One of Bordeaux's best properties for value-priced wines has been bought by its neighbors. Florence and Daniel Cathiard, owners of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, and Patrice Pichet, owner of Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, have acquired Château Le Thil in Pessac-Léognan from the de Laitre family. The new owners will divide up the 42.5 acres. The prices for the deals were not disclosed.
Le Thil is a little-known Bordeaux gem, priced affordably ($20 for the 2009) but earning critical praise, with outstanding scores from Wine Spectator's James Molesworth for its past several vintages. The de Laitre family was pushed to sell because of a complicated inheritance situation, and the Cathiards have been trying to purchase the estate, which lies next door to Smith-Haut-Lafitte, for eight years.
The vineyards, replanted beginning in 1990, are located on an uncommon mixture of terroir for Pessac-Léognan, with a small rise of clay-limestone soils amidst the more typical local gravel, allowing Le Thil to make St.-Emilion-style, Merlot-dominated reds. The whites are a 50-50 blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Cathiards, known for their ambitious revival of Smith-Haut-Lafitte since they bought it in 1990, purchased the lion’s share of Le Thil: 28.7 acres, the château and a 20-acre park. They plan to continue to produce Le Thil Comte Clary from the property's vineyards. “The wines receive good reviews, they have a beautiful reputation, so we don’t have any plans to change that,” said Florence Cathiard.
The vineyards purchased by the Cathiards are contiguous with Smith-Haut-Lafitte, allowing them to realize their long-held dream of reconstructing the historic estate of Lodi Duffour Dubergier. Once the owner of Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Duffour Dubergier famously signed the 1855 Classification as the president of the Bordeaux's chamber of commerce. Le Thil belonged to his nephew, from whom the de Laitre family is descended.
Pichet of Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion purchased 13.8 acres of vines, which he has been farming for a year now, with the wine already incorporated into Carmes Haut-Brion 2011. In an interview with Wine Spectator, Pichet said, “with the acquisition, we increase our production to [4,166 cases], but our production of the first wine remained [2,075 cases]—we’re making a more exacting selection and increasing our quality.”
The parties say it's too early to say which, if any, upgrades are needed with the properties, or if the château and park will be used to expand the Cathiards' luxury hotel and spa, Les Sources de Caudalie.
“We need to study the vineyards, the estate, and take the summer to reflect,” said Cathiard. She and her husband have already planned an expansion at the hotel, however. In late fall, construction begins on 14 new villa suites.
With reporting by James Molesworth.
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