I sat down with David Launay of Château Gruaud-Larose here at my office last week. He was making a quick trip through the New York market before heading back for the impending harvest. Like other Bordelais I’ve spoken to recently, he’s enthused about the early potential for the 2010 crop.
“It’s going to be a strong Cab year on the Left Bank,” said Launay. “There was a lot of coulure [or shatter] on the Merlot during the spring, but both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were very heterogeneous.”
Launay, 36, has been at the second-growth estate for seven years, recently joined in 2007 by Eric Boisseneau. Since the 2009 harvest they’ve employed a vertical press, as opposed to a bladder press.
“We’re focusing more on the press wine now,” said Launay. “We’re looking for more precision. We want to respect the fruit, but because the grapes we’re picking now are riper than previously, we can add more structure from the press. We get deeper into the terroir that way. For me, the press wine is really the energy and soul of the wine.”
Launay was actually born in the Loire ("Bonnezeaux was my milk growing up," he laughed) but found his way to Bordeaux after working in Hong Kong with an importer, which exposed him to the world of wine. He’s also the point person for Château Gruaud-Larose in the U.S. market, a market that Château Gruaud-Larose still takes seriously.
“The U.S. market is still our priority, more than China or other markets,” said Launay, in what may be a surprise to some consumers here. “Yes, all markets are important, but the U.S. has a long history with Château Gruaud-Larose and we still see great potential here.”
To that end, the estate bought back its stock from Diageo when that import company decided to stop carrying new vintages of classified growths. Château Gruaud-Larose is now distributed primarily by Joanne US, the U.S. extension of Maison Joanne, the négociant that stepped in to become the major player in classified growth Bordeaux after Diageo bailed out (the wine is still available on the open market, so other négociants may have it as well).
Château Gruaud-Larose has an ample 80 hectares of vines (the estate totals 130 hectares total) and has the distinction of being a single, contiguous vineyard whose boundaries haven’t changed since the 18th century. Located on the south side of the St.-Julien appellation, the property features clay-based soils at the bottom of the slope, moving to more gravelly soils on the plateau above.
The vineyard is currently planted to 61 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 29 percent Merlot and 5 percent each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, though those numbers are changing slightly as Launay and the team slowly add more Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
Château Gruaud-Larose has a track record for quietly producing very solid wine, often at relative value prices vis a vis other classified growths. The 2005 was $66 on release, the 2006 was $59 and the ’07 just $50 (all were rated as outstanding, or 90 points or better by my former colleague James Suckling). Part of that consistent quality comes from the rather severe selection made at Château Gruaud-Larose, where just 40 percent of the production makes it into the grand vin, while more than half goes to the second wine, Sarget de Gruaud-Larose, which typically retails for around $25. The estate produces approximately 33,000 cases annually between the two wines.
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