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As the morning September sun rises a cloud of fog drifts across the cold waters of the Ciron. It sweeps swiftly over the vineyards and settles on the slopes. As the suns rays touch the hills its warmth cuts a swathe through the veil and the outline of pickers become discernable between the vines. The experienced walk stooped and gather the most raisined grapes covered in mould, often one at a time. The first pick of the Château d’Yquem 1896 vintage has begun.
The harvest of 1896 vintage started at the order of Amade de Lur-Saluces on September 21, when the sun was still warm and continued for next five days. The careful first pick produced a dozen barrels of very concentrated wine. After two rainy days, the second pick commenced. The good weather lasted for only a day, but the result was an excellent 15 barrels. The pickers returned to the grapes affected with noble rot for the third time a week later, when the changing weather gave warning of approaching rain. The knowledge of what was to come increased the speed of the pickers, and the harvest rose to 24 barrels a day. Unrelenting rain arrived three days later and put an end to the picking for a week, allowing the pickers a well-deserved rest. The fourth pick was disturbed by scattered showers, but the result was still 200 barrels in four days, considered an excellent achievement. On the other hand, alcohol content dropped to 14 degrees. The fifth and last pick yielded another 300 barrels in seven days in extremely poor conditions. The potential alcohol content dropped under 10 degrees and this batch could not be used for the main wine. All in all, 826 barrels (22 hl/ha) were harvested in varying weather conditions, but only the first quarter met Yquem’s strict requirements.
The pleasure derived from tasting Yquem is difficult to describe.
It offers a myriad of well-balanced, complex flavours that generate even more harmonies over time. The impression that remains is reminiscent of a quote from Frédéric Dard "the silence that follows a piece by Mozart, in which the listener remains suffused with the music". This reflects the fact that Château d'Yquem stays on the palate for a remarkable long time, providing a unique, prolonged pleasure. There is a lovely expression in French to describe Yquem's tremendously long aftertaste: il fait la queue du paon, which means that it spreads out like a peacock's tail.
It is always difficult to describe wine-tasting experiences with any precision. The senses of sight, smell, taste and touch are all stimulated virtually at the same time. While gifted tasters can identify some of the aromas and flavours in a glass of Yquem in an effort to define its complexity, they never really succeed in communicating its essence or explaining its mystery. Mere analysis, whether chemical or organoleptic, is not sufficient to account for Yquem's greatness. Yquem tells a unique story... It starts with the bouquet. Although not always very outgoing in young vintages, it is marked by fruit (apricot, mandarin, and occasionally tropical fruit) and oak (vanilla and toasty aromas). Older vintages, on the other hand, have an extraordinarily complex fragrance as soon as the bottle is opened, with hints of dried fruit (dried apricot, prune, stewed fruit, and marmalade), spice (cinnamon, saffron, and liquorice), and even flowers (lime blossom, etc.). The first impression of Château d'Yquem on the palate is always very silky, and often sumptuous. It then fills out, "coating the palate". This fine wine has a strong, but never overbearing character, with great elegance and poise. It always maintains a balance between sugar and acidity (sweetness and freshness). A touch of bitterness can also contribute to the overall harmony. Château d'Yquem's aftertaste is legendary, and it tells another story, which lasts and lasts…
Certain connoisseurs consider it outrageous to drink a young Yquem and believe that opening such a monumental wine before its thirtieth birthday is tantamount to a sacrilege. Others, on the contrary, think that Yquem can be enjoyed at all stages in its life.
Chateau d`Yquem is often described as the greatest sweet wine in the world. After centuries of family ownership, Yquem was was bought by Louis Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy in 1999. Its former owner and director Alexandre de Lur-Saluce remains in charge. Yquem is located on the highest hill in Sauternes and enjoys the best growing conditions in the whole appellation. The 110-hectare vineyard is planted with 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. Only fully botrytized fruit is picked by the 150 highly skilled pickers and yields are so low that each vine produces only one glass of wine. Yquem is fermented in oak barrels (100% new) and is left in barriques to mature for up to 36 months. Intensely opulent when young, Yquem develops an extraordinary complexity and exotic richness when fully mature, with the best vintages lasting for over 50 years. Château d'Yquem is classified as a 1er Cru Classé supérieur.
The start of the growing season in later March set the stage for very successful flowering. A first "tidying-up" pass to remove any berries affected by sour rot took place from the 21st to the 26th of September. The real harvest began in earnest from 28/9 to 3/10 with two passes that produced a large amount of very sweet grapes. It rained for 22 days in a row (213 mm) starting on the 9th of October. While there were still grapes with an honourable degree of sugar to be picked from the 13th to the 16th, the ones harvested on the 9 following days were not up to par. There was nevertheless a very large crop because yields amounted to 22 hl/ha). The beginning of weather records at Yquem.