Posts Tagged ‘HistoryOfWineChLafite’

The old bottled vintages sold at Chateau Lafite in 1868

October 31, 2014 1 comment

Chateau Lafite was sold on August 8, 1868, to the agents of Baron James de Rothschilds for 4,440,000 Francs.  During the sale the heirs of the original owners reserved the right to sell the furniture in the chateau and the wines in the cellars.  That fall the spectacular sale of 36 vintages in bottle and one in wood took place.  This selection represented a period of 69 years from 1797 through 1865 that were stored in the caveau and grand cave.  The vast majority of the wine was grand vin though there was also 1815 and 1864 second vin as well as 1859 Carruades.  Individual vintages were sold in multiple lots.

Carte Vinicole du Medoc. Image from Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux. [8]

Carte Vinicole du Medoc. Image from Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux. [8]

Details of the sale appear both in Bertall’s La vigne: Voyage Autour des Vins de France (1878) [1] and Maurice Dubois’ Mon Livre de Cave (1903) [2].  Each author presented the results with some difference so I have combined both to form the three tables below.  There are only two reported differences and that has to do with the quantity sold for the 1806 and 1826 vintages.  The differences are small and the quantities are within the sale magnitude.

Hotel des Princes et de la Paix. Image from Paris: nouveau guide de l'étranger et du Parisien. [11]

Hotel des Princes et de la Paix. Image from Paris: nouveau guide de l’étranger et du Parisien. [11]

The sale appears to have taken place during the first half of November 1868.[3]  The sale was conducted by M. Buffard, clerk for the justice of the peace in Pauillac, Charlot, an auctioneer from Bordeaux, and MM. Tatset et Merman, brokers.  The wines were sold as-is without any tasting and required a 5 Franc per 100  Franc commission.  The bidding was furious and was described as a steeple chase.  Within three hours the wines were all sold.  Half of the wines were purchased by Baron James de Rothschild[4] with the remaining majority by M. Gremailly, proprietor of Hotel des Princes et de la Paix in Bordeaux, and M. Delhomme, of Paris Cafe Anglais.[5]

M. Gremailly. Image from Bertall’s La Vigne. [1]

The wines purchased by Baron James de Rothschild were returned to the caveau at Chateau Lafite.  Those purchased by M. Gremailly were displayed in his very own Le Musee Gremailly.  Here the wines were located in a library-like setting, carefully arranged on many shelves.  The wines were arranged by vintage and apparently stated their purchase price.  The museum remained open through at least 1896 though there were doubts about how drinkable the wines remained.[6]

Le Musee Gremailly. Image from Bertall’s La Vigne. [1]

There might have been some published precedent for this doubt to exist.  M. Bignon’s Cafe Riche was considered one of the “most celebrated” restaurants in Paris as well as one of the most expensive.  Both the cuisine and the cellar of wines were internationally famous.  The cellar contained such old bottles as 1811 Cote d’Or and 1819 Sauternes during the fall of 1874.[10]  It was only natural then that M. Bignon was present at M. Gremailly’s “rather curious sale” of wine from the cellar of his Hotel des Princes et de la Paix held in 1877.  M. Bignon purchased several of these old vintages of Chateau Lafite including two bottles of the 1811 Comet vintage.  Whereas this vintage originally sold for 121 Francs M. Bignon paid 320 Francs each.[7]

Le Cafe Riche. c. 1890. Image from Wikimedia.

Le Cafe Riche. c. 1890. Image from Wikimedia.


During the 1878 Paris Exposition, Prince Giedroyc hosted a grand dinner for members of the wine tasting jury at Cafe Riche.  It was here that M. Bignon opened up a bottle of the 1811 Chateau Lafite.  He poured this wine “to demonstrate to you  the solidity of our famous French wines and the immense value they acquire with age.”  Vizetelly noted that “some specimens” were opened at the dinner and the “wine had become almost tasteless, and had entirely lost its perfume, though it still retained its roseate purple hue.”

