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Château Lafite-Rothschild

France Bordeaux

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The famous vineyard is located in the north of the commune of Pauillac in the French area of Haut-MédocBordeaux). Directly adjacent to it is Château Mouton-Rothschild. It was first mentioned in writin...

The famous vineyard is located in the north of the commune of Pauillac in the French area of Haut-Médoc(Bordeaux). Directly adjacent to it is Château Mouton-Rothschild. It was first mentioned in writing in 1234, where a Gombaud de Lafite is mentioned, an abbot of the monastery of Vertheuil in the north of Pauillac. Since the 14th century, Lafite has been recorded as a feudal estate. The name "Lafite" is probably derived from the Gascon "la hite", which means "small mountain" or "hill". This is a clear reference to the gentle elevation on which the estate's buildings stand. In the mid-16th century, it was owned by the nobleman Joseph Saubat de Pommiers. After his death, his widow Jeanne de Gasq married the notary Jacques de Ségur (+1691) from the famous noble family in 1670 and brought Lafite as a dowry. At that time there were already small vineyards, but it was only between 1670 and 1680 that vineyards were planted on a larger scale. A piece of land called "Clos de Mouton" later became Château Mouton-Rothschild. His son Alexandre de Ségur married Marie-Thérèse de Clauzel, the heiress of Château Latour, in 1695. At this time, three of the four Premiers Crus classified in 1855 thus belonged to the estate.

Château Lafite-Rothschild - Weingutsgebäude

First successes

A productive vineyard can be traced back to at least 1707, as a bottle with this vintage has been found. Thanks to greatly improved viticultural techniques, there were first successes from the 1720s onwards. Lafite wine was marketed abroad (especially in England). It was also appreciated by the English Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), who ordered a barrel of Lafite (of 225 litres) every three months between 1732 and 1733. Only later did it also become known in Versailles at the royal court. There is a nice story about how this came about. A doctor prescribed wine to Marshal Richelieu (1696-1788) as " the best and most pleasant of tonics". After a long journey by the Marshal, King Louis XV (1710-1774) remarked on his return that Richelieu " looked 25 years younger than before his departure". The latter remarked: " I have found the famous fountain of youth. The wine of Château Lafite is a noble tonic, delicious and comparable to the ambrosia of the gods of Olympus". The royal mistress Madame Pompadour (1721-1764) served Lafite wine at her intimate dinners. And her successor Madame du Barry (1743-1793) also favoured this wine.

Visit of Thomas Jefferson

The Marquis Ségur's estate was divided among his four daughters after his death in 1755, separating Lafite and Latour again but still managing them together until 1785. Lafite fell to Comte Nicolas Marie Alexandre de Ségur, the son of the Marquis' eldest daughter. He sold it in 1784 to his relative Nicolas Pierre de Pichard (+1794), the first President of the Parliament of Bordeaux. Shortly afterwards, the estate was described in an essay as "the most beautiful vineyard in the universe". At that time, the later US President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was his country's ambassador to France and gathered information about Château Lafite, among other things. Finally, the Ségur family's rule over the estate came to an end with the guillotine execution of Nicolas Pierre de Pichard by the verdict of the revolutionary regime on 30 June 1794.

Finding of old vintages

In the spring of 1985, the artist manager Hardy Rodenstock (1941-2018) received, according to his own account, a phone call about the discovery of 12 very old vintages of exquisite wines. These had been found walled up in a cellar wall in Paris. They were wines from the renowned French wineries Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château d'Yquem from the 1784 and 1787 vintages from the estate of Thomas Jefferson. In 1988, the American billionaire William Koch (*1940) bought four bottles of Château Lafite-Rothschild and Château Mouton-Rothschild from the vintages 1784 and 1787 from the US wine auction house Chicago Wine Company, including bottles from this cellar find. Koch had them examined by employees of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in Monticello (Virginia). They expressed doubts about the authenticity of the bottles. This began a long history of forgery accusations and lawsuits. However, the facts could not be clarified 100% beyond doubt until today (see in detail under Hardy Rodenstock).

