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Bordeaux LaFight Club: Lafite vs. Lafitte

Plus, Texas wine pioneer Doc McPherson dies, vintners aid Washington State University's Wine Science Center and more

Posted: February 13, 2014

• Bordeaux's Château Lafitte, a 25,000-case unclassified claret that retails at around $25, and Château Lafite Rothschild, first-growth jewel of the empire that spans nine estates and fetches nearly $2,000 in some vintages, might seem like unlikely enemies. Google "Château Lafitte" and the search engine automatically pulls up results starting with Lafite.com. Yet for 10 years, Lafite's been dogging Lafitte in a legal LaFight, attempting to block the latter from using a name it has borne for 250 years, back when old Raymond Lafitte bought the place. It's a little like if Sony were to take on Sonny's Handmade Electronic Doohickeys, or if Champagne Krug went after an obscure Austrian weingut called, say, Krug Gumpoldskirchen (Unfiltered invites you to guess which of those is an actual ongoing dispute). Nevertheless, Lafite took the smaller estate to the mat in several courts before the Court of Cassation, in 2010, told them to knock it off. (And, in a humorous turn, forbade them from using "Lafite" without the "Rothschild." You know, lest any buyers mistake it for Château Lafitte.)

But now the Rothschilds have taken the bottle battle abroad, challenging the right of Lafitte to be Lafitte in China. Lafitte owner Philippe Mengin decided this was a bridge too far, writing that after a decade of "exhausting and costly legal proceedings," he's pretty much mad as hell and not going to take it any more. "Several times we have been cornered, both financially and morally, and just when our business was picking up again, this umpteenth charge forces us to speak out," Mengin wrote. "Just because we are less economically powerful does not mean that our rights should not be recognized!"

Dr. Clinton “Doc” McPherson, one of the Texas wine industry's founding fathers, died Jan. 25 at age 95. A Texas native and World War II veteran who served as a navigator-bombardier in the China-Burma-India Theater and flew a total of 69 combat missions, McPherson became a chemistry professor at Texas Tech after completing his education there following the war. He developed an interest in grape varieties and grapegrowing, and in 1969, McPherson began looking into the viability of viticulture and wine in Texas, purchasing land for what would become Sagmor Vineyards. He sought advice on what to plant and reached out to his contemporaries at U.C. Davis—Maynard Amerine, Vernon Singleton and Denismore Webb—which led to his vineyard becoming the de facto nursery for the Texas wine industry, with over 80 varieties being planted. Viticulture in West Texas quickly spread. McPherson cofounded Llano Estacado Winery in 1976 with fellow Texas Tech alum Bob Reed and Jean Dorn, an investor from San Antonio, with McPherson serving as president and general manager for several years. He was honored with the Texas Grape Growers Association's Louis Qualia Award for outstanding contributions to the Texas wine industry in 1988.

Wine Spectator freelance photographer Michael Gross died Feb. 6 at age 39, after a year-long battle with melanoma. Michael was born and raised in Upper Montclair, N.J., and was a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology. He settled in Brooklyn and started shooting for M. Shanken Communications in 2010, quickly becoming one of Wine Spectator’s go-to photographers, shooting two Grand Tours in 2010 and 2012, the New York Wine Experience in 2012 and Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant A Voce in 2012. Gross garnered the April 30, 2013, cover for his photo shoot with Eataly’s Oscar Farinetti. It was Michael’s great attitude and ease with his subjects that made him a pleasure to work with and resulted in beautiful, effortless photos. His loyalty and talent will be sorely missed by his friends at Wine Spectator and M. Shanken Communications.

• Washington State University broke ground on its new Wine Science Center this past September, and is on course to complete construction this fall. Budding enologists and viticulturists should have use of the facility by spring semester 2015. Fund-raising for the $23 million project started long ago, and continues today. State, federal and recent private contributions have brought the total raised to $19 million. Patsy J. Mercer, representing the Mercer family and their agricultural company, Mercer Inc., was recently honored by the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers for a $250,000 donation that will help fund the Bud Mercer Greenhouse in recognition of her late husband. T.J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, also announced that he would be donating 192 wireless, automated fermentation units worth $4.5 million (Rodgers set up a similar system of state-of-the-art fermentors at U.C. Davis in 2010). The Wine Science Center is intended to capitalize on and further expand Washington’s growing wine industry, which last year contributed $8.6 billion to the state’s economy.

Glenn Bowman
Indianapolis Indiana —  February 14, 2014 9:44am ET
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars -- Stag's Leap Winery. Not only the French have to work through some confusion. I cannot obtain Lafite anyway. All sympathies to the little guy.

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