Portrait Florence Cathiard par Eric Barriäre 2 - original -cropped 470x410Florence Cathiard, in 1990, together with her husband Daniel Cathiard, fell in love with the property Château Smith Haut-Lafitte and joined the list of prestigious owners, firmly intending to further enhance Smith Haut-Lafitte’s tradition of excellence. Florence and Daniel met while on the French Olympic ski team in 1965. After the death of his father in 1970, Daniel found himself running the family’s small supermarket chain and within 20 years he transformed it into the tenth largest mass distribution group in France. At the same time he launched and developed a chain of sporting goods shops—Go Sport—in France, Belgium, Spain, and California. Florence worked with him managing Genty and Go Sport for ten years before launching her own advertising firm, later becoming Vice President of McCann Europe in 1985.

In 1990, Daniel and Florence sold all their business interests to buy Château Smith Haut-Lafitte. Over a two year period, they invested massively in renovating both the winery buildings and the eighteenth century manor house built by George Smith, where they decided to live and to devote their energy to their new found passion: making outstanding white and red wines.

The noble Bosq family started growing grapes here as early as 1365. Scotsman George Smith, who gave the estate its present name, purchased the property in the eighteenth century. He also built the manor house and exported his, by then famous, wine to England on his own ships.

In 1842, Mr. Duffour-Dubergier, Mayor of Bordeaux and an enthusiastic winegrower, inherited Château Smith Haut Lafitte from his mother and brought the wine up to great growth status. Impressed by Smith Haut Lafitte’s excellent quality, the Louis Eschenauer company distributed the wine all over the world starting in the early twentieth century, deciding to buy the estate in 1958. After the Eschenauer period came to an end, a great deal of money has been invested in the estate, particularly on the construction of a superb underground cellar holding over 1,000 barrels.

Florence has written a book entitled Art de Vigne (“Art of the Vine”) published by Editions de la Martinière-Aubanel. For more information about Château Smith Haut-Lafitte or Florence and Daniel Cathiard, visit: (Website) (Email: smith-haut-lafitte@smith-haut-lafitte.com)

Château Smith Haut-Lafitte
33650 Bordeaux Martillac, France
Tél: +33 (0)5 57 83 11 22


Florence and Daniel Cathiard, owners of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte

Photo portraits: Eric Barriäre

INTERVIEW: Florence Cathiard, co-owner of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte

« Impose ta chance, serre ton bonheur, va vers ton risque : à te regarder, ils s’habitueront » —René Char, French poet (1907-1988)

“Impose your good fortune, keep hold of your happiness and embrace risk. They’ll be watching you and will get used to it. It’s a motto I often tell my grandchildren hoping it will inspire them as it inspired me.” —René Char

AWP: Wine bestows a record of ownership from the beginning of its origin. We might say the wine drinker and connoisseur is also buying into the romance of that vineyards life. What is it about Château Smith Haut-Lafitte that makes wine lovers connect in such a powerful way?

FC: From its beginnings and through the centuries, our estate has been owned by several families: some lived to honor this great terroir and others were more obsessed by high yields rather than quality, but all were famous for different reasons and registered themselves in a long saga like Tara or Abbey Read. And now, here we are, Daniel and me, and our two daughters and sons-in-law, each couple trying harder in her/his field of competence (great wines, luxurious hotels, restaurants and spas, or a beauty care company), careful to develop cross-fertilizations all over the world.

AWP: Together with your husband, yours is an amazing success story, pushing this outstanding terroir to further enhance Smith Haut-Lafitte’s great growth status with dedication and enthusiasm. What is the secret of its inimitable style?

FC: Terroir of Günzian semi-precious little stones, faithfully and respectfully translated into its purest expression in the glass. Michel Serres, famous French philosopher, member of the Académie Française and professor at Stanford writes: « du silice la finesse, du calcaire la puissance, de l’argile l’onctuosité… tout vient des graves et sables, sol mêlé »—in other words “from silica the finesse, from limestone the power, from clay the richness, it all comes from gravel and sand, combined soil.”

