In 1993, Château d’Yquem [dee-kem] celebrated 400 years of ownership by the same family. In 1593, the Sauvage family bought this estate which came into the Lur Saluces patrimony when Francoise Joséphine de Sauvage married Count Louis Amédée de Lur Saluces in 1785. Marquis Bertrand de Lur Saluces was one of the 20th century’s most important personalities in the world of wine.
Count Alexandre de Lur Saluces has followed in his Uncle Betrand’s footsteps since 1968. Highly motivated to perfect this prestigious product while respecting tradition, he is determined to offer maximum quality.
Yquem is the result of painstaking efforts by everyone who works on the estate. However, nature is the major factor in making the most of the rare soil of Yquem.
👶🏻👴🏻Uncommonly rich and fresh, the wines of Château d’Yquem can be enjoyed either young or old.
🌡Young vintages of Yquem are best enjoyed on the cool side (9°C), while it is preferable to serve older ones at a higher temperature (12°C).
🧀🦆The Sauternes is enjoyed throughout the meal in Bordeaux. One of the more common dishes to serve it with is Foie Gras at the beginning of a meal. Yquem’s powerful aromas and flavours go together with blue cheeses or an old Comté. To take off, you might wish to try quail, duck, or other poultry. You won’t regret the trip.
🕯Sauternes can be incredibly long-lived. Bottles of Yquem from before the turn of the last century are still drinking well.
In 1790, Thomas Jefferson ordered thirty dozen bottles of Yquem for George Washington and himself.
Sweet and unctuous but delightfully charming, the finest Sauternes typically express flavours of exotic dried tropical fruit, candied apricot, dried citrus peel, honey or ginger and a zesty beam of acidity.
Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle are the grapes of Sauternes. But Sémillon’s susceptibility to the requisite noble rot makes it the main variety and contributor to what makes Sauternes so unique. As a result, most Sauternes estates are planted to about 80% Sémillon. Sauvignon is prized for its balancing acidity and Muscadelle adds aromatic complexity to the blend with Sémillon.
Botrytis cinerea or “noble rot” is a fungus that grows on grapes only in specific conditions and its onset is crucial to the development of the most stunning of sweet wines.
In the fall, evening mists develop along the Garonne River, and settle into the small Sauternes district, creeping into the vineyards and sitting low until late morning. The next day, the sun has a chance to burn the moisture away, drying the grapes and concentrating their sugars and phenolic qualities. What distinguishes a fine Sauternes from a normal one is the producer’s willingness to wait and tend to the delicate botrytis-infected grapes through the end of the season.
Harvest at Château d’Yquem
Château d’Yquem is renowned for its absolute mastery of selective harvesting in waves. This technique is dictated by the gradual development of Botrytis cinerea, also known as “noble rot”. The fungus colonizes the grape and causes water to evaporate through the skin of the fruit. This change of state is widely feared, but can transform the grapes into “drops of gold” given the right climate conditions. With the effects of noble rot, the sugar and juice of the grapes become highly concentrated, well beyond ordinary ripeness.
The sugar levels inside the grapes become more concentrated, far in excess of normal ripening: 18-30° potential alcohol, i.e. 300-600 grams of sugar per litre!
Château d’Yquem’s goal is to obtain musts with 20° of potential alcohol for the must, with 360 grams of sugar per liter. Pickers must ensure that the fruit is at the correct stage of Botrytis development, and on average they carry out 5 or 6 selections over six weeks. This risky process involves a long wait, with late and extended harvests as well as a high risk of losing the crop as winter approaches, and a reduction of around 50% of the total juice volume. As a result, yields are very low at Yquem, on average 9 hectoliters per hectare, and is one of the reasons for its consistently outstanding quality.
It takes one vine to produce one glass of Yquem.
Grapes have been harvested the same way at Château d’Yquem for centuries. At vintage time, the château’s work force increases by 200 pickers, divided into four groups. They scour the entire vineyard for grapes that are both botrytised and have attained maximum concentration. Harvesting at Yquem calls for picking in several passes.
Botrytis cinerea behaves differently depending on the plot, the bunch of grapes and even individual berries. Pickers select only the ripest, most “rotten” fruit. Any grapes that fall short of these criteria are left for the next pass. There are an average of five or six passes per vintage, spread over six weeks. However, in certain years, when the harvest starts in October and does not end until December, it is necessary to go through the vineyard more than 10 times – despite the risk that the vintage may not be worthy of the Yquem name.
The video below explores the weather during rippening and its impact on botrytis development. There’s a fantastic section of the video at 45 seconds showing the picking of grapes one at a time! Great shots of fully botrytised bunches at 1:58s
Winemaking at Château d’Yquem
It takes no more than one hour for grapes picked at Château d’Yquem to arrive at the cellar. Pressing takes into account the texture and fragility of the fruit.
The grapes are pressed three or four times at Yquem. As opposed to other white wines, the sugar content and quality increase with each pressing. The first pressing in a pneumatic winepress produces 75% of the total juice, with about 19° potential alcohol. The second yields 15% of the total juice, with about 21° potential alcohol, while the third can reach up to 25°. The hard cake of pomace is then broken up, destemmed, and put through a low-capacity vertical press. If the harvest is very small, we use these same vertical presses exclusively, without recourse to pneumatic presses. Wines from the various pressings are blended before barrel fermentation.
Yquem is usually 75-80% Sémillon overing richness, full flavours, and, oppulence. The remain 20-25% Sauvignon Blanc adding acid, freshness, and, vibrancy. A similar blend to the Dry White No.1 table wine from Yarra Yering.
Unusually in Sauternes, fermentation at Yquem takes place in barrel to maintain maximum control over this most delicate and mysterious part of winemaking. Only new barrels are used each year. These are made with the finest stave oak from forests in the eastern part of central France. Each individual barrel is closely monitored, and the château’s in-house laboratory carries out regular analyses. The most active musts finish fermenting in just two weeks. However, others can take up to six weeks. Fermentation stops naturally in all instances. The alcohol content at Château d’Yquem varies from 12.5° to 14.5° according to the sugar content of the must. The ideal figure is 13.5° with 120 to 150 g/l of g/l of residual sugar.
Wine made from grapes picked on the same day is aged separately for six to eight months. A preliminary blend is made from selected batches in the spring following the harvest. After taste tests and laboratory analyses, wines not up to the château’s strict standards are set aside. The barrels that have been retained are then moved to the ageing cellar where they will stay for twenty months. Every barrel is topped up twice a week. This consists of adding wine to fill up the airspace created by evaporation at the top of the barrel. Furthermore, every barrel is racked fifteen times to remove heavy lees. Light sediment in suspension is removed by a process called fining. The rigorous selection process continues in the cellar. Towards the end of barrel ageing, a rigorous selection takes place at blind tastings. This will determine the final blend of Château d’Yquem.
Where is Château d’Yquem?
Château d’Yquem is in the Southern part of Bordeaux. You can see the Garonne flows inland of Yquem by about 2km. Château d’Yquem’s microclimate is in the heart of a 20 km strip of land along both sides of the Garonne Valley where all of Bordeaux’s sweet and
semi-sweet white wine appellations (Sainte Croix du Mont, Loupiac, Cérons, Cadillac, and Barsac) are located.
Go full screen on the map below and zoom into Sauternes the winery names will pop up and you’ll get a great satellite view of the Château.