Work in the vineyard

Observing, strengthening, and maintaining

Vineyard workers, horse handlers, and tractor drivers are busy all through the year tending the 800,000 vines that make up Château Latour's vineyard. Meticulous care and rigorous expertise accompany every step of the vine’s growth cycle in preparation of the birth of a great wine.

Pruning, attachment to trellis wires, ploughing, trimming of excess foliage and green harvests are all crucial for optimum growth and the selection of the best grapes.
The preservation of this magnificent heritage also involves the replacement of dead or accidentally damaged vines by new, young vines. This technique, known as « complantation », accounts for about 3% of the vines every year. It helps to maintain the potential quality and yields of the plots. In these plots, the young plants are tagged and harvested separately so that they do not affect the potential of the older vines. Sometimes, when the average age of the vines in a plot is too high or too varied, a complete uprooting and replanting becomes necessary. After uprooting, the soil is left to rest for an appropriate period, to enable it to restructure and regenerate itself.

More generally, in 2009, Château Latour’s teams began a review of the vine growing methods in place that has led, over the years, to profound changes in practices in the vineyard and the ways that the vines are protected. This has involved a reintegration into our practices of an understanding and respect for the balance between the vines, the soil and the environment, with a view to achieving an optimal expression of the terroir in the wines. In this approach, human intervention seeks to stimulate biodiversity in the vineyard and the vines’ natural defences. For example, horses were reintroduced in 2008 to plough the soil. People and animals are thus returned to the heart of the vineyard, while at the same time reducing soil compaction and enabling closer monitoring of changes among the vines.

This updating of the Château’s philosophy and working methods ultimately led to the teams initiating organic certification from Ecocert. Since August 2015, the entire Château Latour vineyard has been managed according to the principles of organic farming. This certification also extends to the winery and the vinification of the property’s wines; it should be issued in August 2018.

In parallel, biodynamic preparations are also being applied to most of the Enclos. These consist of various formulations tailored to the vineyard’s requirements and applied depending on the weather conditions for each vintage, and according to the lunar calendar. These choices and objectives have evolved thanks to the people who work at Château Latour, who have gradually trained in these methods, and who rise every day to the dual challenge of preserving the vineyard and ensuring the quality of the wines and of their aromatic expression.

The harvests

This crucial period is very intense and yet also joyful, marking the completion of a cycle in the vineyard and the birth of the new wine in the winery with the same uncompromising quest for quality.

The harvests usually start in the second half of September and often last beyond mid-October. We harvest each plot at optimal ripeness, taking into account all the relevant parameters at our disposal (analyses, tastings of the berries, weather forecast, etc.). During this period, the estate employs about a hundred temporary pickers, mainly from the Bordeaux region.

The bunches are cut off the vines and sorted by hand, then placed in small crates with a maximum capacity of 8 kg, in order to avoid the grapes being crushed under their own weight.

The reception of the harvest takes place on the first floor of the winery. On the way to the vats, the grapes are meticulously sorted in two stages:

• removal of vegetation (leaves, stalks etc.) and any grapes that are not perfectly healthy;
• after the destemmer, a second sorting belt eliminates any grape stalks and undersized berries that could compromise quality.

The grapes are then gently pressed and transferred to the vats by gravity. Alcoholic fermentation can then start.

Vinification

The production of the wines

The vat room is literally bubbling with activity during the production of the wines. The winery team monitors every vat and every barrel on a daily basis, sampling, tasting and analysing. Respect for the fruit is essential and we take every possible precaution to ensure that it is treated with the care that is required to produce great wines. The vat room was fully renovated in 2001.

It now consists of more than 80 stainless steel vats of various sizes (from 164 hl to 12 hl) enabling grapes with the same profile to be vinified together and for all the experiments to be carried out with the precision necessary for a better understanding of the subtleties of the terroir.

  Château Latour was one of the first Bordeaux properties to adopt stainless steel tanks for vinification in the 1960s.

