Château Ausone is one of only four first growths – or premier grand cru classé A, as they are known on the Right Bank – within the Saint-Emilion classification. It’s the smallest of these exalted properties, and also the one with the oldest history. The name, which first appears in local archives in 1529, refers back to the Roman poet Decimus Magnus Ausonius, and remains of a Roman villa have been found at the feet of Ausone’s slopes.
We know Ausonius was awarded a consulate, the highest Roman honour, in Bordeaux in 379 and is best known for his poetry and writings about the region, in which he describes the ‘vine-clad hills’, and we know his parents-in-law came from St-Emilion. But we don’t know for certain that he owned the Roman villa whose remains lie at the base of these slopes.
Two years ago, remains of Roman walls and other artefacts were discovered when a plot was pulled up for replanting. A team of archaeologists is currently analysing the find, deciding if it will be worth further disturbing land valued at more than €8 million ($9.2m) per hectare.
Over the last five centuries only three families have owned this remarkable property
Today, Château Ausone is one of the most sought-after names in the wine universe, its prices reaching thousands of pounds for a single bottle. Six bottles of the 2015 vintage will cost you around £5,000 ($6,600). A single bottle of the 2005 will set you back just under £2,000 ($2,650) – if you shop around.
Ausone stands out in other ways, too. Across Saint-Emilion, the majority of estates are planted largely to the luscious, red-fruited Merlot grape, but here at Ausone that grape is matched in more than half the vineyard by Cabernet Franc, which lends elegance, lift and violet-tinged aromatics that elevate the expression of the entire wine.
Over the last five centuries, only three families have had the stewardship of this remarkable property. Pauline Vauthier, winemaker and co-owner with her father Alain, is the 12th generation of Vauthiers to work the limestone-rich soil of these vineyards. She is involved in every detail – from upkeep of the dry-stone walls at the edge of the vineyard, to working with specialists to protect its historical remains and carrying out essential daily vineyard tasks. ‘My favourite thing is to be outside working,’ she says. ‘I’m in the office when I need to be, but I don’t enjoy the tastings and the travel that are essential to running an estate like this. Like my father, I prefer to be discreet.’