The Château Lafite estate run by the Rothschilds is, with its 100 hectares of cultivated land, the largest of the main Pauillac vineyards.
It is located in the highest part of the area and the view from its château, with its conical towers that appear on the label, takes in the banks of the River Gironde, which flows nearby. The wines are a blend of four different varieties of grape – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Lafite matures slightly earlier than other Premier Cru wines in the region on account of the generous amounts of Merlot used, and it is this that also makes the wine more delicate and subtle than those wines which are completely dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Lafite has a soul, a beautiful, generous, kindly soul. Lafite turns bare earth into heaven. Lafite is harmony, a harmony between man and nature, because without our magnificent winegrowers, nothing would be accomplished.”
Baron Eric de Rothschild
Of the five Premier Cru wines in the region, Château Lafite to my mind has managed to produce the year’s best wine in many of the top years in 1900th centrury. The times I have spent in the company of a 1934, 1953, 1959, 1982 and 1986 have been unforgettable. And it was then that I always remembered how many wine critics fondly describe Lafite as ‘the perfection of elegance’.
Vineyard soil: fine gravel mixed with aeolien sands on a bedrock of tertiary limestone
Production area: 103 ha
Grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon (71%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (1%)
Average age of vines: 30 years
Harvest method: hand picked
Winemaking: the vinification is nowadays done with all the sophisticated instruments which modern oenology has created. Fermentation takes place in large oak vats in which the musts remain for 18 to 25 days.
Ageing: the wines are aged entirely in new barrels for 18 to 24 months. During this time,the wine is racked 7 times and is fined with the whites of 6 eggs per barrel. Only certain vats are selected to make the Grand Vin, Lafite. The others are used to make the second wine of Lafite, the “Carruades de Lafite”.
At the end of 1756, the Duc de Richelieu, the nephew of Cardinal Richelieu, founder of the French Academy, returned home to Paris victorious from a long military campaign. King Louis XV rewarded his achievements by appointing him Governor of Bordeaux in perpetuity.
The Duc de Richelieu, a life long lover of the wines of Burgundy, did not rate Bordeaux wines very highly. So he took with him to Bordeaux the best Chambertin and Clos de Vougeot wines from Burgundy for himself and his entourage. This did not please the high-ranking vintners of Bordeaux, and they sneakily got Richelieu to drink their wines with Burgundy labels on the bottle. When Richelieu’s own personal physician introduced him to the Château Lafite wines, saying they were an elixir that gave a man vigour, his taste in wine began to gradually lean in the direction of Bordeaux. After he had been Governor for 25 years the Duc de Richelieu received an invitation from the King to go to Paris. When at the palace reception the King kindly remarked that he looked 25 years younger than when he was appointed governor, Richelieu solemnly declared: “Your Majesty, I must tell you that I have discovered the secret of eternal youth - Château Lafite.”