Decanter Wine Legends
Château Pétrus 1945 Pomerol, Bordeaux
A legend because…
This was one of the great vintages of the 20th century, surpassing, in the view of many experts, the equally celebrated 1961. There is an additional poignancy linked to the 1945 vintage, since it had to be produced so soon after the end of the Second World War, and many conscripted vineyard and winery workers would have died in battle. Nor would it have been possible to purchase new barrels and other equipment so soon after the cessation of hostilities. Nonetheless, all the first growths made superlative wines, and Pétrus, from the Right Bank, was their equal.
From the mid-1920s, Mme Edmond Loubat had been buying up parcels of Pétrus, an estate in existence since the 1830s, and by 1945 she was the sole owner. She knew perfectly well the quality of the terroir and of the wines, and demanded high prices.
The Moueix family of Libourne has long been associated with the property, though it was only in 1943 that Jean-Pierre Moueix was appointed a non-exclusive distributor for its wines. By 1947 he was the sole purchaser, a position his son Jean-Francois has inherited.
Although regarded as the finest wine of Pomerol, prices for Pétrus in 1945 were less than half those demanded for the first growths of the Médoc. But by the mid-1950s they were neck and neck, an acknowledgment of the estate’s reputation and consistency.
A severe frost on 2 May did extensive damage and reduced the crop to very low levels. However, the summer that followed was superb, with hot, dry weather that allowed the harvest to take place early and in ideal conditions. The grapes were exceptionally ripe, and some batches apparently reached an alcohol level of 15%, but would have been blended with less overwhelming lots. However, overall quantities were considerably reduced, and this was the smallest vintage since 1915. While the vintage was widely hailed as great in the Médoc, it was also of the highest quality in distant Pomerol.
Pomerol has varied terroir of fluctuating quality, but all agree that the finest soils lie on the plateau that roughly surrounds the church. Château Pétrus certainly lies within this magic circle, but its soil is atypical: it is composed of a ‘buttonhole’ of rich, blueish clay that lies over a gravel subsoil which, in turn, rests on iron-rich clinker. This soil, being mostly clay, retains moisture, which helps to minimise stress in hot, dry years, but the gentle slope of the plateau also ensures the vines are well drained. Just a single hectare out of its 12 hectares of vines (there were only 6.5ha in 1945) is planted on gravelly soil. The dense clay soils give wines of power rather than finesse, though in great years Pétrus manages to combine the two.
For many years Pétrus has been fermented in concrete vats, but these were installed long after this vintage. The 1945 was destemmed – which is not always the case here – and then fermented in large wooden vats. Ageing of the 1945 vintage took place for 22 months in older barrels – no new oak being available at the time.
Michael Broadbent found the wine disappointing in the 1970s but then changed his mind in the 1980s: ‘Hugely impressive, with a lively depth of colour, a bouquet that opens up gloriously… and, for a big wine, elegant.’ Also in the 1980s, David Peppercorn found the wine ‘still deep in colour, rich and powerful but with some volatility, and less complex than the marvellous 1947’. At a Paris tasting of 23 vintages in 1987, the 1945 came in 17th, although Edmund Penning-Rowsell rated it more highly.
n 1994, Robert Parker described it as a ‘backward, tannic colossus’ that was continuing to evolve. In 2002, a group of Barclays bankers made the headlines for spending £44,000 on wine at London’s Pétrus restaurant, including £11,600 on a bottle of the 1945 vintage; it is not known how they rated it.
- Bottles produced 16,500
- Composition 100% Merlot
- Yield 30 hl/ha
- Alcohol N/A
- Release price N/A
- Price today £8,592 a bottle