Tag Archives: Château Latour

Booze Books for Christmas

There are so many good books about wine, spirits and tasting and Christmas seems as good a time as any to take a look. Here are four recommendations as gift ideas for like-minded wine geeks, beginners or even to add to your own Christmas stocking.

I mentioned Decanter Journalist, Jane Anson’s previous book Bordeaux Legends, in the run up to Christmas a couple of years ago. Well, she has done it again with this beautiful book. She has teamed up with photographer Andy Katz to profile the Bordeaux vineyards known as The Club of Nine.

The Club of Nine by Jane Anson and Andy Katz

The Club of Nine by Jane Anson and Andy Katz

His photos are spectacular. Even having lived near these properties for almost 30 years, I found the images as surprising as they are breath-taking. You can see more of his beautiful work on this web site.

The Club of Nine is the term used for and by what are considered, by most, to be the nine top properties of the region: The five Red first growths of the 1855 classification; Haut Brion, Margaux, Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild. (Although technically Mouton only became a 1st growth in 1973.) Then there are the original two First Growths A from Saint Emilion, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Ausone and the neighbouring Chateau Petrus from Pomerol. Although the Pomerol appellation has never ‘benefited’ from a classification, received wisdom and market prices concur that Petrus is the leading light of the appellation. Finally there is Chateau d’Yquem. Yquem was granted the highest accolade of Premier Grand Cru Classé Supérieur in 1855, outranking them all, such were the heady days of the 19th century for the sweet wines of Bordeaux.

This is more than a ‘nickname’ for a group of top terroir wineries, but also a forum where the technical directors of each property regularly meet to discuss and share, technical issues, research and the challenges their properties and the region face.

The question now raised is that, based on these selection criteria of classification, should we talk of a Club of 11? Both Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie were promoted up to Premier Grand Cru Classé A in the last, Saint Emilion Classification. But then again that was in 2012, so let’s not rush things!

There’s a lot of history surrounding the properties mentioned above and Bordeaux history is intimately linked with that of England, right back to Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the 12th century. Eleanor is one of the many British, influences mentioned in recently published Empire of Booze a humorous look at the history of booze and the role the British empire has, and continues to, play. Written by wine and spirits journalist, Henry Jeffreys and published through the website unbound, it’s a read that will take you backwards and forwards through time but also from London, to France, Portugal, Spain, Scotland and as far as Australia – a terrific read.

Empire of Booze by Henry Jefferies

Empire of Booze by Henry Jefferys

For some lighter reading, perhaps as a gift to those not quite so far down the wine geek road, Jancis Robinson‘s recently published The 24-Hour Wine Expert, is a cracking introduction to the wine world. Covering everything from tasting to serving from geography to varietals and much more. Just enough to get any beginner through the first steps of wine appreciation and perhaps start them on the road to wine ‘geekdom’ – you have been warned.

Become a 24-Hour Wine Expert with Jancis Robinson

Become a 24-Hour Wine Expert with Jancis Robinson

And for a completely different take, try Jo Malone My Story. It has nothing to do with wine, but interesting for tasters as it is all based around her acute sense of smell, such an important part of tasting. So much so that the very opening pages of the book are scented with her signature scent Pomelo – a Sauvignon Blanc with that perhaps?

A great sense of smell - Jo Malone's Story

A great sense of smell – Jo Malone’s Story 

A little bit of Bordeaux in the heart of Napa

Comparisons between Bordeaux and Napa are inevitable, they both enjoy a reputation for excellence, especially for the expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and the exchange of wine makers and techniques between the two regions seems to be making the distance between the two a lot shorter.

There’s nothing new about transatlantic relationships such as Opus One with Mouton and Mondavi or Christian Moueix with Dominus. And it continues; ex Chateau Margaux wine maker, Philippe Bascaules, has been making wonderfully elegant wines at Inglenook for the last few vintages, Chanel (owners of Rauzan Segla and Canon here in Bordeaux) recently acquired Saint Supery and Melanie and Alfred Tesseron of Pontet Canet, have great plans for the Robin Williams estate.

