By Paige Donner
Château Smith Haut Lafitte is one of those wineries in Bordeaux that has its own helipad. Likely, it's one of the only wineries in Bordeaux that has its own helipad, actually. It also has its own weather station and its own cooperage. And, yes, mais oui!, the wine barrels are all made from French Oak.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte's owners, since 20 years, are Mr. and Mrs. Cathiard, a dynamic "Power Couple" who can count Olympic Team competitive skiing, grocery store and sporting goods retail empires and an international advertising executive career as part of their storied pasts. But that was then and wine is now.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte wines are considered one of the top 20 wines of Bordeaux. That is no small feat. Just look at the company they keep. But having reclaimed the historic Graves AOC Bordeaux Château, which, by 1990 had fallen into disrepair, the Cathiards set about doing things their own way. It worked.
To examine just two facets of their innovative approach, let's look at the 2009 vintage, both white and red.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte - 2009 Vintage
Fabien Teitgen, the winemaker, and the Cathiards believe in whole grape fermentation. Grapes are not crushed at this winery. To help achieve this, the 2009 vintage saw two revolutions here: one for de-stemming and the other for grape sorting.
Grape Sorting: they refer to it as Optical Sorting and use a Vistalys Optical Sorting machine. This sensitive machine photographs the fruit and sorts it based on color and shape characteristics. A jet of air eliminates all the detritus and unwanted bits such as debris or under ripe fruit.
Destemming: The second revolution is also grace á a "revolutionary" machine. The destemmer vibrates the grapes which releases them from their stems. No splintering of stems results and only whole grapes, then, are released into the fermentation vats. The Château Smith Haut Lafitte winemaking team is able to use "precision and reproducibility" with these machines as well as keep nothing but whole, perfect grapes for their wines.
2009 Reds are: 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc , 1% Petit Verdot, 30% Merlot "The wines are taking on a lovely fleshiness. They are full and silky."
2009 Whites are: 90% Sauvignon blanc, 5% Sauvignon gris, 5% Sémillon "Lovely, ripe, concentrated rich wines just like a fine, sunny day. They have nice acidity that reflects the cool summer nights of 2009."
While the term "bio-dynamic," is not used by Fabien Teitgen, Château Smith Haut Lafitte's winemaker, there are practices on the vineyard reminiscent of bio-dynamism. For instance:
On a number of vineyard plots, we have applied the same, gradual, empirical approach, to vine protection and developed a system based solely on copper and sulphur (in homeopathic doses) combined with nettle, chestnut, and horsetail tea and herbal concoctions.
This risky step has paid off: the vines are beautiful and healthy. - Fabien Teitgen
Teitgen also credits the use of organic compost - horse manure, vine prunings, pomace - on the 67 hectares of Gunzian gravel terroir with revitalizing it and helping maintain the necessary equilibrium between soil and vine. They use an innovative (not standard) cover crop between the rows of vines which helps revitalize the soil's structure, drainage and dynamics.
So why the helipad? Well, maybe it's for their Rich & Famous friends who have dropped in at the winery, you know, like Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.
33650 Bordeaux - Martillac www.smith-haut-lafitte.com