Saturday, March 31, 2007

Preparation for the campaign

At 9 am, visit from a Bordeaux broker to talk about my wines. As Château Valandraud and Virginie de Valandraud are my only wines sold on the open market, without exclusivities or interdiction, and this since 1992, there is not much to say, or to do, except, maybe, to take Virginie de Valandraud out of this particuliar sales system which, in "average" vintages is only good for the 30 top brands. Other than that, Clos Badon, Prieuré Lescours, Bel Air Ouÿ, Bellevue de Tayac, Calvet-Thunevin are often sold with exclusivities in some countries. This protects importers and distributors from aggressive companies who are only looking to destabilize the work already done by selling the wine with little margin only to prove that they are the best. Brands depending on this sort of competition must be quite strong to resist.

Getting back to my broker, we discussed the Vignobles Fayat and this morning, he reserved 150 cases of La Dominique 2006 for a big Bordeaux wholesaler.
It is already the second order, for the same amount of cases made by another broker for another wholesaler. La Dominique 2006 has been well received by some of my colleagues who have taken the time to taste the product presented "en primeur" and who are able to take a stand without waiting for the opinion of Bob Parker or other big American, English or even French media.

9:45 am visit of a property in Saint Emilion where the wines presented were too cold and had the same problems as mine (tight, hard, dry). Beautiful property, with charming people in charge. I will taste these wines again at the right temperature.

From noon to 2 pm, lunch with 11 person at home: they were part of friends of our attorney who wanted to celebrate the retirement of one of their friends. I rarely saw such a group of food enthusiast. This made me realized how lucky we are to have jobs where this type of meal is common, when in other profession it would be considered as one of the best meal ever organized. It is true that this meal (as well as the wines) were simply perfect.

From 5 to 8 pm: General Assembly of the Syndicat de Pomerol where I represent the Vignobles Fayat and Le Domaine Fayat-Thunevin. This little appellation (800 hectares) and the small numbers of owners gives this organization a family and friendly feel , except for one owner who asked 90% of the questions, with a real French attitude, which consists of always repeating the same thing, often with a negative tone. Not my style, but as we say in French: "you need every sorts of people to make the world"... Thanks to everyone who fights for our interest, trade associations or others.

C'est parti !

The first notes from Wine Spectator just came out as well as the first podcasts on the vintage!
The wheels are now in motion!

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Why, March 28, we are still waiting for the price for the 2006 futures ?
Why, this year, am I receiving so much demands for these quality wines but often considered with a lesser image?
Why are some of my colleagues telling me every year that it is the end of concentrated wines?
Why not say instead why are lean wines, vegetal, hollow, diluted, without fruit, dry, still produced and even presented to us?
Why confuse respect and waffle?

Because I love this job of négociant, I still want to taste, discover, be seduced.
Because, even during the tasting of the Association des Grands Crus Classés in CAPC yesterday, I was again surprised by the warm quality of 3 or 4 of my colleagues.
Because, even in the craziness of our jobs, 5 minutes of conversation are worth all the best therapy.
Because, As soon as I feel depressed, my friends, even far away, even different, send me a little sign.
Because I couldn’t have done this job without passion. And abandon my passions is still not what I want today.

To go back to the tasting of the Association des Grands Crus Classés of Saint Emilion, I tasted around 40 wines and my favorites were: Laroze, Clos des Jacobins, Dassault, Fonpéglade (top), Franc Mayne, Grand Corbin Despagne, Grand Pontet, La Clotte, La Couspaude, La Tour Figeac, Soutard (Even!), Le Prieuré, Les Grandes Murailles, Clos Saint Martin, Berliquet, and maybe 2 or 3 more.
And of course, Fleur Cardinale and La Dominique.

Which is, all things considered, around 50% of success, and the proof that we are still in a good vintage, even if the market has not yet noticed.
2006 has more fruit, more maturity, more length, more purity than 2004, which has the advantage of already being bottled, can be tasted, and especially at prices that seemed today sweet.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tuesday’s activities

Yesterday, meeting between 9 and 10 am with each person in charge of the sector Clotilde Tamisier to check the work done to abide to the ISO norm… the rapid expansion of my company making things more tedious.

From 10 to 11 am, tasting with someone in charge of a wine from Graves-Pessac Léognan, red and white. Tasting with my sales reps of a series of 10 wines. Well, we were not convinced, too bad.

11 am, meeting with Dominique Decoster to fine tune technical and commercial points. Fleur Cardinale will be sold for the first time as a Grand Cru Classé (except if the classification is challenged, but I don’t think so).

From 12:30 to 2 pm, tasting lunch at home for 11 people with my 2006 wines, plus Valandraud 2006-2005-2004-2003-2002-2001 and our Maury served with the famous chocolate desert from Lopez. The group consisting of Americans brought by our friend from Las Vegas, was, I think, seduced by the atmosphere and the wines, especially as I took them after 2:15 pm, to visit and taste Ausone. The visit from the Americans barely finished, I left at 4:30 pm with a banker from the Société Générale, to visit our properties and get to know each other better. It is now the 3rd bank I work with and it is still too early for me to give my opinion. Hurrah for BNP and Crédit Lyonnais, who are serious and effective partners.

From 6 to 8 pm, I met with the photographer from Figaro Magazine for a series of somewhat glamour pictures, another vision of wine that I like. The article will be about the Chinese market through our experience up to now (Xin and I).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ups and downs

Yesterday, Steve Tanzer was here betwewen 9 and 11 am to taste my wines. Most wines were good. His tasting focused on the 2004-2005-2006 vintages of the same chateau, except for Valandraud 2006 which I find a bit too sharp, acid, lean. Well, I feel down, the usual stress with a terrible sore throat, that I call jokingly “the Parkerite”… For every year, it is the same story during the time of the futures campaign, and the same for the harvest. In addition, I am totally depressed.

I stopped by Saint Magne to deliver part of a cellar bought from a friend of mine who decided not to drink expensive wines (more that 200 Euros and up to 500 Euros), a member of the “champagne socialists” as we call them, he now feels guilty. This has added to my depression: if even wealthy people refuse to drink these great wines they bought at what seems now sweet prices, where is our job going? Didn’t these wines become expensive because speculators who never drink them? Etc… My morale is way down.

IN the afterenoon, I drove to Ducru Beaucaillou to taste the wines. This is a successful year for them (the 4 wines are at the same level as 2003 and 2005, that tells you !). I brought a bottle of 2006 for my friend Bruno Borie to taste and told him about my state of mind. He asked me: at what temperature did you taste this wine? He picked up a thermometer, placed it in the bottle… it was 20° C (68° F), following the trip in the car. He told me not to worry, that this morning’s temperature was too fresh and probably affected my bad tasting, that I should have the means to have a heated tasting room, making a bit fun of me. In fact, the wine tasted with him became in all points remarkable. I didn’t need to see a therapist, but just a friend, very professional, as we should all be. I left under the sun, my self-esteem boosted. I like Ducru Beaucaillou, I became an unconditional fan. Hurrah for this job, there is not only jealousy in Dallas-sur-Gironde, you also find friendship.

Afterwards, I went to Phélan Ségur at 7:30 pm for a tasting with all the Bordeaux wholesalers and brokers involved in the distribution of this beautiful property. The jovial and friendly owners made everyone comfortable, including me, one of the rare wholesalers from the “Right Bank” present and with a short history (I created my wholesale business in 1988, so not even 20 years of age, if you see what I mean…). I spent a very pleasant evening, I love this job, I had the pleasure to discover my colleague wholesalers with who I often maintain very good relationships, even with brokers who we often make fun of here in Bordeaux. Too bad that the road between Saint Estèphe and Saint Emilion is so long and that I couldn’t drink all the great wines served during dinner, wines that were, in a rare occasion, chosen in Champagne, Burgundy, Condrieu, Alsace and Porto.

I went to bed at 12:30 am still with a bad sore throat, but with my spirit high.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Parker, RVF and internet

On March 22 on Mark Squires BB, Robert Parker writes about his 2005-2006 tastings and seems to have particularly liked the Fronsac and Castillon. Parker helps at the same time make our appellations more popular. I can’t wait to see his comments which, once more, will help promote some wines more or less known to professionals and consumers.

The title of the front cover of April’s issue of the Revue du Vin de France reads: “Bordeaux: Are Garage wines dead?”. It is nice to place this subject in Bordeaux, but this title is now used worldwide, not just for Bordeaux. 6 pages dedicated to a study made by Olivier Poels, more than 15 years after the beginning of this story – or little story for those who couldn’t care less.

Well, in this article, well documented I must say and with very few errors, a few comments were made by a few owners who don’t like to be associated to this demeaning title of “Garage Wine”. It is true that in the ear of a French person, this term makes youo think of a garage for common cars. While Audis and other luxury cars would be taken care of in “ateliers”.

I read in this article opinions that, of course, I already heard before, especially when they imply condescending terms, like, no history (no nobility), no terroir (blood right) and marketing (a swearword). It is true that in my case sitting between to stools makes my position somewhat uncomfortable. My father had blue eyes and I make kosher wine. I am Pied-Noir and my team includes Moroccan employees. I hire people above 50 and I even help aristocrats, intelligent people, and some are even rich. God, protect me form being ostracized, help Murielle and I from being jalous of the stories of others, having like many people a bit of memory, knowing where we come from and hesitating on the road to take, as we are lucky to be able to choose our path without knowing were to go.

I always recognize the importance of owners, wines, journalists, people who helped us build Valandraud and our wholesale business.

Why is it difficult for my 2 ex employees, my colleagues, the status they got because of my story? And, while event in the Medoc, a few important people don’t hesitate to say it? In any case, thanks to Jeffrey Davies, Jean-Claude Berrouet and the RVF, who always give “positive” comments on the history of “Garagistes”.

Mainy classified growth have not been listed in this movement, which could also be called “Nouvelle Vague”, or Cult Wines in the USA, or Super Tuscans in Italy.. Without forgetting Spanish and Australian stars.

When will an article on garage wines from around the world? The wheel turns, but to go where? Other than that, it is hard to see that after 15 years, our colleagues, friends still think that gargistes only make concentrated wines, oaky, from ripe grapes, and only give legitimacy after 20 years of existence. And in the same article, one can defend a classified growth declassified, under the pretext that he is good for 7 years, or name a well known wine which uses some of the techniques of the “garagistes” in order to attract the media or clients. And I won’t talk about the terroirists, well known by Michel Bettane.

A bit of provocation though from the RVF, by giving the title “garage wines or micro-cuvees” page 27 and listing 3 wines which repeat that they are not part of this club…

On the site of La Passion du Vin, you can read comments on Clos Badon, Haut Carles, Pomerol and contradictory quality-price ratio. It is always interesting to pay attention to the opinion of passionate consumners.

On the site, Maury is featured (La Coume du Roy) and the Domaine Rossignol – Trapet who also seduced me, because of the organic approach of it’s owners and the quality of the wines.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


8 am, tasting event of Shochu, alcohol made with Barley produced by our friend Tokuoka and aged in Valandraud barrels. We will promote it during the UGC tasting beginning of April.
9 am Document signing at Château La Dominique and follow-up on work done at La Dominique and Valandraud.
11 am, meeting with our bank the BNP.
2 pm, Interview with a journalist from the Figaro about our projects in China.
3:30 pm, Meeting with attorneys for the purchase of land and deeds.
6 pm, Finally a moment with Edouard Labruyère who is un charge of Château Rouget, one of the best Pomerol. What timing, chance is a virtue… Pomerol will most likely be the most successful appellation this year. We (Murielle and I) are very involved in Pomerol, this is not new, but with the purchase with Clément Fayat of Vieux Château Bourgneuf (which will become our 2nd wine because the principal will be called Domaine Fayat-Thunevin). It is true that with this dream come true, we take a greater interest in our neighbors, as much as Pomerol amateurs, but also, of course, as a wholesaler capable of selling some of these great wines, especially when you think that this little appellation (800 hectares – 1978 acres) is one of the most highly rated and expensive in the world.
Château Rouget 2006 is a great success and its price which will most likely be reasonable will make it one of the best value of this vintage.

This brings me to this thought: We don’t talk much about the 2006 prices, sensitive subject this year, after the incredible 2005 campaign. It is true that many proprietors and manager of the top 100 Bordeaux still think that the 2005 prices were not so bad… While I think that if 20 top chateaux can allow themselves to make such commercial extravagance, others need to be very cautious (I speak about the wholesalers). The 95% other Bordeaux still have to deal with reality: competition, value-for-money, sales networks, margins, etc….

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fronsac, Sauternes

Yesterday morning, visit of Château La Dauphine, property owned by Vignobles Jean Halley in Fronsac, with I think 30 hectares on southern slopes, it is one of the most beautiful properties in Bordeaux.

Their great wine 2006, Château La Dauphine is of the same level as a classified growth, the owners and the team, with the help of Professor Denis Dubourdieu, do very serious work. The means used are simply colossal. This great wine, as always in Fronsac, will cost 15 to 20 Euros, including VAT, at retail. Of course, people prefer to talk about the price of expensive Bordeaux (around 50 Euros) and rarely about these wines for informed amateurs and not show-off.
In the afternoon, visit with the future owner of a nice wine from Saint Emilion, info and photos as soon as the project will be finalized.

I tasted Yquem 2006, which proves again by its success its magical terroir and know-how of its team. This year, the wine seems airy, hard to spit.
Sauterne and Barsac wines are maybe at the beginning of a great success when sommeliers will notice the possibilities to pair them with great food, Chinese cuisine being the most promising.
If you meet Xavier Planty from Château Guiraud with his organic vision of wine or Jérôme Cosson from Château d’Arche with his simplicity, one can only be seduced by this beautiful region and its wine.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Union des Grands Crus (UGC) of Bordeaux

The UGC organizes every year a tasting for the Bordeaux wholesalers and brokers. This year, all the members present were showing the 2006 vintages. This represent 70% of the best in terms of quality and image from Bordeaux (102 classified growths).

I tasted the Saint Emilion, Pomerol and Graves. I will keep the rest for the next time as it would be a lot in one shot if you want to do this properly.
1st analyses right off the press: The 2006 are easy to taste, not too much acidity, ripe tannins, some wines (30%) are either light, vegetal, lean or too extracted. The others, around 70% of the wines presented, were either good or very good.

My favorite per appellation (based on richness, fruit, maturity, balance)
Graves : Carbonnieux, Chevalier, Haut Bailly (top), Haut Bergey, Larrivet Haut Brion, La tour Martillac, Carmes Haut Brion (top), Malartic Lagravière, Olivier, Pape Clément (top) and Smith Haut Lafitte (top).

Saint Emilion : Beauséjour Bécot, Berliquet, Canon La Gaffelière (top), Dassault, Figeac, Clos Fourtet (top), Grand Mayne, La Couspaude, Tour Figeac, Larmande, Pavie Macquin (top), Troplong Mondot (top), and of course La Dominique which is one of the top from this vintage, but my advise doesn’t count.

Pomerol : Vieux Château Certan, Clinet (top), Gazin (top), La Cabanne, La Conseillante (top), La Pointe, Petit Village, Croix de Gay.

You must not forget that I didn’t taste everything, that I might have forgotten some and that some of the stars were not present such as Angélus, Pavie, Evangile, Pavie Decesse, Cheval Blanc, as well as all the ones that are not members of the UGC.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Union des Grands Crus and festival at Valandraud

We will have again this year Vega Sicilia on Monday morning, April 2, and other cult wines like Pingus and the wines of Armin Diehl, and of course all the wines of my friends.

It will most likely be the last time that the tasting will take place rue Vergnaud, in the historical cellar of Valandraud. Next year, I plan to do the tastings with a smaller group of wines, for lack of space, at the Château la Dominique, where the reconstruction work will be finished, and at Marojallia in Margaux. I can still change my mind but it is true that between the problems of parking, space and supplies, the 2 next places will be more appropriate.

Aside from that, we met yesterday a nice group from the Repaires de Bacchus and ChateauOnLine to speak about the 2006 vintage, and had a nice conversation with the owner of Château Bellegrave in Pomerol. Jean Marie Bouldy is one of the most discreet but still one of the most professional person in our business. He was responsible for Château Bel Air Ouÿ before I bought it and transformed it into Valandraud. He is also responsible for the properties of Catherine Péré-Vergé, which consists of famous properties like Château Le Gay and La Violette in Pomerol (which will be according to Jean-Marie, one of the best of the appellation in 2006)

We spoke about business, Jean-Marie has for a long time developed a network of contacts with more than 60 restaurant with stars or recognized in Paris, and who just miss a recognition from Robert Parker. Parker who is currently in Bordeaux to taste the 2004 (for the 3rd time, and after bottling, except for Valandraud which will only be bottled later this month) and the 2006 vintage for the first time.
Like every year, I wait for him to tell me that my wines are the best of all time and that he gives me 100 points so I can enter the legend like Pingus… It did not prevent Peter Sisseck from breaking his leg falling from the top of a palette.
The note doesn’t protects you from everything, like a gris-gris, except poverty… it does increase ones self esteem though, a well know driver for me, but this is another story!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Back from New York

As the Texan cowboy saying goes: Better create dust than eating it behind.

Back from New York where I attended the event of the Cercle des Grands Vins de la Rive droite organized in the famous restaurant Chanterelle, organized with the efficient help of SOPEXA. I say very efficient, me who in the past 20 years, have not given the proper recognition to this sort of organization helping us!

