Chateau d’Yquem: Wines

During the harvest at Château d’Yquem the fruit is brought in by 200 pickers, the majority of which are saisonniers drafted in solely for the picking, to complement the team of permanent staff. These 200 individuals are divided up into four teams, each one with a leader and an assistant, and these teams tackle the vineyard section-by-section. As is customary the vineyard is picked in tries, although whereas 4-6 tries may be typical elsewhere, in some vintages at Château d’Yquem the number of tries may be as high as eleven. The fruit is picked into small baskets, the harvesters carrying out an active selection of the fruit as they go, with a further selection made when the fruit is first deposited into the collecting vat. On arrival at the chai a tasting of the fruit and thus a third selection is carried out, in this case led by the cellar staff. Each portion of the harvest, differentiated by plot of origin and tri, is handled separately in the cellars.

Château d'Yquem

The average yield over multiple vintages is declared as 8 hl/ha; as I have already indicated in numerous other Sauternes profiles, this is partly due to the strict selection, but in the main these very low figures for the region reflect dehydration (this being how the high sugar concentrations are achieved) of the fruit by botrytis infection. Having said that, however, this 8 hl/ha figure might not really reflect the true quantity of fruit carried by the vines. For example, the yield in the highly successful 2011 vintage was double this, at 16 hl/ha, an impressive figure considering there was hail damage during April 2011 which reduced the potential yield by about 5%. Of this 16 hl/ha that was picked, half of the harvest was rejected leaving just 8 hl/ha. So although only 8 hl/ha of juice was fermented, the true yield carried by the vine (which is surely what ‘low yields’ is all about) was rather higher. One has to wonder if similar discards in other years are responsible for the very low average figure (most Sauternes châteaux declare yields somewhere between 11 and 20 hl/ha).

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