Chateau Latour owners, Groupe Artemis, joined this select transatlantic club in 2013, buying The Eisele vineyard from the Araujo family, adding another name to their wine portfolio, which includes Château Grillet in the Rhone and Domaine d’Eugenie in Burgundy.

Eisele has a long history; first planted with Zinfandel and Riesling vines back in the 1880s, it has been dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon for the last fifty years.

Situated on an alluvial fan at the base of the Palisades Mountain, the property is divided by two, mostly dry, riverbeds that have deposited big pebbles giving great drainage, a reminder of the home terroir in Pauillac perhaps? Cool air brought by Northwesterly breezes from the Chalk Hill Gap sinks into these valleys giving the fresh microclimate that determines the concentrated elegance of these wines.

The pebbles in the dry river bed

The pebbles in the dry river bed

The property has a history generously sprinkled with the famous names of Napa. Although Jackson G. Randall and Charles Nathan Pickett, planted the first vines and they remained in the Pickett family until the Second World War, it was Milton and Barbara Eisele that gave their name to the vineyard in their 60s. Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards produced the first Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon starting the story of Cabernet at Eisele.

Conn Creek Winery produced the second vineyard-designated Eisele Cabernet in 1974, and from 1975 to 1991, Joseph Phelps continued the tradition, of producing excellent Cabernets from the Eisele Vineyard. In 1991 the vineyard produced its first Estate Cabernet Sauvignon alongside the final Phelps bottling from the property.

It was Daphne and Bart Araujo, who purchased the vineyard in 1990, that introduced winemaking, building a winery, including a 1km long tunnel through the mountainside to barrel age the wine. The tunnel, which links two parts of the vineyard, has to be air conditioned due to the hot subsoil of the region – we’re not far from the hot springs of Calistoga here remember.

The long tunnel barrel aging cellar

The long tunnel barrel aging cellar

Their 23-year tenure wasn’t just about the wine making; the Araujos introduced organic farming in 1998 and pioneered biodynamics in Napa becoming certified in 2002. It wasn’t just about Cabernet either; in 1990 they identified a small number of Syrah vines within a Cabernet block dating from 1978 and made a Syrah varietal and they planted Sauvignon Blanc on a cooler east-facing slope.

So has anything changed since the Groupe Artemis acquired the vineyard in 2013? Well they took their time, very aware of the prestigious and successful reputation of the vineyard. In2014, Hélène Mingot was appointed technical director, although she modestly calls herself the stewardess of the vineyard on her twitter account. Having worked with Stephane de Deronencourt in Bordeaux and in Napa she is very attuned to the environmental impact of vine growing.

Commitment to environmentally sensitive development is pretty obvious right down to the welcome clucking from the chickens in the beautiful grounds and herb garden for the biodynamic preparations. As well as the 500 ancient olive trees that produce organic olive oil – all part of biodiversity, perfect for Hélène given her previous experience as an olive taster in Italy!

Napa is known for the great complexity of its terroir, with over 100 different soil types in an area that is 5 miles wide and 30 miles long – smaller than the Médoc. With a desire to better understand and express these variations, the 38 acres are divided into 13 blocks and over 40 sub-blocks, based on soil and subsoil in a very similar approach to that seen at Latour.

The map of the plots that make up the Eisele Vineyard

The map of the plots that make up the Eisele Vineyard

There are just four labels for a total of about 5000 cases: 1500 cases of the Grand Vin, 300 cases of Syrah and 2500 cases of the ‘Second Wine’ Altagracia, and some Sauvignon Blanc. One change has been the oak treatment for the wines, they still use 100% new oak for the first wine but the barrels have a lighter toast than previously, sourced from 6 different French coopers with 80% new oak for the second wine and 50% for the Syrah.

Three quarters of the 38-acre Eisele Vineyard are dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon and the other components of the Bordeaux blend: Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot for the Grand vin.

The ‘second wine’ is called Altagracia, also a Bordeaux-style blend mainly from the Eastern parcels of the Eisele Vineyard, but complemented by fruit sourced from other Napa Valley vineyards including some Malbec – a wine more accessible in style when young.

