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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
Compleate Bordeaux 2011 Vintage Report: 2011 is a dangerous vintage
“2011 is a dangerous vintage. We lived through draught, rain and a lot of sun, all in that order. The draught did not impact our vineyard very much, because we have different terroirs. With each terroir, we performed specific work in the vineyards and we were lucky in our choices. The entire Right Bank of Bordeaux seems to be a success so far and yes, this includes not just St. Emilion, but Pomerol as well. From my recent tastings, 2011 Bordeaux seems to be a mix of two Bordeaux vintages; 2007 for the smoothness and 2009 for the maturity and sucrosité” says Jean Luc Thunevin.
In 1989, Jean-Luc Thunevin and Murielle Andraud bought a small 0.6 hectare plot of vines with the dream of making great St. Emilion wine! The name of the estate is personal. Valandraud is a combination of its location and something more meaningful. The Val comes from Vallon de Fongaban. The second part, Andraud is Murielle’s maiden name.
Things have changed at the estate since its birth. With more land and more importantly, the Bordeaux wine of Valandraud is made entirely by Murielle. 2007 was the first vintage that allowed Murielle to call the shots for the wine making. This was a good move.
2009 Valandraud and 2010 Valandraud are two of the finest efforts from this unique, Bordeaux wine producer. The current 2011 vintage marks the 20th vintage for Valandraud as their first effort was the 1991 Valandraud.
Jean-Luc Thunevin: “We waited patiently, waited for our grapes to reach the right concentration before harvesting. We started on September 7 and managed to finish October 13. This is about two weeks earlier than usual. We normally start about September 20.
2011 Bordeaux is about sorting, sorting and more sorting. We sorted in the vineyards and in the cellars. Since the 2007 vintage, we have been using the Tribaie sorting machine, which allows helps us remove more of the bad grapes based on levels of sugar concentration in the berries. The machine performs densimetric sorting which is based on the desired levels of ripeness and sugar levels”.
The earliest harvest on record since 1893
Chateau Lafite Rothschild started to harvest Cabernet Sauvignon in their northern most parcels, located not far from Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Friday, September 2. 2011. This is on one of the earliest harvests on record for the property. You’ll be reading quotes from many Bordeaux wine producers that 2011 Bordeaux, for many chateaux will be their earliest harvest on record since 1893! However, growers situated in some parts of Bordeaux have moved up their time tables are harvesting even earlier than they previously expected.
Due to the massive, freak, hail and rain in barrage the Northern Medoc, centered near the Pauillac , St. Estephe border, to avoid possible problems with the onset rot, many chateau in that vicinity have decided to start picking earlier than they had originally planned on. The most notable property is the famed First Growth, Chateau Lafite Rothschild. It is possible that the storm, which dropped over a massive, half inch of rain in a twenty minute period caused some flooding to the cellars of Lafite Rothschild.
“With our 2011 harvest, we harvested earlier because the growing of the vines was earlier than usual, due to the very hot spring. But the weather conditions of maturation in summer were fresh and cool, so the wine is of a cooler style than a late vintage. The nice weather conditions at the end of August and September were very good for phenolic ripeness”. Fabien Teitgen from Château Smith haut Lafitte.
The 2011 vintage is not simple to handle.
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 with the difficult 2011 Bordeaux harvest. Fabien Teitgen, the long-time managing director joined us for a long, detailed conversation on what took place at Smith Haut Lafitte for the 2011 Bordeaux vintage.
“To my mind, 2011 is balanced with low pH and medium alcohol. So for those who picked at the right time, their wines will be balanced, with a good concentration and a good freshness. This vintage is not so simple to handle.”
Chateau Cos d’Estournel, St. Estephe, started their 2011 Bordeaux harvest, Monday, September 5.
Jean Guillaume Prats told us, 2011 set a modern day record for an early start to their harvest at Chateau Cos d’Estournel. He added, “This was the estates second earliest harvest on record. To find an earlier date, we needed to back to 1893!” While the specific date to start picking was not set in stone, the original plan was not to begin their Bordeaux harvest on September 5. But due to a ferocious storm that swept through the area, 2011 Bordeaux Harvest Massive Storm Slams the Northern Medoc, any hope of waiting went out the window. “We initially planned to start about September 9, with the young vines. After the storm, we gave ourselves the time over the weekend to assess the situation and make the appropriate decision: Waiting and see how it will develop in the days to come depending on weather. We are “lucky” this vintage is extremely early. The damages in terms of phenolic ripeness of the grapes should be very minor. If this was a later year, like 2008, 2009, or 2010, the effects would be much worse.
The day starts before the sun rises
Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion started harvesting their young vine Merlot, August 29. This is early for the First Growth estate. To give you an idea of how early, in 2010, Haut Brion started to pick their young Merlot vines, September 8. In that vintage, harvesting continued until October 9.
Between the two Pessac Leognan properties, with red and white grapes to pick, they have a busy schedule. The harvesters begin their day working on the grapes for their Bordeaux white wine, often starting their day before the sun rises.
Jean-Philippe Delmas explains why they harvest in the early morning: “The purpose of picking the white grapes early in the morning is to ensure the fruit remains cool. This helps the berries to retain their unique, fresh aromas. This year, we picked our white grapes between 7am and noon. The reason is, by that time of day, the skins are dry. None of the dew from the night is remaining.”
Since Patrick Maroteaux purchased Chateau Branaire Ducru in 1988, he has been on a mission to produce the best wine possible from this Fourth Growth estate. While 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2009 are all potential candidates for the best wine yet from Branaire Ducru, I’m willing to place a bet the 2010 turns out to be his strongest wine yet. What about 2011 Branaire? Where does the most recent vintage stand? Patrick Maroteaux fills us in. “We will produce a rather powerful and colorful vintage due to the low ratio between the juice and the skin. So far the tannins seem rather approachable and elegant. The complexity of the structure will probably not be at the same level as the 2009 and 2010 vintages. We can position the 2011 vintage in the category of the very serious wines. We now know for sure that this vintage will show a very interesting balance”.