The quality of Château Lafite Rothschild needs no introduction. As early as 1815, Abraham Lawton had already designated it as leader: “I ranked it as being the most elegant and delicate, with the finest body of the three (leading wines)” he qualified in 1855. As to Château Lafite's attributes found in all vintages, it was an enlightened amateur that summed it up best by saying “...whatever the case, all the Château Lafite wines have an almond and violet aroma!”
Grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon 80 to 95%, Merlot 5 to 20%, Cabernet franc and Petit Verdot 0 to 5%. Note that there are a few differing cases such as vintage 1994: 99% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petit Verdot, vintage 1961: 100% of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Length of ageing in oak barrels: 18 to 20 months in 100% new barrels.
Average annual production: 15,000 to 20,000 cases.
The vineyard consists of three major areas: the hillsides around the Château, the adjacent Carruades plateau to the west, and 4.5 hectares in neighbouring Saint Estèphe. The total area is 178 hectares including 107 hectares of vines. The soil is deep fine gravel mixed with aeolien sand on a bedrock of tertiary limestone. It is well-drained and well-exposed to the sun.
The grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (2%).
The average age of the grapevines is 35 years old, over all. But it must be noted that vines younger than 10 years old (representing 20 hectares) are not used in the Grand Vin. This means that the average age of the vines used in the Grand Vin (Château Lafite Rothschild itself) average 45 years. The oldest plot, called “La Gravière , was planted in 1886.
The technical director of the estate is currently Charles Chevallier. The estate has been managed by a single team since 1962, which supervises both Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Duhart-Milon, since the two properties are adjacent. Both châteaux use exactly the same traditional techniques, based on strict control of yields, manual harvests, and numerous tasks that are carried out by hand all through the year. Little or no chemical fertilizers are used, and careful use of organic fertilizers allow the vines to reach an advanced age; they are generally pulled out (with a heavy heart) when they reach 80 years old.
The grapes of each plot are fermented in separate tanks in order to maintain identity and integrity of each parcel.
At Lafite, tradition and technical progress go hand in hand, but the technicians rely on their palates for deciding the date of the harvest, the fermentations, and running off times. Fermentation takes place in wooden vats where the musts macerate between 18 and 25 days.
Upon completion of the alcoholic fermentation, the cuvée-wines are tasted before being moved to barrels into the fine wine tanks. The free run juice and the pomace are separated and the pomace is pressed independently in order to extract the “press wine”. A second fermentation phase, called malolactic fermentation, takes place in vats before the wine is transferred into barrels by batches.
The barrels are all made at the Domaine’s cooperage. Several tastings from each tank are made to ensure the quality of all of the wine. Blending takes place after the first racking of the barrels in March. Then the ageing phase of the wine begins in the cellar, which takes between 18 and 20 months. During this period, the cellar master racks regularly the wine in order to clarify it. Four to six lightly beaten egg whites are added to each barrel, which absorb floating particles and pull them down to the bottom of the barrel. The wine is then ready for bottling, which takes place in June. The average production of Château Lafite Rothschild and its second wine, Carruades de Lafite, has been 45,000 cases per year over the last ten years.