A little background: "Colorado" John Clarke had been to visit us a few months before this trip and brought with him a gift: a bottle of '95 Ch.Clarke Bordeaux. He mentioned that when he was last in France he stumbled across Château Clarke but it was closed. He pressed us very hard to contact them and try to get on a tour. John is very persuasive.
We contacted Mme. Hélène Combabessouse at Compagnie Vinicole de Baron Edmond Rothschild who arranged for us to tour the property on the 30th of May. There we were greeted by Yann Buchwalter, Technical Director for Château Clarke. Yann took us out into the rose garden, formerly the location of the actual Château Clarke, for a 25-minute exposition of the history of Château Clarke and the Irish family to whom it owes its name and how it became part of the holdings of Baron Edmond de Rothschild.
These Clarkes appear not to be part of our line, unless those lines join somewhat further back than 1690. According to Patrick Clarke, a fifth-generation descendant of the Tobie Clarke for whom Château Clarke is named, John (Jean) Clarke and his wife Anne Jeanne Walsh fled Ireland around 1691 (perhaps as children -- we don't know their birthdates) after the Battle of the Boyne and the Treaty of Limerick to escape the persecution of Irish Catholics by the victorious English. Tobie was born September 25, 1722. He married Jeanne Marie Mallès in Nantes in 1758 and they had several children together. In 1771 (Feb 27) Tobie bought a property known as "the Grange at Listrac" but only lived another seven months. He died there October 9, 1771; thereafter his son renamed the property Château Clarke in honor of his father.
Then Yann took us on a tour of their winemaking facilities. As with all modern vignobles, the work area is spotlessly clean; it looks more like a laboratory than anything else. 'Clarke' is positioned at the upper end of France's fine wines. Under French law, their grapes must be hand-picked in order to guarantee poorer grapes do not accidentally slip into the mix. The oak casks in which the wine is aged are kept for 3 years only, then they are sold at cut-rate prices to the down-scale wineries. The casks, each about as big as a small dining room table, cost €800 ($1000) new.
Lastly, Yann took us to the salle de dégustation, the tasting room, where he let us sample some '01 Ch.Clarke. It was everything you would expect from an upscale wine. This trip to France, especially the stop at Château Clarke, has ruined us for commercial wines. Before, we could plead ignorance: we simply didn't know any better. Now we are much more careful about what we buy and how we store it. We've had to get a wine cabinet to make sure our wines are kept at the right temperature and protected from too much light. Ruined; totally ruined.
We had twelve bottles of French wine in our luggage when we landed in the States. We didn't care what the customs duty would be.