It was not by chance that Bernard O’Phelan (1770-1841), a young Irish
wine merchant, left his native town of Tipperary at the end of the 18th
century to set himself up in Bordeaux. The town at this time was an
important trading hub with the British Isles. Close relations were built
up between the families that bought and sold the wines of the region
from one another. These links were such that they led to alliances and
even marriages, in particular that of Bernard Phélan with one of the
daughters of Daniel Guestier, a well-known merchant in the Bordeaux wine
market. Helped by the experience of his father-in-law, he could now
envisage producing his own wines.
In 1805, he acquired Clos de Garramey, situated in Saint-Estèphe, then in 1810 Ségur de Cabanac estate.
On the death of Bernard in 1841, this vast estate, whose combined
name was Château Ségur de Garramey, was passed on to his son Frank
(1820-1883). The latter, a médocain at heart even though a true
Irishman, was to consecrate his life to improving still further the fame
and quality of the property’s wines. Moreover, he became mayor of
Saint-Estèphe and remained in that post for thirty years. He advanced
within the Irish community in Bordeaux, which included among others the
Johnston, Barton, Clarke and Lynch families.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Château Ségur de Garramey
took on its modern name of Château Phélan Ségur. A name synonymous with
classic and noble values that subtly combines a sense of innovation
« Initiated at a very young age by my grandfather, a
great connoisseur and collector of Bordeaux wines, I perpetuate this
family tradition. I had a real crush on Château Phélan Ségur, a
magnificent estate overlooking the Gironde. »
Philippe Van de Vyvere
An exceptional soil that is looking the river
Made up of four large sections, the parcels adjoin the vineyards of
Châteaux Montrose and Calon Ségur, among others. The planting density is
high. The mix of grape varieties is original: the talented duo of the
Médoc (58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 39% Merlot) are complemented by a
touch of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (1.5% of each). Cabernet
Sauvignon, the king of Médoc grape varieties, brings incomparable power
and structure: it is the backbone of the Grand Vin.
Merlot expresses an attractive roundness and unrivalled suppleness.
To preserve diversity and bring a hint of spice, Petit Verdot made its
entry to the property in 2015. It excels on heavier soils where clay
dominates. It is a vigneron’s variety, impetuous and requiring perfect
control. Cabernet Franc, which has always had its place at the Château,
is a precious asset in the blend, with its finesse and floral notes.
The Médoc, characterised by the mild temperate maritime climate, offers
ideal conditions of a seasonal cycle that is sufficiently marked to
accompany the annual growth of the vine and mild enough to attenuate
climatic excesses. The vines at Château Phélan Ségur are close to the
estuary: this situation protects them from hard winters and summers that
are sometimes very hot.
The complexity of the terroir of
Saint-Estèphe, of which Château Phélan Ségur is a perfect illustration.
It is made up of a thick layer of gravel deposited by the river, a few
hundred thousand years ago. The pebbles and above all the gravels coated
with clay sands (clay gravels) shape the rolling landscape of a large
part of Saint-Estèphe.
Work in the vines
Luc Peyronnet, vineyard manager, interprets this distinguished
terroir with the greatest integrity: over the years, he has implemented
integrated viticulture which takes into account the environment and
He studies the sub-soils, adapts the grape
varieties and root stocks in consequence, and plays on the different
exposures. This is a craftsman who loves his work, and looks over the
blossoming of the young wines and the good health of oldest, which are
Respect for the soil is a daily preoccupation. The
vineyards are ploughed, almost removing the need for herbicides. Others
are grassed, on the other hand, which allows for less leaching and
better control of vigour. The manuring of the soil is usually organic.
The biodiversity is preserved.
Preventive measures have been
developed to reduce the use of phytosanitary products: the pruning
method has allowed overcrowding of bunches to be avoided, upkeep of the
trellis has allowed for optimisation of the canopy, leaf removal has
Deep empirical knowledge of each parcel allows
recourse with total peace of mind to progress in agronomy and
high-technology resources. The meteorological data, the development of
modelling of diseases and pests, and the monitoring of the vigour of
each parcel have resulted in a marked reduction in inputs. From the
1990s, biotechnical control respectful of the environment has been
applied (sexual confusion), excluding the use of pesticides and
favouring protection of the fauna. The population of natural predators
is preserved from the pests of the vine. In parallel, water consumption
is managed rigorously and effluent is reprocessed.