The Syrah, originally made from those vines identified in that plot of Cabernet back in the early 90s, now comes from new plantings sometimes co-fermented with Vigonier in the traditional Rhone style – a nod perhaps to Chateau Grillet, also in the groups’ portfolio.

The Sauvignon Blanc is simply delicious, served to us after the red in the underground, very chilly, tasting room at the heart of the estate. And the blend of 60% Sauvignon Musqué (the first time I think I have knowingly tasted this Sauvignon clone) with Sauvignon Blanc has the wonderful tropical flavours added to the super fresh Sauvignon Blanc. Barrel ageing on the lees, as of the 2013 vintage, just adds to the depth.

Tasting at Eisele

Tasting at Eisele

The most, obvious change is the recent change of name, (well less of a change and more of a ‘back to the future’ moment), using simply ‘Eisele Vineyard Estate’ for The ‘Grand Vin’ as of the release of the 2013 vintage this year; a reflection of the importance attached to the land or terroir. The names of the Eisele Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and Altagracia have not changed.

The new Eisele Label

The new Eisele Label

I was stunned by the elegance of these wines. Having often struggled with the power of Cabernets from Napa in the past, these wines struck me as having the perfect blend of old and new world. The vines growing in these dry, rocky soils produce very small berries of thick-skinned, intensely flavoured grapes – again a parallel with Pauillac.

The wines develop increased complexity with age; friends were kind enough to serve me a 2004 a few days after my visit that clearly showed this. However I feel the vintages under the new ownership definitely show more of old world elegance.

Precision, texture, elegance and consistency are terms historically used to describe the wines from Eisele, terms not dissimilar for those used to describe Chateau Latour. The property continues to be in safe hands.


‘There has never been as much good wine in Bordeaux, believe me’

John Kolasa is a well-known figure in the Bordeaux wine trade. His 40 year career has taken him from loading cases on the waterfront of the city via the cooperative of Saint Emilion to director of Château Latour, 1st growth of Pauillac. His 40 years in the business have given him a unique perspective on the Bordeaux wine industry, its changes and evolution.

Talking to John Kolasa in the salon of Chateau Rauzan Segla

Talking to John Kolasa in the salon of Chateau Rauzan Segla

I spoke to him in the enclosed interview as he retires from his current role as director of the Chanel Inc. Bordeaux portfolio, including the two prestigious Chanel properties: Chateau Rauzan Segla, second growth of Margaux, Chateau Canon, 1st growth of Saint Emilion, and the leading negociant house Ulyssee Cazabon,

The vat cellar at Chateau Canon

The vat cellar at Chateau Canon

He has been a witness to many dramatic changes in Bordeaux over his 40-year career. He reflects upon these changes and the challenges he faced in bringing back the prestigious Chanel properties to their rightful place in the hierarchy.

The complex vineyard of Chateau Rauzan Segla

The complex vineyard of Chateau Rauzan Segla

Running a left bank and a right bank property as well as a leading Bordeaux merchant house gives him a fascinating and unique perspective on the region. As he says ‘There has never been as much good wine in Bordeaux, believe me’

He should know.

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To view the full interview click here.








A Golden Elixir.

Bordeaux is home to several Château owned by luxury Brand Corporations: Chanel Inc. owns classified growths Château Rauzan Segla in Margaux and Château Canon in Saint Emilion, Kering owns Château Latour in Pauillac, and then there is LVMH with a slew of international wine and spirits brands in their portfolio. As well as their flagship Bordeaux wineries Château d’Yquem in Sauternes and Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion, LVMH are heavily invested in Champagne and Cognac.

There are several advantages for a chateau owned by such groups. Apart from the obvious advantage of a parent company with deep pockets, it enables properties to make drastic selections and even not produce at all in tricky vintages ensuring a consistent quality (the last year d’Yquem didn’t produce any of the classified wine at all was as recently as 2012). It also allows for investment in cellars, both technical and aesthetic, and the advantages of belonging to a luxury goods portfolio with the marketing and promotional synergy that that entails.

