We arrive at Lafon-Rochet on what proprietor Basile Tesseron describes as a ‘typical harvest day.’ The vines planted on gravelly soils on the 41 hectare St Estephe property have mostly been picked, and it’s just the grapes on the clay soils that remain. ‘I’m more than happy,’ says Basile. ‘With a lack of water and too much heat we thought it would be hard to ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon, because of blockage.’
2016 was the first year that Lafon-Rochet’s vineyards were farmed organically in the entirety. ‘We have been studying organics since 2009,’ explains Tesseron, who is the nephew of (biodynamic) Pontet Canet’s Alfred Tesseron. They have a 41 hectare single vineyard, plus a further hectare a short distance away. Tesseron doesn’t think that organics is the only solution. For example, he says that to farm the entire property this way would require purchasing new tractors. ‘Each time it is raining you need to pass.’
‘We have tried to think more globally,’ he says. ‘We get 800-1000 mm of rain here and we have to pay attention to what we are doing.
Lafon-Rochet has been owned by the Tesseron family since 1959. ‘This is a family estate,’ says Tesseron. ‘This is a house: my kids are here twice a week. The vineyard is their playground and I don’t want to poison them.’ He’s not completely convinced by the need for copper and sulfur with organic farming. ‘Copper bothers me, definitely,’ he says. ‘And sulfur. The way it is extracted is far from natural, using labour of five year old kids. We must have a global way of thinking. At the moment it is organic, but we must find another solution.’
‘You can be certified organic, but this means nothing if you don’t plan all around, having lighter bottles, reducing the impact by running less into the vines with a tractor. It’s common sense to impact less and use less product.’
The cellar has recently been renovated and kitted out with beautiful new concrete fermentation vats made by Nico Velo. These have heating and cooling inside the concrete wall. The renovations were finished in March 2016.
I asked him whether during his trials with organic he saw favourable results in terms of the wine quality. ‘I don’t think getting natural or organic could change the quality,’ he replied. ‘Not now. It could be over a longer time. The vines have to react first then maybe over 20 years you find the wines are different. But now I don’t see any difference, because they are the same vines. Just because you are changing one product for another I don’t think this changes the way the wines taste.’
Subsequent to this visit, Basile Tesseron has decided to move away from organics, citing ongoing dissatisfaction with using copper, and also the carbon footprint of having to make extra tractor passes when farming this way. He’s still looking for the ideal way to farm his vineyards.
Château Lafon-Rochet 2008 Saint-Estephe, Bordeaux
Structured and fresh with bold blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Structured and spicey with some pepperiness. Fine and detailed with good density. Dry style. 94/100
Les Pelerins de Lafon-Rochet 2011 Saint-Estephe, Bordeaux
Fresh and detaled with nice savoury, grippy blackcurrant fruit and some firm tannins. Fine grained structure under the supple black fruit with some juicy cherries. 92/100