Do you see that gorgeous Chateau above? It is owned by Florence and Daniel Cathiard, who met when they were skiing champions as very young teenagers and in the fullness of time bought the Chateau, devoted their lives to it, and in the last few years have been reaping the rewards. The couple also owns a gorgeous hotel and spa Les Sources des Caudalies, where you can see very beautiful slender people staying slim by bathing in the special waters and having a massage after eating the incredible food in the two gourmet restaurants.
In January of this year, the Grand Jury Européen held a blind tasting with the best 30 red 2001 Bordeaux, with Château Smith Haut Lafitte coming out first.
All the details of these tastings and the actuality of Château Smith Haut Lafitte on its Website and Facebook Page. More information can be found on the blogs of the Grand Jury Européen and Jamie Goode.
Congratulations as well to the extensive Smith Haut Lafitte team, including technical director Fabien Teitgen.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit the chateau many times and have always been impressed by the wine. As a student in the Master of Wine educational program, I’m always curious about the winemaking techniques. In case you are too, here are the details:
Red Winemaking according to the Chateau:
Putting into vat: The whole, uncrushed berries are taken to the appropriate vat via a small 3 hl mobile vat. The grapes fall into the vat by gravity flow, yet another example of the estate’s emphasis on quality: The fruit is treated totally gently this way.
Pre-fermentation maceration: when the grapes are put into vat, we lower the temperature for cold maceration prior to alcoholic fermentation. This is ideal for bringing out colour and aromas.
Fermentation: Alcoholic fermentation begins spontaneously thanks to indigenous yeast. This yeast “eats” the sugar and transforms it into alcohol, carbonic gas, and heat. The solid matter rises and forms as cap at the top of the vat. The temperature also rises at this time. The art of winemaking consists of maintaining the right temperature and contact between the cap and the juice.
Post-fermentation maceration: The vats are kept at a temperature of 28°C and left on the skins as long as it takes for the wine to form its tannic structure and acquire the right degree of richness. We monitor how maceration is going by regular tastings.
Running off and pressing: We run off the free run juice (part of which goes into new oak barrels), separating it from the solid matter in the vat. This is then used to make the press wine. “We put the wine into barrel at an early stage when it is ‘still warm’. This definitely enhances the interaction between the wine and the oak. This is better integrated and more understated as a result.”
Barrel ageing: The secondary, or malolactic fermentation takes place partly in vat, and partly in barrel. This is essential for stabilising red wines.
We keep the wine on its lees for the few first months of ageing and decide what winemaking operations to do based on weekly tastings. We rack the wine very little.
Bottling: We bottle our fine red wine after 16-18 months ageing in an oxygen-free atmosphere to maintain ageing potential.
We pick the grapes entirely by hand in several waves, just like in Sauternes, to harvest only the ripest, healthiest, bunches, leaving the others behind to ripen further.
The grapes are gently pressed in pneumatic winepresses in a nitrogen atmosphere. During this pressing, the grapes and the juice are protected from oxidation by a blanket of inert nitrogen gas. This retains all the wine’s colour and aromatic potential.
The juice goes into stainless steel vats via gravity flow at a temperature of 8°C for cold settling lasting 24 hours, after which the wine is put into barrel.
The alcoholic fermentation takes place there under entirely natural conditions. This generally lasts for 8-20 days.
Ageing on the lees lasts 10-12 months, in 50% new oak barrels. These are regularly topped up, stirred with a stick (bâtonnage), and tasted. It is quite a challenge to manage this barrel ageing and find just the right proportion of new oak: The structure and power of our white Smith Haut Lafitte is well-suited to this percentage of new oak, and is very complementary. Oak ageing adds vanilla, toasty nuances that integrate beautifully with the wine’s intrinsic aromatics.
The wine is entirely château-bottled on an ultra-modern bottling line in a nitrogen atmosphere to guarantee the quality and ageing potential of our great wines.
SOME OTHER NEWS ABOUT THIS CHATEAU
P.S. Here’s an update! I asked Fabien to go into more detail about the wines …
I spoke about your winemaking in my post below and wanted to be a little more clear on some points of winemaking.
1. You don’t really mention selection. Do you have an optical sorter? Are picking teams trained to select in the vineyard? We have an optical sorter for 5 years and we are now able to use it very well…with very good results. For the harvest we have a very strong base with people who come back every years and we explain to new picker what we want. Some people of our team help the new picker to do a good job.
2. What is the exact temperature for cold maceration prior to alcoholic fermentation? Also, how long is the cold maceration?
I don’t do cold maceration before alcoholic fermentation; I just decrease the temperature of the grapes around 14 Celsius degree, and I wait the beginning of the fermentation.
3. How long is fermentation, and at what temperature? You also don’t mention punch down, pump over, rack and return … or how often (once a day, twice, etc)
Depending of the vats, the fermentation go on during 8 to 12 days; after the fermentation begin a long maceration with 26 to 28 Celsius degree during 4 to 6 weeks (depending of the vintage, the vats, the varietal, …)
During the fermentation, we use punch down for the extraction , 3 to 4 time a day
4. What type of French oak (from which forrest) and what toast? Do you find that the toast varies according to the vintage? Is it still 50% new French oak? Do you use a variety of coopers (6 or 7)
We have our own cooperage. We use just French oak from Tronçais, Loches, Jupille forest and we do soft but deep toasting. Our cooper makes a small fire to toast, so the temperature increase deeply in the wood and we haves just a light color on the area of the wood. We produce 95% of our need of barrels.
5. I’m not sure about how long the wine is kept on the lees … on the web site, it says the first few months, yet I thought it was aged 16 to 18 months in oak?
According the vintage, the red wine stays on the lees between 3 to 6 month. And the total aging to 16 to 18 month.
- So for more complexity, you pick the white grapes young and also later in the harvest …
We go several time in each parcel of the vineyard to pick the white grapes, just the grapes with a good level of maturity. And we wait to come back to pick the other grapes when the level of maturity is good.
- How many tiems a week does the wine undergo batonnage?
We just do some batonnage to control the oxydo-reduction balance of the wine. So I have no rhythm, just the tasting of the wine decide to do a b