The harvest is destemmed and pressed as soon as it arrives in the vat room, and then transferred to stainless steel fermentation vats on the basis of several criteria: grape variety, the age of the vines, the historical context, the soil study of the vineyard and tasting of the berries, enabling the creation of batches with complementary, harmonious qualities. The young wine remains in temperature-controlled vats for about three weeks: enough time to extract all the flavours and potential treasures contained in the grapes.

After running-off, in which the wine is separated from the solids or marc (essentially all the grape skins and seeds) and transferred into clean vats or barrels, a second fermentation - known as malolactic fermentation - takes place during the following month. During this stage, the wine softens, developing roundness and precision. Meanwhile, the marc is pressed and the resulting press wine is matured separately in barrels, pending the blending stage.

Once malolactic fermentation has been completed (between the end of November and January), the wine can then be transferred to barrels to start the maturing process. This is the time when the fascinating and crucial stage of the pre-blending tastings begins.

Maturing and Blending

A thrilling adventure

The art of blending is a thrilling phase in the production of the wines, consisting of separating, testing, comparing, and, finally, combining the wines. The senses, memory, rigour and imagination must all be used in perfect harmony to create a style, an impression, while remaining faithful to a personality. The structure, energy and complexity of the wines develops and settles during maturing.

Frédéric Engerer and the technical team, assisted by Eric Boissenot meet regularly from mid-January to taste all the batches of the wines that have been produced. A wide range of wines is analysed to determine the best blend that will be used to make Château Latour’s Grand Vin. The blend is then decided for Les Forts de Latour and finally for the Pauillac. It is also at this point that some of the « press wines » are reincorporated, depending on their quality and the vintage's overall balance.

The wine is matured uniquely in French oak barrels from the forests of central France. The barrels are renewed every year for the Grand Vin.

The wine stays in the barrel cellar for the first year until the beginning of the summer following the harvest. During the early months, rather than being hermetically sealed, the barrels are loosely stopped with a glass bung to facilitate a very slow exchange of gases between the wine and the atmosphere.. The level of the wine in the barrel gradually goes down due to absorption by the wood and evaporation; the barrels are topped up twice a week in an operation called ouillage.

Before the arrival of the summer heat, the barrels are taken down to the second-year cellar for a further maturing period of ten to thirteen months. There the wine can continue to age in hermetically sealed barrels (placed with the bungs on the side) protected from any variations in temperature.

A year after it has been put in barrels, the wine is clarified using egg white, with one to six egg whites per barrel, depending on the wine and the vintage. This very old technique enables any particles still in suspension in the wine to be drawn down to the bottom of the barrel and removed. A final racking about 45 days after this fining separates the bright, clear wine from the lees.

The wine is tasted to determine when it should be bottled: it has to have lost the generous vigour of its early youth while retaining its finesse and substance, but should not have begun to « dry out » (a deterioration in the wine which is caused by too much time in the barrel).

Bottling

Simplicity and elegance

This last step is by no means the least important: bottling symbolizes the conclusion of all the work involved in the maturing process and requires absolute rigour and precision.

Before bottling, the wines from the various barrels are blended in the vat room so that exactly the same wine goes into every bottle.

As in the other stages of the maturing process, strict micro-biological and traceability procedures are observed during bottling. This usually starts in the middle of June with the Pauillac, followed by Les Forts de Latour, and finally Château Latour’s Grand Vin. The corks are subjected to strict selection when purchased, and then checked again manually before being used in the bottling process. The bottles are not labelled and put into wooden cases until they are shipped in order to ensure perfect presentation. In 2012 and for subsequent vintages, we decided to prolong the maturing of wines in bottles at the property in perfect storage conditions. The Pauillac is kept four to six years before being marketed, Les Forts de Latour for six to eight years, and the Grand Vin for between eight and ten years. This philosophy aims to offer wines that are beginning to be ready to drink while still having a good potential to improve with age. Each bottle is carefully wrapped by hand in white tissue paper bearing the Latour signature to provide optimum protection for the labels.

Since the 2007 vintage, a unique traceability and authentication system ensures the identification of every bottle.

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