The elegant new tasting room at Chateau d'Yquem

The elegant new tasting room at Chateau d’Yquem

There has been a less obvious cross marketing initiative within the LVMH stable. Dior and Château d’Yquem, both member of the LVMH luxury stable, have been working closely together on the beauty benefits of Sauternes.

Wine and beauty is nothing new; Caudalie, have been extracting polyphenols from grape pips since the early 90s and the brand is now an international success and the reference in ‘wine spas’ with their ‘Vinotherapie’.

Dior got into the act as early as 2006 creating the l’Or de Vie range using an extract from the sap of the vines of Château d’Yquem as an active ingredient. With the 2013 vintage, they have taken this a step further, adding a serum to the range. This time molecules extracted from the marc left after fermentation of the wine appear to hold magic properties for the skin and have been included alongside other active ingredients in the new l’Or de Vie  ‘La Cure’.

The l'Or de Vie range

The l’Or de Vie range

This magic comes at a price; the serum is presented in elegant golden phials in packs of three for about £ 1200, although this ‘Cure’ is a nine-month supply. Long enough to see a visible difference according to their studies.

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master at Chateau d'Yquem.

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master at Chateau d’Yquem.

If the lovely cellar master Sandrine Gaby is anything to go by, being exposed to the magic ingredient must work, but I think I’ll stick to taking my Chateau d’Yquem elixir of youth by the glass.

Elixir by the glass

Elixir by the glass


How authentic is your bottle?

Between the conviction of infamous wine fraud Rudy Kurniawan and the growing market for wines in Asia where counterfeiting seems to be national sport (and not just in wine), authentication of wine has become more and more important.

A recent contribution to the Jancis Robinson blog was an intriguing insight into an affordable way to verify the authenticity of your wine bottle, based on the ‘bobbles’ and other manufacturer markers along the bottom of the bottle. But many Chateaux in Bordeaux and elsewhere have introduced a more secure and personalised approach.

Most bottling lines now include laser engraving with dates and code numbers that allow chateaux to trace their bottles. This offers many advantages; as well as being reassuring for clients, it allows the chateaux traceability in case of quality problems and allows them to trace how their wines got to market.
70% of Bordeaux wine is sold through ‘La Place’, the brokers and negociants. Chateaux do not always know or have contact with the final customer. It is not unusual for Chateaux to work with several different Bordeaux negociant houses, choosing them because of their expertise in particular markets, either geographical or by market sector. They may try and offer semi exclusivities in certain markets and also sometimes qualifying sales with conditions such as not selling to supermarkets.

This is difficult to police in an open market and some markets such as the UK are considered platforms with a lot of the wine being moved on to other markets Asia being a typical destination.
In recent years, undercutting sales prices by some struggling negociants have also perturbed the market,  be damaging to the brand image as well as upsetting other clients who are not happy when their final clients boast about finding certain wines on the market place at process lower than they have paid the property. These traceability tools allow the chateau a greater control and understanding of where their bottles are ending up and how they got there. The wine market is not as nebulous as it used to be.

Classified growths are the most likely to be subject to fraud and counterfeiting and they have perfected techniques with a mix of Q codes, authentication codes and special labels. Most Chateaux have a web page where alphanumeric codes from the label can be entered or Q codes can be scanned.

The authentication label on the Château Margaux bottle.

The authentication label on the Château Margaux bottle.

Chateau Margaux even has an app for the authentication and  as of 1st January 2013, all bottles leaving the cellar of Chateau Latour have a bubble tag on the bottle with a unique identification.

Latour bubble tags ready to   be added to the bottles.

Latour bubble tags ready to be added to the bottles.

There are also more traditional, non-digital ways of protecting themselves and their customers against fraud. Château d’Yquem uses a unique paper made by the Banque de France bank note suppliers for their labels that are water marked in a way that cannot be copied.

Printing roll for Yquem label paper

Printing roll for Chateau d’Yquem label paper

First growths are not the only properties investing in high tech authentication. Other Chateaux, such as biodynamic producer Chateau Le Puy in the Cotes de Francs, use the same Prooftag bubble system as Chateau Latour mentioned above.

