John the Pole, John the Priest and John the Pirate – The Story of Château Canon


Château Canon is one of the leading estates in Saint-Émilion.  It is located on the top of the limestone plateau with a great view of Saint‑Émilion village.  The soil is limestone containing fossilised starfish covered with a thin layer of  clay and is said to give the wine freshness, subtlety and elegance.  Canon was graded Premier Grand Cru Classé B in the 1955 Saint-Émilion classification and all subsequent revisions.

In 1996 it (together with Château Rauzan-Ségla across the river in Margaux) was bought by the Wertheimer family, owners of the House of Chanel.  Both estates started to receive the investment they needed to be restored to their former glory; and part of this investment was to bring in a top winemaker, John Kolasa.  John had long worked in Bordeaux, most recently as Commercial Director of Château Latour in Pauillac.  Taking just a tiny bit of artistic licence, John is the Pole in our story, having a Scottish mother and a Polish father.  So who are the pirate and the priest?

The pirate was Jacques Kanon, a colourful frigate lieutenant for Louis XV, King of France (1715–1774).  Jacques had earned his fortune as a privateer, that is, pirate.  In 1759 he had sailed from Bordeaux with supplies for Quebec (then part of Nouvelle-France) and had helped to try to prevent its falling to the British forces led by General James Wolfe.  Deciding enough was enough, he returned to Bordeaux and, in 1760, he spent some of his gains buying a small vineyard called Clos Saint-Martin.  This had been planted around the Church of Saint-Martin by Jean Biès in the early 18th Century.  A true clos, the original 12 ha vineyard was encircled by a wall.

Jacques Kanon expanded the vineyard by acquiring seven small surrounding vineyards, bringing it closer in size (13 ha) to what we have today at Château Canon (22 ha).  Jacques also ordered the construction of the original château, which was completed in 1767.

Jacques Kanon sold the estate on in 1770 with great profit to Raymond Fontémoing, a leading Libournais négociant.  It was during the Fontémoing family’s ownership in 1853 that the name was changed from Domaine de Saint-Martin to Chateau Canon, to the fury of the proprietors of Château Canon of Fronsac.

Later in 1876 a further 5 ha were added to the property.

After a turbulent few decades, it was bought by André Fournier in 1919. The estate remained in the Fournier family with success until vine disease problems arose in the early 1990s.

In 1996 it was sold by Eric Fournier to the Wertheimer family (Chanel group).  Brothers Alain and Gérard and their half-brother Charles Heibronn had tried to buy Château Latour in 1993 but were outbid by François Pinault (owner of Vail ski resort in Colorado and part-owner of Christie’s auction house).  Instead they purchased Château Rauzan-Segla in 1994, followed in 1996 by Château Canon.

Jacques Kanon is John the Pirate in our story.  That just leaves John the Priest.  Right next to the Canon estate was another very old vineyard called Curé Bon La Madeleine.  This land had probably been in the possession of the Bon family since the fourteenth century, and was partially planted to vine (4.4 ha) by 1650.  It passed down through the generations of the family and eventually Jean-Baptiste Bon, a priest (curé) inherited it sometime in the nineteenth century.  Curé Bon had a reputation as a connoisseur of the wines of his parish and was a recognised expert in vineyard management.  So Jean-Baptiste is John The Priest in our tale.

The field then passed to either his nephew Jacques Lapelleterie (1817 -?) or grand-nephew Camille Lapelleterie, who renamed the cru Curé Bon La Madeleine in honour of their uncle and in recognition of the plateau de la Madeleine where the domaine is situated.

In 1898, the property was listed for the first time under Jacques’ name in Bordeaux et ses vins by Cocks and Féret.

The field then passed into the hands of the Lande family by inheritance, perhaps following the marriage of Odette Lapelleterie (1878-1911) to Leo Lande.

Production during ownership by Lande-Lapelletrie was reckoned at 15 tonneaux (15 x 100 cases) annually.

At some time during 1943-1991, ownership passed to Maurice Lande.  Also during this period, on 16 June 1955, the area was awarded the category Grand Classé Saint-Émilion.

In 1992, Bernard and Marceline Gans, owner of Chateau Cadet Bon since 1986, bought the property from Maurice Lande through the company Lorienne. The castle was renamed Château Bon and the consultant oenologist was Lucien Guillemet.

On 8th November 1996, the château was reconfirmed as a Grand Cru Classé Saint-Émilion.

Why is this tale of Curé Bon relevant to Château Canon?  It is because, in 2000, Château Canon bought Château Curé-Bon and, with the blessing of INAO, John Kolasa integrated 3.5 ha of vines into the Canon estate.  This allowed a reasonable level of production with a proportion of older vines while the replanting of Canon was going on.

The last vintage of Château Curé-Bon la Madeleine was the 1999 vintage.

Canon today

So Château Canon today is largely the result of the efforts of three men all called John!  John Kolasa retired after the 2015 harvest. His place has been taken by Nicolas Audebert.  Audebert, who is from Toulon in southern France and studied winemaking in Montpellier, came from eight years at Cheval des Andes, an estate in Mendoza, Argentina which is a joint venture of Cheval Blanc and  LVMH.

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