Wine sold “Dans le caveau”

1797 grand vin 7 12
1798 grand vin 9 16
1799 grand vin 13 12
1801 grand vin 8 10
1802 grand vin 6 10
1803 grand vin 69 11
1805 grand vin 147 10, 11, 12, 13
1806 grand vin 65 or 64 9, 10
1807 grand vin 9 12
1808 grand vin 24 10, 11
1810 grand vin 17 10
1811 grand vin 21 76, 121
1814 grand vin 27 11, 13
1815 grand vin 35 26, 30, 31
1815 second vin 37 unknown
1819 grand vin 32 20, 21, 22
1820 grand vin 69 13, 14, 16
1822 grand vin 47 15, 16
1823 grand vin 33 42, 52, 60
1825 grand vin 96 31, 32, 36
1826 grand vin 98 or 94 6, 7
1827 grand vin 51 15, 18, 21
1830 grand vin 117 8, 19
1831 grand vin 58 11, 13
1832 grand vin 128 11, 12, 13
1834 grand vin 47 61, 70
1838 grand vin 107 6, 10
1844 grand vin 131 12, 13
1846 grand vin 265 13, 23, 26
1848 grand vin 191 51, 60, 62, 65
1854 grand vin 224 14, 15
1857 grand vin 65 14, 15
1858 grand vin 195 30, 36, 41
1859 Carruades 283 11, 12
1864 grand vin 274 18, 19, 30
1864 second vin 274 9, 10

Wine sold “Dans le grande cave”

1846 grand vin 288 26, 27, 28
1861 grand vin 727 7, 8, 9, 10
1863 grand vin 141 6, 7
1864 grand vin 817 15, 16, 17, 18

Wine sold “Vins en futs”

1865 grand vin 6 barriques 2,850 and 3,000


[1] Bertall. La Vigne: voyage autour des vins de France. 1878. URL:
[2] Dubois, Maurice. Mon Livre de Cave. 1903. URL:;view=1up;seq=1
[3] Bertall writes that the sale took place after the death of Count Duchatel on November 16, 1868.  However the Journal of the Society of Arts published sales results on November 13, 1868.
[4] Vizetelly, Ernest Alfred. The Wines of France. 1908. URL:
[5] Ray, Cyril. Lafite. Christie’s Wine Publications. 1985.
[6] De Nansouty, Max. La Vie Scientifique. 1896. URL:
[7] “Wine at $62 a Bottle” Date: Saturday, August 24, 1878 Paper: Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA) Page: 2
[8] De Lorbac, Charles. Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux. 1868. URL:
[9] Revue des vins et liqueurs et des produits alimentaires pour l’exportation… 1877. Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL:
[10] Appletons’ Journal: A Magazine of General Literature, Volume 12. 1874. URL:
[11] Joanne, Adolphe. Paris: nouveau guide de l’étranger et du Parisien. 1867. Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL:

Mis en bouteilles au Chateau: The museum of wine at Chateau Lafite

October 30, 2014 1 comment

I became rather curious about the origins of chateau bottled wines in Bordeaux after reading Mabel Hubbard Bell’s letter describing the early “sample bottles” at Chateau Lafite.  It is quite clear that 1869 is considered the first wine where an entire vintage was bottled at Chateau Lafite.  This was the first vintage under the ownership of Baron James de Rothschild who purchased the estate the previous year in 1868.  There were earlier vintages that were chateau bottled in part.  Exactly how far back this practiced extended has been studied over the years.  Cyril Ray wrote that both Warner Allen and André Simon originally believed that 1846 was the first vintage chateau bottled at Chateau Lafite but with the publication of A History of Wine (1961), Warner Allen switched to 1797 as being the earliest chateau bottled vintage without explanation.[1]

Chateau Lafite. Image from Clarets and Sauternes. [8]

Chateau Lafite. Image from Clarets and Sauternes. [8]

The vintage of 1797 corresponds with the purchase of Chateau Lafite by Jean de Witt.[2]  During the same year of the purchase, Joseph Goudal took over the management of the affairs at Chateau Lafite.  De Witt could only hold on to the estate for just a few years before he had to sell it at the end of 1800. This time the estate was purchased by three Dutch negocients.  Across this and future sales the Goudal family maintained management of the estate and kept records from which it is known that a small amount of wine was chateau bottled for the owners and staff.  It was Joseph Goudal who built the vinotheque in the early 1800s which now houses the oldest bottle reaching back to 1797.  Cyril Ray describes this small caveau as “primarily –almost entirely – a museum.”  There were some 1,500 bottles as of 1985.