The grapes are harvested manually with the utmost care and optimum
ripeness when nature allows. Transport to the manual and vibrating
sorting tables is done in small crates. The final selection is made by
optical sorting used since 2011.
Today, thanks to a cutting-edge system developed by a Swiss company,
the vineyard manager at Château Phélan Ségur can finely measure and
interpret the vigour in the vineyard throughout the year. This
technology, called Greenseeker, is fitted to the straddle tractors.
Linked to a GPS, it calculates the Normalised Difference Vegetation
Index (NDVI). It gives a measurement of the physiological activity of
the plants. The mapping thus obtained illustrates the evolution of the
vineyard in real time and is a precious tool for decision-making: it
allows a reliable estimate of the nutritional needs of the plants and
control of their vigour throughout the year and measurement, for
example, of their nitrogen status.
Key information for achieving more precise fertilisation and
treatments, but also for carrying out corrective actions throughout the
year, at the time of pruning or leaf removal.
At the crucial time of the harvest, and for the first time in October
2012, the determination of micro parcels that were homogeneous in terms
of vigour led to new choices for vatting the grapes (corresponding, of
course, to ripeness requirements).
It is also a long-term project, destined to be repeated year after
year, to cross-reference with data from soil analysis, so as to
constantly improve understanding of the vineyard.
This also accompanies environmental considerations associated with
the principles of integrated viticulture, which seeks to minimise the
use of inputs. Château Phélan Ségur is already ahead in the Ecophyto
2018 objective to reduce them by 50%, notably thanks to the use of the
biotechnical method of sexual confusion which, applied to all the
parcels, has already rendered the use of pesticides obsolete.
In the cellars of Château Phélan-Ségur
One of the first Médoc-style VAT room
At the centre of a park whose meadows stretch languorously down to the
small port of Saint-Estèphe, the Palladian-style Château dominates the
summit of a hillock that faces the estuary. The model of committed
owners, the Phélan family didn’t hesitate to break with the
architectural practices of the time, to build a château centred on wine.
Rather than designing it as a prestigious mansion, isolated from the
production activity, they preferred to incorporate the vat room and
cellar at the heart of the château, in an undeniably superb ensemble.
They were among the first to design their vat room in the “Médoc style”.
An excellent know-how
Fermentation takes place over a dozen days, punctuated by regular
pumping over, rack-and-return and punching down, specific to each batch,
thus favouring the extraction of phenolic compounds in the wine. Then
comes the critical phase of maceration over about twenty days, where the
objective is to continue the extraction. The wine is tasted daily to
decide the optimum date for running off. The 39 tanks allow for this
precision vinification and are the basis for the future selections for
blending. Steady development started in 2010 has allowed the addition of
8 tanks of 45 hl to the vat room, further improving the interpretation
of the work within parcels that takes place in the vineyard.
After pressing and the separation of the free-run and press wines, they
are “casked”; now stored in barrels, they can begin their malolactic
fermentation in the warm atmosphere of the cellars. The wines take on
more suppleness and roundness and rest through the winter.
long task of blending begins at the end of winter and consists in
rigorous tasting of each batch; it is at this stage that the selection
is made with the invaluable assistance of Michel Rolland, consultant
oenologist. Some batches are chosen to go into the blend for the Grand
Vin of Château Phélan Ségur, while others are destined for the second
wine Frank Phélan or for La Croix Bonis.
The final blend for the Grand Vin is then presented “to the world” in April during the en primeur tastings.
Once calm is restored after the harvest, the ageing of the Grand Vin,
now blended, continues for around 12 more months; at Château Phélan
Ségur, the ageing is a fundamental step. The proportion of new barrels
never exceeds 50%. Five coopers loyal to the property have contributed
their know-how over many years.
While complying with very precise technical specifications, the
diversity of their respective products (origin of the wood, drying time,
toasting, know-how) express themselves differently each vintage.
Oxygen, oak tannins, and the aromas they bring are essential to the
stabilisation of the wine and its development. Meticulous topping up of
the barrels protects the wine from oxidation. Ageing is a fundamental
step at Château Phélan Ségur: understanding of the vintage, judicious
selection of coopers, racking from barrel to barrel, regular topping up,
requirements and experience of the team in the cellar. Very special and
loving care is given to the wines during this complex phase in their