Great Wines of Bordeaux
with Basile Tesseron
All wines poured 10% off during the tasting unless otherwise discounted.
TEXT FOR BROCHURE LAFON-ROCHET
14 Juin 2013
“What the winegrowers or winemakers are saying ”
Grand Cru Classé (First Growth) in 1855 – Saint-Estčphe
“My grandfather, Guy, a virtuoso of fine cognacs, moved to the Medoc and built a chateau in the 1960s.
My father, Michel, painted it yellow 40 years later.
And me? How am I going to do to leave my mark?”
If Basile Tesseron speaks with humour about the legacy that he will leave as compared to his seniors, when he speaks of his wine, he does so with caution and humility.
« Lafon-Rochet is our family home. »
Far from being just a pretty setting, Lafon-Rochet is above all a family estate that was saved some years ago by Michel Tesseron and his sister Caroline Poniatowska.
Three generations continually mix together. Every Tuesday evening, Michel’s grandchildren invade the premises and spend their Wednesdays running amongst the vines. Baptisms and weddings are celebrated in the estate’s chapel. Friends come to spend the weekend. The chateau was painted yellow so that our friends could see it from the road.
The unusual colour of the chateau should not distract from its history.
Around 1650, Antoinette de Guillemotes married Etienne de Lafon, thus uniting the family name of her husband to her estate “Rochette”.
In 1855, the Imperial Commission requested the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce to select the finest Bordeaux wines in order to present them at the Paris World Fair. Lafon Rochet was amongst one of the 61 wines chosen. This is a noteworthy recognition, as only 5 vineyards were classified under the Saint-Estčphe appellation.
Various owners succeeded each other until July 1960 at which date Guy Tesseron acquires the property. Lafon-Rochet finally returned to being a family owned estate. In 1964, the original chateau, destroyed by termites was torn down. It took Guy 10 years to build the 18th century style chartreuse. Since Michel took over, he has continued his father’s vision for the vineyard, the wine storehouses and the chateau.
We do not transform, we do not make drastic changes, we proceed carefully. It is the same as for wine; it is all about the details.
“It is not the lifestyle of a chateau strictly speaking, it is a family life.”
“There is this certain something…”
It was intuition, or rather certainty, that under his feet and under the vines was an exceptional soil, that pushed Basile to dig in different plots, trenches 2 or 3 metres deep, thus revealing a very specific, if not to say unique soil.
The Lafon-Rochet soil is divided into two very distinct categories, the Graves located on blue clay called “swelling” and the thin draining Graves.
This obsession to know the nature of the soil allows for the planting of the correct grape, at the right place in order to obtain the best result. Basile Tesseron’s attitude is to leave room for reflexion and open discussions.
Is this the right clone for the right soil? Should we return to the old ways and to the origins of winemaking? The environmental approach that the estate is taking is not a question of “if”, but of “when” to go further.
Balancing between science and trials, utilisation of technology with respect to nature and tradition, Basil and his team do not exclude either trying something new or taking a step back.
These constant reflexions, far from being a weakness, guide the estate’s and the team’s approach.
“With such prestigious neighbours, if we do something wrong here, it’s because our feet are where are hands should be.”
“Whether it’s raining or it’s sunny, harvesting time is euphoric. You can taste the electricity as well as the excitement.”
Everyday in September, the grapes are tasted and analysed. Their scientific and gustative maturity depends on the beginning of the harvest. Lucas and Anais decide the order of the plots to harvest. Frédéric optimises the storehouse organisation. Michel and Basil handle the prioritization.
When these five decide the harvest’s start date, around forty harvesters, all coming from the same village located in the north of Portugal, arrive 24 hours later. For the last 25 years, it is always the same harvesters, their families and their neighbours. They move forward in-line like a battalion for two to three weeks.
Their expert gestures avoid the rotten and clusters, choosing only the best grapes. A good cut of the secateurs will depend on the quality of the grape thus easing the sorting task that will be done at the storehouse.
For the winemaking, Jean-Claude Berrouet advises the team. Basile reminds them that the goal is to “respect the raw material, the grape, which is the star product, and to watch over its transformation.”
This reminder is both scientific and practical because it is based on both observation and tasting during the alcoholic fermentation phase.
“When we talk about harvests, we are talking about the quality of the grape.”
“The family Tesseron bring a little touch of madness which makes their wine its soul.”
The technical director of the estate, Lucas Leclerc, doesn’t talk about the Lafon-Rochet wine; he narrates its story.
For him, the history of the rebirth of this property begins in 1961 when Guy Tesseron bought the estate. The estate today consists of 45 hectares (111 acres) in a single continuous holding.
In Lucas’ eyes, the Lafon-Rochet wine is unique for two reasons. Firstly, the Tesseron family. Because Michel and Basile like to shake up convention and follow their intuitions. They occasionally push the team to take unexpected turns.
From this audacity, the Lafon-Rochet wine develops a generous character and expresses its beautiful soul in the image of its owners.
By being close to their wine and its production, Michel and Basile are involved at every stage of its creation, “they are going to give the wine an edge, an “I like it” and that is where its elegance derives”.
Secondly, the soil. Cabernet on clay for a third of the land, the signature of Lafon-Rochet affirms itself with its minerality, rejecting a too important concentration or woody excess.
This minerality reveals its elegant character coupled with the subtle classic strength known for Saint-Estčphe wines.
With every vintage, the Lafon-Rochet wines demonstrate their complexity and balance, their elegance and their fullness. Fine Saint-Estčphe wines for drinking.
“The taste of the family Tesseron ensures the aromas of Lafon-Rochet.”
“When they ask me during a wine tasting which is my best vintage, I always answer: the one to come.”
Not being mischievous with his words, although Michel Tesseron does enjoy being so; they reveal his sincere conviction in the future.
“At each assemblage, I never note “good, perfect, or extraordinary…”just a simple “good, but could do better” because I know that we can and should do better.”
In 2009, he handed over the running of the chateau to his son Basile, because Michel believes that “only those sufficiently young are willing to take risks that will allow for progress”. With these words we understand all the confidence he has in his son to make improvements, which might seem subtle, in order to strengthen the quality of the wine.
Today, even though he has stepped down, Michel continues to keep watch. He is no longer the conductor, but continues to set the rhythm. 50 years working with wine leaves its traces, often indelible. Vintages, most notably, for which he tells every detail, start and end dates of harvests, speaking with enthusiasm about great years as well as those more difficult.
Happy winegrower, he shares his thoughtful approach. “A wine must surprise, either by its perfumes, like certain Rhone wines, very spicy, or by its body, its matter, its fullness. The spirit comes afterwards, that is what remains after having drunk. That is the quality, that some call pleasure.”
“It is necessary to have great wine producers to get the best out of a nature that we cannot control, it’s like for women!”
Lafon-Rochet lives and is open to visit.
We are always pleased to receive visitors and will gladly organise upon reservation a discovery tour of Lafon-Rochet.
And if Ho Hisse, the estate’s head dog, appears with his nose in the wind, he might just lead you to his masters.
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