In the vineyard
Grape growing at Château d'Yquem remains very traditional. Fertiliser is exclusively organic and used sparingly. Furthermore, only 20 hectares are fertilised a year.Find out more
This compost maintains the soil's natural equilibrium while keeping it from becoming too rich or fertile, as this would prevent the vines from producing wines of character. Chemical weed killers are never used. The soil undergoes regular cycles of manual work: earthing up twice a year, unearthing twice a year, and countless other vineyard operations. The vines are severely pruned in early winter to limit yields and encourage maximum ripeness. The Sémillon is spur pruned (two to three renewal spurs with two buds), whereas the more vigorous Sauvignon Blanc is 90% spur pruned and 10% Single Guyot pruned. Château d'Yquem's twenty female vineyard workers are each assigned specific plots, so they become familiar with virtually each vine. Among other duties, they are responsible for green pruning operations such as bud pruning as well as tying up and removing side shoots. The final touch before the vintage is leaf thinning on the eastern side of some 700,000 vines so the grapes dry more quickly in the morning while continuing to protect the western side most exposed to rain.Close
When Botrytis cinerea develops normally, it attacks the grapes and colours them brown. The skins also become permeable, allowing the juice to evaporate.Find out more
The sugar levels inside the grapes become more concentrated, far in excess of normal ripening: 18-30° potential alcohol, i.e. 300-600 grams of sugar per litre!
Château d'Yquem's goal is to obtain musts with 20° potential alcohol (360 grams of sugar per litre). It is a daring gamble to obtain such concentration naturally, implying a long wait with the very real risk that the entire harvest may be lost as winter approaches. An increase from 18 to 20° alcohol decreases the volume of juice by an average of 50%. This largely accounts for Yquem's extraordinarily low yields (9 hectolitres per hectare on average).
Grapes have been harvested the same way at Château d’Yquem for centuries. At vintage time, the château's work force increases by 200 pickers, divided into four groups. They scour the entire vineyard for grapes that are both botrytised and have attained maximum concentration. Harvesting at Yquem calls for picking in several passes.
Botrytis cinerea behaves differently depending on the plot, the bunch of grapes and even individual berries. Pickers select only the ripest, most "rotten" fruit. Any grapes that fall short of these criteria are left for the next pass. There are an average of five or six passes per vintage, spread over six weeks. However, in certain years, when the harvest starts in October and does not end until December, it is necessary to go through the vineyard more than 10 times – despite the risk that the vintage may not be worthy of the Yquem name.Close
in the cellar
It takes no more than one hour for grapes picked at Château d'Yquem to arrive at the cellar. Pressing takes into account the texture and fragility of the fruit.Find out more
The grapes are pressed three or four times at Yquem. As opposed to other white wines, the sugar content and quality increase with each pressing. The first pressing in a pneumatic winepress produces 75% of the total juice, with about 19° potential alcohol. The second yields 15% of the total juice, with about 21° potential alcohol, while the third can reach up to 25°. The hard cake of pomace is then broken up, destemmed, and put through a low-capacity vertical press. If the harvest is very small, we use these same vertical presses exclusively, without recourse to pneumatic presses. Wines from the various pressings are blended before barrel fermentation.
Unusually in Sauternes, fermentation at Yquem takes place in barrel to maintain maximum control over this most delicate and mysterious part of winemaking. Only new barrels are used each year. These are made with the finest stave oak from forests in the eastern part of central France. Each individual barrel is closely monitored, and the château's in-house laboratory carries out regular analyses. The most active musts finish fermenting in just two weeks. However, others can take up to six weeks. Fermentation stops naturally in all instances. The alcohol content at Château d'Yquem varies from 12.5° to 14.5° according to the sugar content of the must. The ideal figure is 13.5° with 120 to 150 g/l of g/l of residual sugar.
Wine made from grapes picked on the same day is aged separately for six to eight months. A preliminary blend is made from selected batches in the spring following the harvest. After taste tests and laboratory analyses, wines not up to the château's strict standards are set aside. The barrels that have been retained are then moved to the ageing cellar where they will stay for twenty months. Every barrel is topped up twice a week. This consists of adding wine to fill up the airspace created by evaporation at the top of the barrel. Furthermore, every barrel is racked fifteen times to remove heavy lees. Light sediment in suspension is removed by a process called fining. The rigorous selection process continues in the cellar. Towards the end of barrel ageing, a rigorous selection takes place at blind tastings. This will determine the final blend of Château d’Yquem.Close
The wine is bottled during the third winter after the harvest, under the best possible technical conditions using 54 mm corks, the only length suitable for a wine of such great ageing potential.Find out more
At Yquem, most of the wine is put into 75 cl. bottles, but there are also many other sizes, from half-bottles to very large ones: magnums, double magnums (3 litres), impériales (4.5 litres), and a limited release of nebuchadnezzars (15 litres) for the 2005 vintage.
Once the wine is bottled, it is then labelled. The capsule and label match the wine's colour. Bottles are then wrapped in white silk paper and delicately put into wooden cases. These are stamped with the château coat of arms, sealed, and ready to be shipped and age in the cellars of wine lovers around the world.Fermer
Respect for nature and the environment
Respect for traditional, time-honoured practices has been the basis of Château d'Yquem's winemaking philosophy for over two centuries – and ample proof of its "sustainability"! Living in harmony with nature is a necessity since the grape harvest at Yquem relies entirely on what is paradoxically one of the most important vineyard pests, Botrytis cinérea.Find out more
Everything can be traced back to the incredible stability of the vineyard configuration. In fact, some 90% of the plots have remained unchanged for the past century and a half! Taking the easy way out, or simplifying things, has never been the way at Yquem. The virtually unchanged terroir is well-protected. The soil is regularly worked (light ploughing and disking) and chemical weed control has never been used. Preserving the genetic diversity of the various grape varieties has always been a priority at Yquem, which led to the mass selection of the best vines. These are propagated in an on-site clone conservatory and constitute the basis of replanting. Biodiversity is ensured thanks to the estate's 50 hectares of pine and acacia trees, as well as 35 hectares consisting of meadows where Bazas cattle graze, landscaped grounds, and gardens. A full 50% of Château d'Yquem's surface area is a permanent natural habitat for fauna and flora. Fertiliser has always been entirely organic: manure from local farms composted with an equal amount of crushed vine cuttings. Grape moths have been trapped for the past 50 years and mating disruption is practised throughout the estate. All vineyard operations (traditional green pruning, controlling the size of leaf canopy, etc.) are all done in keeping with low yields. These operations are carried out by a permanent staff of vineyard workers who have inherited, and who pass on, a special set of skills and values. They are overseen by technical managers who are both devoted and experienced. Something else that makes Yquem unique is the presence of a weather station since 1896 – which shows that this traditional estate nevertheless has an avant-garde side. Yquem also uses local materials as much as possible, such as acacia wood for vine stakes, rushes and wicker from swampland in the Gironde to tie up the vines, etc. We have been sorting waste for many years, making sure to recover oil, glass, paper, cardboard, and plastic for recycling by approved organisations. We also introduced a waste water treatment system, with a final filtration which guarantees, thanks to detailed analyses, that our discharges respect the most stringent standards.Fermer