Kellerfund mit Lafite-Weinen

Bordeaux Classification 1855

The property was auctioned off and acquired by the Dutch citizen Jean de Witt, who, however, only kept it for a short time. There was subsequently a constant change of ownership, the owners from 1800 being Baron Jean Arend de Vos Van Steenvwyck, Othon Guillaume Jean Berg, Jean Goll de Franckenstein, Madame Barbe-Rosalie Lemaire (from 1818) and the banker Aimé-Eugène Vanlerberghe (from 1821). The latter, however, did not appear officially for tax reasons, but to the outside world this was the banker Samuel Scott. The famous Bordeaux classification in 1855, in which the estate was one of only four at that time to be ennobled as "Premier Cru", falls into this period. In the absolute (unofficial) ranking, it was even at the top and was considered "the best site in the Médoc, producing the best wine in the Bordeaux region". The "eternal rival" Château Mouton-Rothschild was only ranked second "Deuxième Cru" at the time.

Purchase by James de Rothschild

In 1868, as part of the succession of Ignace-Joseph Vanlerberghe, the auction of Château Lafite was announced. However, no bids were received at the first auction on 20 July. The second auction then took place on 8 August, the opening bid was 3.25 million francs including the Carruades vineyard. The winning bid was made by the Parisian banker James de Rothschild (1792-1868) for the sum of 4.8 million francs including taxes. James was one of the five sons of Mayer Amschel Roth schild (1744-1812), the founder of the Rothschild dynasty, and established the main French line. Incidentally, his son-in-law and nephew Nathaniel de Roth schild (1812-1870), who had already been working in his father-in-law's bank in Paris since 1850, had already acquired Château Mouton-Rothschild 15 years earlier in 1853 (he is also said to have bid at the auction for Château Lafite through an intermediary). The Rothschild bank in Paris resided in the "Rue Laffitte" - and according to legend, this was one of the reasons for the purchase.

Château Lafite-Rothschild - 3 Porträts und Flaschenetikett

James de Rothschild had been interested in this vineyard for a long time. The first attempt to buy it was already made in 1830, but it was rejected by the then (supposed) owner Samuel Scott. Now, 38 years later, it had finally worked out. The new owner added his own name and called the estate "Château Lafite-Rothschild". He died only three months later and allegedly never saw the estate once. He was succeeded by his three sons Alphonse, Gustave and Edmond Rothschild (1845-1934). The latter revived viticulture in Israel with 60 million gold francs in 1882. From the last third of the 19th century, a series of medium to large disasters occurred. It began with phylloxera, continued almost seamlessly with downy mildew, then organised fraud with fake Lafite wines, the First World War from 1914 to 1918 and the great Great Depression of the 1930s.

Occupation by German troops

During the Second World War, the Médoc region was occupied by German troops in 1940. Among other things, the two Rothschild estates were placed under public administration. After the end of the war, the Edmonds family entrusted their grandson Elie Robert de Rothschild (1917-2007) with the management. He hired the famous oenologist Professor Émile Peynaud (1912-2004) as an advisor. The reconstruction of the run-down estate proceeded rapidly. For the first time in 80 years, since the Rothschilds had owned the estate, a dividend was paid to the shareholders in 1948. Baron Elie was one of the main figures in the difficult reconstruction of the market. He participated as a member in the tastings in London and was a founding member of the "Commanderie du Bontemps du Médoc" (Wine Brotherhood) in 1950. In 1953, he fuelled the "eternal conflict" between Mouton and Lafite by proposing to exclude Mouton from the "Association of Five" (the then four Premiers Crus and Mouton) because it was not a Premier Cru.

Many innovations

The 1955 vintage was a very great wine, but the next year, 1956, brought another enormous setback, as it did for many other wineries in Bordeaux, due to extreme frost down to minus 35 °Celsius. But the upswing could no longer be stopped. In 1975, Elie handed over the reins to his nephew Eric de Rothschild (*1940). He set new impulses and gradually renewed the entire technical team. New plantings were made in the vineyards, and improved fertilisers and sophisticated plant protection methods were introduced. A new circular wine cellar was built by the star architect Ricardo Bofill. In 1994, Charles Chevallier was established as cellar master. Through the acquisition of several wine estates at home and abroad, the family business "Domaines Barons de Rothschild" (DBR) expanded considerably. These include the Chilean vineyard Los Vascos in the Colchagua area.


