Exploring Château Lafleur—La Balançoire: Field Notes from Bordeaux 2023

By | 15 May 2024

Simon Field MW revels in the wines and atmosphere at Pomerol’s Bouchet expert.

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Simon Field MW

A singular bit of dismaying news from Château Lafleur this year is the breaking of their iconic swing by an unidentified heavyset wine professional. This swing, which hung prominently from the yew tree in front of the property, was known as La Balançoire. It’s unclear whether this incident shares some cryptic significance, but there is a hope that a replacement will be found soon. This idyllic scene bears no resemblance to Fragonard’s eponymous rococo painting; it’s too pastoral even for a modest fêtes galantes.

Lafleur’s charm lies in the unpretentious nature of both its property and wine. Counted among its neighbours on the Pomerol plateau are Vieux Château Certan, Le Gay, Hosanna and Petrus itself; But Lafleur, unaffiliated with the Moueix empire, has always felt unique. The reason? It just is! This pocket-sized vineyard, practically a perfect square, known as a “petit jardin“, with its gravel majority, stands out amidst the famed blue clay of the plateau. One small, cigar-shaped enclave has soil that resembles the normal make-up of the plateau, and its produce is reserved for the Les Pensées label. This makes Lafleur an interesting abnormality within Pomerol’s taxonomy.

But not only in terms of the soil. The other, far from inconsequential, point of difference centres on the encépagement, with an unusually high (over 50%) proportion of the vineyard being devoted to the Bouchet variety … Sorry, which variety? Bouchet. The Right Bank name for Cabernet Franc, and in this instance, a scion of genetically maintained plants from the 1930s. Paterfamilias Jacques Guinaudeau jokes that his forbears were far too parsimonious to plant new vines (however productive Merlot might prove to be) and battled long and hard, after the frosts of 1956, to save their heritage grape. Bouchet is now key to their two Pomerol wines; Lafleur (more gravel than clay); Les Pensées (more clay than gravel) and just to prove a point, a gem from another vineyard, this one close to Fronsac, and called Les Perrières (predominantly limestone, which used to be quarried locally).

The versatility of Bouchet is thus demonstrated with eloquence. Winemaker Omri Ram maintains that “true” Bouchet can only be found at Lafleur, at Cheval Blanc and at Ausone, both, it has to be said, less likely to flag it specifically by name. The difference between Bouchet and Cabernet Franc lies in the genetic selection historically applied to all the property’s reds (the whites develop the theme and add their own twist). Omri cites the texture of Bouchet’s tannins and its silky caress at the back of the palate as key signifiers. None of the bell pepper or slightly herbaceous notes that sometimes make Cabernet Franc challenging, especially in youth. The age of the vines and the quality of the soils also have a contribution to make, no doubt. Jacques also praises his careful ancestors for not spending money on pesticides and the like, thereby preserving the unique DNA of the vineyard. 


A very special place, then, with an uplifting ambiance. The esprit de corps instilled by Baptiste (son of Jacques and now co-owner) and Julie (his wife) is clear when one chats with members of the technical team such as Omri or Ralitsa Todorieva. There is a firm belief and a genuine pride in a project which has been nurtured with precision and skill. The wines are all outstanding and now highly valued throughout the world. I very much expect that the swing will have been restored by the time of my next visit. I have made a mental note, however, not to try and sit on it. Not, of course, that I was the culprit this time! Its absence has had no bearing whatsoever on the quality of the excellent wines from 2023, thankfully. 

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