© Lafleur |
If you want to fool a blind taster, Lafleur is your wine.
Yes, it’s a Pomerol, and yes, it’s bang next door to Pétrus; but where Pétrus is all opulent Merlot, Lafleur is half Cabernet Franc – which puts it closer to Cheval Blanc. And if you ask Baptiste Guinaudeau, who manages the property with his wife Sylvie, what Lafleur is like, he says it’s halfway been Vosne-Romanée and Pauillac, according to your palate.
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So far, so elusive. And actually, even finding the place isn’t that easy. You have to look for an anonymous house and 4.5 hectares (11 acres) of vines between Pétrus, La Fleur de Gay, Hosanna and Vieux Château Certan. By a process of elimination, you will have found Lafleur.
In 1872, Henri Greloud, who already owned Le Gay, bought these vineyards and named the wine Lafleur. On his death, it passed to Charles Greloud, who did little with it and, in 1915, sold it to a cousin, André Robin.
In 1947, his daughters Thérèse and Marie inherited Le Gay and Lafleur. Neither ever married and they relied on each other for companionship: they were classic quiet country spinsters, reluctant to change, modest in their wants. They lived at Le Gay, where they had been brought up, and continued to share the same bedroom as when they were children. They ran their châteaux effectively, but they didn’t invest or move with the times – and therefore didn’t follow the fashion for pouring chemical weedkillers and fertilizers on to their vineyards. Nor did they plant the new, high-yielding clones; Lafleur still boasts impressive genetic variation. Even after the 1956 frosts, they didn’t uproot; instead they cossetted their vines back to life. Some of the vines at Lafleur are very old indeed.
Thérèse died in 1985, and Marie leased both properties to her second cousin, Jacques Guinaudeau (great-great grandson of Henri Greloud) and his wife Sylvie. The Guinaudeaus weren’t exactly awash with money either. But what Jacques and Sylvie brought to Lafleur was an obsession with quality.
Marie died in 2001. Super-rich owners were ready to pounce, but the Guinaudeaus sold Le Gay and bought Lafleur. At around the same time their son Baptiste began working at the estate, and like his parents, he is entirely focused on the vineyards. There’s nothing fancy about the winemaking here; it’s all about viticulture.
© Lafleur | The terroir
This is the key to Lafleur, the reason why this small plot can produce compelling wines of astonishing complexity. A soil study in 1999 revealed five different soils, some gravelly, some sandy, but one which was strikingly different, with richer, deeper clay. Since this runs in a diagonal strip, an acre and a half in size, across the other parcels, it makes life complicated, but now it produces Pensées de Lafleur – which is no longer a second wine but a separate cru.
A quick look at the difficult 2016 vintage gives an idea of the precision here. It rained all spring, so cellarmaster Omri Ram says that «we hedged the canopy 15-20cm more on top, so the vines could lose water». In mid-June, drought set in. «Then, instead of helping the vines to get rid of water we had to do the opposite, and reduce the canopy by 5cm, make it slimmer on the sides, reduce the volume of leaves, and remove secondary shoots, which have the most active leaves, while leaving leaves on the west side to protect the clusters against the sun.»
The vines responded with a Pensées that is all silk on the outside and grippy, almost spiky, on the inside – tense, black-fruited, fresh. Lafleur 2016 is tight and concentrated, powerfully wound and closely knit, with black fruit wrapped in silk. «It’s a great vintage,» says Ram. «And nobody in Bordeaux saw it coming. We were fighting the whole season, with never a minute to stop and breathe, and see what we had in our hands.»
Not many people know
If you can’t afford Lafleur, the Guinaudeaus also own Château Grand Village in Fronsac, a Bordeaux Supérieur, and here, as well as making a creamy, poised red and a toast-and-lime white, they keep a library of massal selections from Lafleur: 67 vines, which will be used to maintain the genetic diversity of Lafleur.
What the critics say
Tim Atkin MW calls Lafleur the «Burgundian of Bordelais, both in the vineyard and in the cellar», because of its size and level of detail. Stephen Brook settles for «one of Bordeaux’s greatest wines… [Guinaudeau’s] flowing mustache suggests a flamboyant nature, but the wine he makes is classic.» Robert Parker goes further and numbers it among the world’s most distinctive, exotic, and greatest wines.
There are, though, only 1000 cases of Lafleur made each year, and 400 of Pensées. Good luck.
Prices worldwide on Wine-Searcher (US$, ex-tax, per 750-ml bottle):
|Wine Name||Avg. Price|
|Château Lafleur, Pomerol||$732|
|Château Lafleur Les Pensées de Lafleur, Pomerol||$137|
|Château Grand Village, Bordeaux Supérieur||$21|
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