I had a wonderful meeting on Friday with Daniel Lawton, of courtier company Tastet-Lawton. Now in his 80s, he is the seventh generation of his family to run a company that was founded in 1739, and is part of the discreet but highly powerful world of Bordeaux courtiers; the tiny group of men who form the link between the chateaux and the negociants. He was helping me with research for a book, and looking through his company diaries, letters and ledgers from the past three centuries was a privilege, and truly eye-opening.
Among the many subjects we covered was the idea of mise-en-bouteille au chateau, when properties took the responsibility for bottling their wines entirely onto their own shoulders. This is officially dated to 1924, when Baron Philippe de Rothschild made it compulsory for all his wines at Ch Mouton Rothschild, but in fact there was already a long history of putting wine in bottle that dates right back to the 1720s.
The first place in Bordeaux to produce glass bottles was located on Place Mitchell (a very pretty circular Place behind rue díAviau, near to the Jardin Public), where there was a glass blowers. The road behind it still called rue de la Verrerie. At the time, all wine merchants were located in the nearby Chartrons, so it made sense to have a glass workshop close by. Although of course the vast majority of wines were still shipped in barrel, this was where the first experiments with mise-en-bouteille were taking place.
The Place is named after Pierre Mitchell, who was born in Dublin in 1687. He founded the glass blowers in 1723, and received letters of patent from the French monarchy in 1738 (his father had fought for the Stuart monarchy during the English Civil War, and was a Jacobite refugee at the French court in Paris). Pierre Mitchell became a negociant and ship owner in Bordeaux, and was also the founder of Chateau du Tetre in Margaux. His first job in Bordeaux commerce was in the production of wine barrels, and then founded the first glass blowers, initially in Eysines and then, from 1723, on Place Mitchell. His letters of patent (still available in the Bordeaux municipal archives) date from October and November 1723, and grant him exclusivity of production (although the chamber of commerce failed to uphold his demand that a competitor based in Bourg close down his business a few years later).
Although his method of production were similar to those already in use in England and Ireland, he did created the Jeroboam and the traditional Bordeaux bottle shape (similar to that used by Chateau Haut Brion today), but there was probably very little standardisation between the different bottles at the time. After receiving the royal patent in 1738, his workshop became known as the ę Verrerie royale de Bordeaux Ľ.
As Mitchell became more successful, he expanded his businesses, and in 1724 bought a part of the Seignerie díArsac, then bought up more vines in the Margaux region, and built Chateau du Tetre around 1736. Named a 5th growth in the 1855 classification, it is likely that Mitchell tried bottling some of his wine in the 1730s, making this estate one of the pioneers in Bordeaux.
Following Mitchell's death in 1740, the glass workshop passed on to his son Francois-Patrice. In 1819 the site was moved in turn by his sons to the quays in Bacalan, just a little further out from Chartrons, and a second glass workshop was opened in 1855.
There is an interesting PDF (in french) about this history of the Bordeaux bottle here: