La Soirée des Grands Crus takes New York by Storm with a New Generation of Bordelais
With a vinous history stretching back to the 1700s, coupled with imposing castle-style architecture, France’s Bordeaux wine region is usually associated with the old guard and more established wine drinkers. However, a recent event in New York, La Soirée des Grands Crus, provided a glimpse into the new Bordeaux.
Held on January 27, 2011 at SoHo’s Mercer 82, La Soirée brought members of the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux together for a special consumer wine tasting event. These producers are responsible for only 5% of Bordeaux’s total production, yet many have become quite renowned. Among the most highly regarded in their region, these chateaux include both classed growths (those having earned the Grand Cru Classé designation), as well as vaunted, non-classed wines. Winemakers and chateaux proprietors were on hand to pour the wines, putting faces to the bottles and permitting tasters to learn more about the wines they were drinking. These talented leaders are blending tradition with a modern sensibility as they continue to advance the wine legacy that is Bordeaux.
Looking around the room, it was obvious that the faces behind the tables were youthful and energetic, but had there been other changes in Bordeaux, aside from a shift in the average age? Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu, son of esteemed consultant Denis Dubourdieu, joined the family business, Denis Dubourdieu Domaines, in 2006, after completing graduate studies in business and marketing. He attributes two things to his fellow colleagues that differentiate them from their parents. Chief among them is the discovery of new markets, noting that, in the past, it was easy to sell Bordeaux wine at home. However, Jean-Jacques acknowledged that, today, they need to find new markets in which to sell their wines. He admitted that while the U.S. is not a new market, it is an important one and added that China is now a major market for them. A second distinguishing feature of the new generation, according to Jean-Jacques, was that they have started to simplify and demystify wine. He suggested that for their parents, wine was a bit more intellectual and feels that they lost some consumers that way. Consequently, “We are trying to make it easier to help people learn about wine” he said.
Anne Le Naour, serves as Directrice Technique (Technical Manager) for Château Grand-Puy Ducasse and has been with the chateau for approximately one year. When asked how the new generation of Bordeaux was impacting the region, she reiterated Jean-Jacques’ point of view and indicated that they are finding new ways to communicate with the consumer. Moreover, Anne asserts that her winemaking philosophy is greener than that of her parents and shows more sensibility to the environment. More specifically, Anne has stopped using pesticides and is spraying for mildew less frequently. Working for Groupe Crédit Agricole, she makes wine at four different properties and is ultimately responsible for three red wines, one dry white and one sweet white. She believes that her approach to winemaking doesn’t mean abandoning what her parents did as she remains steadfast to the tradition of the terroir. Yet, she seeks new ways to make wine that better shows off the vineyard.
Also among the changes taking place in Bordeaux is the significant investment being made by newer owners. Bruno LaPlane, of Château Malartic-Lagravière and Chateau Gazin-Rocquencourt, explained that the Bonnie family bought the former estate in 1996 and “everything has changed.” The family’s heavy investments have included the purchase of new equipment ranging from fermentation vats to oak barrels, along with wide replanting of the vineyards. Additionally, the family has increased the property’s size from its initial 19 hectares to today’s total of 53 hectares, seven of which are planted to white grapes.
Echoing the business perspectives of Jean-Jacques and Anne, Yannick Evenou, Vice President for Vignobles Clément Fayat, which owns Château La Dominique, stated that, “We [the new generation] are more open to market demands. We understand competition from other wine regions.” Yannick further points to the more recent recognition that people like to taste wines while they are young instead of cellaring them for a long time and the adaption of winemaking to meet that demand. He also noted a willingness to share information with one another.
Similarly, Ludovic David, Directeur Général for Château Marquis de Terme, highlighted the winemaking philosophy of the younger generation, proposing that they are crafting more modern wines. He described these wines as showing more ripeness and more accessibility, permitting them to be drunk and enjoyed much earlier than the wines from the past. Overall, he affirmed that today’s winemakers are aware that there is more competition in the wine world from Chile and other New World countries and, accordingly, the younger Bordelais understand that they must improve the quality of their wines to compete in this marketplace. Ludovic also emphasized the progress made in the vineyard, a shift from the enological focus of the 1990s, and reinforced Anne’s comments, citing that there is more respect for ecology, such as the adoption of organic viticultural practices.
Finally, what makes all of this change possible is the sentiment shared by Laurence Brun, Director of Château Dassault in St.-Emilion. Laurence advised that, “It is easier now to let one’s son or daughter be in charge of the winery. It used to be that the parents would make wine until he or she died. Now it’s a real revolution with children working together with their parents – making it a true family affair.” Laurence grew up at the chateau, first working with her father and then replacing him at the chateau, becoming the fourth generation of her family in the wine business. While her daughter, aged 25, has decided that she is not quite ready to work in the winery, Laurence has encouraged her to do so.
As next generation of owners and winemakers take the helm of these storied estates, it seems clear that changes are indeed taking place in Bordeaux. The philosophies and insights held by the younger set appear to be bolstering Bordeaux’s place in the competitive market and sustaining its position as one of the world’s fine wines. In this regard, they are serving as stewards of both the Bordeaux legacy and the Bordeaux land.
Tracy Kamens is a Contributing Writer for Wine Portfolio and a Certified Wine Educator. Check out her blog at http://grandcruclasses.com/winederful/