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FLORENCE & DANIEL CATHIARD - THE DYNAMIC DUO AT SMITH-HAUT-LAFITTE




Florence CATHIARD was a former member of the French national ski team (as was husband Daniel when the two met in 1965). A former vice-president of advertising giant McCann Europe, the duo sold their various businesses in 1990 for a life in the vineyard.

Story And Photos By Ch'ng Poh Tiong

Dynamism is something 达尼埃•卡萨德 Daniel and Florence CATHIARD, proprietors of 斯米特上拉菲德酒庄Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte since 1990, have in magnums and jeroboams.

Husband Daniel is a former ski champion and was part of the national French ski team from 1965 to 1968 (with triple gold medal legend at the 1968 Winter Olympics Jean-Claude KILLY). Outside of sports, Daniel Cathiard inherited a small supermarket family business when his father died.  In the space of 20 years, he built it into 15 hypermarkets and 300 supermarkets known as Genty.  At the same time, he also started a chain of sporting goods shops called Go Sport in France, Belgium, Spain and California. At the height of his business career, Cathiard had 9,000 employees.

As for wife Florence, she was also in the French ski team (they met in 1965). After working alongside Daniel for a decade at Genty and Go Sport, she started her own advertising agency. Later, in 1985, she became vice-president of advertising giant McCann Europe.

One of the biggest changes in their life took place in 1990.

SOLD ALL THEIR BUSINESSES

That year, Daniel and Florence Cathiard sold all ther respective businesses in order to buy Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte. Today, that would sound like a great decision. Not so at that time. It was full of risk but, of course, also opportunities. When the Cathiards acquired the chateau, Smith-Haut-Lafitte was harvesting the grapes by machine, something which Daniel Cathiard rectified immediately by changing to manual hand harvesting from the 1991 vintage. For two years after their purchase, considerable renovations was undertaken of the wine and farm buildings before the couple finally settle into the 18th Century chartreuse originally built for Englishman George Smith, the owner who gave the wine the first part of its name.

When we also take into consideration the string of poor vintages that immediately followed their decision to become wine owners – 1991, 1992 and 1993 – what had seemed an already risky venture in the first place, must have also been been plagued by mounting doubts the following three years.

The Cathiards stuck it out and, with time, patience and endearing love for their new-found life, rebuilt Smith-Haut-Lafitte to its former glory.

In fact, Danel and Florence went beyond all that. In their time at the Pessac-Leognan estate, they have built a now world famous hotel and spa, pioneering the use of grape polyphenols – fromskins, pips and oils – in cosmetics. Today distributed in more than 20 countries, elder daughter Mathilde THOMAS-CATHIARD and her husband Bertrand THOMAS, are in charge of 'Laboratoires Caudalie' products. Meanwhile, younger daughter Alice TOURBIER-CATHIARD and her husband, JeromeTOURBIER, managed the luxury spa hotel 'Les Sources de Caudalie'.

Daniel and Florence continue to live in the 18th Century chartreuse at the other end of the vineyard. If she needs to get around the estate, Florence employs environmentally-friendly pedal power to move from one place to another. "I need the exercise" was how she put it when I visited in late January 2008 to see their new tasting room. This is quite special not just because it is situated underground but because a "James Bond-like" trap-door opens to a stair-case in the basement. Otherwise, Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte can be considered a much more conventional chateau.

RED & WHITE WINES

The estate is one single block of 67 hectares planted with 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot for the white; and, 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sauvignon Gris and 5% Semilon for the white The average age of the vines is near 40 years. Annual production of Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte is around 10,000 and 3,000 cases for the red and white respectively. There is a second wine named Les Hauts de Smith and the annual production for that is about 7,500 cases.

The ageing of the wines in barrels is 18 to 20 months for the red and 12 months for the white. The percentage of new oak is 70% for the red and 50% for the white. Smith-Haut-Lafitte has its own cooperage. Established in 1995, the facility produces 400 barrels a year. Even so, this amount satisfies only half of the needs of the chateau.

Gradually from 1998, and entirely since 2000, the red wine has been fermented in large 85-hectolitre oak vats (previously, it was fermented in stainless-steel tanks). The white wine continues to be fermented in stainless-steel tanks. Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte is a classified growth under the 1959 Classification of the Graves for its red but not the white wine.

Fabien TEITGEN, a trained agronomist or soil engineer, has managed the Smith-Haut-Lafitte's vineyards for the past 14 years. In 2000, he was also put in charge of winemaking and barrel-ageing. The vineyard does not use weed-killers nor insecticides relying instead on traditional farming methods such as ploughing, the earthing-up of the vines, ploughing up between the rows and a natural compost of grape pomace and cow and horse manure to maintain a balanced and healthy soil.

When they first purchased Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte, the Cathiards also engaged Michel ROLLAND – infamous for dark, highly-extracted wines – as their consultant. Since 2001, they have also engaged the services of Stephane DERENONCOURT as a second consultant. Whether this move was spurred on by Fabien Teitgen (since Derenoncourt is well-regarded in his work both in the vineyard and the winery), we don't know. Whatever the reason, the Smith-Haut-Lafitte wines are becoming more charming with each passing vintage.



All Rights Reserved · The Wine Review · 2013
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