Château d'Yquem is located in the south of Bordeaux, in the heart of the Sauternes appellation, on the banks of the Ciron River. It is a vineyard of about 100 hectares with its castle listed as a historical monument since 2003. Considered the most famous sweet wine of the Sauternes region, it contributes to the reputation of France throughout the world. This Premier Cru Classé Supérieur stands out from the others by its rarity as well as its extraordinary complexity and regularity in the quality of the wines produced.
The technical sheet of château d'yquem
OWNER: LVMH (Bernard Arnault)
MANAGING DIRECTOR: Pierre Lurton
CELLAR MASTER : Sandrine Garbay
CULTURE MANAGER : Antoine Depierre
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR : Francis Mayeur
APPELLATION : Sauternes
VINEYARD AREA: 100 hectares
VINEYARD MANAGEMENT: Integrated farming
SOILS : Quaternary alluvial terraces with clay-limestone outcrops
AVERAGE AGE OF THE VINEYARD : 35 years old
PRUNING MODE : Semillon (at cots) and Sauvignon (at cots and in simple guyot)
VINIFICATION : New oak barrels : 2 weeks for active musts and 6 weeks for slower musts
the history of château d'yquem
It all began in the Middle Ages when the property belonged to the King of England, Duke of Aquitaine at that time. It is then in 1453 that Charles VII, attached to the region by the crown of France, gave the estate its present nationality. A century and a half later, in 1593, Jacques Sauvage, a local notable, became a tenant of Yquem and undertook the construction of the castle. He built up the present vineyard in stages, dividing it up parcel by parcel. In 1711, ennobled under the reign of Louis XIV, the Sauvage family became the full owners of the Yquem estate. In 1785, the last heiress of the Sauvage d'Yquem family, Françoise Joséphine, married Louis Amédée de Lur-Saluces (colonel of a cavalry regiment). He died of a fall, leaving the estate to his widow who developed the reputation of Yquem wines, already highly appreciated by the great wine lovers of the time. Despite a difficult period during the Revolution, she managed to preserve the family heritage and make the property prosper. In 1826, she had the winery built, a bold innovation for the time that transformed the estate into a wine company and developed its international reputation.
What was only a family possession, became internationally recognized thanks to Romain-Bertrand de Lur-Saluces, grandson of Françoise Joséphine, who succeeded her after her death in 1851. The estate was subsequently elevated to the rank of Premier Cru Supérieur at the Paris World Fair in 1855. During the second half of the 19th century, the estate experienced a long period of prosperity. In 1859, the Grand Duke of Constantine, brother of the Tsar, bought a barrel of Yquem for 20,000 gold francs, an unbelievable price for the time. Moreover, during the Meiji era, Japan opened up to the world and discovered the pleasures of Yquem wine. After Romain-Bertrand's death, the estate was taken over by his son Amédée de Lur-Saluces, then his younger brother Eugène. This phase of Yquem's history ended with the phylloxera crisis and the Great War.
In 1914, the Château d'Yquem was transformed into a military hospital while Bertrand de Lur-Saluces, Eugene's son, assumed his role in the trenches. At the end of the conflict, he took over the management of the estate for half a century. As a guarantor of the Yquem philosophy, he opposed chaptalization for his wine and defended the family estates even during the crisis of the 1930s. As president of the union of the classified growths of the Gironde, he is at the heart of the defense of the great growths and participates in the determination of the Sauternes AOC. He is also one of the main promoters of the "bottling at the château", in order to guarantee authenticity. Enlisted again during the Second World War, he found his estate preserved after being taken prisoner for 2 years and continued to ensure the development of the estate until his death.
In 1966, Bertrand de Lur-Saluces appointed one of his brother Amédée's sons, Alexandre de Lur-Saluces, to succeed him at the head of the estate. Despite a difficult start with a series of bad years, a violent crisis in the trade and imposing inheritance taxes that weakened Yquem, the estate was saved by better management and an excellent year in 1975. During the 1980s, better harvests allowed for new investments with a production potential that was even more demanding and technical than in the past.
