Their cellars stretched along the river, which was the only means of trans-port for shipping wines abroad. The offices and private residences looking out over the river were soon to become one of the finest collections of urban architecture in eighteenth-century Europe. The wine trade’s main role is to contribute to the knowledge of the wine market—to keep track of consumers’ tastes and expectations and to match these with the range of wines available in Bordeaux.
But it also plays a role in stabilizing the market. Wine is by definition a natural product, and certain factors such as quality, availability, and price are difficult to predict. Wine traders have traditionally taken pressure off the growers by buying their wines young and storing them in their modern cellars, which have a total bottling capacity of 4.5 million hectoliters and a storage capacity of three million hectoliters. Thanks to these facilities, a vast range of wines can easily be made available to buyers.
More than 300 businesses, 200 of them traditional wine merchants/growers who store wine on their premises, make up this formidable machine. Though the wine trade is less powerful than it once was, its turnover is about $2.3 billion, with exports accounting for thirty-seven percent of this figure.
Yquem (Ch. dr)
This estate belonged to the de Sauvage family from the six-teenth century until 1785, when Alexandre de Lur-Saluces married the last de Sauvage heiress. Count Alexandre de Lur-Saluces took over as head of the property in 1968. Since the marriage of Louis-Amédée in 1785 to the “very great and powerful dame Josephine,” he is the sixth generation of Lur-Saluces to run this estate, which has been blessed by nature and made a shining example by its owners.
The Yquem domaine consists of 188 hectares, 113 hectares of which are under vine (each year about 106 of these produce wine in a rotating system). The exceptional quality of the wines is due to the particular nature of the soil—a drainage system was added as the subsoil is often clay—and to the hills’ admirable exposure, the strict selection of grape varieties, and the obsessive care that » goes into the cultivation, harvest, and vinification.
This is one of the most rigidly controlled estates in the Sauternes: it is planted with eighty percent Sémillon and twenty percent Sauvignon (Muscadelle was voluntarily removed), and the vines are severely pruned. The leaves are carefully thinned out and the harvest is carried out with the most meticulous attention to detail—some think this is the key to Yquem’s greatness. Great care also goes into the vinification: the must is always fermented in new oak casks and remains there until the wine is racked and bottled, usually in February or March of the fourth year after the harvest. Only the part of the harvest which is judged to be perfect will be bottled with the name Château d’Yquem—in some years, such as 1964, 1972, 1974 and 1992, no wine was sold as Château d’Yquem.
It is this constant attention and devotion to the quality of the wine that allowed Yquem, in the 1855 classification, to be ranked first among the firsts, as it was the only wine to be awarded the title Premier Cru Supérieur. Today it is still the leader among the great wines of Sauternes and the world’s best white wine.
On average, each vine at Yquem produces a single glass of wine, for an average of 95,000 bottles a year. Some years, the property produces a small amount of dry white wine made with fifty percent Sauvignon and fifty percent Semilion and calls it Ygrec, which recalls the name or its big brother Yquem.
Since April 1999, the LVMH group has held 64 percent of shares in Chateau d’Yquem.