DBR Lafite to expand China winery | More Cabernet, more Marselan

Mere months after DBR Lafite released the first commercial wines from its Longdai project in Shandong province, the company is already preparing to expand. Company CEO Jean-Guillaume Prats told a group of wine writers last Thursday that Lafite will increase coverage at Longdai by 15 hectares. That’s on top of 30 hectares of vines already planted on 360 terraces spread across the property.

Lafite broke ground in Shandong a decade ago but only revealed its winery’s name, Longdai, and first commercial wine, during the past six months. The timing is not ideal as both domestic production and imports have been falling, with Bordeaux in particular losing some of its luster. That doesn’t seem to be daunting Lafite, the most famous foreign wine name in China, which also continued to forge ahead when local partner CITIC left the project two years ago.

In terms of the new plantings, Prats later told me soil analysis is still needed but he expects the new vines to be split evenly between Cabernet Sauvignon and Marselan. Marselan has done well across the nation and is considered by some as “China’s grape.”

Prats said the goal is to plant this year, or next year at the latest. It’s part of a greater effort to see if Longdai can produce truly great world-class wine over the next 10 to 15 years, he said.

“We’ve done the easiest part, in 2017, we did it once [made a good wine],” he told the group of writers. Now the hard part is to keep that momentum, he added. “We want to produce a great wine in the sense of the place, the earth, the soil, and with our knowledge.”

Lafite planted its first vines at Longdai in 2011 but discarded the early wine, deeming only the 2017 worthy of release. Last Thursday’s gathering at the winery included a tasting of 2017–a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Marselan and Cabernet Franc–and a cask sample of 2018.

Prats told me Marselan adds elegance to the blend and compared it favorably to the Cabernet Francs of the Loire Valley. He told me its use was inspired by other Chinese Marselans he had tasted, notably those of neighboring Treaty Port.

Marselan has also been approved for use in Bordeaux. Prats said while there are no plans to use the grape at DBR Lafite’s wineries there, it is planted at the company’s property in the south.

(Also see my World Marselan Day project)

While Lafite was fairly quiet in Shandong during the past decade, it has been active the past six months, including the winery name and the first vintage launch, participation in events such as VinExpo Shanghai, and the opening of its property to visitors. Longdai produced 30,000 bottles in 2017. The wine has a suggested retail price of rmb2388 and is distributed exclusively by Pernod Ricard.

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