How the Cathiards woke up sleeping beauty Château Smith Haut Lafitte

  • Smith Haut Lafitte

Although the history of Château Smith Haut Lafitte dates back to the 14th century, it was long considered to be an underachieving château. In 1990, when Daniel and Florence Cathiard fell in love with the winery, everything changed for good.

The history of Château Smith Haut Lafitte

In the 14th century, the Verrier du Boscq family planted vines on the gravelly plateau Lafitte in Graves, France. Up until today, the three Fleurs-de-lis on the label honour the family who founded the vineyard.

Four centuries later, Scottish navigator George Smith bought the estate and added his name to the property. He constructed the château and initiated the export of the wines back to Great Britain. The three branches on the label represent his three children.

Lodi Martin Duffour-Dubergier, Mayor of Bordeaux and signer of ‘The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855’, bought the estate in 1842. Château Haut-Brion was the only winery not located in Médoc that made it to the famous list. But in 1953 the wines of the Graves were separately classified by Institute National des Appellations d'Origine and the red wine of Château Smith Haut Lafitte made it to the list. When the list was adjusted in 1959, the château stood its ground and remained on the list. At the time, there was no production of white wine. If a reclassification would be done today, the white wine of the château would definitely be included as well.

In 1958, the Louis Eschenauer company who already distributed the wines of Château Smith Haut Lafitte from the early 20th century ended up buying the estate. The company owned the château up until 1990.

The couple behind the estate today

In 1990 Florence and Daniel Cathiard fell in love with Château Smith Haut Lafitte. They are both ski champions, founders of the chains Go Sport and Casino, hard workers and bon vivants. They chose the estate above others that were on the market back then because it produces both red and white wines.

They restored the 16th-century tower and the manor house and built two underground cellars. The couple banned the chemical herbicides that had exhausted the vineyard and went back to traditional vine growing methods respecting the land and the vines. They introduced modern technology to analyse the soil and map the terroir and satellite images to follow the maturity of the wines.

In an interview with Margaret Rand in 2008, the couple discussed whether a glass ceiling exists in Bordeaux. Florence Cathiard stated there definitely is one: “We will never be a first growth. We don’t have the weight of history.” Yet Daniel Cathiard does not believe in such a thing: “We have one of the best soils in Bordeaux. We work hard, we hire the best people, we’re not so bad at marketing. It will take time, but it will turn to success. I don’t think about being a first growth. There’s no limit for quality, and the price will follow.”

At the estate, they started a Vinothérapie spa with hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant, which led to more spas and hotels ànd a line of cosmetics. The resorts and hotels are run by their daughters Mathilde and Alice. While Florence is responsible for marketing and building new contacts, Daniel takes care of the vineyard and cellars. Thanks to the family’s competitive nature Château Smith Haut Lafitte is now wide awake and present at the top.

The vineyard of Château Smith Haut Lafitte

Château Smith Haut Lafitte is part of the Pessac-Léognan appellation and covers 67 hectares. The graves region is known for its alluvial, sandy, stony soil atop a clay and limestone subsoil. The soil of the vineyard of Château Smith Haut Lafitte is well drained and remains warm at the surface, which results in slowly ripening grapes. The poor soil is perfect for viniculture, and the limestone gives the wines a certain freshness.

The first years at the vineyard were a hard knock life with frost in 1991 and rain showers in 1992. They took away some vines and replanted the vines on another part of the vineyard. Eschenauer kept Cabernet Sauvignon on the northern part of the estate but the grapes didn’t ripen because of the clay in the soil. The couple replaced the Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and moved the Cabernet Sauvignon to a more sunny part. These decisions laid the foundations for Château Smith Haut Lafitte as we know it today.

The grapes are meticulously sorted out, and the extractions are even done with manual punching. The fermentation of the wine happens partly in vats and partly in barrels and the wine is matured for 16 to 18 months.

The red wine cellar is one of the largest underground cellars in Bordeaux and holds up to 1,000 barrels. Château Smith Haut Lafitte aims to be self-sufficient and intends to be carbon neutral. If you ask us, they are more than ready for the future.

The wines Château Smith Haut Lafitte

The red Smith Haut Lafitte contains 55% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc and 1% of Petit Verdot. The white Smith Haut Lafitte includes 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sauvignon Gris and 5% Sémillon fermented in barrels.

Both the red and whites wines of Château Smith Haut Lafitte are elegant yet powerful. The intense red wines are known for their silky texture while the polished white wines reveal fresh fine citrus notes. The 2009 red wine by Château Smith Haut Lafitte was even rewarded with 100 points by Robert Parker.

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