Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac, First Growth, Bordeaux wine producer profile, with wine tasting notes, wine ratings, a history of the property, information on wine making and terroir, along with wine tasting reviews. If you want to read about other important, Bordeaux Chateaux: Links to all Bordeaux Wine Producer Profiles
Chateau Lafite Rothschild is known for producing what some tasters think is the best Bordeaux wine in the appellation. It’s also thought of as one of the most famous, as well as expensive wines in the world. Lafite Rothschild has a long and interesting history dating back to 1234! Even though the property was not in the Bordeaux wine business at that time. it is thought that vines were already planted on their unique terroir. The owner of the estate at the time, Gombaud de Lafite left his mark. Almost 1,000 years after he owned it, the chateau is still named after him!
As we mentioned, while vines were probably in existence at Lafite, it was not until around 1680, that the majority of the vineyards of what we know of as Lafite Rothschild today were created. Jacques de Segur planted the vineyard at that time. We know this because on the 1680 estate manifest, there are six mentions to the properties Bordeaux wine vineyards.
In the 17th century, the property of Chateau Lafite was purchased by the Segur family, including the historic chateau that was built in the 16th century. In 1695, Alexandre de Segur married Marie-Therese de Clauzel, heiress to Chateau Latour. So, within a generation, the Segur family married into two of the greatest Bordeaux wine vineyards, Chateau Lafite and Chateau Latour! When their son, Nicolas-Alexandre passed away, the domains of Chateau Lafite and Chateau Latour were separated. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States favored the wine of Chateau Lafite and purchased multiple cases of the wine while he was in France.
In 1797, Chateau Lafite was sold again. In the deed of sale, Chateau Lafite was described as Premier cru of Medoc. This is one of the earliest mentions of what we know of today as Lafite Rothschild producing wines of what would later be classified as a First Growth. At the time, the affairs of Lafite were managed by the Goudal family. Thanks to the arrival of Goudal, wine loving historians are able to read accurate records and details of the viticulture and marketing plans for Chateau Lafite in the estates formative years.
The start of the famous Rothschild family begins in 1744, with the birth of Amschel Meyer. Amschel Meyer began creating his fortune while working as a merchant at “zum Roten Schild,” which eventually became the family name of Rothschild. In 1798 his sons were sent to various cities to create their fortunes as well. Needless to say, his sons all prospered as did their children in turn. This eventually led to their desire to own a chateau in Bordeaux. In 1853, Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, an English member of the Rothschild family, purchased Chateau Brane-Mouton. As was the custom of the day, the new owner renamed it using his name and Chateau Mouton Rothschild was born. This was followed in 1868, when James Rothschild, another member of the family purchased Chateau Lafite.
On 8 August 1868, Baron James d’Rothschild purchased Chateau Lafite, which was sold at a public auction as part of the Ignace-Joseph Vanlerberghe succession. The auction was held in Paris in 1868. At this time, Chateau Lafite was seen as the Premier of the Premiers crus! In those days, the vineyard took up 135 hectares, of which 74 were under vines. Production was much smaller than it is today as it hovered between 4,000 and 5,000 cases per vintage. Just 3 months after the purchase, Baron James d’Rothschild passed away and Chateau Lafite Rothschild became the joint property of his three sons: Alphonse, Gustave and Edmond Rothschild. Since 1868, Chateau Lafite Rothschild has remained in the hands of the Rothschild family. The new owners renamed the estated Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
Jumping ahead to the modern age. in 1962, the Rothschild family added to their holdings when they purchased Chateau Duhart Milon, also located in the Pauillac appellation of the Medoc. Owned by the Casteja family for more than a century, Chateau Duhart Milon suffered from neglect and was in a dilapidated condition. By the time Duhart Milon was obtained by the Rothschild family, the vineyard was down to only 17 hectares of vines, which required extensive renovations.
Baron Eric Rothschild, nephew of Baron Elie, took over the management of Lafite Rothschild in 1974. Baron Eric Rothschild was part of the fifth Rothschild generation to inherit Château Lafite Rothschild Barons David, Edouard, Robert, Nathaniel and Benjamin de Rothschild. In 1984, the Rothschld family added to their holdings with the purchase of Château Rieussec in Sauternes.
