Thursday, January 21, 2016
Visit and Tasting: Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan, Grand Cru Classé – Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015), France
Overall, Bordeaux is a rather sleepy area, not well prepared to receive wine lovers from all over the world to experience the wines they love so much in the area, where the wines are made. But things are changing. Wine tourism has caught up with Bordeaux. One producer that clearly is a leader in this wine-tourism movement is Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte.
We visited Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte in the morning. Following the visit and tasting we enjoyed lunch at the 2 Michelin starred Restaurant La Grand' Vigne, prepared by Chef Nicolas Masse. The restaurant is part of the Les Sources de Caudalie, a complex comprising a hotel, several restaurants and a health spa, which the owners of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte constructed next to the Château.
This posting focuses on the visit of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte. A separate posting covers the outstanding wine lunch at Restaurant La Grande Vigne.
Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Florence and Daniel Cathiard
The noble Bosq family started growing grapes here as early as 1365. The property was purchased in the 18th century by Scotsman George Smith, who gave the estate its present name. He also built the manor house and exported his – by now famous – wine to England on his own ships. Current owners are Florence and Daniel Cathiard.
Both Florence and Daniel were professional skiers belonging to the French Olympic ski team in the mid-1960s (with triple gold medal legend at the 1968 Winter Olympics Jean-Claude Killy). After their career in sports, Daniel built a supermarket and sporting goods store imperium and Florence an advertising agency. In 1990 they bought Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte with the wealth generated by the sale of all their assets. They brought the quality of Smith-Haut-Lafitte wines to the level for which they were once renowned.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte
Château Smith Haut Lafitte is a Bordeaux producer from the Pessac-Léognan appellation, ranked among the Grands Crus Classé for red wine in the Classification of Graves wine of 1953 and 1959. The winery and vineyards are located south of the city of Bordeaux, in the commune of Martillac.
The estate originates in the 14th century with the house of Verrier Du Boscq who planted vines on a gravelly plateau named Lafitte already in 1365. In 1720 it was bought by the Scotsman Georges Smith who added his name to the lieu-dit and who built the manor house of the property.
The Louis Eschenauer Company bought the estate in 1958, after having already distributed the wine from the early 20th century. In 1990, Florence and Daniel Cathiard bought Smith Haut Lafitte and embarked on a major renovation and investment program.
The vineyard area consists of 67 hectares, 56 hectares of which are planted with red grape varieties (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc). The remaining 11 hectares are cultivated with white varieties (90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sémillon and 5% Sauvignon Gris). The vineyards are located on a gravel ridge to the east of Château Haut-Bailly.
The grapes are fermented in stainless steel vats and the wine is then matured in oak barrels (50% new) for 15-18 months. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.
The Grand vin, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, is annually produced in 10,000 cases of the red wine and 2,500 cases of the dry white. The second wine, Les Hauts de Smith, has a production of 5,500 cases, and exists in red, white and rosé versions. The rosé is produced as a Bordeaux AOC.
Château Smith-Haut-Lafite has been transformed during the last decade from being a perennial underachiever to being one of the leading estates in the Graves region. Before the arrival of the Cathiard Family, Château Smith Haut Lafitte - though a Classified Growth of the Graves region - bore the nickname of Sleeping Beauty.
Daniel and Florence Cathiard invested heavily, restored buildings, replaced vats, constructed a new barrel cellar, converted vineyard practices to sustainable farming and paid detailed attention to hand picking, sorting, and practices in the cellar. The proportion of new oak barrels used in the maturation process was increased and a trio of eminent oenologists (including Michel Rolland) was hired as consultants.
Having raised the wine of Smith to the highest level of quality, Daniel and Florence Cathiard were not happy to leave it at that: they also restored the 16th-century tower, renovated the 18th-century chartreuse, refurbished two underground cellars and started up a cooperage on the premises.
We ended the tour with a tasting.
Wine Searcher Prices (in US Dollars)
Lunch at Restaurant La Grand' Vigne, Prepared by Chef Nicolas Masse (2 stars Michelin)
Following the tour, we went over to the Restaurant La Grand' Vigne for an outstanding wine lunch, prepared by Chef Nicolas Masse, who got his second Michelin star in 2014. (See separate posting).
Postings on the Bordeaux Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015), France (Posted and Forthcoming)
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