Chateau Lafite Rothschild: The Holy Grail Of Terroir

Terroir (French pronunciation: ​[tɛʁwaʁ] from terre, “land”) is the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype, including unique environment contexts, farming practices and a crop’s specific growth habitat. Collectively, these contextual characteristics are said to have a character; terroiralso refers to this character

Terroir is the basis of the French wine appellation d’origine contrôllee (AOC) system, which is a model for wine appellation and regulation in France and around the world. The AOC system presumes that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that growing site (the plants’ habitat). The extent of terroir’s significance is debated in the wine industry

The 112 hectare vineyard of Chateau Lafite Rothschild is planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. This shows a slight change in the vineyard. While the Cabernet Sauvignon has remained at 70%, today, there is slightly more Merlot, less Cabernet Franc and the Petit Verdot has been added since the mid 1990’s

Located in the far north of the Pauillac appellation, only the small, Jalle de Breuil stream separates the vineyards from the St.Estephe appellation. One could divide the vineyards of Chateau Lafite Rothschild into 3 sections with 100 separate parcels in all. The estate has close to 50 hectares of vines located close to the chateau, on both sides of the D2 highway, which offers gentle rises in elevations of up to 27 meters. They also have about 50 hectares vines planted on the plateau in the Carruades sector, where they have 2 blocks of vines, one of which is inside the vineyard of Chateau Mouton Rothschild. It is interesting to note that even though the parcels in the Carruades sector give their name to the second wine of the estate, those vines are almost always placed in the Grand Vin. There are also vines adjacent to, and interspersed with the vineyards of Chateau Duhart Milon

Located just south of the chateau, the best terroir of Lafite Rothschild has a thick layer of gravel with sand, clay, marl and limestone in the soils with rolling, gravel slopes. The gravel can be as deep as 4 meters in some parcels. It is important to note that even though their vineyards are in the far north of Pauillac, most of the soil is pure gravel, rocks and stones. With more than 50% of the soil consisting of gravel, that is a large part of the reason Lafite Rothschild has such elegant, feminine textures and that coveted sensation of minerality

On average, the vines are close to 40 years of age. But Chateau Lafite Rothschild has much older vines. In fact, they have some vines that are more than 100 years of age planted in the La Graviere section. That small parcel of Merlot vines dates back to 1886. Less than 1% of the vines are that old. Additionally, they have a small section of Cabernet Sauvignon that dates back to 1922! Other old vines range from 50 to 90 years of age! They also maintain some of the oldest Petit Verdot vines in the Medoc that was planted in the early 1930’s. At Chateau Lafite Rothschild, between 1% to 1.5% of the vineyard is replanted every year. Vines less than 20 years of age are never included in the Grand Vin

The vineyard of Chateau Lafite Rothschild is planted to a vine density that ranges from 7,500 to 8,500 vines per hectare. Only organic fertilizers are used in the vineyards of Lafite Rothschild. During harvest, the goal is not to pick at the maximum level of ripeness. Instead, they are seeking a blend of grapes at differing levels of maturity, which gives the wine its unique textures, freshness, aromatic complexities and elegant sensations

Lafite Rothschild is the largest of the First Growth vineyards with close to 112 hectares of vines. A large portion of the estate is taken up with stunningly, beautiful landscaping, lakes, trees and parkland. Lafite Rothschild also maintains close to 50 hectares of marshland and greenery where they allow an ancient species of wild cow to live. The breed of cow is nearly extinct. The cows do not produce milk, nor are they raised as cattle for meat. This division of planted vineyards and open land has not changed much since 1868 and is close to what the property looked like in 1855, when it was deemed a First Growth in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification of the Medoc

To produce the wine of Lafite Rothschild, vinification takes place in 66 vats that are a combination of 29 wood vats, 20 stainless steel tanks and 17 concrete vats that range in size from as small as 45 hectoliters up to 123 hectoliters in the concrete and as large as 270 hectoliters for the wood. The wide range of vat sizes coupled with different materials allow Chateau Lafite Rothschild to vinify depending on the needs of each specific parcel and grape variety. The stainless steel tanks and oak vats are used for Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot is vinified in the concrete tanks

Malolactic fermentation occurs in smaller, stainless steel tanks that vary in size from 25 hectoliters up to 60 hectoliters. At this point, Chateau Lafite Rothschild does not yet use gravity to move the fruit and juice in the cellar. My guess is, they will build a new cellar, or at least raise the roof of their vat room to allow for this in the future. Chateau Lafite Rothschild is aged in 100% new, French oak barrels for 18 to 20 months, depending on the vintage. Many of the barrels are produced at a cooperage located on the property, which has the ability to manufacture up to 2,000 barrels per year

The average annual production of Chateau Lafite Rothschild ranges from 15,000 to 20,000 cases of wine per year, depending on the vintage. There is a second wine, Carruades de Lafite, which due to the name and association with the Grand Cru, has also become extremely collectible. Carruades de Lafite takes its name from a specific section of their vineyard that is located near Mouton Rothschild. Carruades is actually one of the older second wines in Bordeaux, as it was first produced in the mid 1850’s. About 100 years later during the mid 1960s, the estate reintroduced their second wine naming it Moulin de Carruades. The name was changed again in the 1980’s to Carruades de Lafite. There is also a third wine which is sold as an AOC Pauillac that is produced from declassified fruit from Lafite Rothschild and Duhart-Milon

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