1987 was not a strong harvest, but because that was the year Lafite celebrated the inauguration of their Bordeaux wine new cellar, the owners had much to be excited about.
The new cellars built under the supervision of Catalan architect Ricartdo Bofill, is underground and circular, with a vault supported by 16 columns, giving the structure a majestic and airy style. The cellar holds 2,200 barrels. The construction took two years and was completed in 1988.
Domaines Baron Rothschild became one of the first Bordeaux properties to invest in South America when they purchased Vina Los Vascos from a Chilean family. The owners of Lafite Rothschild continued expanding their holdings with the purchase of Château l’Evangile in Pomerol from the Ducasse family, who owned the property for almost 100 years. They also own Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes. Chateau Lafite Rothschild is managed by Charles Chevallier who began his position in 1994.
Lafite Rothschild produces an elegant style of Pauillac. Its qualities show cedar, cassis, tobacco, truffle, and spice along with a freshness and purity of fruit. Perhaps, it’s the most refined of the First Growths. The wine, like all First Growth’s takes decades to mature. It has remarkable staying powers. Bottles of 1870 Lafite Rothschild discovered in the Glamis castle remain profound at more than 130 years of age! Although I have yet to see one. Chateau Lafite Rothschild is one of the earliest major Bordeaux estates to bottle their own wine. In 1890, they bottled a large portion of the wine and again in 1906. Part of the estate bottling was due to requests from negociants who were willing to pay for Chateau bottled wines. Also, it’s important to note that part of estate bottling was conduced to combat piracy. At the time, it was known that merchants in some countries, like Russia were bottling cheap wine and placing labels from Lafite Rothschild on the bottles.
Prior to 1996, the property had its share of ups and downs.The 1960’s and 1970’s was a dismal period for Lafite Rothschild. Unless they can be picked up for a song, wines from those vintages should be avoided. But since 1996, Lafite Rothschild has not looked back producing some of the best wine in their history. Sadly, only multi-millionaires can afford to purchase it today, but there is no denying the level of quality. In 2003 Lafite Rothschild produced a wine that is possibly unequaled by the estate at any time in their long history. 2009 is not far behind.
Starting in about 2008, Lafite Rothschild became the most collectible wine from Bordeaux. Prices exploded due to an ever increasing demand from China. Lafite Rothschild became the status symbol of choice. There are multiple theories as to why this happened. The most widely accepted reason is, Lafite paid for product placement on the number one rated Chinese soap opera on television. Characters in that show were pictured enjoying life with Lafite Rothschild and since that time, prices for Lafite Rothschild have shot up and continue to rise! However, Issac Newton had it right when he declared “What goes up, must come down.” Prices for Lafite Rothschild plummeted after 2011. By 2013, prices were finally starting to hold firm, but many of the vintages that were setting price records on a daily basis had lost close to 50% of their value.
Lafite Rothschild is the largest of the First Growth properties with close to 112 hectares under vine. In total, Chateau Lafite Rothschild is closer to 78 hectares, but a large portion of that acreage is taken up by heart stoppingly beautiful landscaping, lakes and parkland. Lafite Rothschild also maintains close to 50 hectares of marshland and greenery where they allow an ancient species of wild cow to live. The breed of cow is nearly extinct, which does not produce milk, nor are they raised as cattle for meat. This division of planted vineyards and open land has not changed much since 1868 and is close to what the property looked like in 1855, when it was deemed to be a First Growth in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification of the Medoc.
One could divide the vineyards of Chateau Lafite Rothschild into three sections. The estate has close to 50 hectares of vines located close to the chateau. They have about 50 hectares vines planted in the Carruades sector and they own a smaller section of vines that are actually located across the street in the St. Estephe appellation! The vines in St. Estephe total close to 4.5 hectares. The vines are located not far from Cos d’Estournel on a parcel known as Blanquet. The powerful Rothschild family lobbied hard to have that land eventually reclassified so as to allow the vines to be used as a part of Pauillac. This has been taking place since 1868.