Over a century earlier, in 1864, this cellar was also described as “un muse de ses vins en bouteilles”.[3]  The collection for this museum of wine was begun in 1798 by Joseph Goudal.  The wines were not for sale but buyers were occasionally allowed to taste from them to see how the wines changed over time.[4] At the time the vinotheque or caveau was reported to contain the vintages 1797 through 1834.  The later date is of interest because, as we shall see, just several years later the bottled vintages range from 1797 through 1864. The date of 1834 is either a typographic error or stocks from the grande cave were subsequently transferred to the vinotheque.  Whatever the range of vintages contained this vinotheque was considered unique in all of France.

During the 1868 sale of Chateau Lafite to Baron James de Rothschild the previous owners reserved the right to sell the wine in the cellars.[5]  The sale of the wine represented some 5,700 bottles of Chateau Lafite from the vintages of 1797 to 1864.[6]  There were also barriques of the 1865 vintage.  The prices ranged from a minimum of 7 Francs per bottle for 1826 and 1863 to as much as 121 Francs per bottle for some of the 21 bottles of the 1811 Comet year wine.  The lots ranged from as few as 6 bottles of 1802 to as many as 817 bottles of the 1864.[7]  The few descriptions I have found of this sale do not specifically assert whether these wines were chateau bottled or not.  Half of the wine was purchased by Baron James de Rothschild and stored in the cellars at Chateau Lafite.

Chateau Lafite.  Image from  . Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux.  [4]

Chateau Lafite. Image from . Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux. [4]

It is Joseph Goudal’s vinotheque then that Francis Beatty Thurber named the “private cellar” with “specimen” vintages back to 1810.  Mabel Hubbard Bell described this space as the “sample cellar” with vintages back to 1798. Thus we have descriptions of old bottles of Chateau Lafite from 1868 and the 1880s.  I find it is curious then that in the 20th century, 1846 was considered the earliest chateau bottled vintage until Warner Allen’s change to 1797 in 1961.  Perhaps some history was lost or there was not yet proof that the 19th century descriptions applied to chateau bottled wines.  Even the definition of chateau bottled could have changed as well.

Clarets and Sauternes (1920) jumps into the subject of “Chateau bottling” immediately in the preface and certainly helps bridge the gap in some missing knowledge.[8]  This subject is described as “of perennial interest” amongst “Claret connoisseurs”.   Clarets and Sauternes credits Chateau Lafite with inaugurating La mise en bouteilles au Chateau in 1846 or 1847 because the claims of Chateau d’Yquem were more tenuous.  These bottlings at Chateau Lafite occurred “for quite small lots.” Between 1847 and 1862 chateau bottlings also took place at Chateau Latour and Chateau Margaux.  The bottling of the entire vintage of 1869 Chateau Lafite by Jules Clavelle is given substantial weight not only because “it authenticated the wine definitely and finally” but it also “contributed in no small degree to popularize this feature of the Grand French Wines.”  The practice of chateau bottling continued to gain in practice until “it reached its zenith just before the outbreak of the lamentable World War.”

Dessus de Cheminee a Chateau Lafite.  Image from  . Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux.  [4]

Dessus de Cheminee a Chateau Lafite. Image from . Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux. [4]

Only the best vintages of Chateau Lafite in cask were allowed to be bought and sold as “Lafite” with inferior vintages known only as Vin Rouge.  This maintenance of quality was extended to the Chateau bottlings which only took place during approved vintages.  Thus there were no chateau bottlings between 1885 and 1906 due to strict quality standards.  After the first bottled vintage of 1846 it was “possible to arrange for Chateau bottling at Lafite, but it is understood the privilege was not generally availed of, except for quite small lots.”

