“A great Chateau d’Yquem might last 100 years,” Latrille Guy told me back in the mid-1970s. He was then cellar master at Yquem, home to what few would deny is the world’s finest white wine, sweet white wine to be sure.
I recalled that conversation this week when I learned that there will be no 2012 Chateau d’Yquem. The news broke when Pierre Lurton, who runs the estate, told the press that they tried very hard to make Yquem but the harvest this year lacked the concentration expected in Yquem. He said similar decisions were made in 1952, 1972, 1992, and now in 2012. He smiled as he pointed out that there seems to be a curse on us every twenty years.
The decision, however, is in keeping with what I learned during my visits to Yquem in the 1970s and 80s. I remember telling Guy that I came to Yquem for a taste because I could not afford to buy his wines. He laughed and said “that’s why there are no signs to the chateau. We are very selective about our visitors, just as we are about each grape that goes into Yquem.” He and others on the estate never refer to white wine, always to d’Yquem. “We never pick more than we can crush in a single day,” he said.
Harvesters make many passes through the vineyard during the picking season, personally selecting grapes almost one by one. It’s hard to know just what it costs the chateau not to produce a wine in a given year. Guy told me they sell their grapes to other producers. Pierre Lurton, in his remarks, said the estate is financially prepared to do a season without production. Just as Guy said decades ago, Lurton says the history and prestige of Yquem are just too important for Yquem to be, well, not Yquem.
The last Yquem I tasted was the 1970 vintage in the year 2000. Then 30 years old, I remember Guy telling me back then that the 1970 would easily last 30 years. And longer. Even in the humid August weather of southern Indiana, the 1970 Yquem was elegance personified — liquid gold, clarified and purified. I had looked after that bottle for 25 years and was reluctant to open it, but then I didn’t know whether I would have another 25 years to look after it. Not having had an Yquem for 12 years, I won’t miss not having a bottle of the 2012 vintage, but I greatly reespect the estate for being such a protector of such a legendary wine.