And it’s not just the chateaux; vintner groups, such as the Cru Bourgeois, issue a defined number of bottle stickers complete with hologram at certification with a unique number that can be typed into the web site or the Q code can be scanned with the app.

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker can be scanned on the smart phone app.

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker can be scanned on the smart phone app.

You can now drink younger vintages with confidence. For older vintages however you will still need to rely on a close and trusting relationship with your wine merchant – something always worth cultivating.

La Place de Bordeaux – or how Bordeaux works.

 If you are not familiar with Bordeaux you could be forgiven for thinking that ‘La Place de Bordeaux’ describes one of the beautiful 18th century squares – there are plenty to choose from. In fact this is the description the trade uses for the system of selling Bordeaux through merchants and brokers (or courtiers) that has its origins in the Middle Ages. A request from a wine school student about how it all works made me think that others may require a little enlightenment too so here goes.

 La Place de Bordeaux?

La Place de Bordeaux?

There are currently 7 900 growers, 300 Negociants and 95 Brokers in Bordeaux. The wine merchants sell 70% of Bordeaux wine, by volume, into over 160 countries. Some negociants tend to be specialised in a specific sector, whether it is a geographical region or a market segment such as supermarkets, restaurants, etc. 8 of these 300 companies have a turnover of over €50 million and represent 57% of the total business. These larger companies tend to be ‘negociant-eleveurs’ a title that explains that they do not simply buy and sell wines but take an active role in blending and ageing them too.

 Why would a chateau choose to sell via a negociant, giving up a profit margin rather than selling directly? The obvious advantage is that it allows their wines to be presented all over the world through a range of different channels. Unlike some new world producers, a Bordeaux chateau normally only produces 3 or 4 wines. Selling these wines directly entails international travel, language and administrative skills and personnel. The average size of a Bordeaux property is 14ha, producing somewhere in the region of 80 000 bottles, this may sound a lot but can rarely generate enough volume or income to merit an international sales force.  Selling to negociants is a lot simpler and should allow the international reach to maintain a presence in the major markets. The margins are lower certainly, but so is the cost to sell. It is more cost effective for a negociant with a portfolio of hundreds of wines, chosen from the 60 different Bordeaux appellations, styles and price points, to travel the world selling and promoting them all than it is for a property with only 3 or 4 products.

Also in choosing a range of negociants to work with the Chateau can give exclusivity to  different negociants for specific markets to ensure a complete distribution for their products.

This choice however is not available to all. Recognised brand name chateaux are assured a place at the table. However with almost 10 000 chateau there is a lot of competition to get to market, especially in the mid to lower range where one property can seen to be easily substituted by another. It is no longer sufficient to make a great wine, although that is obviously a good starting point. Even if the negociant plays a key role in selling and promoting the wine, the Chateau and wine maker have an important role to play in promoting their wines to create and reinforce their reputation. Tastings, wine dinners and receiving clients and consumers at the Chateau (wine tourism) are all part of this.

However the down side of selling through ‘La Place’ includes a lack of knowledge by the vineyard as to where their wines can be found in the market place and who exactly the final customer is. The free flow of information between the negociant and the Chateau depends upon the level of confidence between the two players. Also distributors in final markets are less likely to back a chateau with marketing spend if they do not have an exclusivity agreement for the label. An exclusivity that is difficult to reinforce if the wine is selling over several different negociants on ‘La Place’.

What about the courtiers – what is their role? The brokers, or courtiers, act as intermediaries between the Chateau and the negociants. They never take title to the wines (i.e. own them) but take a 2% margin on each transaction. The courtiers again have a historic role; it was upon information from the courtiers that the 1855 classification was created. They play a vital role of market information and are the key to keeping the wines of Bordeaux flowing. They have an intimate knowledge of who has what wine and where. Wine in a specific vintage from a specific property may be no longer available at the Chateau but safely tucked away in a negociant’s cellar. The broker will know where it is and at what price and will be able to communicate between negociants who may not otherwise be speaking to each other! Sucessful properties offer an allocation to Bordeaux negociants through the courtiers. However, if in certain vintages the negociant declines the offer, they may find their allocation diminished in future vintages. The courtiers have a role of feedback from the negociants to the producers explaining what is selling where and why and asking for larger allocations or explaining why allocations will not be taken up.