The terroir has soil with a thick layer of gravel over limestone, good elevations and slopes with the access to water making it one of the finest terroirs in the entire Left Bank! The vineyard of Chateau Lafite Rothschild is planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. On average, the vines are close to 40 years of age. But Chateau Lafite Rothschild has much older vines. In fact, they have some vines that are more than 100 years of age planted in the La Graviere section. That small parcel of vines dates back to 1886. Less than 1% of the vines are that old. Other vines range from 50 to 90 years of age! At Chateau Lafite Rothschild, between 1% and 1.5% of the vineyard is replanted every year. Vines less than 20 years of age are never included in the Grand Vin.
At one point in time, Chateau Lafite Rothschild produced a dry white, Bordeaux wine that was sold as Vin de Chateau Lafite. The was produced from a large percentage of Semillon, blended with Sauvignon Blanc. last vintage for the wine was 1960. The was sold as a generic Bordeaux, with a simple, scripted label.
Chateau Lafite Rothschild has a terroir of gravel, sand and limestone with some clay in the soils. The vineyard of Chateau Lafite Rothschild is planted to a vine density of 7,500 vines per hectare. Only organic fertilizers are used at in the vineyards of Lafite Rothschild. During harvest, the goal is not to pick at the maximum level of ripeness, they are seeking a blend of grapes at differing levels of ripeness which gives the the wine its unique textures and elegant sensations.
Vinification of Chateau Lafite Rothschild takes place in 66 vats that are a combination of 29 wood vats, 20 stainless steel tanks and 17 concrete vats that range in size from as small as 45 hectoliters up to 123 hectoliters in the concrete and as large as 270 hectoliters for the wood. The wide range of vat sizes coupled with different materials allow Chateau Lafite Rothschild to vinify depending on the needs of each specific parcel and grape variety. The Stainless steel tanks and oak vats are used for Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot is vinified in the concrete tanks. Malolactic fermentation occurs in smaller, stainless steel tanks that vary in size from 25 hectoliters up to 60 hectoliters. At this point, Chateau Lafite Rothschild does not yet use gravity to move the fruit and juice in the cellar. My guess is, they will build a new cellar, or at least raise the roof of their vatrom to allow for this in the future. Chateau Lafite Rothschild is aged in 100% new, French oak barrels for 18 to 20 months, depending on the vintage. Many of the barrels are produced at a cooperage located on the property, which has the ability to produce up to 2,000 barrels per year.
The average annual production of Chateau Lafite Rothschild ranges from 15,000 to 20,000 cases of Bordeaux wine per year, depending on the vintage. There is a second wine, Carruades de Lafite, which due to the name and association with the Grand Cru, has also become extremely collectible. Carruades takes its name from a specific section of their vineyard that is located near Mouton Rothschild. Previously, the wine was known as Moulin des Carruades. There is also a third wine which is sold as a Pauillac that is produced from declassified fruit from Lafite Rothschild and Duhart Milon.
The blend for Chateau Lafite Rothschild changes with each vintage depending on the character and quality of the vintage. Generally speaking, the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend ranges from 80% to 95%. Merlot is usually 5% to 20%. Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot usually varies from 0 to 5%. Note that there are a few differing cases such as 1994 when the wine was made from almost 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and in 1961, when the blend was 99% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petit Verdot. That high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon was most recently used in 2013, which was also close to 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The vintages with almost all, or 100% Cabernet Sauvignon clearly show the value of blending in Bordeaux wines, as they lack the stylish levels of complexity available in Lafite Rothschild.
Chateau Lafite Rothschild is the most elegantly styled of the three First Growths from Pauillac. But do not confuse the term elegant with light. Chateau Lafite is also more often than not, those aromatic is the Pauillac First Growths as well with a perfume that fills the air with cedar, cassis, spice, tobacco, truffle and earthy notes. In the best vintages, this special Bordeaux wine requires decades to develop to its full potential.
The best vintages of Chateau Lafite Rothschild are: 2014, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2006, 2005, 2003, 2000, 1996, 1995, 1990, 1988, 1986, 1983, 1982, 1959, 1953, 1934, 1929 and 1928.