Thibaut Decoster grew up in Limoges, southwest-central France, always outside with the Limousin cows (a breed that is famous in France) gazing at the various crops that grew in the countryside that surrounded the main town. He knew that he wanted to be a farmer but he didn’t quite know what kind he would be until he started hanging out with friends when he was 17 years old cooking and drinking wine. “Wow, it would be fantastic to be a farmer but even better if I could be a wine producer”, Thibaut remembers thinking to himself yet there was no easy road as he didn’t have any family in the wine business at the time. But the idea of being a vigneron, a term that references a wine producer that is a farmer at heart, gripped Thibaut’s soul and so he geared his education towards finding a way into the wine world. Once the time came to go to university, he decided with his wife, Magali, that they would both get degrees in commerce and marketing as all wineries would need such people who specialized in such areas. Magali’s mother was from Bordeaux and so they thought that would be the best region to pursue their dream of working with wine; they gave themselves around one to two years to figure out if the vigneron life was for them.
Magali started marketing sporting events in Bordeaux City while Thibaut started working a harvest at a winery called Château de Fieuzal in Pessac-Léognan (within the sub-region Graves) just south of the Médoc on the Left Bank in Bordeaux, so he could learn about making wine in the field. The winemaker told Thibaut if he still wanted to continue after the backbreaking work of harvest that he could become cellar help in the winery. Well, Thibaut had the time of his life working in the vineyards and enthusiastically accepted the job as a cellar hand just so he could keep learning. Château de Fieuzal is one of the Grand Cru Classé estates listed in the Graves Classification of 1953 for red wine yet they also make white wine as well so Thibaut was able to get experience in both winemaking practices. Eventually Thibaut and his wife Magali ended up owning three different Saint-Émilion properties in the Right Bank with the help of their family where today they are carving a new path to giving wine consumers experiences with wine and food pairings, vineyard experiences and the enchanting life of Saint-Émilion that made them first fall in love with it.
The are many great regions and sub-regions within the winegrowing area of Bordeaux but no other place gives an overall experience of the lifestyle of a small winemaking community than Saint-Émilion with its intertwined combination of the beauty of nature and the richness of culture. Many of the estate owners actually live in the area, unlike the Haut-Médoc on the Left Bank, and there is a tight community with gatherings and parties always on the agenda that are highlighted by the small plots of vineyards that are only a short distance from the main village of Saint-Émilion – a medieval village that has stunning beige colored limestone buildings that line the cobblestone streets that are sometimes quite steep connecting the lower and upper part of the village. The place certainly transports one to another world and Thibaut never forgets the first time he visited Saint-Émilion with his wife as they immediately “fell in love” with the wines they tasted while overlooking the gentle sloping hills as it seemed like living in a postcard from their childhood dreams.
Château de Candale
In 2005, after three and half years of living in Bordeaux, Thibaut and Magali were able to buy two estates in Saint-Émilion, adding a third and fourth in 2017 – Château de Candale and Château Roc de Candale. The Candale properties have been an exciting extension to their Magali & Thibaut Decoster group of boutique Saint-Émilion wineries and vineyards as it comes with a restaurant, Atelier de Candale, as well as an opportunity to offer workshops and tourism in the vineyards. This brings together all the things that Thibaut first loved about wine: how it brings people together with food and the feeling of connecting it to the land.
Thibaut explained the tasting profile differences between Château de Candale and their first couple of properties they purchased, Château La Commanderie and Clos des Jacobins. “Château de Candale is on limestone and clay on a famous slope of Saint-Émilion”, Thibaut said, noting that it was famous because the lineup of properties included Château Ausone and Château Pavie with Château de Candale being right next to Château Le Tertre-Roteboeuf, an estate that choose to become unclassified yet has cult status; and he further described that the southern facing slope brought more ripeness and generosity to the fruit that was enhanced by the clay in the soil but balanced by the structure and minerality that came from the limestone in the clay. He believes that Château de Candale has great potential and he is hoping that it will become a Grand Cru Classé in the reevaluation of the Saint-Émilion Classification in 2022 as this classification is renewed every ten years.
