Château d’Yquem has 113 hectares of vineyards (of which only 100 are in use at any time), spread between 40 and 75 metres above sea-level, on clay soils over limestone bedrock. They are formed of 75% Semillon – which adds richness, body and structure to the wine – and 25% Sauvignon Blanc – which contributes aromatic finesse. Half the estate is currently organic, with plans to farm everything organically and then biodynamically in the pipeline.
The vineyards is cared for by an all-female team of 20, each assigned a specific plot of the property’s 700,000 vines, so that they can become familiar with each vine they look after. For the sweet wine, the grapes are picked late in the season, once noble rot has had a chance to develop, concentrating the sugars, acid and flavours in the grapes. A team of 200 pickers will pass through the vineyards several times (normally five or six times), hand-picking individual bunches and berries that are ready – fruit that is perfectly ripe and affected by noble rot, or botrytis cinerea. The yields here are extraordinarily low – on average just 9hl/ha).
For their dry white, Y d’Yquem, the grapes are picked earlier, when fully ripe with just a touch of noble rot.
Sandrine Garbay has been making the wines here since 1998. The grapes are transported to the winery within an hour and pressed three or four times to extract the lusciously sweet must – with the sugar level and quality increasing with each pressing.
Fermentation is in new French oak, lasting up to six weeks with the high levels of sugar, almost always stopping naturally. The wines are then matured for six to eight months before the blend is selected and then aged for a further 20 months, frequently topped and racked. The wine is fined and a final selection made prior to bottling.
The sweet wine is typically 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, with Y d’Yquem typically the reverse – 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon.