A few words from Eric Kohler, technical director of Bordeaux estates for Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) on the 2019 vintage.
Can you describe the style of Château Lafite Rothschild in 2019?
Overall for Lafite, this a vintage that we call “modern-classic”. In the pure Lafite style, [it is] very Cabernet-led: very pure, very precise, with some ripeness. This is reflected in the final blend, which is 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot for the grand vin.
Our gutfeel is that just as there will always be a discussion between 2009 and 2010, that we will have the same between 2018 and 2019. 2018 being closer to 2009, and 2019 being closer to 2010.
How was the growing season?
The vintage started beautifully with a dry and mild winter. Fine weather continued in early spring brought an early vegetative cycle but it became cold came between March and May and we crossed our fingers and held our breath six times fearing that frost might hit us badly. Careful vigilance from the team was key, such as the use of candles.
The first flowers appeared in both Pauillac and Pomerol around 28 May. This flower was unfortunately capricious due to significant rains during the second part of flowering, leading to a small amount of coulure and millerandage.
The early summer was the warmest recorded since 2003, and the vineyards showed excellent resistance. Rain miraculously arrived on 26 July with 45mm in Pauillac, ideal for veraison to start. August was then fine, with average temperatures and some rain – which put us on a fine line with botrytis. Early September was dry, enabling us to start the harvest on 19 September.
How did you work on the final blend this year?
When it comes to winemaking, we have a very traditional and, we could say, “hands-off” approach to preserve the quality of the fruit and reflect the vintage conditions. For example, we always use a high proportion of press wine as we don’t go for cold soak or warm post-maceration. We don’t do “delestage”, we have always been very gentle on vinification at Lafite. We don’t push on the dregs/marc - we are always very soft and traditional. This explains why we then have super high quality press wine that we can include in the final blend, this year up to 15%.
This year we had lovely surprises from “outsider vineyards” producing pure and elegant wines which have been replacing some typical vineyards in the final blend – as always testing is key, such as the capacity to always question ourselves. This is particularly true for the Merlots planted on more gravely-clay terroirs showing beautiful tension this year.
How do you manage this with your own desires as a winemaker to make an impression on the wine?
It’s a very good question! It was a little bit difficult at the beginning for a young oenologist arriving at Lafite. At this age, you always think that you will be able to make a revolution and change everything and have a high effect on the wine. But you quickly realise that Lafite is not yours; it belongs to the family, the world, great clients, and history. Once you understand this, your action is only to focus to increase the quality step by step, respecting of all those who are waiting for Lafite.
Have you made any changes at Château Lafite Rothschild due to global warming?
We are already very well equipped at Lafite in the context of global warning. Nevertheless, we try to anticipate these changes. We have an internal research and development team running some tests with different plantings, with grass in the vineyards, with canopy management. We are not sure that the future will be the introduction of new grape varieties given the Cabernet Sauvignon is already a very resistant grape. The topic of density of plantation is more important, and we are working on a slow decreasing of it.
The main change in Bordeaux is the succession of extraordinary vintages. In the past once every 5 years we had a great vintage and every 10 years an exceptional vintage. Now nearly every year the vintages conditions are such that we can produce very good wines.
With the postponement of En Primeur week in April, how will this affect the release of Château Lafite Rothschild 2019?
You know that we are very strong believers in the En Primeur system as it is a unique platform for Bordeaux wines enabling the châteaux to have the best reach and international spread possible. However as with every system it needs to be fine-tuned, recreating a sense of magic to maintain desirability, and needs to provide a customer incentive to purchase en-primeurs. So yes, postponing En Primeur is not a decision taken easily, but given the circumstances it was the only choice that had to be made.
Read the full report: Bordeaux 2019 A Vintage Preview