Each Château has its own style. / What would be, according to you, the specificities of Château Smith Haut Lafitte Red?
The style of our red wine is very classic, with a beautiful expression of our terroir of Günzian Gravel which gives unique smoky notes. We pursue elegance and structure, freshness and complexity, balance and richness.
Our majority of Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested at full maturity and softly vinified to extract only the silkiest tannins, unveils after proper aging its full potential for years long.
The other grapes variety of our vineyard, the Merlot, the Cabernet Franc and the Petit Verdot add to the Cabernet Sauvignon their own aromas and participate in the typical harmony of our Cru Classé de Graves.
Which vintage of your Château red wine do you prefer?
Such as the whites, it is very difficult to pick a vintage among others, as every occasion and every meal will enlighten a specific vintage.
In my opinion, our 2000 red is a wine I would not doubt in comparing with the greatest reds from both banks. It has everything, except maybe some more years…
Another vintage we particularly cherish is the 2003, because despite the heatwave that affected the region, our early terroir allows us to harvest grapes at perfect maturity before they “cook” over the sun. Therefore we have a charming wine, whose freshness of aromas trouble the tasters at every blind tasting.
However I must say that we reached the zenith of our great reds with two legendary vintages: 2009 and 2010, though these two vintages have very little in common! 2009, my favorite, is powerful, charming, round and very “charismatic”… 2010, my husband’s favorite, is a beautiful classic, that expresses perfectly our Gravel terroir, with notes of black fruits, mineral finish and incredible Caudalies (the unit that measures length of wine flavors in mouth).
Smith Haut Lafitte is not only making great white and red Bordeaux wine in Pessac Leognan, they are at the forefront with technology as well. They were one of first Bordeaux wine producers to begin using Optical Sorting, which came in handy when dealing with the difficult 2011 Bordeaux harvest. Fabien Teitgen, the long-time managing director joined us for a long, detailed conversation concerning what took place at Smith Haut Lafitte during the 2011 Bordeaux vintage.
“To my mind, 2011 is balanced by low pH and medium alcohol. So, for those who picked at the right time, their wines will be balanced with a good concentration and good freshness. This vintage is not so simple to handle.”
It seems your 2011 red is fantastic. Could you tell us more about this wine?
The year of the winegrower The serious harvest started on September the 15th with the Merlot on the Günzian Gravel plateau at Smith Haut Lafitte. We harvested, early this same week, the younger vines, where the deliciously fruity grapes were perfectly ripe.
Following the heatwave in late June, some of the bunches had started ripening unevenly and a few grapes had not fully changed colour. Due to their poor quality potential, these small grapes were eliminated, one by one, by our optical sorting system, thus ensuring that the grapes to be pressed were evenly ripe, which is essential to extract high-quality tannins.
We are used to low yields, and 2011 is no exception to the rule!
More than any other year, we played on the alliance between nature and science: our philosophy of Bio Precision.
Satellite analysis of the vines' vegetative growth combined with a detailed resistivity survey (every 50 cm) of our soils and subsoils made it possible to harvest according to subtle variations in our terroir, rather than plot by plot.
The use of compost and our organic vineyard management approach strengthened the vines' resistance to disease. For example, short pruning and small numbers of well-ventilated bunches minimised the effects of severe attacks of Botrytis.
The result is a 2011 vintage of great complexity, structure, length, balance and a unique aromatic profile: a very “Classic Bordeaux”.
Our appellation has such a strong personality that it has given its name to our region: THE GRAVES.
These graves, or gravelly soil, consist of layers of alluvial, sandy, and stony soil deposited on a limestone subsoil by tumultuous rivers and glaciers during the Quaternary Period. This soil was later affected by erosion.
At Smith Haut Lafitte, we have a rare example of a croupe, or rise of Günze gravel.
This is thick and ochre-coloured, reflecting its high iron oxide content. This soil is perfect for growing wine grapes because it is well-drained, meagre, warm on the surface, and cool as well as humid deep down (thanks to clay and limestone) This means that the vines grow slowly and have naturally low yields, and that the grapes ripen slowly and fully (the wet soil deep down regulates water supply and makes for good, even ripening).
In parts of the vineyard where there is a higher proportion of clay and the vineyards are north facing, we planted white wine varieties to maintain their aromatic potential during hot, dry weather. We planted Cabernet Sauvignon on dryer, more gravelly soil, because this variety needs more encouraging to ripen.
We have thus adapted the optimum grape variety to each plot to make the most of our fine Günz gravel terroirs.
« It is a special privilege to live in the middle of your own vineyard. I am very proud of my collection of semi-precious stones I have found while walking or cycling. I even came across a prehistoric hatchet and shells from the Quaternary Period
» Florence CATHIARD, Owner of Château Smith Haut Lafitte