Top Bordeaux Château Latour Goes Organic
Organic wines are becoming more and more popular. Even the ultra-traditional Bordelais are doing it.
Driving north from Bordeaux on the Médoc peninsula you pass a number of famous wine chateaux. As soon as you cross the border between Saint-Julien and Pauillac you will see one of the most famous, the Château Latour. The château itself is actually hidden behind trees. What you see from the road is the famous tower, “la tour“, looking almost, but not exactly, like the one you see on the wine label. The real life tour is actually a dovecote from the 17thcentury.
Like many other Médoc chateaux the history of Latour goes back to the 18th century. The current owner, French businessman Francois Pinault, one of the richest men in the country, bought the chateau in 1993.
Château Latour is a Premier Grand Cru Classé 1855, the highest classification in Bordeaux and the most prestigious wine classification in France and the world. This classification alone allows Château Latour to demand extremely high prices for their wine. And, similarly, it makes consumers want to pay those high prices. Of course, this is a high-quality wine, no doubt about it. But still, you have to appreciate the historic significance and the prestige to accept the price.
Latour may be as prestigious as it gets, but it is not resting on its laurels. The newest project is converting a big part of the winery to organic viticulture.
Château Latour is about 60 kilometers from Bordeaux, in the commune of Pauillac. The vines grow in a gravelly soil which is stony and well drained. The vineyard is close to the Gironde estuary and this gives the vines a mild climate without any excesses. The thick gravel is especially well suited for Cabernet Sauvignon.
The chateau makes three different wines. The so-called grand vin, that is Château Latour itself, a second wine called Les Forts de Latour and a third wine simply called Pauillac. The grand vin comes from the original part of the vineyards, called the Enclos. This is the most prestigious part of the vineyard where the vines have a fine view of the Gironde estuary. The tradition in Bordeaux says that vines that overlook the water make the best wine. The proximity to the estuary actually gives a slightly higher temperature, helping the grapes to good maturity. The Enclos is around 45 hectares out of a total of 88 for the whole estate.
The grape varieties are 75 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 23 % Merlot, 1 % Cabernet Franc and 1 % of Petit Verdot. The planting density is high, 10,000 vines per hectare. Every year the chateau’s viticulturist replaces a certain number of dead vines. These young vines are marked and treated separately. They are harvested separately and they are not used in the grand vin until they are at least 10 years old.
The Enclos is under conversion to organic farming since 2015. It takes three years to be certified so it means that we will see the first organic Château Latour in 2018. Only copper and sulfur, mixed with different plant infusions, are used to fight diseases in the vineyard. Instead of insecticides they use sexual confusion. Only organic fertilizers are used when needed and no herbicides.
66 persons work fulltime at the chateau and to these are added 100 pickers for harvest. To ensure that only perfect grapes are put into the fermentation tanks three manual sorting tables are used. Latour uses no optical sorting by machine. Optical sorting is otherwise the latest trend in Bordeaux.
The winery itself is in a separate modern building. It houses more than 60 stainless steel tanks, some small, some bigger. The winemaker likes stainless steel. It is easy to control temperature and the tanks are easy to clean. The different plots are vinified separately.
The barrel aging starts in December. Château Latour is put in 100 % new oak from the Allier and Nièvre forest in the central part of France. The chateau works with 11 different coopers. This is important to the winemaker as the coopers all have different styles.
The wine spends six months in the first year cellar where it will also undergo the malolactic fermentation. The barrels are tasted regularly and the winemaker decides the blend for the grand vin, the second wine and the third wine. He decides if the press wine should be included or not. The wine is then moved to the huge and magnificent second-year cellar where it will spend 10-13 months, so in total around 22 months of aging before it is bottled. 2014 was bottled in June this year. During the barrel aging the wine is racked and topped up regularly, every 3 months. At the end, the wine is fined traditionally with egg whites, 5-6 whites per barrel.
Château Latour is often a textbook example of a Cabernet Sauvignon. No wonder, as often almost 90 % of the wine is made from this grape. It is a powerful wine in its youth, with aromas of cedar wood and black fruit, made even more powerful with the aging in 100 % new oak barrels. It is packed with fruit and tannins and it stays young for at least 10 years. This is a wine you really should wait for, say 10-15 year or longer. It needs time to show what it is capable of. The price in France is approx. 900-1400 € (USD 940-1460).