Château d'Yquem was acquired in 1996 by the LVMH Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton group. The management was entrusted to Pierre Lurton in 2004, who has been promoting its modernity, authenticity and know-how ever since.
the exceptional terroir of Château d'yquem
The vineyard is characterized by a rare and extraordinary geological and climatic balance, located on a terroir where all the favourable elements of Sauternes are concentrated. It extends over a wide range of geological mosaics where we find mainly gravelly hilltops on a clay substrate with warm and dry soils benefiting from the accumulation of heat by the pebbles of the large gravels. It also has a good water reserve thanks to the clayey nature of their sub-layers. In addition, many springs outcrop, which has allowed the establishment of a drainage system of 100km since the 19th century. This variety of soils is a fundamental element of the complexity of Yquem wine. In addition, there is a real microclimate. It confirms the ideal situation of the domain but at the same time it is fragile because it might be subject to the slightest hazard: a too dry climate would stop the contamination, too much water would stop the concentration and other moulds could appear and spoil the grapes. All this explains the low yields that can go as far as abandoning the entire harvest, which was the case in 2012.
113 hectares of vineyard but only a hundred are exploited. Two to three hectares of vines that are too old are uprooted each year, and then left fallow for a year before being replanted. It takes up to five years for the new vines to produce grapes that meet Yquem's standards. Only two grape varieties are planted in the vineyard: Semillon (75% of the vineyard) which dominates for its richness and volume and Sauvignon (25% of the vineyard) for its finesse and aromas. The vineyard is carefully tended, and the teams working on the estate continue to cultivate the soil and manage the vines in the traditional way under the direction of the vineyard manager.
An exquisite nobility that goes down inside like light. Because Yquem is also light. Light that one drinks!
château d'yquem & the environment
The basis of the production principle at Château d'Yquem is the respect of traditional practices established for at least two centuries. This is what proves the lasting character of the château. If the wine at Château d'Yquem is called "sweet wine", it is because of the presence of Botrytis Cinerea, known as "noble rot", a fungus on which the harvest is entirely and paradoxically based. This fungus roasts and concentrates the grapes in sugar and aromas. Its action is favored by the morning fog that falls on Sauternes from the Ciron and Garonne rivers, which imposes the greatest respect for the natural balance.
The stability of the vineyard is an important factor, 90% of the plots have remained the same for a century and a half. The terroir is unchanged and preserved with a soil that has never been chemically weeded and entirely worked by ploughing, scratching, and disking. Biodiversity is maintained with 50 hectares of pine and acacia forests, 35 hectares of meadows grazed by Bazadais cows as well as parks and gardens. The manure is organic, composed of farmyard manure and composted 50/50 with crushed vine shoots. The trapping of grape worm butterflies has been carried out for 50 years and the sexual confusion generalized on the whole property. This important and meticulous work is carried out by a staff that has inherited and passed on true artisanal gestures.
Another particularity of Yquem is the presence of a weather station since 1896, underlining the precursory and curious character of the teams. In addition, they use local materials such as acacia for stakes and tutors as well as rushes and marsh wicker for ties.
the know-how of yquem
The method of cultivation remains traditional at Yquem, the soil is enriched with farmyard manure and sparingly, only 20 hectares each year, which allows the natural balance of the soil to be maintained. The vines are never chemically treated with weedkillers but are constantly worked by the winegrowers, respecting the traditional methods of cultivation: Shovelling and de-shovelling. In winter, severe pruning will allow favouring a maximum maturity. The Semillon has only pruned "à cots" while the Sauvignon is pruned "à cots" for 90% and "Guyot simple" for the rest. The winegrowers are in charge of the plots of land on which they carry out, for example, "green" operations such as pruning, lifting and splitting. Before the harvest, the teams proceed to the thinning out of the leaves so that the grapes dry more quickly in the morning while protecting the western side.
