The very name of this property captures the imagination… In an interview with BFM Business on the French news channel a few days ago, Angélique de Lencquesaing talked about Château Lafite Rothschild, a historic and emblematic top-ranked estate in the Bordeaux region, on the ‘Tout pour investir’ programme. With the tables largely turned in the market, what place does this Pauillac premier cru classé hold in the hearts of wine enthusiasts and their investment choices when managing their wine collection? Here are some insights that Angélique shared in her interview with Lorraine Goumot.
Why does Château Lafite Rothschild hold such a prominent position in the Bordeaux wine world?
Its reputation spans centuries. The first evidence of vines growing here can be traced back to … 1234! The Marquis de Ségur, nicknamed the Prince of Vines because he also owned the Latour and Calon vineyards, restructured the wine region in the 17th century. Lafite produced wines that were highly appreciated as far as the Versailles Royal Palace. After being sold during the French Revolution, the estate went through a dark period, although its quality remained unchanged. This earned it a place at the top of the 1855 Classification of Médoc and Graves Crus, drawn up at the request of Napoleon III for the Paris Universal Exhibition held that same year. The estate was acquired by James de Rothschild in 1868 and has remained in the hands of his descendants ever since, except during the Second World War, when the family was stripped of its nationality and expelled from Lafite. The property remained under occupation until 1945.
Did the family take over the reins again after the Second World War?
Yes, and with considerable success. Baron Eric de Rothschild proudly represented the estate until 2018. The wines undergo a rigorous selection process, first in the vineyard and then during the vinification process in the winery which was built by Ricardo Bofill in 1987. A spectacular facility, way ahead of its time, which made it possible to produce some truly exceptional vintages. Today, the estate is restructuring its facilities once again, which will enable it to further refine and perfect the quality of its production.
How do you explain Château Lafite Rothschild’s global success?
The Lafite team have long travelled the world to promote their wines. This is particularly true in Asia, and especially in China, where the name Lafite – easy to pronounce in Chinese, which is a plus! – has achieved cult status. So much so, that the popularity of the name increased steadily in the early 2000s, and most significantly from 2009 onwards, when Hong Kong abolished import taxes on wines. From that point on, Château Lafite attained a rather unique, iconic status, epitomising luxury, and the French ‘Art de vivre’, and prices soared.
Did the 2008 subprime crisis impact Lafite’s prices at all?
Following a brief dip in 2009, prices resumed their upward trajectory until the early 2010s. Buyers were willing to pay a hefty price for a bottle bearing the Lafite label, or that of its second wine, Carruades de Lafite. The former reached record levels. As with many Médoc estates, the 2000 vintage proved to be a superb success at Lafite. In 2011, its iDealwine auction price peaked at over €1,700. Les Carruades, its second wine, the prelude to the great wine, whose label bears many similarities to that of the grand cru, also enjoyed a dizzying rise in sales.
Selling for under €40 at auction in 2003, this second wine (from younger vines) topped the €300 mark on iDealwine at the start of 2011!
What is behind the price readjustment from 2011 onwards? Did the 2011 summer currency crisis have an impact?
The policy change in China (the end of the ‘gifts’ policy), decreed by President Xi Jin Ping, had a fairly immediate and clear impact on Asian demand for Château Lafite wines. The impact is tangible in the evolution of the iDealwine rating observed for Lafite’s first wine, and for its second wine, from 2011 onwards.
And does Château Lafite Rothschild currently hold a particular place on the auction market?
Absolutely, and it’s undeniably a position that owes a great deal to the vitality instilled by Saskia de Rothschild. Eric de Rothschild’s daughter, born in 1987 – the same year as the new winery – is determined to breathe new life into the image of Lafite wines. But without diluting the estate’s DNA: the remarkable Almanach, the fruit of exceptional record-keeping work that Saskia undertook upon her arrival, is a fitting testament to this. The commercial drive of the teams, coupled with a family heritage that remains strongly anchored, maintains the brand’s desirability in all markets.
At auction, Lafite is the fourth most traded Bordeaux estate. In 2023, over 1,000 bottles (when scaled to 750 ml) were auctioned on the iDealwine platform for an average price of €558, the highest behind Petrus (much rarer at auction, with only 380 bottles exchanged last year).
This wine retains its icon status, a sure bet in any cellar. Despite major changes in its price, it has retained both its image and its prestige. Considering the lack of interest in some of Bordeaux’s top ranked wines over the last few years, this situation is by no means anecdotal. Château Lafite continues to be a safe and prestigious bet in the collection of any fine wine connoisseur.
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