AWP: You are owners of this estate, whose legacy dates to the noble Bosq family who started growing grapes here as early as 1365. What is this lineage like for you?

FC: We just try our best to transmit this little “Kingdom” to the next generation with still better wines in both colors and a landscape of vines still more beautiful.

AWP: Winemaking in France has been an industry dominated by men. When you entered the industry in 1990 what were the challenges and how did you grapple with the cultural differences? How has it changed?

FC: Ladies have always been strong and powerful in great Châteaux like Philippine de Rothschild or May E. de Lencquesaing. Now there are more and more women in charge of making great wines and this is great news because maybe they bring their finesse and sense of detail—and on top of that we have genetically more captors in our nose than men!

AWP: From 1940-1946, during World War II, many women tended winemaking and running the Châteaux. How was it at Château Smith Haut-Lafitte?

FC: A very special period here. Louis Eschenauer, the biggest Bordeaux wine merchant was friends with Bäumers, head of the German army occupying Bordeaux, who ended up living in Smith Haut-Lafitte during the war. At the “Libération,” two different stories are supposed to both be true: one says that Eschenauer was arrested and condemned for “collaboration with the enemy,” the other one is that he protected the harbor of Bordeaux, circled by explosives, in telling his friend who was leaving the city with his troops, not to push the button…

AWP: What was the best post-war vintage to date? What made this one of the truly great vintages?

FC: 1961. Mother nature made the right thing by freezing half of the crop, reducing the (too high) yields and producing a natural nectar.

AWP: Respond to the demands created by the Asian market, the U.S. market, and the British market. Do you market differently to each?

FC: Daniel and I travel most often to the U.S. East Coast where we have many friends with great cellars, and where Smith Haut-Lafitte has an excellent reputation. In Asia, we are also famous but it used to be for the Lafitte name; now things have evolved and they like us a lot for good reasons. And now in England, slowly but surely, they are impressed by the quality of our wines: at the last blind tasting of 15 Masters of Wine we received among the very best in both colors—red and white wines.

AWP: Is there one vintage that channels everything you love about wine?

FC: 2010 in both colors—red and white.

AWP: What kind of wine drinker, wine connoisseur do we find today?

FC: Fortunately our amateurs do not age with us! We have still, of course, our hard core of faithful middle aged buyers, but more and more people in their thirties are coming to Smith Haut-Lafitte; first through our second wines: Le Petit Haut-Lafitte and Les Hauts de Smith; both poured in trendy brasseries and hip restaurants, then as soon as they have bought cars and houses we are among the favorite Châteaux brands in their cellars.

GASTRONOMY: The practice of choosing, cooking, and eating good food

AWP: You are the brand ambassador for the wines of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte, and also for the region of Bordeaux and its up-and-coming winemakers. Yours is a remarkable investment of your time and talents. Do you have a personal vision for Bordeaux, its wines and oenotourism?

FC: It would be too long to develop here. My dedication as President of the CSO is to promote all vintners of France. Bordeaux itself is already a worldwide brand.

AWP: What are the great traditional culinary pairings with Château Smith Haut-Lafitte?

FC: Fresh and simple meals are the best with great wines: a roasted chicken of white meats to let our reds express their finesse and balance; or bar de ligne of sole d’Arcachon just grilled with the whites, and black truffles.

AWP: Are you creatively testing new food and wine pairings? What exciting combinations of taste are you discovering?

FC: There is indeed a wonderful recipe from Nicolas Masse, starred-Michelin Chef of Les Sources de Caudalie that I must try to cook by myself and pair with a vibrant young Smith Haut-Lafitte white: a sea beam with local ceps [wild mushrooms].

AWP: How do you orchestrate wine from the aperitif through the meal to its final course?