Shortly after Clarets and Sauternes was published an interesting article exploring chateau bottling titled “Mise en bouteilles au Chateau” appeared in Le Sommelier during 1924.[9]  The article begins by stating, contrary to popular opinion, that Chateau d’Yquem is considered the first to chateau bottle the entire vintage, that being 1865, ahead of Chateau Lafite in 1869. There is prompt acknowledgement that small lots were bottled at the Chateau Lafite both for individuals and the trade prior to those vintages.  One early example was found detailed in a letter describing the 1811 or “Comet vintage” as being “mis en bouteilles au chateau” and bearing a stamp on the bottle “Chateau Lafite. – M. Goudal, regisseur”.  Other vintages bottled at the chateau, with similar guarantee of origin on the bottle or capsule, included 1836 and 1838.  The 1837 vintage was purchased “en nouveau” but turned out to be mediocre and was apparently abandoned before eventually being chateau bottled in 1839.  Several barrels of 1846 were chateau bottled, a substantial amount of 1847, and at least 50 barrels of 1848 were additionally labeled “grand vin”.

Chateau Lafite marks. Image from Clarets and Sauternes. [8]

Chateau Lafite marks. Image from Clarets and Sauternes. [8]

While we may never know the sources that Warner Allen and André Simon relied upon it is clear that based on the Goudal documentation the early accounts of the bottled wines in the vinotheque refer to chateau bottled examples.  I find this cycle of lost and found history interesting.  Whereas the article in Le Sommelier sheds light on Chateau Lafite it also informs us that the use of the terms Mis en bouteilles au Chateau and Grand Vin on wine bottles was hotly debated.  At key was the inevitable paradox that a chateau bottled poor vintage represented an authentically bad wine.  This would be at direct odds with the great French wines acting as ambassador products in foreign countries.  That is a subject for another post.  If you are at all like me, you must now be wondering exactly which vintages of old Chateau Lafite were sold in 1868, who purchased the other half of the bottles, and what did they taste like?

[1] Ray, Cyril. Lafite. Christie’s Wine Publications. 1985.
[2] Coates, Clive. Grand Vin. University of California Press.  1995.
[3] “Bordeaux”, 22 October 1864, Le monde illustre: journal hebdomadaire, Volume 2-8. URL:
[4] De Lorbac, Charles. Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux. 1868. URL:
[5] Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Volume 16. 1868.
[6] Vizetelly, Ernest Alfred. The Wines of France. 1908. URL:
[7] Bertall. La Vigne: voyage autour des vins de France. 1878. URL:
[8] The Wine and Spirit Trade Record. Clarets and Sauternes. 1920. URL:
[9] Le Sommelier. Revue mensuelle officielle [“puis” et propriété exclusive] de l’Union des sommeliers de Paris. May 15, 1924. Bibliothèque nationale de France. URL:

Samples and specimens at Chateau Lafite

October 21, 2014 1 comment

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac [4]

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac [4]

It appears that Mabel Hubbard Bell’s descriptions of the three main cellars at Chateau Lafite are more detailed than most, though she does not specifically answer what the “sample bottles” contained.[0]  Unfortunately, descriptions of Baron Rothschild’s private cellars appear to be rare.  Francis Beatty Thurber described the private cellars as containing “collected vintages of every year from 1810 to the present time, nearly all of which were in bottle.”[1]  These bottles included “specimens of the products of the Lafite vineyards” as well “other well known vineyards for comparison”.  These bottles were “systematically arranged, according to the various dates of production.”  Another visitor described the “private cave of the Rothschilds” as containing “80,000 bottles of the finest wines, not only of Medoc, but of Spain, Germany, and Italy.”[2]  A separate observation from the same period of “those wonderful cellars” describes “thousands of dozens of priceless bottle wine” from “every great growth and vintage of the present century.”[3]

We know from other accounts that the bulk of the vintage was sent off of the estate to merchants.  It appears then that “sample” or “specimen” bottles of Chateau Lafite were kept from part of the vintage.  These bottles were stored in the private cellars and represented vintages back to the beginning of the 19th century.  Whether these were bottled at the chateau and the quantity bottled are not yet known.  It would be interesting to determine if chateau-bottling, in part, stemmed from the practice of retaining samples.  If anyone has further descriptions of the private cellars please let me know!

