factory workers who knew nothing about winemaking or grape growing-as manager. Today, Marcel's grandson, Laurent Dassault, is the director of Château Dassault and clearly the most devoted of the family to this decidedly non-core venture. He has expanded the business into Argentina, Chile and, most recently, in 2002, in Saint-Émilion with the purchase of the nearby Château La Fleur vineyards.
And just because my B&B proprietor wasn't familiar with the name, don't think for a minute that the wines produced by Château Dassault-around 70,000 bottles a year-are the Bordeaux equivalent of jet-A in a glass. Fermented in state-of-the-art concrete-lined vats and aged in the French oak for up to 18 months, these grand cru offerings are regarded by raters as some of the finest in the region.