Anthony Barton of Chx Langoa Barton and Léoville Barton were buried last month at the age of 91 in the vineyards of St-Julien, marking the end of an era in the Bordeaux wine business. Quite unusual, these two precious Medoc classified growths have been in the same (Anglo-Irish) family since the 1820s. Although many undoubtedly tried to persuade him to sell, Barton was financially independent, and never had to go to a bank or one of the insurance companies that now own so many Bordeaux castles.
Nor was he interested in playing the ever-popular game to prove he could charge higher prices than his neighbors. He simply wanted to make good wine that his loyal customers could afford to drink. “There are just so many new cars you need,” he told reporters.
Most Bordeaux owners, driven by the successes of the 1995 and 1996 vintages, released the distinctly unexciting 1997 at prices that were far too high. Remarkably, Barton did not follow his example. In doing so, he probably did not make himself popular with the Bordeaux trade, but he earned for himself many lifelong friends among wine drinkers. Although his prices may have been pushed up in subsequent years, he has always enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for fairness.
About 20 years ago, Barton remarked to me that the Médoc had been invaded by cranes. Indeed, lately it seems that castle owners have turned their ever-growing income into ever-larger bricks and cement. Yet the only construction undertaken by the Barton family in St-Julien is focused on improving its winemaking facilities.
That said, Anthony and Eva Barton lived in Ch Langoa Barton, one of the most beautiful buildings in the Médoc, a single-storey chartreuse described by Christie’s late Michael Broadbent as a combination of “the very best French and English flavors, both in the gardens, and its beautiful interior. ”(Ch Léoville Barton, only one third of the original Léoville estate, does not have its own castle and shares cellars with Langoa, the third growth whose wine is not quite as classic and slow ripening as the second growth Léoville Barton is not.)
This was not always the case. In 1951, at the age of 21, Anthony arrived in Bordeaux after attending the University of Cambridge. But his uncle Ronald, who ran Langoa, kept him at a distance. Anthony was only allowed to make the wine in 1985. The following year, when he and Eva moved into Langoa, Anthony was almost 56.
Ronald-era Langoa appears in the FT’s wine coverage. In 1964, my FT predecessor Edmund Penning-Rowsell camped on the site while researching his comprehensive book. The wines of Bordeaux. In it he notes how the first Barton to work in the Bordeaux wine trade was Thomas, who arrived in 1722 and founded the wine merchant Barton & Guestier. Thomas continued to buy properties in the Médoc, but not the two present St-Juliens, which were bought a century later by his grandson Hugh.
Wine may have run through Anthony Barton’s veins, but for much of the mid-20th century he was a humble salesman, first at Barton & Guestier and then for his own company Vins Fins Anthony Barton. When he was named Decanter Man of the Year in 2007, he told Stephen Brook magazine: “I was not allowed to handle the two Bartons sold by Barton & Guestier. So I had to make money by selling dried white to the Finnish monopoly, for example. It was pretty nasty stuff, but they could not get enough of it. “
Dry wit and sartorial elegance were Barton trademarks. In sy autobiography Wine: A Life Uncorked wine writer Hugh Johnson describes him as “a Médoc landmark himself. When the delights of tasting become pretentious, something not unknown in the larger castles, the long saturnine Anthony pricks the bubble. ” Yet Barton has always been wonderfully approachable. A gas-free. A fair share of the world’s wine professionals must have gone through Langoa’s elegant reception rooms. He allowed our game to be filmed there when I made it A TV series for the BBC in the mid-1990s, which also involved driving me around the Médoc in an open car, with camera attached, while entertainingly explaining Médoc’s hierarchy.
As one of the few Médoc-classified growth owners who actually lived in their castle, Anthony and Eva were popular and regular guests when Ch Latour, for example, was in English hands. Our filming took place shortly after Latour’s first growth was sold to François Pinault and Barton commented on camera whether this “French businessman” would entertain them as well. He rightly doubted it.
Another prominent Médoc resident, Jean-Michel Cazes of Ch Lynch-Bages in Pauillac, was a great friend of Barton. They often traveled together in an era when such wine lamps were celebrated abroad, especially in America. Clearly, they felt tremendous mutual respect as opposed to rivalry, and they were rude in their humor. I always wanted to sit next to one of them during dinner because it felt like fun rather than work. Maybe that’s why we were once brave enough to invite Anthony to dinner at home in London.
He behaved impeccably and would forever refer to the particular way my husband, Nick, sautéed leeks.
Unlike many well-known Bordeaux owners during the 1990s and 2000s, when the counts of American wine hero Robert Parker virtually regulating sales prices, Barton did not change the style of his wines to suit what was supposed to be Parker’s preference for plump wine. Langoa and Léoville Barton remained dry, long-lived Médoc – albeit more nuanced and slightly fruity wines than most of those made, with some rather dull equipment, in the Ronald era. Even Penning-Rowsell admits in his book, “Ronald Barton is a conservative winemaker, and in down-years his wines can be a little thin.”
“One of the nicest people in Bordeaux”, “urban”, “polite” and “amusing” are all descriptions I got in my inbox after I published a short rating of Barton on my website.
His legacy will live on because the next two generations are already fully involved in the family wine business: his daughter Lilian and her husband Michel Sartorius, as well as their son Damien and daughter Mélanie, who already make wine at Ch Mauvesin Barton, a property they own in bought the nearby Moulis in 2011.
Yet the number of truly family-owned class growths is steadily declining. And those for whom a benevolent pricing policy is in place are fast approaching zero.
Favorite Barton Vintage
I have achieved all the wines under at least 18 out of 20
Ch Léoville Barton
2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009
2010, 2016, 2018, 2019
Ch Langoa Barton
And look out for Ch Mauvesin Barton 2016, £ 23.95, Davy’s Wine Merchants and £ 24.95, Mumbles Fine Wine
Follow Jancis on Twitter @JancisRobinson
Follow @FTMag on Twitter to find out more about our latest stories