The next step is the harvest, a method unchanged at Château d'Yquem. In its evolution, botrytis contaminates the berry, turning it brown. The skin of the grape is permeable, which allows the evaporation of water. As for the sugar, it is concentrated inside to reach a level well beyond normal ripening of 18 to 30˚d potential alcohol, which is the equivalent of 300 to 600 grams of sugars per litre. The goal is to get the must to 20˚ of potential alcohol which means a long wait with a significant risk of losing the crop as winter approaches. Yquem's low yield (9 hectoliters per ha on average) is explained by the change from 18 to 20˚ resulting in a decrease of about 50% in the volume of juice. It is then 200 cutters organized in 4 troops who survey the vineyard querying the "botrytized" grains arrived at the optimum stage of concentration. This harvest requires several successive sortings in order to collect only the "roasted" grapes, having been transformed by the noble rot. Spread over 6 weeks, it takes an average of five to six "selections". Some years, more than 10 selections are sometimes necessary.
From the vineyard to the cellar, everything starts with the pressing, which is done taking into account the texture of the berries. Unlike other whites, three to four pressings are carried out at Yquem to increase the sugar content of the juices as well as their quality. The first pressing is done in a pneumatic press which gives 75% of the juice is about 19˚ of potential alcohol. The second represents 15% of the juice at about 21˚ and the third can reach 25˚. The juice is then put back into a vertical press of very small capacity which will finish drying it. Yquem has the particularity of carrying out the fermentation in barrels. During each harvest, the barrels are new and traditionally made of oak staves. In order to control the analytical parameters of the fermentation, each barrel is identified and the batches are monitored every day by the château's internal laboratory. When the musts are active, the fermentation can last only two weeks and when the musts are quieter, it can last six weeks. Still in barrels, each day of harvest is vinified separately for 6 to 8 months. A pre-blend is made among the batches in the spring following the harvest and goes to the cellar where it will stay for 20 months. 15 rackings are carried out in order to eliminate the coarsest deposits. The finest suspensions will be removed by a light "collage". The selection continues in the cellar through blind tastings to decide on the final blend of Château d'Yquem.
The final step is the bottling. During the third winter, the wine will be bottled in the best technical conditions and corked with a 54 mm cork allowing its immense capacity of ageing. Yquem has different bottle sizes ranging from the smallest, the half-bottle to the largest, the Nabuchodonosor. Once in the bottle, the packaging is meticulous: label, capsule, the bottle is draped with a white silk paper and placed in its wooden case, in boxes marked with the arms of the castle.
the yquem style
Recognized as the most famous sweet wine in the world, the estate's great wine is Chateau d'Yquem. Produced in about 100 000 bottles, the yield of this wine is 9 hectoliters per hectare on average. Each vine yields about one glass of wine.
Harmony evolves in the complexity of the flavours and aromas, the constituents melt to give birth to other balances and new harmonies over time. The nose is not always very expansive for young vintages but marked by fruits (apricot, tangerine, exotic fruits) and woody notes (vanilla, toast). As they age in the bottle, the wines develop extraordinary aromas as soon as the bottle is opened. Possessing an immense aromatic palette, they combine notes of dried fruits (dried apricot, prune, marmalade) as well as spicy notes (cinnamon, saffron, liquorice) and even floral notes (linden flower). On the palate, the sensation is sumptuous and coats it. It is present without being too oppressive, it remains elegant, light, always well balanced between liquor and acidity. We even find some touches of bitterness. It has an aromatic persistence in the final.
the other alternative of yquem
Since 1959, Château d'Yquem has produced a dry white wine called "Y". Made from the same exceptional terroir and the same vines as the Grand Vin, this wine is made from Sauvignon grapes that ripen early and a few bunches of Semillon. This rare wine produces only 10,000 bottles per vintage and in an irregular way.
Previously, it was produced at the end of the harvest with the last bunches of grapes on the vines, with berries that were not very attacked but never concentrated beyond 15%, offering an atypical wine. In 2004, the decision was made to produce it every year. Throughout the vinification process, the wine will benefit from all the knowledge of the Yquem teams, the pressing will be light and meticulous, the racking precise and the fermentation at controlled temperature in a specially dedicated vat room. The wine is aged on its lees in barrels for 10 months. As it is not a sweet wine, the "Y" is not entitled to the Sauternes appellation, but to the Bordeaux one.