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Lafite Rothschild documentary airs on SOMM TV

The famed Bordeaux first growth is the subject of a new, original documentary by the makers of the SOMM TV streaming platform. Decanter's Jess Lander reviews the film and speaks exclusively to director Jason Wise about how the project came to life.

For the first time ever, Château Lafite Rothschild has welcomed cameras behind the scenes into their home, family life and wine business.

From the creators of the SOMM Documentary series, and the SOMM TV streaming platform, Verticals: Lafite Rothschild takes oenophiles on a long-awaited and intimate journey into one of Bordeaux’s most storied first growth châteaux.

The new documentary, which premiered on SOMM TV last Friday (June 18), features extensive interviews with members of the notoriously-private family – including Baron Éric de Rothschild and his daughter Saskia de Rothschild –  in addition to commentary from international wine experts, including the late Steven Spurrier and Dlynn Proctor of the SOMM movies.

Joining series two of SOMM TV’s Verticals, which also includes close-ups of Mayacamas and Clos du Val in Napa Valley, as well as globe-trotting winemaker Paul Hobbs, the film tells the Lafite story through four bottles produced between 1945 and 2018. It covers the deep family history that began in banking, the transition into wine in 1868, the German occupation at the château during the war, and how the family recovered afterwards.

‘It tells a lot of the history of Bordeaux and is a greater story about how France dealt with the last 75-80 years’ said director Jason Wise, who had to direct most of the film remotely from the U.S. as it was filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘You can’t talk about the Rothschilds without talking about European history as a whole. It’s impossible.’

Wise said that it was the Rothschilds who actually approached SOMM TV about doing the documentary.

‘I can’t tell if Covid was the reason we were able to pull this off,’ he said. ‘It sort of grounded the Baron and Saskia at the domain. They’re usually very, very busy.’

It’s also likely no coincidence that the film was scheduled to premier on Father’s Day weekend. ‘There’s so much talk about the Lafite Rothschild family, but you watch and realise that this is a father-daughter story, and that to me, is one of the more beautiful parts of this. They don’t show that side of themselves often,’ said Wise.

In 2018, Saskia de Rothschild, who was 31 at the time, took over from her father as chairwoman of Lafite, making her one of a handful of women who have been at the helm of a Premier Grand Cru Classés in Bordeaux. Currently, she is also the youngest person leading a Grand Cru estate. This too, is a big storyline in the film, which in itself epitomises the transition from the traditional to modern day.

‘I think this film also tells a story of the industry, especially France, starting to move on from this completely male-dominated succession of the way things are done, which in my opinion is incredibly important,’ said Wise.

Verticals: Lafite Rothschild review

Lafite Rothschild documentary

The most striking element of the film is how utterly normal the family comes across. The Baron could seemingly be anyone’s grandfather. He plays with the family dog and speaks with a permanent twinkle in his eye, often chuckling in amusement while recounting memories.

His demeanor while tasting the 1945 Lafite can only be described as ‘a kid on Christmas morning.’

For her part, Saskia is dressed like any other winemaker, donning a vest with her hair pulled back and her fingers stained purple. In these moments, one of the world’s more inaccessible wines suddenly feels within reach as all the pomp and circumstance that typically circumscribes the family name falls away on film.

While the documentary is divided up among four bottles, it’s really made up of two distinct halves.

The first half is mostly focused on the Baron and the château’s history, but then he subtly withdraws into the background allowing Saskia to take center stage for the second half, which poetically symbolises the passing of the torch from father to daughter.

As the commentators repeatedly point out in the film, most people will never get the chance to sip a Lafite Rothschild or even visit the estate. This film, however, is the next best thing.

Verticals Lafite Rothschild is available worldwide to SOMM TV subscribers and the platform offers a three-day free trial.

Later this year, Wise said the film will be released on additional platforms, like iTunes.

See also

Château Lafite Rothschild en primeur history
News: Lafite Rothschild 2020 release: ‘This should soar’
Get to know Left Bank Bordeaux: Good, better, best

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