Lafite Rothschild Cuts Price of Its 2013 Vintage by 14%
Chateau Lafite Rothschild, a wine estate in Bordeaux’s Pauillac region north of the city, cut the price of its 2013 vintage by 14 percent from 2012 following a rain-hit crop and pressure from merchants for cheaper wines.
Lafite put its 2013 wines on sale at 288 euros ($398) a bottle from Bordeaux wholesale merchants, down from 335 euros for the 2012, according to data compiled by the London-based Liv-ex wine market.
Lafite wines led the bull run in Bordeaux wines from 2009 to 2011, powered by Asian demand even as the broader market faltered after the 2008 financial crisis. While the estate, ranked as a first growth in the region’s 1855 classification, outpaced many rivals during that period, its 2009 vintage has fallen more than 50 percent in the past three years as Chinese demand waned amid government discouragement of gift-giving.
“First growths I think will bounce back at some point,” Peter Lunzer, founder of Lunzer Wine Investments in London, said in an interview last week. “They did fly way higher than perhaps they should have done, and the gravitational effect was really quite strong.”
While its 2008 vintage cost 130 euros a bottle at release, its wines from the much higher-rated 2009 vintage were sold at 550 euros a bottle and its 2010 wines at 600 euros a bottle, according to Liv-ex data.
The 2013 vintage of the estate’s second wine Carruades de Lafite was priced at 90 euros a bottle, down 5 percent from 2012, while 2013 wines from Chateau Duhart-Milon, a neighboring Pauillac producer with the same winemaking team, will be sold at 48 euros, 9 percent less than the 2012 vintage, according to Liv-ex.
Chateau L’Evangile, a wine estate in Pomerol which is also owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), priced its 2013 wine at 100 euros a bottle, unchanged from 2012.
Lafite Rothschild itself has more than 100 hectares (247 acres) planted with red-grape vines.Cabernet Sauvignon typically makes up 80 percent to 95 percent of its wine, with Merlot 5 percent to 20 percent, and smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
The Lafite estate has been owned by the Rothschild family since its purchase by Baron James de Rothschild in August 1868, according to Lafite’s website. Its vineyards date back to the 1670s and it started shipping wine to the London market in the early 18th century, when buyers included British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole.
Yields fell more than 30 percent in many Bordeaux vineyards last year after cold, wet weather during flowering, according to winemakers. Investors are focusing on so-called en primeur sales of 2013 wines, which are maturing for future delivery, after prices for other vintages declined since 2011. The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 has fallen about 3 percent this year after a similar drop in 2013 and a 10 percent decline in 2012.
Among other producers releasing this week, Chateau Haut-Bailly, a grower in the Pessac-Leognan region south of the city, priced its 2013 wine at 39.60 euros a bottle, down 6 percent from 2012, according to Liv-ex data. Chateau Cos d’Estournel, a Saint-Estephe producer, priced its 2013 wine at 81.50 euros a bottle, down 8 percent from 2012.
The sales campaign has gathered momentum since Bordeaux estates hosted annual tastings for the wine trade at the start of this month. Chateau Pontet-Canet, a Pauillac grower neighboring Chateau Mouton Rothschild, released its 2013 wine at 60 euros a bottle in March, unchanged from its 2012 vintage, before most merchants had arrived in the city.
Chateau Pichon-Longueville, a Pauillac second growth, priced its 2013 wine at 54 euros a bottle, down 17 percent, according to Liv-ex, while neighboring Chateau Lynch-Bages announced a similar reduction to 50 euros a bottle. Chateau Montrose in Saint-Estephe was unchanged at 57.60 euros.
By Guy Collins
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”.
The 2012 Bordeaux vintage report.
The 2012 Bordeaux vintage is a year for vineyard management and workers. Call it a wine makers vintage, or change your tune and name it vineyard managers vintage. Either descriptor works perfectly. The estates with the financial ability to take the necessary actions in the vineyards during the season, coupled with the willingness to severely declassify unripe grapes will produce the best wines. Even then, it’s going to be a difficult vintage with small quantities of wine. From start to finish, the growing season and 2012 Bordeaux harvest have been stressful for the vintners, the vines and with the grapes now in the process of being vinified, the winemakers. The 2012 Bordeaux vintage did not get off to a good start.
Following a cold winter and wet spring, the April rains drenched the Bordeaux wine region. Following the April rains, there were outbreaks of mildew, which required spraying. May was warmer than April. Things cooled down a bit again in June. All this brought on flowering that was late and uneven. That resulted in small bunches with berries that ripened at different times, which brought down the quantities and necessitated in serious work in the vineyards and intensive sorting at harvest. If everything that took place until the end of June didn't offer what happened next offered additional challenges with 2012 Bordeaux vintage.