 Since only 50% of Bordeaux wine is Chateau bottled, the role of the broker is even more important in the bulk sector of the market. Wines sold in bulk are often destined for blending and ageing by the negociants. They may have production contracts directly with Chateau that allow them to participate in the key wine growing and wine making decisions – picking dates de-vatting, etc. But for many they will be looking for wines that fit a specific style and price point either as a finished wine or as part of a house blend and will rely on the brokers to find these. Just as negociants may be specialised in a market sector or wine style, so may a broker.

Primeurs or Bordeaux futures. The classified growths (and equivalent) represent approximately 5% of volume of Bordeaux production but 20% of its value – figures that vary slightly from year to year.

Wines harvested and fermented at the chateau in the autumn are tasted by the trade in the following spring at the UGC (Union des Grand Crus) trade tastings while the wines are still in barrel. They will not be bottled for at least another year to 18 months. At these tastings, the individual Chateaux wines and the vintage as a whole are assessed by the local and international trade and press. Following the feedback the Chateau, in conjunction with the negociants and brokers, fix a price for the wines that will then be offered via the brokers to the negociants. The negociants will then add their margin and offer the wines to their clients as futures. The wines will only become ‘physical’ i.e. be bottled and delivered 18 months down the road.

Traditionally payment for these wines is split, one-third at reservation, one third after about 6 months and the final third before delivery when the wines are bottled and delivered, usually in the late summer or autumn 2 years after harvest.

The system of ‘en primeur’ or futures purchase does not work for all Chateaux, nor in all vintages and the percentage of wines offered ‘en primeur’ varies from year to year. It is deemed to be of greatest interest for the top properties for which there is a high demand and also in top vintages for the same reason. Merchants, both in Bordeaux and overseas, will only put money up front if they feel that the product will be in short supply or if they feel there is a possibility of price appreciation.

The advantage of the primeur system is of course cash flow. Being able to sell your crop in June before physical delivery in over a years time is more advantageous than waiting until the following summer, even if the price may be a little lower.  This system has historical origins. Up until the 1970’s it was common practice for all Chateaux to deliver their wines in barrels to the negociants in the early spring following the harvest and to receive payment then in time to finance the next harvest. The negociant would then undertake the ageing, blending and bottling.

This system changed relatively recently. The first producer to systematically undertake chateau bottling was Philippe de Rothschild at Chateau Mouton Rothschild starting with the 1924 vintage, introducing at the same time an artist’s interpretation for the label. The label was deemed ahead of its time whereas Chateau bottling continues to this day.Baron Philippe reintroduced the notion of an artist-designed label in 1945, to commemorate the Allied victory. This continues to this day with the latest 2011 version of which was designed by Guy de Rougemont, just released.

The label for the Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2011
The label for the Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2011

 The wine scandal of the 1970’s, when some wines where found to be adulterated by a few negociants, precipitated the adoption of chateau bottling  by most of the top properties soon afterwards and, as I mentioned earlier, 50% of Bordeaux wine is currently chateau bottled. However aging the wines on site meant that the Chateaux needed more labour and storage facilities, (The Great Barrel Hall’ at Mouton was built in 1926 to house the wines kept back until bottling), but also had an 18-month cash flow delay. This was compensated for by the introduction of the primeur campaign.

In more difficult vintages some top growths systematically sell their production en primeur very quickly with all the allocations being take up, whereas others may struggle. This may be a reflection on the quality, or perceived quality, and value for money of the product but it is also a reflection of the brand image of the chateau. Even if using negociants, it still falls to the Chateau to create and promote their brand via the press and trade to maintain a high profile with trade and consumers. The negociants will be more interested in taking up their allocations if the brand image is strong and they can reply on the pull of the market place. The role of the chateau therefore in taking part in various inward missions, wine tastings and dinners is important to maintain this image – quality being equal. Just taking the money at primeur and handing over the wine is not enough.

