Best of Bordeaux: Inside Two of the World's Top Wineries
Right Bank vs. Left Bank
Here's a tale of two chateaux that share a history of modern owners who have invested in bringing the very best techniques in farming and winemaking to create some of the top wines of the world.
Smith Haut Lafitte
Few vineyards in the world can claim such a long and distinguished history as Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. The chateau’s first vines were planted as early as the 14th century on the hills of the Graves. It is these gravelly hills (Lafitte means hill or rise) that give the wine its quintessential characteristic of smoke and minerals.
In the 18th century, the property was purchased by Scotsman George Smith who gave the estate its present name. In 1842, Monsieur Duffour-Dubergier, Mayor of Bordeaux, inherited the chateau and brought the wine to a great growth status.
In 1990, Daniel Cathiard, who made his fortune in the supermarket business, fell in love with Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte and purchased the property. The new owners then embarked on a mission to further enhance the chateau’s tradition of excellence. This meant an increasingly organic approach in the vineyard, the elimination of machines, and the implementation of the hand picking of grapes during harvest.
This was combined with cutting-edge technology such as satellite imagery, soil surveys measuring electric conductivity, vibrating destemming systems and computerized optical sorting. This marriage of old and new has resulted in enabling the Cathiard family to fulfill its philosophy: "to do everything possible to make each vintage of red and white worthy of our magnificent Terroir."
Indeed, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte is special in that it is renowned not only for its red wine but also for its whites.
Wine critic and trusted wine authority Robert Parker says Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte has "fashioned one of the most consistently outstanding wines, both white and red, over the last two decades.” This culminated in his awarding 100/100 points to the red 2009 vintage.
The chateau draws continued inspiration from its circular economy. It has been increasingly sourcing all materials for its winemaking from its vineyards and the surrounding forests. This includes using solar panels and locally sourced wood for energy, the making of its own compost and the establishing of its own cooperage.
This desire for integration does not only apply to winemaking but also to the formation of a truly world-class destination within the surrounding areas of Smith Haut Lafitte.
The chateau boasts a 5-star hotel, Les Sources de Caudalie, with a world-renowned vinotherapie spa. In addition, one can also choose to dine in the two-Michelin star restaurant, La Grand’Vigne, the country-inn restaurant, La Table du Lavoir or the wine bar, Rouge. One of the more exciting activities one can participate in is a full morning forest immersion where an enchanting guided walk is capped off by a specially prepared vegetal lunch.
Located just outside the entrance to the town of St. Emilion, Clos Fourtet is distinguished by its beautiful ivy-covered manor house and some of the most extensive underground cellars in the region.
Despite its outstanding terroir, Clos Fourtet did not start out as a wine estate, but as a defensive fort called Camfourtet (loosely translated to Camp Fort). In 1868, the Rulleau family changed the name from Camfourtet to its present name of Clos Fourtet. Since the beginning of the classification in 1956, Clos Fourtet has consistently been a member of the elite ‘Premiere Grand Crus Classes’ of Saint-Emilion.
In 2001, after selling his stationery business to the Pinault Printemps Redoute (PPR) group, Philippe Cuvelier realized the potential of Clos Fourtet and purchased the property. He entrusted the running of the estate to his son Matthieu.
The Cuvelier family has invested in the property and overseen progressive change, while constantly striving to produce excellent wine. Totally committed to a natural approach, it chose to convert the vineyard to bio-dynamic farming. This important consideration for the long-term sustainability of the vineyard—together with the vineyard’s location on the highest part of Saint-Emilion, where the limestone rock comes closes to the surface—give the wines a freshness, along with a minerality and delicate tannins. This strong identity has been cherished by wine enthusiasts who speak of a ‘Clos Fourtet’ style.
As with most of Bordeaux’s right bank, the vineyard is planted primarily with merlot. In smaller proportions, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc make up the rest of the vineyard. It is in these vineyards that two renowned consultant winemakers, Stephane Derenoncourt and Jean-Claude Berrouet, taste the berries to judge the ideal ripeness levels. Clos Fourtet believes that the human palate is still the most reliable judge of the development and quality of a great wine.
In addition, Clos Fourtet also takes advantage of a unique 13-hectare network of ancient quarries that serve as a natural cellar hidden 6 to 12 meters below the surface. This sanctuary is filled with pure, healthy air, with coolness and circulation that create an exceptional microclimate in which old wines mature and the young ones begin their lives in barrel.
In 2013, the Cuvelier family acquired the vines of Chateau Les Grand Murailles, the smallest classified vineyard in Saint-Emilion, which lies adjacent to Clos Fourtet. This follows the 2008 acquisition of Chateau Poujeaux, an estate in Moulis.
Smith Haut Lafitte and Clos Fourtet are available in the Philippines from Wine Story. For more information, please e-mail [email protected]