After an average July, Bordeaux experienced a torrid heat spell and drought in August and September that stressed the vines, especially the young vines. At one point, temperatures soared to 42 degrees Celsius, which is 107 degrees! Other days crossed 100 degrees. It was extremely hot and dry. The vines shut down and the vintage was on track to be even later than originally anticipated. Close to the end of September, things improved due to the much hoped for combination of warm days, cool nights and some desperately needed rain, which helped nourish the vines.
The initial days of October offered reasonably warm temperatures during the day, coupled with cooler weather at night for vintners with Merlot ready to pick. In the Medoc, it was hurry up and wait. Tom Petty could have been blasting with “Waiting is The Hardest Part,” because growers needed to wait as the Cabernet Sauvignon was having difficulties ripening. This was already October. The conventional wisdom says, at some point, there was little to be gained by waiting and more to lose, so the 2012 Bordeaux harvest started taking place. Some estates began picking young Merlot in late September, but most held back until about October 1, with a few growers waiting another week or longer. Most producers brought all their fruit in by the middle of October.
Pomerol is usually the first appellation to harvest, due to their Merlot dominated vines. Interestingly, picking was taking place simultaneously in the Left Bank on October 1. Numerous Pessac Leognan properties began their harvest before Pomerol. Chateau Haut Brion began working on their young Merlot vines September 17 and Chateau Haut Bailly was not far behind, with a September 27 start date. Most chateaux were in the thick of things by October 4, although Domaine de Chevalier held off until October 8. While pleasant, cooler weather was initially forecast to continue, by October 8, things changed quickly when massive amounts of rain dropped over the entire Bordeaux region. With accompanying temperatures in the mid to upper 60’s and higher in some areas, vintners were concerned about the potential of Botrytis, due to the humid, tropical conditions.
At that point, the fruit needed to be picked, regardless of the state of maturity. Similar to what took place last year with the 2011 Bordeaux vintage, ripening was uneven. It was not just bunches that were not ripening, individual grapes in bunches achieved varying degrees of ripeness which made sorting more important than ever. Optical sorting was more widely used than ever with the 2012 Bordeaux harvest. 2012 Bordeaux could be a year where the dry, white Bordeaux wines shine. The berries were picked in September, under optimum conditions. Most producers were done harvesting the white wine grapes by September 25. The same cannot be said for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. This has been a difficult year for the development of Botrytis, due in part to the cold nights. With November closing in, most of the top estates were still nervously waiting to harvest.
All this adds up to low yields for most producers. In fact, the French minister of agriculture reported that 2012 would produce the lowest yields since 1991. It’s interesting to remember previous years like 1991, a vintage that forced some properties to declassify their entire harvest. With today’s modern technology and vineyard management techniques, vintages like 1991 which produced atrocious wine are a thing of the past. Bordeaux is not the only European wine region to suffer in 2012.
Across the board, numerous European vineyards experienced difficult conditions. It was announced that across the board, production of European wines were at their lowest levels since 1975. Generally speaking, low yields are usually a good thing. Low yields produce more concentrated wines. But when low yields are coupled with grapes that did not achieve full, phenolic ripeness, at the end of the day, the only thing vintners are primarily left with is less wine. If the small quantities of wine available to sell are used as an excuse by owners as a reason to raise prices, grapes are not the only thing that will be in short supply. Customers for their wines will be in an even shorter supply than the wines. 2011 Bordeaux has not sold well to consumers.
Prices for 2012 Bordeaux wine need to be lower in price than the previous year. This is healthy for the marketplace in the long run. Ample stocks of good wines from top years are still available for sale. Consumers can easily find strong Bordeaux wine from 2010, 2009 and even 2005. There are different vintages for different markets. Some wine buyers prefer more classic or lighter years. Other wine collectors seek riper, bolder years. The marketplace welcomes both types of wines and consumers. But each vintage and style needs to be appropriately priced. Bordeaux should reduce prices on vintages like 2012 and 2011. In turn, there are wine buyers willing to pay more for the best years. Reports from producers on the 2012 Bordeaux harvest have ranged. For the red wines, some were quoted as saying the pulp is ripe, the seeds varied in ripeness, but the skins did not ripen. In the Left Bank, there are estates that feel their Merlot turned out better than their Cabernet. In the Right Bank, producers in Pomerol and St. Emilion are optimistic about the quality of their 2012 Bordeaux wines.
The early reports show lower alcohol levels for the wines than more recent, highly rated, expensive vintages. 2012 Bordeaux wine has the potential to be classic in style, which should please thirsty fans of traditional Bordeaux wine. While quantities are small, in many cases, it’s not much different than what the chateaux were able to produce in 2011. Many vintners are comparing the 2012 Bordeaux vintage a blend of 2002 and 2008. With the April tastings rapidly approaching, all of us will have a much better idea about the quality, style and character of the 2012 Bordeaux vintage. Let's just hope they get the price right.