Well attended with quality guests, all quite favorably surprised by the quality of the 2006 vintage. On our table: Commanderie de Mazeyres, Jean de Gué and Messile Aubert. The pleasure to see customers, friends, like Serge Doré who distributed 120 bottles of Valandraud 1992 when no one knew of our existence.
And still Fronsac, with Collin Ferenbach of Château Vieille Cure who made me laugh with his poster where you could read “One must know that it is in Fronsac that you find the best value for money in Bordeaux”. The journalists attending the event, including the Wine Spectator, show the importance of such trip, which are expensive and tiring (especially this time if the amount of snow expected falls when it is time to take our plane).

We flew with an airline that only flies Orly-New York in business class. The service was correct, at a decent price, however I don’t understand why the seats only incline 140°?

We ate in trendy restaurants like BLT Steak House with 2 friends distributors from New York and Dominique Decoster from Château Fleur Cardinale, and visited wine shops.

Saturday and Sunday, we worked on the blending of Château de Carles with Doctor Alain Raynaud, who is the new consultant with me. All in this place has been implemented to make the best of the best on the 20 hectare (49 acres) of the property, one of the most beautiful in Bordeaux. I also tasted, with Guillaume Quéron, the batches not yet assembled from the properties he is responsible for.

Monday, final tasting of the batches of 2006 for this year’s futures campaign, this afternoon, I have an appointment in Bordeaux with ChateauOnLine to tape my comments on Château La Dominique and Valandraud. Finally, mail order companies are waking up…

Tomorrow Tuesday, 1st UGC tasting organized for the Bordeaux wholesalers to introduce the 2006 vintage.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

South Korea

On March 27 at the Hilton Millenium hotel in Seoul, a tasting for the 10 best affordable wines will take place and our Présidial Thunevin 2005 has been included, after being tasted blindly by the best Korean sommeliers.

We will need to take care of this market were our presence is quite limited…

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wine Spectator

A few (good!) notes published in the WINE SPECTATOR :

Luscious and extracted, with plenty of power and muscle. Blackberry, dark fruit and cassis flavours fill it to the brim, backed up by medium –grained tannins. Ong finish of dark chocolate and spice. Drink now through 2015.

Big, full-bodied from the south of France, with dense, smoky flavors of dark plum, kirsch and espresso bean. A bit backward now, but filled with plenty of character, with a decadent, mocha-filled finish. Impressive effort in a tough vintage. Best from 2007 through 2010.

CLOS DEL REY 2002 89
Aromas and flavors of raspberry and cream, with plenty of mocha java. An alluring red that’s focused, with plenty of structure and a long, spicy finish. Drink now through 2009

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fan of

Christian Dalbavie told me that he had the pleasure of serving Clos Badon to Jodie Foster in New York … and didn’t want o take a picture of this magical moment.
He met so many stars in his days in the musical world that he cannot imagine that for me, it would have been such a pleasure to have a photo! So, here’s one that I found on the internet:

Well, we will see if on March 15 in the restaurant Chanterelle, we will have the chance to see stars (other than from the wine world) during our tasting of the 2006 vintage.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Yesterday Monday

9 am, purchase of a warehouse in Saint Etienne de Lisse (with a little vineyard and a house).

11 am, tasting before bottling the 2004, 2005 vintages and the 2006 futures.

12 pm, tasting and lunch with the owners of a little property in Margaux. We had an open conversation about the market of Bordeaux wines.
2 to 4 pm at the office.

4 to 7:30 pm: Château Haut Mazeris and Château de Carles with James Lawther who is writing an article on Fronsac, which he knows well as he lives in the Entre Deux Mers. Fronsac, the sleeping beauty… Which prince with wake this appellation up? And is it rally necessary, especially for the well informed consumers who find in this area the best QPRs available (good wines costing less that 10 Euros, and for less than 25 Euros one can find wines capable of competing with some of the best wines in the world).

Owners are longing for financial reward and press attention for all their efforts.

Wholesalers are still pouting and distributors ignore… for how long?

Monday, March 12, 2007

A full weekend

Friday, big day with customers, brokers, various matters, traceability, banks, suppliers, tasting of a few batches of Pomerol 2005 and 2006 and especially from 10 am to 3 pm, a pleasant interlude, however still serious with a group of leaders to talk about the world of wine, wholesale, globalization, wine, a few candid questions, others more in-depth. And I thought about Pierre Marie Currie’s theory on the way to deal with the game and rules of world commerce, classification (a current topic), the future of wines called “Garage”, brands, margin… A quality meal in the restaurant Le Vieux Presbytère in Montagne Saint Emilion with Blanc N°1 de Valandraud, Croix de Labrie 2002, Turcaud blanc 2005, Valandraud 1999 and 2003. Following lunch, the whole group went for a guided tour at Château Laroze.

