Rolland's fame for making supple, full-bodied and generous wines has rewarded him with consulting contracts with wineries around the world. He has now put his stamp on Clarke, which hired him in 1998, said Bertrand Otto, who manages the wine interests and real estate holdings of this branch of the Rothschild family.
Rolland started his Clarke assignment, which is expected to last for years, by imposing lower yields. In 1998, for the first time in its history, Clarke practiced crop-thinning, which is a technique that can improve flavor concentration in the wine, said Otto.
"Before, we sometimes had vegetal flavors in the Clarke wines," noted Otto. He added that Clarke had problems in the past with making good-quality wines in weak vintages. "We wanted rounder, more velvety tannins. Also, we've increased the Merlot percentage to 80 percent [up from less than 50 percent previously], and Rolland is a big Merlot expert."
Clarke has also added a second-year aging chai, or storage facility, to which barrels holding a vintage can be moved when a new vintage is harvested and placed in the first-year chai. Before this, Clarke had to bottle a vintage within 12 months; now the chateau has the necessary space to age a wine in barrel as long as needed, which often is up to 18 months in Bordeaux.
Baron Edmond, who died in 1997, purchased the neglected 326-acre Chateau Clarke in 1973 and poured over $30 million into overhauling it and two adjacent properties: chateaus Peyre-Lebade in Listrac and Malmaison in Moulis. Chateau Clarke now produces 25,000 cases a year of its first wine.
According to Otto, Rolland will probably also start consulting at a South African winery, Rupert de Rothschild Fredricksburg, which was started in 1997 by Benjamin and his father in partnership with South African billionaire Anton Rupert and his son, Anthonij.
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