Log In / Join Now

A Sit-Down with David Launay of Château Gruaud-Larose

The Bordeaux second-growth's managing director talks about the quality of 2010 Cabernet on the Left Bank
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 24, 2010 10:11am ET

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.

[You can now follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1.]

Matt Scott
Honolulu HI —  September 24, 2010 12:57pm ET
Hi James,

Have you heard many weather and result comparisons to earlier vintages in Bordeaux, in regards to 2010?
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  September 24, 2010 1:47pm ET
Matt: It's been drier than any season most folks can remember - but it wasn't as hot, as in '03, for example...picking has really just started for the reds..
David A Zajac
Akron, OH —  September 24, 2010 2:11pm ET
By most accounts the past few vintages has seen a sort of resurrection for Gruaud Larose, I remember having their wines in the late 80's and early 90's and they were excellent wines. It seems they went into a funk for about 10 years or so and the quality wasn't what it was. I sure hope the turnaround is in full gear now, as I still have fond memories of those wines from about 1986 - 1990. And, for the first time in a long time, I bot some of their 2009 on futures as all the reviews were outstanding. Lets hope they keep this up!
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  September 25, 2010 2:16pm ET
It's refreshing to hear about a Bordeaux estate improving quality without using it as an excuse to increase prices ten fold. I'm also looking forward to trying their 2009.
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  September 27, 2010 9:41am ET
Matt: As a follow up, I'm starting to get some hard climate data from Bordeaux now: 2010 had a drier April through August period than 2000, but a wetter first half of September (15 mm to 2.5 mm)...
Matt Scott
Honolulu HI —  September 27, 2010 12:59pm ET
Thanks James!!

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 365,000+ ratings.