When considering historic and influential wine producers, the gold standard is the châteaus of Bordeaux that were initially given First Growth status in the 1855 Classification. Originally, only four châteaus held this prestigious rank; among them was Château Lafite Rothschild. Today, a bottle of its Premiere Grand Cru Classé runs north of $1,000. Even the most dedicated wine collector has difficulty adding a bottle to their cellar because of cost and availability.
An extraordinary episode of Verticals is coming to SOMM TV this month. Château Lafite Rothschild, who has never invited cameras to visit them, welcomed SOMM TV through its historic doors. As told by Baron Eric de Rothschild and his daughter Saskia, subscribers will see the centuries-old iconic cellars and hear the stories passed down through the generations.
The episode immerses viewers in the family’s history, triumphs, and tragedies as represented through four significant vintages. This episode will likely be the only access that most wine lovers will ever get to the Château, and it’s only available to SOMM TV subscribers.
Here are five remarkable things viewers will see in Verticals: Château Lafite Rothschild.
150 Years Worth of Bottle Shapes and Labels
The Lafite bottle has evolved ever-so-slightly with the times. During World War II, red wine bottles were clear because of a lead shortage. In later years, impactful vintages show symbols directly on the glass. 1945 was honored for the war’s end, while the 1985 vintage bottle includes a comet representing Halley’s Comet. In the Verticals episode, Saskia shows viewers each noteworthy vintage and shares the motivation for choosing each symbol.
2018 marked the 150th anniversary of Château Lafite Rothschild and, with it, a small but symbolic change to the label. As Saskia Rothschild opens the 2018 expression, she explains adding a small hot air balloon to the label etching and “CL” on the glass. A hot air balloon represented modernity and progression 150 years ago, but today, it symbolizes serenity and peace. Both representations align with Lafite’s philosophy of making wine as a genuine expression. The letters “CL” serve dual purposes. First, it’s the Roman numeral for 150, but it’s also the initials of the Château.
Original Château Lafite Rothschild Cellars
A special moment occurs roughly halfway through this episode of Verticals. Eric, one of the only keyholders to the original cellar library, leads SOMM TV cameras into the sacred corridor.
Built over a century ago, the original cellar holds iconic vintages, rare and even double magnums. Not a single bottle has a label. Instead, the cellar master uses a system of numbered racks. To maintain the longest shelf life possible, the cellar master will re-cork each bottle every 30 years.
A Look at the Famous Circular Barrel Room
Château Lafite is home to one of the most revered barrel rooms on the planet. The circular chamber allows for 15% increased efficiency from workers. It’s much less challenging to maneuver barrels around and holds up to 2,000 vessels at a time. Eric and Saskia walk viewers through the room, explaining the inner workings of their cooperage program and why they paint the middle section of the barrel with wine.
The Signatures of Famous Visitors
In 1977, Château Lafite welcomed royalty to the estate. As Rothschild flips through the estate’s guest book, he shares the signature of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. He remembers the lunch fondly, having first shared a bottle of Jerez, followed by several wines, including a bottle of Lafite from her birth year, 1900.
Rothschild shares another cherished momento in the guest book, a one-of-a-kind sketch from Andy Warhol.
Changes Made to the Property During German Occupation
Before World War II, Château Lafite had no running water, heat, or electricity. It wasn’t until German troops occupied the property that they decided to do some upgrades, fully intending to be there for another 20 or 30 years. When Rothschild’s father, mother and uncle returned after being released from prisoner-of-war camps, they were stunned at the changes. Today, the showers installed in 1943 are still on display as part of a bedroom.
The occupation of German troops had a surprising impact on the 1945 vintage. The vineyards hadn’t been tended to, so they grew very few grapes. The vines had gone through a struggle, which, as many know, produces high-quality and concentrated grapes. 1945 made an exceptional yet limited wine, thanks to the mishandling of the property.