Ask any wine-lover to name the world’s greatest fine wines, and the answer will invariably include Pétrus. Incredibly revered and with a price tag to match, this illustrious producer is regarded by many to represent the pinnacle of what can be achieved with the Merlot varietal, or with any varietal for that matter. Fine wine critic Neal Martin described Pétrus as “the vinous holy grail”. Given its prestige and quality, it might come as a surprise to many that Pétrus was largely unheard of outside of France just 30 years ago. Its rise to fame is largely attributed to a change of management in 1962, leading to an explosion in quality and success.
Pétrus is Latin for Peter, who guards the entrance to heaven, which seems strangely fitting for such a wine that is often cited as being otherworldly. Its history can be dated back to the 1750s, making it probably one of Pomerol’s earliest vineyards. Originally thought to have been part of Château Gazin, its worldwide fame didn’t explode until it came under the ownership of Jean-Pierre Moueix. He was a négociant who managed and distributed wines from a series of famous properties, including Trotanoy. He started doing the same for Pétrus and eventually ended up taking control of the property during the mid-1960s. Jean-Pierre Moueix shrewdly brought in Jean-Claude Berrouet, although a relatively unknown entity in the winemaking world at the time, his first vintage in 1964 has been described as “immortal” by Neal Martin and “spectacular” by Robert Parker. When Jean-Claude Berrouet retired he passed the mantle to his son Olivier Berrouet, formerly of Cheval Blanc.
Jean-Pierre Moueix similarly passed the running of Pétrus to his sons Jean-François (who, in one of Pomerol’s greatest investments, bought five exceptional hectares from Gazin) and Christian. Établissements Jean-Pierre Moueix now owns La Fleur Pétrus, Hosanna, Trotanoy, Lagrange, La Grave, Magdelaine and Bélair-Monange to name just a few.
Château Pétrus, of course, deserves its fame. But few would argue against the instrumental influence of one couple and one man in pushing it alongside and then past the First Growths. Jackie and John F Kennedy - a style icon and her president - announced that that they were partial to Pétrus, which piqued a global interest in the brand. Momentum was continued in the 1980s by the frequent acclaim and high scores of a rising star critic in one Robert Parker. Pétrus’ celebrity helped to drive up the quality of Pomerol as an appellation, and arguably Bordeaux as a whole.