Château d’Yquem: Romain-Bertrand de Lur-Saluces

Romain-Bertrand de Lur-Saluces continued the development of Château d’Yquem; it was he that was responsible for installing the first of what is now an impressive network of terracotta field drains. And, of course, having taken the reins in 1851, it was also he that was in charge when the estate was blessed with its very superior premier cru supérieur ranking in the 1855 classification of Sauternes and Barsac. Although, with only four years as proprietor under his belt at this time, this noble ranking perhaps said more about the successes enjoyed during his grandmother’s tenure rather than his own.

Château d'Yquem

Romain Bertrand de Lur-Saluces is also mixed up in one of the apocryphal tales of Sauternes, which concerns the realisation that fruit which has succumbed to rot on the vine – noble rot, obviously – should not be discarded, but in fact vinified and enjoyed. The year was 1847, and Romain-Bertrand was abroad in Russia, at that time a very important export market for the region. I can only assume, this being several years before Françoise Joséphine’s death, that in her dotage she had already passed the running of the estate onto her grandson (although we might just as equally regard this apparent discrepancy as one more hole in this unlikely story). It was customary for Romain-Bertrand to give the order to begin picking and thus, when his return from Russia was delayed, the fruit remained on the vines, turning rotten as it did so. When he finally returned home he gave the order to pick despite the sorry-looking nature of the fruit and the result was unexpectedly and remarkably good. The rest, so it goes, is history. The story has plenty of charm, but the fact that many old vintages of Château d’Yquem from years preceding the apparent date of this magical tale display the characteristics of a wine made with the benefit of botrytis is one other important piece of evidence which would seem to dispute this version of events.

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