The vineyards cover around 100 hectares of vines, which are locally divided into three larger areas. These are the vineyards around the Château itself, those near Carruades and a smaller part in St. Estèphe. By special entitlement, the St. Estèphe wines are also considered to be those of Pauillac. The vineyards are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon (71%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (1%). The average age of the vines is 40 years. All younger vines under ten years old are not used for the Grand Vin. The first secret of the outstanding quality is the soil, these are deep gravel banks on limestone. Other important components are the age of the vines, a yield limit of 40 to 45 hectolitres per hectare, the correct timing of the harvest, which varies according to variety, strict selection of the grapes, careful destemming, a fermentation temperature of no more than 30 °C and over-pumping to extract the colouring. After fermentation, every single barrel is checked and tasted and only the very best of them are used for the first wine. The second quality goes into the second wine and the third goes into the low-priced DBR Collection line

Wines (first wine, second wine, DBR Collection)

The usual blend for the first wine is Cabernet Sauvignon (80-95%), Merlot (5-20%), and Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (0-3%). The 1961 vintage was made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is aged for 18 to 20 months in 100% new barriques. The barrels are made in the estate's own cooperage. The barrels are constantly topped up to compensate for shrinkage, decanted two or three times into clean barrels and fined with beaten egg white. After ageing, six barrels at a time are put into one container in order to achieve greater quantities of uniform qualities through this levelling. The red wine has a bouquet of almonds and violets. Between 15,000 and 20,000 cases are produced annually. The second wine is called "Carruades de Lafite" (formerly "Moulin des Carruades") and is named after a vineyard that was hotly contested between the Lafite and Mouton estates around 1845 (see Rothschild). It has a higher Merlot content and matures for 18 months in up to 15% new barriques. Between 20,000 and 30,000 cases are produced annually. Since 1995, the lower-priced "DBR Collection" line has been marketed alongside the top wines. This group, labelled "Réserves des Barons", includes the four wines Bordeaux rouge, Bordeaux blanc, Médoc and Pauillac.

To this day, Château Lafite-Rothschild is one of the best and most expensive red wines in the world, and has been for centuries with almost unbelievable consistency. At a tasting, 36 different vintages going back to 1799 were once tasted and compared. The astonishing result was a consistent quality of the wines over a period of more than 150 years. Two vintages of the house are among the most expensive wines in the world. For a long time, the record holder was a 1787 vintage that sold for $160,000 (£105,000) at a Christie's auction in 1985. The bottle, which came from the estate of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), went to US publisher Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990). In November 2010, the record was broken. The auction house Sotheby's Hong Kong sold three bottles of the 1869 vintage for 1.8 million Hong Kong dollars each in November 2010. This corresponds to an unbelievable 232,692 US dollars.

Outstanding vintages

Outstanding vintages of Château Lafite-Rothschild from older times were, for example, 1847, 1848, 1858, 1864, 1869, 1870 (!), 1876, 1899, 1900, 1906, 1926 and 1929. From more recent times, these are the vintages 1945, 1947, 1949, 1955, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1982 (100 points from Robert Parker), 1985, 1986 (100 PP), 1988, 1989, 1990 (100 PP), 1994, 1995, 1996 (100 PP), 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 (100 PP), 2002, 2003 and 2005. Some of the wines from the 1980s onwards have not yet reached their peak. These are - as was once aptly remarked - "wines for the heirs".

Château Lafite-Rothschild: By Ken Case - Own work, Public domain, Link
Mayer Amschel Rothschild: By Elbert Hubbard, Public domain, Link
James de Rothschild: By Elbert Hubbard, Public domain, Link
Nathaniel de Rothschild: From Maull & Polyblank, Public domain, Link
Bottles: Last Bottle

Château Lafite-Rothschild Region: France Bordeaux
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