In the 17th century Ducru Beaucaillou and Branaire Ducru were both part of the Beychevelle estate but when Bernard de Valette died in 1642 the estate was broken up to pay off his debts. In 1680 Jean Baptiste Brabeyre bought what was to become Ducru, in turn in 1720 it became the property of the Bergeron family who purchased the then named Maucaillou estate. The wine they made won critical acclaim, which Bergeron thought was at odds with its current name. Maucaillou deriving from the words ‘mauvaise’ and ‘cailloux’ mean ‘bad pebbles’, in fact for wine production the large pebbles on the estate were key to the wines success, as a result, Bergeron changed the name to Beaucaillou.
On his death the estate was bought by another key figure, Betrand Ducru in 1795 and the estate Ducru Beaucaillou was born. On his death his children Gustave and Marie Louise inherited Ducru and they jointly ran the estate for 30 years. In this time Gustave employed Parisian architect Paul Abadie to renovate the residence. Below the new château Abadie built a cellar for aging the barrels. Gustave also embarked on a major replanting of the vineyards. In 1855 the hard work was rewarded when Ducru with the three Leoville’s and Gruaud Larose was ranked Deuxième Cru Classé.
In 1857 Gustave bought Branaire from his cousin and gave Ducru to Marie Louise in 1860. She sold it in 1866 to Lucie Caroline Dassier and the next chapter begun for the estate. Lucie Caroline’s husband was Nathanial Johnston, a Bordeaux wine merchant and Ducru soon became the jewel in his portfolio. The estate manager Ernest David, was talented and innovative, he improved the vineyard plantings and developed the cellar practices and made excellent wine.
Nathaniel loved Ducru and the area, he became mayor of St Julien (1903-08), he invested in the community and built the protestant church in the town, founded a hospice and nursery for the estate workers. Two years after the death of his wife, Nathanial married, Princess Marie Caradja of Constantinople and now threw himself into making Ducru as beautiful as its wines the couple employed Michel Louis Garros as their architect. Now the estate was transformed, two towers were built on the north and south flanks of the existing château, he built two wings to create a majestic U shape. He refurnished the interiors, built a pavilion, landscaped the parks, and built an ornamental garden that lead down to the Gironde. Sadly, 63 years after purchasing the estate, the heartbroken Johnston’s were forced to sell Ducru to Desbarats in 1929 after economic crash. There was little investment, the wines were poor, Ducru reputation flagged and when Bordeaux was occupied in World War II, Ducru was sold again in 1941 to Francis Borie, a wine merchant from Corréze.
Ducru Beaucaillou has now been in the Borie family for three generations, Francis the wise businessman who bought the estate began to turn around its fortunes, the reputation for quality was re-established. On his death in 1953 his son Jean Eugéne took command and introduced château bottling, invested in a new cellar, increased the density of planting and in 1995 introduced a second label Le Croix de Beaucaillou. Jean Eugéne also travelled the world promoting Ducru and soon became known as more than Ducru’s representative, but an ambassador for all of Bordeaux around the world.
Jean Eugéne’s son Bruno took over managing Ducru in 2003 and he has brought the wines of Ducru to another level. From the 2003 vintage onward only the vineyards adjacent the château, looking over the estuary would be used in Château Ducru Beaucaillou, production therefore dropped from 20,000 to 10,000 cases a year. This policy though has brought great results; Ducru competes with Las Cases for the title of the finest Super Second of St Julien. Today the wine continues to be dark and purple; it offers complex aromas of cedar, black truffle, tobacco, cassis and spices. The difference in the wines that Bruno is making today is that as well as the poise, elegance and the beautiful of classic Ducru the wine now possess the power only found in the past in the finest vintages such as 1982.