As one of Bordeaux's First Growths, Chateau Lafite Rothschild has earned and enjoyed a reputation as one of the world's greatest wines for more than 150 years. Along with its fellow First Growths chateaux Margaux, Latour, Haut Brion and Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild is consistently hailed for its exceptional quality year after year and stands as one of the most exclusive wines money can buy. So much so in fact that, over the last decade, wine investors have seen prices for Chateau Lafite Rothschild's futures market rival those of gold in terms of value and stability.
Where is Chateau Lafite Rothschild?
Located in the wine village of Pauillac in the Medoc region of north-west Bordeaux nearbyChateau Mouton Rothschild and a number of other renowned Grand Crus, Chateau Lafite Rothschild occupies around a square kilometre of land, making it one of the region's largest vineyards. The vineyard itself is composed of three main areas: the hillsides around the chateau, the Carruades plateau to the west and Saint Estephe. A deep, fine gravel soil mixed with aeolian sand on a bedrock of limestone contributes to the estate's distinctive terroir, while the vineyard also benefits from excellent drainage and exposure to the sun.
Three main grape varieties are grown at Chateau Lafite Rothschild: typically 70 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 per cent Merlot, three per cent Cabernet Franc and two per cent Petit Verdot. The estate also has highly exacting standards when it comes to the age of the vines - those younger than ten years old will not be used in the Grand Vin, or main wine, which uses grapes harvested from vines with an average age of 45 years. The oldest plot is more than a century old.
When did Chateau Lafite Rothschild Originate?
Grapes have been grown at the location where Chateau Lafite Rothschild now stands since at least the 17th century, but the estate began to take shape as a winemaking property of renown when the Marquis de Segur Nicolas-Alexandre started to refine and perfect its techniques in the early 18th century. He was largely responsible for introducing the wines of Chateau Lafite, (as it was then known) to the French aristocracy - efforts which earned it the title of the "King's Wine".
In 1868, Baron James de Rothschild purchased Chateau Lafite, shortly after it had been classified as one of Bordeaux's First Growths in 1855. However, Baron James passed away just three months after buying the chateau, leaving his three sons Alphonse, Gustave and Edmond to continue its tradition of making world-class wines. This transition was helped by the succession of excellent vintages in 1869, 1870, 1874, 1875, and 1878, all of which added to the prestige generated by the "Golden Age of Medoc".
The estate remained within joint control of the Baron's immediate descendants until 1946, when Chateau Lafite Rothschild was entrusted to Baron Elie de Rothschild, the son of Baron Robert. He was charged with the difficult task of repairing the chateau following the ravages of the preceding half-century. Organised fraud, two world wars and outbreaks of phylloxera (insects notorious for their love of grapevines) had taken their toll on the estate's business, but thanks to Baron Elie's efforts and two more great years in 1959 and 1961, Chateau Lafite Rothschild managed to uphold its now legendary reputation.
Modern era and beyond
In 1974, the management of Chateau Lafite Rothschild was passed to Baron Elie's nephew Eric, the fifth generation of Rothschilds to inherit the estate, who was known for his tireless work in renovating and updating exceptional winegrowing properties. Then, in 1987, Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill was enlisted to create a new cellar at the chateau, which consists of a circular vault supported by 16 columns and enough room for 2,200 barrels - a project that took two years. The new cellar is still used as a venue for wine tastings and occasional dinner receptions at Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
Chateau Lafite Rothschild is still under the direction of Baron Eric de Rothschild and, since the onset of the new millennium, has been blessed with a succession of superb vintages in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2009 that have contributed to its status as a producer of one of the world's most prestigious and sought-after wines.
In recent years, the estate's wine has enjoyed phenomenal success in Asia, where it is regarded as the unofficial wine of choice for entertaining business clients and distinguished guests. The First Growth still occupies pride of place ahead of Burgundy wines, such as those of Romanee Conti and Domaine Leflaive. In 2008, Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) made the decision to begin developing a quality vineyard in the Chinese peninsula of Penglai, province of Shandong, opening a new chapter in Chateau Lafite Rothschild's long and fascinating history.