Les Forts de Latour is the second wine but it is a wine standing firmly on its own feet. 50 % new oak is used but it varies a bit depending on the year. The proportion of Merlot is a bit higher than for Château Latour, around 25-30 %. All vintages are different of course, but Les Forts de Latour often combines concentration with elegance and a certain lightness in style and delicate savory aromas. Price in France is approx. 350-500 € (USD 365-520).
The third wine, Pauillac de Château Latour, often has about 60 % of Merlot and 35 % of Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a quite soft, fruity and drinkable wine even in its younger years. Price in France is approx. 80 € (USD 84).
First growth Château Latour have released its 2003 grand vin and the 2008 vintage of its second wine, Les Forts de Latour
Since quitting the en primeur system in 2012 following the campaign for the 2011 vintage, Latour has instead restricted itself to an annual re-release of recent vintages around 20 March, ahead of the futures campaign and another small release of older vintages in September.
The first set of releases in 2013 of the 1995 grand vin and 2005 Forts were released with respective premiums of 19% and 10% on the market price.Merchants and buyers were left unimpressed however and the trade called the price “too high”.
Similarly, when the 2004 grand vin and 2006 Forts were released last year with respective premiums of 23% and 6% on the market price, the news was greeted with “deathly silence”.
Then, in September last year, Latour re-released its 1996, 2001 and 2002 vintages. The wines still carried a premium but it was significantly less than anything seen before and was in line with the release of Forts 2007 in September 2013.
Unfortunately for Latour, the wines emerged as many merchants were pushing their 2011 allocations of Solaia and Masseto and so the wines and opportunity were somewhat lost.
With the market showing some improvement, despite a 0.4% decline on the Liv-ex Fine Wine 100 in February and Bordeaux returning to favour, there may be some interest in two vintages that are ready for drinking, especially the 2003s.
Interestingly, Latour’s 2005 topped the Fine Wine 100 in February, rising 10.9% to £6,792 a case although this is probably more to do with the current popularity of the 2005 vintage at the moment.
Also rising in February were the 2005 vintages of Palmer and Cos d’Estournel. The wine world is waiting for Robert Parker’s 10 year retrospective of the vintage and many are expecting a hike in scores – and prices – as a result. With the 05 Latour currently sitting on 96-points, a wine of its pedigree could easily see a revision elevate it to 98-points.
Interestingly, Latour, Mouton and Lafite are all sitting on 96 Parker points as of 1 March 2008 (Wine Advocate #176), while Haut-Brion and Margaux are rated 98 and are cheaper than Lafite and Latour though not Mouton which is the least costly per case of all the 2005 wines from the five first growths.
But, to return to Latour’s re-releases, as the drinks business reported at the time of the last September release: “Latour’s experiment may be proving tougher than expected for the estate and the latest release  may be a sign it knows buyers will not be swayed by its first growth aura.
“It will not be until previously unreleased vintages – 2012 and onwards – begin to emerge that asking for a premium will start to hold any water.”
2015 by Rupert Millar
Latour offers Ex-Château stocks
Last year, the great first growth Chateau Latour shook up the wine world with the announcement that the 2011 vintage would be their last to be sold in the traditional en primeur system. Instead, they have introduced a new commercial approach that is groundbreaking in ultra-conservative Bordeaux. Chateau Latour's wines will be conserved at the Chateau until they feel they have reached are ready for release and for drinking.
Additionally, when the wines are considered ready to drink, only the world's most respected merchants will have access to the Chateau's 'library stocks' direct from Bordeaux.
The first vintages of the new era of Ex Chateau stock have now been offered: Forts de Latour 2005 (around £1700 per case/12 In Bond) and Chateau Latour 1995 (£4900 per case/12 In Bond).
The new approach provides a guarantee of provenance and good storage. However, it is not yet known whether the price premium of 10-20% for Ex Chateau stock will endure further down the line when set against cases that have been stored under bond in pefect conditions.
A tour de force of breathtaking power and elegance, Chateau Latour is one of Bordeaux's most consistent greats. Its second label Les Forts de Latour is a stunning wine in its own right and regularly outperforms many Classed Growths.