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Chateau Latour

latour-tower-and-chateau.jpgChateau Latour is, for many, the epitome of Great Bordeaux.  Famous the world over and revered for its power, complexity and elegance, not to mention its longevity.  It has a reputation not only for regularly making one of Bordeaux's best wines each vintage, but also for notably succeeding in the lesser years.

While there were vineyards at Latour in the 14th and 15th centuries (as well as a fort guarding against attack from the Gironde) Latour's reputation was established in the late 17th century when it became part of the legendary Comte Alexander de Segur's vineyard holdings (which also included Lafitte and Calon at the time).  Classified as a 'first growth' in the 1855 Classification, Latour has rarely looked backwards.  In 1863 part of its annual production was Chateau-bottled, and by the 1930s this was extended to the entire production.  By the 1950s ownership had multiplied through generational inheritance to nearly 70 shareholders, and the inevitable occured in 1962 when the property was sold off (to the British company, Pearsons).

Progress saw the planting of additional plots (specifically the Les Forts de Latour vineyard in 1963) and in 1964 stainless steel tanks were introduced.  The jewel, l'Enclos, had gradually been reduced to half of its capacity, so individual vines were painstakingly replanted.  Then in 1993 French industrialist Francois Pinault purchased the property, and has overseen (with his general manager, Frederic Engerer) its continued improvement, including the construction of a new chai, as well as mapping and soil analysis of l'Enclos' 80 distinct plots.  A museum, or wine library, is maintained, with 1863 being the oldest vintage remaining.  While most are, not every vintage is represented.latour-chai.jpg


Approximately 160 acres (60 hectares) and 600,000 vines, planted to 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and tiny amounts of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  The heart of the estate is the 47 hectare vineyard l'Enclos surrounding the Chateau and chai, whose vines average 50 years of age and which produce the grand vin.  L'Enclos abuts the St.-Julien second growth Leoville Las Cases to the south (separating both Chateaux and commune by a small drainage channel).

The deep, free-draining gravelly clay and sandy soils enable l'Enclos to produce high-quality fruit in wet years, whilst the proximity to the Gironde protects from devastating frosts (such as in 1991).  Throughout the subsoils bands of clay allow for good moisture retention enabling the vines to withstand stress in hot and drought years.  Additionally, a warmer microclimate than that of most neighbouring vineyards allows Latour to harvest l'Enclos earlier than others whilst still attaining full physiological and phenolic ripeness.

A second parcel of vines, Forts de Latour (from which most of the fruit for that wine originates) averages 40-45 years of age and is located to the northwest, while further inland are two additional plots (Petit Batailley and La Pinada).  All of the vineyards are replanted at a rate of approximately 2% per year.


latour-vats-fixed.jpgHarvest is generally completed in 15-20 days, utilising around 200 pickers, and all grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, with each parcel fermented in 66 custom made stainless steel tanks of varying capacity (from 12 to 166hl) corresponding to the vineyard plots.  Malolactic fermentations are completed in barrel, which are a combination of Nevers and Alliers oak from 10 distinct coopers.  The wine is racked every three months, and completed with a (six egg-white) fining prior to bottling.  The grand vin sees 100% new oak each year, Les Forts de Latour about 50% new oak.  Until the 1970s bottling was done barrel by barrel, today a 2,200hl blending tank is utilised.

In 2000 (with the 1998 vintage) a stringent quality-control program was introduced in which every single cork used by the Chateau is tested for TCA (cork tain) - theoretically eliminating the possibility of 'corked' Latour.

One final noteworthy point - in 2011 Chateau Latour announced their intention to remove their wines from the en-primeur system commencing with the 2012 vintage.  They have declared that Chateau Latour will not be released from any vintage until it is 'ready' for release, suggesting at least five years and probably a decade or so from vintage.  The Chateau has been preparing for this for a number of years, with very large storage contructed on site, and reduced quantities of wine released each year for the past five or so vintages.  The intention is twofold - one to reduce the likelihood of their wine being consumed 'too early', but also to substantially decrease availability which will inevitably, and significantly, increase the cost or value of Chateau Latour in the marketplace.

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