We need to pick at peak ripeness. This means the convergence of aromatic, phenolic (tannin, colour), and technological (sugar, acidity) ripeness. Our whole winemaking strategy is based on picking at the right time, and this necessarily entails a certain risk. In Bordeaux, in the autumn, the weather can sometimes be conducive to the spread of grey rot, leading to a loss of both quality and quantity. The equilibrium in the weather (sunshine, rain, wind, etc.) is often fragile!
I determine how ripe the grapes are in two different ways:
1 – analysing the grape must (sugar, acidity, and tannin levels…)
2 – tasting the grapes: This is a deciding factor when the analysis results are inconclusive! I send the pickers out when I can taste that the grapes are perfectly ripe (the human senses of smell and taste are more efficient than any laboratory analyses).
« The first thing that I did when I arrived at Château Smith Haut Lafitte was to sell the grape harvesting machines. » Daniel Cathiard, Owner of Château Smith Haut Lafitte.
Our grapes are entirely hand-picked, plot by plot, bunch by bunch, because this is still the best way to harvest quality fruit. All the bunches are harvested, examined, and sorted by one of our workers, and then put into small crates.
These are then directly transported to the cellars at Smith Haut Lafitte. The fruit is not put into large hoppers and great care is taken not to bruise the 10 kg of grapes in each crate prior to arrival at the winery. The grapes are removed delicately by hand and then gone over carefully once again on a sorting table.
At this stage, the white wine grapes go directly into a pneumatic winepress. The red wine grapes, on the other hand, go to be destemmed, and then onto the second sorting table (manned by 10 to 12 workers) in order to remove anything other than grapes.
« I want only whole, perfectly-ripe grapes with ripe seeds in my fermentation vats, in order to make the best possible wine. In this same spirit, we have just acquired state-of-the-art optical sorting equipment. This photographs everything on the sorting table and analyses it thanks to specialised software. Anything that does not have the shape or colour of a grape is rejected.. » Daniel Cathiard, Owner of Château Smith Haut Lafitte.
In few dates (click for more details)
2011 – Soil Mapping of High Precision
In order to become familiar with the variations within specific plots of our vines, we now use satellite photos to produce very detailed maps of the vineyard. This enables us to pinpoint areas within plots that ripen at the same time. This means that all grapes will be picked at peak maturity and that the wine will be better extracted, better focused, and more pure.
2010 – Revolutionary destemming system
We have introduced a destemmer that works in a revolutionary way. No more rotating cages that bruise the grapes! Our new machine uses vibration to delicately separate the berries from the stems. These remain whole, but completely removed. Furthermore, the stems are not broken apart, and the quality potential is considerably improved!
2009 – "Smart" sorting
We have now installed state-of-the-art optical sorting equipment: every grape is photographed, and the image is then computer analysed. Only perfect grapes are accepted. Any matter other than grapes, substandard fruit, underripe or green fruit is eliminated (by air injection).
"Smart" sorting is utterly reliable, with all the regularity and dependability of a finely-tuned machine.
2007 – Grapes picked into small crates
Starting with the 2007 vintage, and most likely for all foreseeable vintages, we stopped using baskets and hoppers, which we replaced with small crates. In this way, the grapes go directly from the picker's hand to the sorting table in the same small crate.
2002 – Vibrating sorting tables
We use vibrating sorting tables both before and after destemming. This destemming is done very gently thanks to a new generation of equipment that treats the grapes virtually as delicately as a human being.
Never losing sight of the fact that the raw material needs to be treated with the utmost care, the sorted whole grapes are put into small tubs and taken to the fermentation vats.
2001 – A second grape reception station
This second new and independent grape reception station (identical to the first one), makes the most of freshly-picked grapes and provides perfect sorting. We have also increased our sorting capacity by calling on a team of 15 people after destemming.
1999 – Manual sorting after destemming
Four or five people sort the grapes on a second conveyor belt in front of the destemmer to remove any extraneous material overlooked during the previous sorting.
1991 – Hand-harvesting into small crates
Since Daniel Cathiard abandoned mechanical grape harvesting (one of the first things he did when he took over the estate), all the grapes are hand picked into small crates. Ergonomically-designed hod carriers make it easy to transport these crates towards two final sortings on specially adapted tables.