A variety of grapes have risen and fallen in the Bordeaux region, from as far back as 379 CE.
However, Bordeaux wines began their rise in world fame and popularity when Dutch merchants drained the swampy marshland of the Médoc.
Roman Poet, Ausonius, mentions grape growing in Bordeaux
It’s likely that grapes were planted in this region during Roman occupation as early as 43 BCE.
Though it’s not known exactly what grape varieties were grown at this time, recent research has shown that Romans were planting grape varieties such as Savagnin Blanc (a rare white wine) and Pinot Noir in South-West France around the same time.
Bordeaux falls under British Rule when Henry Plantagenet marries Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine.
This union created favorable trading conditions for Bordeaux wine merchants. This meant the wine from Bordeaux was much cheaper than wine from other regions - this increased Bordeaux consumption in England and strong and lasting ties were established between the two.
During the Hundred Years’ War, Aquitaine returned to French Rule
This meant less trade with England and allowed the Dutch, many of whom were merchants in Bordeaux, to become more prevalent.
Dutch drain the Médoc
With their knowledge from their low lying homeland, Dutch merchants drained the Left Bank, most of which is now vineyards. At the time Malbec was the most planted grape variety.
Cabernet Sauvignon is introduced to Bordeaux
Research in the 1990s shows that it’s believed to be a spontaneous cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, exactly where and when it happened is unknown.
Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, visits Bordeaux
A wine lover and collector, Thomas Jefferson visited many Châteaux, including Lafite and Haut-Brion on his visit throughout Europe.
Classification of Left Bank
Napoleon III sets the Grand Cru Classé Classification of Left Bank Châteaux for the World's Fair.
The classification consists of 60 Châteaux for Red wine in the Médoc and one in Graves (Haut-Brion) along with 27 Châteaux in Sauternes and Barsac for sweet wines. This is still used today and has barely changed since.
Phylloxera devastates Bordeaux vineyards.
As seen throughout other parts of the world, the phylloxera louse destroyed most of the vineyards in Bordeaux, forcing people to replant using Vitis vinifera vines onto American vine rootstock.
Many Châteaux are occupied by the German Army during WWII
With fewer people to tend to the vines as people were requisitioned away from the vineyards, the amount of wine produced was minimal for many Châteaux.
Classification of Graves
16 Crus Classés, of both red and white wine, established in Graves (and part of what is now Pessac-Léognan).
Classification of Saint-Émilion
One of the few classifications that is revised, the most recent revision in 2012 consists of 82 different Châteaux in Saint-Émilion.
Catastrophic February frosts devastate Bordeaux Vineyards
Many vines died in a particularly cold frost spell, which caused grapegrowers to have to replant. This caused a downswing in Malbec, which had been fairly popular, and an uptick in the varieties we see planted today.
Robert Parker Jr. Reviews 1982 Vintage
This increases awareness of Bordeaux in the USA, helping increase financial success for many Bordeaux Châteaux.
France’s ministry of agriculture approves 6 new grape varieties
Four red grape varieties Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan and Touriga Nacional and two white grape varieties, Alvarinho and Liliorila, are approved for planting in Bordeaux. These varieties are well adapted to warmer climates and lower levels of rainfall - part of Bordeaux’s future plans to help combat climate change.
Increasingly organic practice in Bordeaux
Today, almost 20% of the vineyard surface is organic.
♦ Vintage: The Story of Wine., H. Johnson. Simon & Schuster 1989