[0] “[E]ach grape was [c]ut off with scissors!” The early bottled vintages of Chateau Lafite. Hogshead wine. URL:
[1] Thurber, Francis Beatty. Coffee, from Plantation to Cup. 1881. URL:
[2] Wheeler, Jewit Edward. Current Opinion, Volume 3. 1889. URL:
[3] Chapman and Hall. The Fortnightly Review, Volume 53. 1890. URL:
[4] Danflou, Alred. Les Grands Crus Bordelais. Premiere Part. 1867. Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL:

“[E]ach grape was [c]ut off with scissors!” The early bottled vintages of Chateau Lafite

October 20, 2014 2 comments

Mabel Hubbard Bell, the wife of Alexander Graham Bell, visited Bordeaux during the summer of 1888.[1]  She wrote how “We have been buying a lot of wine here…some of it is really delicious.”  She was not just buying wine, she was visiting estates.  Her father’s wine merchant was also the agent of Baron Rothschild.  As a result her tour of Bordeaux included the Rothschild properties.  She wrote down rather specific details such that each vine bore 25 to 30 bunches of grapes and that the leaves are treated four or five times against mildew with sulphate of copper.  She was impressed how the horses and oxen never tread on the grapes “and none ever make a mistake even in the difficult operation of turning out of one row into another”.  From the Rothschild’s stock she even “bought some wine of such a fine quality that each grape was [c]ut off with scissors!”

Page 5. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

Page 5. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

At “Chateau Lafitte” the “Baron’s private cellars” were divided into four longer corridors with “bottled wine of different brands” that were valued at $200,000.  These bottles were given away by family to friends.  Another cellar contained three corridors with 162 casks per corridor or 486 casks of wine.  However, the most interesting description falls to the “sample cellar”.  This contained “sample bottles” from every vintage beginning with 1798.  Sample cellar seems to imply samples of Chateau Lafite wine.  Whether this means chateau-bottle wine instead of merchant bottle wine is not clear.  Unfortunately, the number of bottles of each vintage is not stated.

In Cyril Ray’s Lafite (1985) appears the section “The Earliest chateau-bottled Lafite?” where the vintages of 1846 and 1797 were variously stated as the first chateau-bottled Lafite according to the unsubstantiated accounts of Warner Allen and Andre Simon.  The vintage of 1846 had been stated as the first Chateau-bottle Lafite as early as 1920 and I wonder if Clarets and Sauternes was Andre Simon’s authority.[2]  Warner Allen moved from 1846 back to 1797 as the first bottled vintage for unstated reasons in A History of Wine (1961).  At the Heublein auction of 1971 it was stated 1846 was the first bottled vintage.[3]  The use of the later vintage could be simply due to the two bottles of 1846 Lafite that were included in the auction!  It is perhaps due to unearthed documentation that the vintage was shifted back to 1797.  This vintage also survived in bottle for Clive Coates MW writes in Grand Vin (1995) that 1797 “is the earliest vintage remaining in the Lafite vinotheque.”

Page 6. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

Page 6. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

Cyril Ray writes that according to records there were no chateau-bottlings between 1885-1906 and that 1876-1885 were the phylloxera years.  That the 1797 bottling may have been “an isolated experiment, and that for the next half-century bottling was by Bordeaux and by English merchants.”  Mabel Hubbard Bell wrote that there were sample bottles “from each years vintage beginning with the year 1798.”  Could Mabel Hubbard Bell’s samples represent chateau-bottled Lafite albeit in small amounts?  Could the 1797 vintage lying in the vinotheque be the same at Mabel Hubbard Bell’s sample bottle of 1798?  What happened to all of the other sample bottled vintages?

[1] Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23. MSS51268: Folder: Eliza Symonds Bell, Family Correspondence, Mabel Hubbard Bell, 1888-1890. Library of Congress Manuscript Division. URL:
[2] The Wine and Spirit Trade Record. Clarets and Sauternes. 1920. URL:
[3] “1846 Lafite to captivate bidders.” Press release of Heublein, Inc. ca. 1971. URL: