Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Château Smith Haut Lafitte Cellar Tour and Les Sources de Caudalie Dinner: Decanter d'Yquem Weekend

Photo courtesy Ogodinho with permission.
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte is a property located in the Pessac-Léognan commune of the Graves sub-region of Bordeaux and is owned by Florence and Daniel Cathiard, former members of the French National Ski Team.  Decanter had arranged for Yquem Weekend participants to visit the winery for a cellar tour at 6:00 pm on Friday and we showed up on schedule for this opening event.  The tour was listed as optional but, in a testament to the high interest level of the participants, everyone showed up.

The tour was led initially by Xavier Feuillerat, the individual in the winery tasked with that activity. According to Xavier, the château can trace its roots back to 1365.  The name is derived from the Old French word Lahite -- hill -- and, thus, Haut Lafitte is top of the hill.  In 1770 the property was bought by one John Smith who modified the château's name by adding his surname in the primary position.  At one time in its history the château was owned by Lodi Duffour-Duberger, one-time mayor of Bordeaux and the individual who had been charged with the development and ratification of the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

The current owners were married in 1968.  Daniel's father ran a grocery chain which he went home to manage after his father died in 1970.  In addition to growing that business into a major mid-market chain, Daniel launched a sports-themed chain called Go Sport and both of these businesses were sold in 1990 and Château Smith Haut Lafitte bought with the sale proceeds.

The property consists of 67 hectares, 56 of which are planted to red wine grapes.  Xavier indicated that the white wine grapes were farmed biodynamically with the plots ploughed by horses, no insecticides, and vines pruned only when the moon was in a certain phase.  The white wines are fermented in 50% new French oak over a 3-week period and stored on the lees for 12 months with battonage.  The composition of the white wine is 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Semillon, and 5% Sauvignon Gris.  The composition of the red wine is 35% Merlot, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc.

By this time Madame Cathiard had joined the tour and taken over leadership responsibilities and proceeded to refute the claim of biodynamic farming.  She said they would never be biodynamic.  The château does use organic compost and plough with horses but the latter is, according to her, to avoid compacting the soil in a particularly fragile area.

James Lawther, Madame Cathiard, and Technical Director Fabian Teitgen
According to Madame Cathiard, when they bought the property 20 years ago, they were concerned with the fertility of the rootstock and have had an ongoing vine-replacement program to address this issue.  The oldest vines on the property are 52 years old and can go 6 to 7 meters into the soil.

It takes 3-5 years before they begin picking grapes from the new plants and the press from these grapes go into the second wine (Les Hauts de Smith).

The winery has an on-site cooperage which produces three barrels per day.  This production is sold to the second label and to Cognac and Armagnac producers and some used in-house.

Madame Cathiard took us into a sub-basement with access secured through an electrically operated door which opened upwards from the floor.  As we descended into the room she indicated that it was named Le Paradis -- the paradise.  On the left-hand side of the room was a table on which lay every size of wine that is produced at the château, proceeding from smallest to largest.  On the right side of the room was a line of bottles of the château's red wines arranged from oldest to most recent.  At the front of the room was a glass cube containing a wine bottle which, through the influence of imbedded mirrors, appeared to be the entrance to a hole stretching to infinity.

Photo courtesy of Ogodinho. Used with permission.
Photo courtesy Ogodinho. Used with permission.
At the conclusion of the cellar tour Madame Cathiard took us to the château's tasting room where we tasted the 2008 vintage of the white wine.  Madame Cathiard described it as evolving nicely with aromas of grapefruit and white flowers.  James Lawther, the Decanter MW accompanying us on the trip, described the wine as having freshness and balance with visible but harmonious oak, and grapefruit and apricot on the nose, exuberance on the palate, and good length and depth.

At the conclusion of the visit we thanked Madame effusively and wended our way back to Les Source des Caudalie's La Table du Lavoir restaurant for dinner.  One of the thoughtful things that Decanter had done was to check for food allergies/preferences ahead of time and to pass that information on to the locales at which we ate.  The menus were presented to us with options or personalized for those with specific needs.  The menu for the dinner at La Table du Lavoir was as follows:

Course 1:  Onion tart with anchovies and black olives, rocket salad parmesan or Foie gras from the Landes with Lillet caramel and toast; accompanied by Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2007.
Course 2:  Sea Breem filet à la plancha, ink of squid risotto, red sweet pepper juice or Duck magret, seasonal mushrooms and juice; acompanied by Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rogue 2000.
Course 3:  Warm soft chocolate cake, Bourbon vanilla ice cream or Figs tart, almond milk sorbet; accompanied by Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge 1998.

This was a great getting-to-know-you dinner and set a phenomenal baseline of communication for the entire group.  By the way, the 1998 was the preference of the group as the 2000 needed to be decanted fro a while.

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