FC: It depends on the guests. For pros we don’t hesitate to end with cheese and a younger vintage, still better in white if it is a Comté or a Gruyère. For traditional guests we stick to the normal chronology, from recent bottles to older ones.

AWP: Do North Americans bring a different set of expectations to the wine experience than the French?             

FC: For Smith Haut-Lafitte, it is definitely yes. Their interest for our family “saga” does not prevent them from focusing on the qualities of the wine in the glass. In France, they sometimes think that having a successful family prevents us from making iconic wines.

AWP: Do the French have a different attitude toward what they drink?

FC: Sometimes they are less open, more arrogant and think they hold their knowledge of wine by birth. But this is changing with the new generation, fortunately.

AWP: What was your first experience that made you fall in love with wine?

FC: Just out of the French ski team where we were members, Daniel and I were married. As we did not want to have a classic wedding gift list, we asked for good bottles of Bordeaux. We did not know a lot; and we were not at all used to drinking any alcohol and every night we were tipsy after sharing a full bottle of classified growth. I remember a Château Leoville Las Cases 1961, a Château Figeac 1955… first emotions.

AWP: Your life is extraordinary. What’s next?

FC: “Wine improves with age. I improve with wine!” More seriously we want to still elaborate, with the help of nature and climatology quite a few vintages as great as 2005, 2009 and 2010. And also to put the second Châteaux we just took over with our friends and partners, Château Bastor-Lamontagne in Sauternes and Château Beauregard in Pomerol, at the same level as we have managed to raise Smith Haut-Lafitte. But in a shorter span of time!

Florence Cathiard: Ten wines to recommend

Every day:

Le Petit Haut Lafitte red 2010
Les Hauts de Smith white 2012

Special occasions:

Château Smith Haut Lafitte red 1998, 2000, 2005
Château Smith Haut Lafitte white 2006, 2007, 2010
Château Beauregard 2009

Nice friends, nice meals:

Château Smith Haut Lafitte red 2006, 2007, 2008.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte white 2011, 2012.

The Wines of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte

Smith Haut-Lafitte Red: The style of our red wine is very classic with a beautiful expression of our terroir of Günzian Gravel, which gives unique smoky notes. We pursue elegance and structure, freshness and complexity, balance and richness. Our majority of Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested at full maturity and softly vinified to extract only the silkiest tannins, unveils after proper aging to its full potential for years.
The other grapes variety of our vineyard, the Merlot, the Cabernet Franc, and the Petit Verdot add to the Cabernet Sauvignon their own aromas and participate in the typical harmony of our Cru Classé de Graves.

Smith Haut-Lafitte White: About our style, I would say that either you love our wines or you hate them. But be careful, if you do love them, it is for life…. Our style is quite special, even paradoxical. We have 90% of Sauvignon Blanc in our blend, however this proportion is almost unidentifiable on a blind tasting because of the age of our vines, the slopes ploughed by horses for more than 14 years on which they grow, the north exposure and all these details producing late maturity that will give our wines expression and complexity.
 We also have a secret weapon: 5% of Sauvignon Gris. This forgotten, yet complex, grape variety brings different levels of aromas: first grapefruit, then peach, apricot and flowers, and a fresh minerality at the end. This kind of grape variety helps the wine age beautifully as well, adding spicy notes to the finish.

Les Haut de Smith Red: Designed during the blending of Smith Haut-Lafitte, the wines of Le Petit Haut Lafitte are vinified and aged with the same care as the batches that will become the first wine of the Château.

Le Petit Haut Lafitte Red: Designed during the blending of Smith Haut-Lafitte, the wines of Le Petit Haut Lafitte are vinified and aged with the same care as the batches that will become the first wine of the Château.

Photography: Sara Matthews

Acknowledgements: Alyssa Noel, student of French and Italian, and Journalism at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and English editor for A Woman’s Paris.

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A Woman’s Paris — Elegance, Culture and Joie de Vivre

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Text copyright ©2014 Florence Cathiard. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.