Château Latour stepped out of the en Primeur campaign with the 2012 vintage, which raised a few eyebrows and questions about the perennity of the system. To be clear, Latour has announced that they will be selling their wines once they become physical and when they consider them ready for drinking but they will continue to sell through the ‘Place de Bordeaux’. We said the major advantage of primeur sales for a chateau is cash flow at the expense of margin. For Mr Pinaud, owner of Latour, whose background is the luxury goods industry, controlling his margin may be a higher priority than cash flow. Other properties may be on standby to see how this experiment goes. Probably only  5/6 other top chateaux may be in a position to follow his lead so overall the knock on effect is likely to be very limited – except for the press coverage of course. Some negociants declined the latest physical 1995 offer of Latour – we shall see.

Will Place de Bordeaux system continue? I think so yes. Given the number, diversity and the small average size of Bordeaux chateaux (14ha), the complexity of the legislation surrounding wine imports, duties, etc., into the world’s markets, this sales system allows chateau to concentrate their efforts on a quality product and it’s promotion and delegate the sales administration to the negociants. Again a division of labour especially important for smaller family run properties. Its also allows a greater international reach which has to be a good thing. Some smaller chateaux feel that they are not a priority for the negociants (see my earlier comments about competition amongst smaller properties)  and do sell directly and many do a good job building a direct relationship with their customers, a very time consuming job. This is becoming easier with a younger generation of winemakers with better marketing and language skills.

But the traditional role of the Bordeaux Negociant as the route to market for the majority of  Bordeaux production remains essential.

This blogpost is an excerpt from my book Bordeaux Bootcamp available on Amazon, Kindle and Gumroad. 

A glass with your wine?

There are rumours that the legislation for taking liquids on board planes will be lifted soon which will be a relief to the châteaux receiving visitors and their guests alike.
The legislation has made a big difference to cellar-door purchases by foreigner visitors not wanting a risk a breakage in their suitcase on the way home. However for many of the top growths in Bordeaux there is often no wine to purchase at the cellar after visits anyway, as everything is pre sold on primeur. Some properties keeps a little back for visitors but it’s a challenge during the bun fight at primeur time for them to hold on to bottles.
All is not lost however as if you can’t take back a bottle you can also take another little memento. Move over corkscrews and sommelier aprons Bordeaux has a better class of souvenir – crystal decanters and glasses.
Chateau Troplong Mondot has just created tasting glasses and the Chanel properties,Château Rauzan Segla and Château Canon, who know a thing or two about luxury, have crystal glasses and decanters with a discreet logo on the base and stopper. Château Latour also has a beautiful decanter and glasses but as they only welcome trade at the Château you’ll be lucky to get your hands on one.

Château Lagrange has a more modern decanter and glass set with the signature château visual from their label, and Château Kirwan, one of the pioneers of wine tourism, also sells signature classes with a bold K. Château Giscours even offers a free glass as a gift with the visit and tasting.

Recognise the château?

You can buy the wines when you get home but the decanters and glasses are the exclusive proof that you were there. The question remains; can you serve your Pichon in a La Tour decanter or your Cheval Blanc in a Canon glass? It might lead astray your guests at a blind tasting though!

Haut Culture

There are many parallels with the world of Haute Couture and wine, not least the ownership of some of Bordeaux’s leading properties by the top fashion brands; think LVMH with Château d’Yquem and Cheval Blanc, François Pinault of Gucci fame with Château Latour and Chanel with Château Rauzan Segla and Canon.
This might also explain the growing success and increasing volumes of the second wines of many properties – not dissimilar from the diffusion lines of some of the top couture houses.
Bordeaux producers have always had the challenge of keeping their traditional and historical appeal without alienating younger consumers? How to maintain a quality image but still explain the content of the bottle via the label? So why not ask designers to lend a hand?
Easy enough if you happen to belong to a Haute Couture group; Chanel is well introduced into the Bordeaux scene. The Wertheimer family, owners of the famous fashion house, purchased Chateau Rauzan Segla, 2nd growth of Margaux in 1994 along with the negociant house Ulysee Cazabon and then Château Canon in 1996. They have just increased their Bordeaux holdings buying the neighbouring property Château Matras with the objective of increasing production of the second wine of the property Clos Canon.
The 2009 Château Rauzan Segla was released onto the market in this year, which also celebrates the 350th birthday of the property. Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel in-house designer has designed the label to celebrate the date. Using more colour than we are used to seeing on the traditional labels it gives a new and modern turn to the 1900’s Château.

Not everyone in Bordeaux has such direct access to in-house designers but that didn’t stop Bruno Borie of Château Ducru Beaucaillou calling in high fashion. He asked Jade Jagger to design a new label for his second wine – La Croix de Beaucaillou which is more ‘bling’ that the Rauzan label – all black and gold. He gave two reasons for the choice – her affinity with bottles having recently re-launched the Shalimar bottle for Guerlain and of course she’s the daughter of a Rolling stone – another ‘Beaucaillou’!

The primeurs are upon us.

With the primeur tastings once again upon us, the focus will of course be on the Classified growths of Bordeaux with the usual mix of praise for the quality (2010 is once again looking like a great vintage) and criticism for the prices and of course painting all of Bordeaux with the same brush forgetting that, as fabulous as these growths are, and as important as their role is for the notoriety of Bordeaux they represent less than 2% of total Bordeaux wine production, in volume.

One of the criticisms made in class this week, and often repeated, of the Bordeaux classification is the fact that the classified growths of the Medoc in 1855 have the right to buy up surrounding land and that this is immediately transformed from basic appellation to classified growth status. This question was raised once again in a class this week.

Effectively in 1855 it was the properties of the Medoc appellations that were classified rather than the terroir. It was a market classification based uniquely on a price hierarchy established by the Bordeaux brokers over a period of 150 years. It was never destined to be a definitive document. This means therefore that the properties keep their classification despite any change in landholdings they may make. Obviously this is often open to criticism, especially in the competitive and much more informed market wines sell in today. However the 1855 classification should be considered as an historical document based on the market evaluation at the time. Now as then, the market is a more accurate reflection of current quality performance – a result of both terroir, wine making skill. Not forgetting marketing – then, as now, it was often the larger landholders, often with great trade connections that established notoriety for their brands in the 18th and 19th century that was reflected in the price of the growths.

However the properties cannot do whatever they like with their landholdings. Firstly the land included in any Grand Cru Classé must come from the same appellation.
The real test of these classifications is brought into question every year during the tastings of the primeurs. The properties do not act in a vacuum but are subject to market pressure following the tastings. This can clearly be seen with some examples of properties that perform well above, and occasionally below, their 1855 status and are judged by the trade, their market price is a reflection of this: For example the ‘Super seconds’ properties deemed as performing above their status. Château Palmer, classified as a 3rd growth in 1855 is systematically sold at a price point right behind the 1st growths, Château Lynch Bages is a 5th growth with a price point of 2nd growths. Another example is Château Lascombes, a 2nd growth of Margaux that underperformed for many years, but sold their wines at a very affordable price point, since they have been taken over in 2001 the market agrees that the wines have dramatically increased in quality and are now at a similar quality level as other second growths, as is reflected by the increased price on the market.

Also interesting to note is that the properties that have increased in size have also increased their production of second and even third wines, Latour is an excellent example of this; Château Latour 1er Grand cru Classé is only produced form the Enclos, the traditional property whereas the Les Forts de Latour and the ‘Pauillac’ of Latour come from land outside the original holding, more recently purchased by the estate. This however this blend of land holdings for the different wines is not an obligation but entirely on the initiative of the producer to self regulate, based on the plot selection of each vintage.

The 1855 classification is also not the only classification in Bordeaux, don’t forget, Saint Emilion and Graves, it remains however one of the best marketing operations in the history of wine making as these properties remain to this day some of the best known wines in the world, but as with most things in the wine world, memorising the classification is not enough to really understand the quality hierarchy of Bordeaux. If so wine educators like me would be out of a job.

A line up ready for tasting