Château La Commanderie
Château La Commanderie became a Grand Cru Classé estate in 2012 after seven years of Thibaut and Magali owning it (it was purchased in 2005 with Clos des Jacobins) and is “totally different” from Château de Candale. “Château La Commanderie is around Saint-Émilion village but on the Pomerol border”, Thibaut pointed out and so it is technically Saint-Émilion but displays the sensual, more “delicate” structure that some Pomerol estates illustrate. According to Thibaut, it was the clay, gravel and iron-rich sand that gave it a “charming” style with plenty of fruit and the structure that had “more finesse” due to the lack of limestone in the soil.
Clos des Jacobins
Thibaut saved Clos des Jacobins for last as it was a very powerful wine that had even more structure and intense minerality than Château La Commanderie, despite being only a little over a half mile away because it has a lot more limestone created by a limestone plateau that had eroded above the vineyard and it is situated in such a way that it doesn’t receive as much sun as La Commanderie. This estate has been classified Grand Cru Classé since the beginning of the Saint-Émilion classification in 1954. Clos des Jacobins was a favorite of Thibaut and he really loved the “earthy” quality of the wine with the powerful structure and deep concentration that pointed to its ability to age gracefully for many years.
The Story of Nature
Thibaut and Magali have been humble students learning from the well-respected consultants who have been teaching them about the vineyards; Hubert de Bouard de Laforest [co-owner of Château Angélus] has been consulting for Clos des Jacobins and La Commanderie since 2000 and well-known Bordeaux wine consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt has been working with Château de Candale and Château Roc de Candale for about seven years. The objective is to have these beautiful vineyards tell their story as they do not want the winemaker’s story to dominate as Thibaut states, “The story of nature is much bigger than the story of the winemaker.” This is the reason they are committed to keeping the percentage of grape varieties the same each year for each estate as they do not want to alter the wine by adding more Merlot than the previous year just because the weather dramatically changed. They want the wines to show what the land went through that year, expressing a specific set of circumstances that happened within a particular time span.
As Thibaut’s face beamed with pure delight as he talked about each wine and the land that it was connected to, one could imagine the little boy in the middle of the field surrounded by cows observing everything that was growing around him. Now he is able to share such joy among his own vineyard estates that are expressed within bottles of wine with people from all over the world. One gets the feeling from Thibaut that the act of sitting down and noticing the differences of the vineyards is not so much to show that one is better than the other, although people will have their preferences, but to marvel at Mother Nature and how her multitude of nuanced beauty will never be completely understood by the human mind, and that is okay as it is not about having all the right answers. He would like to bring that sense of wonderment from his childhood to all who visit Saint-Émilion by getting rid of the intimidating mystery of wine that creates fear and replacing it with a playful magic that encourages curiosity, camaraderie and of course delicious wine.
From the very beginning, the 2016 vintage has been one of pure fruit, harmony, freshness and silky tannins. These wines do have these overall traits while also expressing the differences of terroir, a.k.a. sense of place.
2016 Château de Candale: 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Generous red cherry and blackberry fruit that had a real juiciness to it and big yet round tannins that had a smoky minerality on the elegant finish.
2016 Château La Commanderie: 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. This had really beautiful sweet fruit and a lush, seductive texture and it is understandable why Thibaut called this wine “charming”. The lifted floral aromatics with added licorice notes made this an absolutely delicious wine.
2016 Clos des Jacobins: 80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Clos des Jacobins had a powerful structure with finely chiseled firm tannins and marked acidity that had earthy and stony notes that added a deep old world finesse that was assisted by pretty red fruit and espresso notes that had a long, energetic finish. This was certainly a stunning wine with its mixture of complexity of flavor and intense focus.