Château Smith Haut Lafitte: Pessac-Léognan success story

The Château Smith Haut Lafitte has been THE reference of great Pessac-Léognan wines for several years. This historical domain from the Graves has developed an original winegrowing and winemaking system, perfectly combining traditional and natural techniques with the most modern tools. The result is without appeal: one of the greatest wines of the appellation!

The history of Château Smith Haut Lafitte goes back to 1365 when the house had vineyards on the current terroir of the domain. During the 18th century, the Scotsman George Smith bought the vineyard, exporting his wines to England. In 1842, Duffour-Dubergier, mayor of Bordeaux and passionate winegrower, inherited the château and made it a Grand Cru. Then, in 1958, Maison Louis Eschenauer (which was already selling the wines of the domain) bought the domain and carried out important investments and did a lot of work, especially on the underground cellar. Finally, in 1990, the iconic couple Florence and Daniel Cathiard – ski champions and founders of Go Sport and Casino shops – literally fell in love with this vineyard and bought it from British merchant Brent Walker. At that moment, the adventure of this great wine really begins.

Daniel and Florence Cathiard undertook colossal work on the domain (farm buildings, but also the 18th century Carthusian monastery) and made tremendous progress on the cuvées, placing it at the top of Graves wines.

The vineyard covers 67 hectares in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, in the Graves region with an alluvial, sandy, stony soil and tertiary limestone subsoil. Smith Haut Lafitte’s terroir is composed of rare gunzian gravels, thick and full of iron oxide, a favorable soil for viticulture because it is poor, well-draining and retains a certain freshness and humidity in depth (thanks to clay or limestone).

Conventional agriculture (no organic certification or biodynamics) is carried out at the domain, but with a specific approach, which they called bio-precision and that combines innovative winegrowing and winemaking techniques respecting land and vines. This means, for example, planting hedges, leaving natural grass grow, using natural compost (based on vine shoots, grape marc and cow and horse manure) or horse ploughing, replanting the best vines. Moreover, the property produces its own seedlings and rootstocks on the La Lande island, an enclosed and protected ecosystem on the Garonne river, 10 minutes away from the château. No “chemical” inputs are used and various techniques of organic control are preferred, such as mating disruption against the eudemis (European grape moth), typhlodrome, natural predator, against red spiders or bacillus subtilis against grey mould, which naturally prevents botrytis development. Wildlife is also favoured and several hives have been set up on the property. The grape harvests are obviously manual, grapes being harvested in small crates.

In the winery, grapes are meticulously sorted out with advanced technological tools, and then the berries are brought by gravity to the 80-hectolitre-cone-shaped tanks. The domain rarely produces its own barrels with oak from Tronçais and Jupille forests. The fermentations are carried out with native yeasts and the extractions are rather gentle, with manual punching. The malolactic fermentations happen partly in vats, partly in barrels. Wine is then matured for 16 to 18 months.

In almost all aspects of winegrowing and winemaking, the Château Smith Haut Lafitte has a rare modernity, using the latest available technologies to analyze soils and map precisely the terroir, or to follow the maturity of the vines with satellite images.

It is also the Cathiard family who created Sources de Caudalie, a complex run by the younger daughter of the Cathiard couple, Alice Tourbier, as well as the cosmetic brand Caudalie (created and directed by the eldest daughter, Mathilde Thomas). Florence, their mother, completes year after year a fabulous collection of contemporary art that can be admired when visiting the domain, starting with the hare of Barry Flanagan, now emblematic for the property. This summer, the artistic experience continues with the “5 senses visit”, a walk on a path of Land’Art, which ends with a tasting of Smith Haut Lafitte wines. Success clearly runs in this family’s veins!

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