During the weekend, visit of the cellars and vineyards of Domaine Fayat-Thunevin, Pomerol and Lalande de Pomerol, Prieuré Lescours, Clos Badon and Valandraud. Oversee the progress of the construction work, tasting of the wines produces by a little property that one of my acquaintances wants to buy, take advantage of the weekend to catch-up on paperwork…

On March 15, I will be going to New York with the Cercle des Grands Vins from the Right Bank. I leave with Xavier on March 14 to preview the 2006 vintage of a few of our crus. There, were are going to taste La Commanderie de Mazeyres 2006, which is part of the Cercle and promote the quality of the 2006 vintage in Bordeaux, and for our own properties. Our ambition today is to be part of the best Pomerol, considering the incredible work that has been done. We need to communicate to our customers the changes that have been taking place in the Clément Fayat properties. Thanks to president Alain Raynaud and all the members of the Cercle to have ambition for Bordeaux, even if it has a cost (local and national governmental organizations have a hard time helping private initiatives) for we are only 125 members – however, more than certain AOC (Appellations)!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Trying not to lose the rhythm !

Since I got back from the US, Tuesday 6, I had to deal with this week’s mail, signings, purchase (more than 150 000 bottles) of 2006 Bordeaux, Côtes de Bourg, Castillon for our stock as you can still find the best batches.

I had a conversation with the person in charge of 2 prominent classified growth in Saint Emilion and in the evening, tasting of batches of Croix de Labrie 2006.
Wednesday 7, visit of our friend Tokuoka (from Japan) to work on common programs for the future, tasting and brainstorming on various subjects, Then, I had lunch at home with a large wine wholesaler specialized in direct sales to consumers, met with our œnologue Fakorellis (for the blending of Blanc de Valandraud No 2 2006, which will be a success) and a photographer from Decanter for a photo session for a future article.

At lunch, we drank a Blanc de Valandraud No 2 2005 (we only have two bottles left in the cellar), followed by my last bottle of Château Bon Pasteur 2001 (I will buy another case), with incredible aromas of truffles, soft, easy to drink. Everyone served themselves again asking if the truffles used in the dish gave this taste to the wine, as it happens during the meals served by Jean Claude Aubert at la Couspaude, or that the aromas blend for our greatest pleasure (truffle aromas impregnate easily with wine). We finished with a Croix de Labrie 2000 a bit closed, almost Médocain.

In the afternoon, normal work, Groupe Fayat and at 7pm visit of a plot of land for sale in our area with our vineyard manager, Christophe Lardière.

Thursday, round-trip to Paris to meet with the affiliate of the Groupe Fayat: Bomag and Friday morning I felt a bit of tiredness.

Oh, and hurrah to the French bureaucratic system: I read, on the fiduciary review, 6 pages on method to apply for a tax credit given to business directors for job-training. All of that for a maximum sum of 330 Euros and 80 cents. What a beautiful country which gives such large tax refunds to company directors!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

USA suite

March 3
We leave Miami for New York.

Wake-up call at 4:30am, plane, taxi and Hotel Helmsley on Central Park South in New York. Lunch with the head of Sherry Lehmann in the French restaurant La Goulue, then tasting between 2 and 4pm in one of the most famous wine store in the world: Sherry Lehmann.

Virginie and Valandraud 2003, lots of people, friends, clients, a few contacts and sales, of course. Prices are reasonable and a large choice of wines.

I need Riedel glasses (Maximilian Riedel visited me at the beginning of Valandraud with his father to prove how the superiority of their glasses would show off our wines).

I followed with a dinner with Christian and the distributor for some of our wines (Présidial, Calandray, Clos Badon, Prieure Lescours, Franc Maillet Jean Baptiste, Bellevue de Tayac as well as Valandraud and Virginie like everybody else). The restaurant Auréole, full of customers who appreciate wine, with La Tâche, Haut Brion, and more on their tables… Classy restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere. As one often sees in the US, it is informal, waiters are happy to serve customers who themselves are happy to spend money. We had a quality meal, served generously and drank a superb and classic Trotanoy 2001 (not too expensive: $120). Trotanoy being one of our favorite wines in Bordeaux, for its quality, of course, and for the memories of the great Trotanoy 1970 and 1971, drank in the restaurant “Chez Germaine”, at the time when this was one of the best tables in Saint Emilion. Following (we were 4), a Château La Dominique 1982 ($350) which held-up to its reputation. Wine kept in perfect condition, still young, fine, aromatic and alive in our glass. A complete palette of flavors and aromas of this wine beginning its maturity.

We then went to a crazy place: the restaurant Cru where a group of billionaires collectors of Burgundies and professionals finished the evening opening an amazing amount of great wines (the cellar of this restaurants being one of the finest in the world) that I could not note every bottle! Chambertin, Musigny including the very rare and extremely good Musigny 1985 Comte de Vogüe in a bottle of 6 liters.

The contacts were worth a “Who’s who”… With the good news that this well known American Importer, David Shiverick, told us that he bought a few acres of vineyards in Maury. And Eric, collector and educated fan of Valandraud (50 cases) and Axelle de Valandraud (20 cases!). Another who has more than 20 000 bottles, crazy about wine, Chinese billionaire and educated connoisseur, who loves above all to share his passion. The vice-president of Sotherby’s, with who we will certainly do an event (thanks Gil for inviting us).

Well, I didn’t remember everything, between the Chambertin and the Cristal Rosé… I went to bed at 2 am still jetlagged… Tough to wake up in the morning…

Friday, March 9, 2007

New York, New York!

Christian just came back from a week of work in New York with some of our distributors. It started with Royal’s annual tasting event at the Museum of Jewish Heritage where 3 vintages of Valandraud kosher were presented (01, 02, 03). Valandraud was the hit of the event!

Wednesday 28, tasting event at Pasanella & Son, beautiful wine store downtown by the South Street Seaport. Presidial, Baby del Rey, Clos Badon, Virginie and Hugo were served and les 3 Petits Cochons graciously provided pates. Surprise visit by Jody Foster who enjoyed the Clos Badon and Hugo. What a shame I wasn’t there… she is one of my favorite actress.

Friday, private dinner organized by Amanti Vino in Montclair NJ for 26 collectors in a beautiful villa. Blanc de Valandraud No 2, Clos Badon, Franc Maillet cuvee Jean-Baptiste, Virginie and Valandraud 2000 and to finish, Quintessence de la Coume del Mas and our new high-end project in the Roussillon : Les 3 Maries. Silence during the tasting of Valandraud 2000… says it all. Franc Maillet JB and les 3 Maries were the surprise of the evening. 4 cases of 3 Maries bought following the event.

New York will never stop astonishing me. What energy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Fruitful day

February 28 was a very fruitful day with our agent Jean-François Courrèges, who comes from Brive La Gaillarde. The Palm Beach area is a sort of mix between Monaco, Deauville, Saint-Tropez and Neuilly. I rarely saw so many luxury cars: Rolls, Porsche, Ferrari, Hummer, Aston Martin… and private homes so expensive that the upkeep alone must cost around $1 million per year!

We had meetings every hour to introduce: Présidial Thunevin 2003 and 2005, Chapelle Ségur 2003 and the 3 de Valandraud 2003. All our meetings were positive (as in New York), and the customers were happy to meet us and took the proper time to taste our wines. I think that Jean-François was happy with this day as he was able to open 3 new accounts (which means 3 new customers having ordered) and 4 orders from existing clients. Incredible results: 7 orders from 10 customers visited all with Présidial 2005, plus 250 cases for a chain + 50 cases for other clients.

In a few restaurants, Valandraud is already on the wine list, like in the famous Café de L’Europe with 2 vintages and a special note for this place: Rainer Schonher is a passionate man, like almost everyone else we met during this trip, be it in the extraordinary Café Boulud and its garden-restaurant where we quickly ate lunch, the shop “C’est si bon” with the best caviar and luxury gourmet foods, or the pretty boutique “Vine Styles” where I was able to buy the March issue of Wine Spectator with the notes for the 2004 Bordeaux (90 for Valandraud, is not much) as well as (and that is better) Clos Badon which finished in the 50 best Bordeaux under $50.

The day ended at 11pm, busy and full of great meetings, with radio “Magic” 102.7 which plays standards from the 70s including Tom Jones, and that, is a favorable sign… I believe in karma, in positive energy when you start the day, when you think that you are going to meet nice people, pretty girls, friendly buyers ready to be seduced by us, our wines, both being inseparable.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Miami ... and Clos Badon Thunevin

We left Saint Emilion for Miami at 5 am.

Hurrah for Air France business class even though the 140° seats are not as comfortable as the 180° on BA. Xavier and I rented a car and went to our hotel, the Marriott on Hollywood Beach… Ocean on one side, lagoon on the other, the sea breeze and the humid temperature (pleasant for me) of 27° C (80° F). At 8 pm, local time (6 hours difference with France, so already 2 am for my internal clock), we had dinner with our distributor in one of our customers “Chez André”, a French restaurant Mediterranean style, on the beach (with around 18 employees), serving Présidial 2003 as the house wine. I had a great surprise (the world is definitely small), we only spoke about memories we had in common, the night club in Pizou in the 80s “Le Tackouk”, our life, our stories. Bruno Barnagaud was the owner of a famous bar in Coutras, and was in good spirits this evening, as an American TV channel was playing over and over one of his recipes. Our importer friend is also from the area (Libourne)… Well, I cannot tell you all the silly stories we talked about…;-) In any case, we had a very good meal and drank a Rosé de Provence, 2 bottles of a California wine and even a Haut Batailley. Going to bed at 11 pm was a real luxury.

In the hotel, the office faxed me a big article from the Wall Street Journal about China and wine from the perspective of Yan Xin and our company. In addition, the 2 ratings in the Wine Advocate for Flor de Pingus and Pingus definitely put Peter Sisseck in the circle of icons.

What a nice day!

And in the latest issue of Wine Spectator, James Suckling included CLOS BADON-THUNEVIN in his 50 Great Bordeaux Values:

Clos Badon-Thunevin St-Emilion 2000 91

Plenty of tobacco, berry and mineral character. Full-bodied, long and lively.

Having won much critical acclaim for his first “garage” wine ( made at Château Valandraud, also in St-Emilion), Jean-Luc Thunevin has been on the lookout for other vineyards. In 1998, he bought Clos Badon, a small property with 30-year-old vines tucked in between Pavie and Larcis-Ducasse estates. He produced Badon-Thunevin’s first vintage in the same year and has been making very good to outstanding quality wines ever since. Look for the 2001, which is his best vintage here so far, although the 2005 should be very close in quality.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Wine in China

'People I Know Still PutIce and Juice in Wine'
Saint-Emilion Vintner Hires Chinese Woman as EnvoyTo Court the Elite at Home

February 28, 2007; Page B1

SAINT-EMILION, France -- Last year, Yan Xin tasted wine for the first time in her life -- not any wine, but a $700 bottle of 2005 Cheval Blanc from this fabled village near Bordeaux.

"It was fruity and the alcohol wasn't too strong," says the 26-year-old from the Chinese coastal province of Jiangsu.

Yan Xin tastes one of Jean-Luc Thunevin's famous reds at his Saint-Emilion bar, L'Essentiel. She is charged with marketing Mr. Thunevin's wines in China.

The experience steered the newly minted business-school graduate away from her parents' dream of a career in pharmaceuticals and toward an idea whose time, she hopes, has come: helping her homeland learn to savor the finer things in life, one of those things being French wine. "Wine is an art," she says. "Like painting or music."

That attitude has made Ms. Yan a hot commodity among the crème de la crème of French vintners eager to groom an Asian ambassador worthy of their silky reds and fruity whites. Last month, after weighing nine job offers, she settled on a position with Jean-Luc Thunevin, a former bank teller who in the 1990s scraped together his meager savings and started Château Valandraud. Renowned critic Robert Parker considers his wines to be among the world's best reds.

Mr. Thunevin hopes Ms. Yan can help him crack the code of marketing wine that has world-class taste -- but not the backing of a famous name -- to the nouveaux riches of the Middle Kingdom. He needs the help: Last year, he managed to sell just 744 bottles on the mainland. "She speaks three languages, and her parents are doctors, so she knows people in the upper classes," he says.

Whether that will matter is an open question. Without well-schooled palates, Chinese consumers are known for favoring brand cachet over taste. The droll among Saint-Emilion's vintners like to tell the story of one Chinese businessman who orders the occasional bottle of 1982 Château Lafitte -- valued at some $2,000 -- only to mix it with Coca-Cola. Ms. Yan allows: "People I know still put ice and juice in their wine."

European trade officials say fine wine is one of the few agricultural products in which Europe enjoys a clear advantage over Asia. "We need to exploit niche products like cheese and wine," says European Union trade commissioner Peter Mandelson.

Since 2001, Chinese wine imports have grown to $133 million from $32 million. