Monthly Archives: June 2017

Bordeaux The Brand.

Think of Bordeaux and you probably have an image of a chateau. You’d be right; more than sixty per cent of Bordeaux wine is bottled at the property where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, easily identified with the mention of ‘Mise en Bouteille au Château’ on the label.

But what about the other forty per cent? Most of this is bottled by Bordeaux merchants (negociants) under their own labels and sold as branded wines. These wines have not always enjoyed a great brand image, considered to be blended from left over wines that chateau choose not to bottle under their own label. I encourage you to look again, changes are afoot in sourcing and style that merit reconsideration.

What is the point of a brand if Bordeaux is all about châteaux? A branded wine offers large volumes of a consistent style, year in year out, that wine from a single property cannot. This consistency is what some clients are looking for, reassurance that every time they reach for a bottle it will be as good as the last one. Not every wine geek’s dream perhaps but just what appeals to an important part of the market.

Brands can do this as their wines are sourced from across the Bordeaux region. With about 8 000 wine estates and a total area of over 110 000 ha, Bordeaux is big enough to offer negociants plenty of choice of raw material from different soils and grape varieties. This diversity gives added complexity but more importantly the large choice allows blenders the flexibility to create that consistent signature style that consumers expect from their brand.

Up until the 1970s it was rare for chateaux to bottled their own wine, negociants took delivery of the wine in the spring following the harvest. Ageing, blending and bottling all took place in their cellars, along the Quai des Chatrons in Bordeaux.

It was Philippe de Rothschild who pioneered the change to chateau bottling in the 1920s, determined to control quality from start to finish, so it is ironic that the best known Bordeaux Brand, Mouton Cadet, is from his stable.

Created in 1930, Mouton Cadet was the ‘cadet’ (little brother) of  Château Mouton Rothschild created by Baron Philippe who wanted to bring a well crafted Bordeaux to a much larger audience  – a different wine, with a different concept. It started as a Pauillac with some wines from the château blended with other Pauillac properties. After the Second World War the blend grew to include wines from other Bordeaux appellations, losing its Pauillac appellation to become Bordeaux. The brand, as we know it today, was born.

La Place de Bordeaux

Traditionally Mouton Cadet wines were blended from bulk wines for sale on the ‘La Place de Bordeaux’. As of 2004 the philosophy and the style changed; closer direct partnerships with growers represented 50-75% of the wine

With the current release of the 2015 vintage, all the wines blended for Mouton Cadet are sourced through these exclusive contracts. 453 producer partners with 1520 ha of selected plots (about half of which are in the Côtes de Bordeaux appellations) work directly with the in-house team of seven winemakers who act as consultants from field to cellar, ensuring the supply, the quality and consistency they are looking with each vintage. This might sound straightforward, but when you are producing over 12 million bottles – that’s a lot of wine.

They work with these selected plots of vines but the wine making takes place at the vineyard, it is the finished wines, not the grapes, that are brought to the production facility for quality control, blending, ageing and finally bottling.

The result? This intimate involvement in production gave the Mouton Cadet team the tools to respond to consumer demand giving the fruitier, Merlot dominated style with the 2015 vintage.

The old and the new labels of Mouton Cadet

Brighter, lighter labels reflect this change: they still feature the ‘Barbacchus’ logo, although a slightly modernised version (if you look closely the famous ram seems to have a slight smile on his lips).

The new mouton cadet logo – can you see the smile?

The Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Rouge is the famous flagship, but the complete range includes whites and rosés. Alongside the Bordeaux Blanc, a classic Sauvignon – Semillon – Muscadelle blend, there is a pure Bordeaux Sauvignon and an Ice Rosé, sourced outside Bordeaux but made by the same team. These last two wines are sold with a screw cap closure, another nod to modernity and the Ice Rosé, presented in frosted glass is blended specifically to be served on ice, piggybacking the fashion for ‘champagne piscine‘ perhaps? A whole new image for what is considered a very classic Bordeaux.

Ice Rosé from Mouton Cadet

The more concentrated Reserve range is destined for wine shops and restaurants and is presented in heavier bottles, featuring Medoc, Saint Emilion, Graves white and red as well as Bordeaux white and red appellations. Now we start to see the complexity that the region of Bordeaux has to offer.

A selection from the Mouton Cadet range.

Does it work? Yes I think so; these wines offer a complete, easy to understand and accessible range of Bordeaux wines. You might find some château-bottled equivalents at similar or even cheaper price points but not in these volumes and with this consistency. Consider these wines as the training wheels of Bordeaux; they allow people to discover Bordeaux with no fear of mispronunciation, challenging appellations or classifications.

The new style is aimed at reaching a younger clientele; France drinks 60% of Bordeaux wines, yet Mouton Cadet is exported across 150 countries that account for 80% of the volume produced, in markets where the complexity of Bordeaux can be a barrier for consumers. So yes it works, at home and abroad. Lookout for the new version as of this autumn near you and judge for yourself.

 

Bib Happy at Château Lestrille.

It’s not uniquely the top vineyards in Bordeaux that are innovating. It could be argued that less well-known properties, where the competition is toughest, need to innovate most of all. Almost fifty per cent of Bordeaux production is in the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur appellations (including Rosé and Clairet), that’s about 4000 vineyards trying to find their place at a very competitive price point.

Clairet and rosé, two Château Lestrille specialties

How can they create a brand identity? How can they differentiate their wines? One solution is to cultivate a direct contact with the client. It increases margins but also allowing them to ‘speak’ to their customers creating that all-important bond, but how to reach them?

Wine fairs, direct mailing, creating appealing branding and packaging, wine tourism, welcoming clients to the estate with tastings, tours, lunches and other events are all great ways (and hard work). Certain properties are really good at some of these, one or two are good at it all. Château Lestrille is a good example. I have mentioned them in previous posts, (yes I do have my favourites) but a recent visit reminded me just how dynamic they are.

Estelle Roumage serves her wine with lunch on the terrace ofChâteau Lestrile

Château Lestrille is in the centre of the village of Saint Germain du Puch, in the Entre deux Mers, about half way between Bordeaux and Saint Emilion. The location is not without its difficulties; the vinification and ageing cellars are on opposite sides of the road – a bit of a logistical headache at certain times of the year. Unlike Classified growths Leoville Poyferre and Leoville La Cases in Saint Julien, who have a tunnel under the road to solve a similar problem, Lestrille has to rely on forklifts.

But they have turned this location on a busy road to their advantage, by opening a shop in 2010. They are pioneers; wining a Best of Wine Tourism as early as 2013 for their innovative approach. Along side the bottled wines, local food specialities and other wine gifts and gadgets they have now introduced their latest packaging: a BIB (Bag in a Box) and they have embraced the concept with a surprisingly Anglo-Saxon sense of humour.

The busy shop at Chateau Lestrille

Estelle Roumage may be French, the third generation wine maker in her family, but something must have rubbed off on her during her time studying in the UK or perhaps when she was wine making in New Zealand.

With names such as BIP-BOP A LULA for the Bordeaux Blanc, BIB BIB BIB HOURRA for the Rosé, BIB OR NOT TO BIB for the Bordeaux red and BIB HAPPY for the Bordeaux Superieur – you know these are party wines that are not taking themselves too seriously. They are made with the same care as the bottled wines and are deliciously easy drinking. Even more so when they are just 17€ for 3 litres (20€ for the Bordeaux Sup).

BIBs with a sense of humour.

They regularly welcome people to the vineyard for tours, tastings, lunches and other events but Estelle wants to get closer still to her clients. Her next project is a shop and wine bar in down town Bordeaux ‘Un Château en Ville’. It will open at the end of November 2017 at 25, Rue St James. As far as I’m aware, this will be the first shop and wine bar opened by a vineyard in the city. If there are any more I haven’t discovered them yet, please let me know. I’m not counting the Grand Maison of Bernard Magrez of course – that’s a whole different approach (Lestrille wines are on the menu there though).

The soon to open Lestrille wine bar and shop in Bordeaux.

While you’re waiting for opening night, if you do visit the vineyard, go at the weekend. They have regular tapas nights in the cellar and garden (the next one is planned for 30th June if you’re nearby), tastings and lunches; including wine maker evenings featuring other vineyards from both Bordeaux and further afield.

Bordeaux closed doors? Not here!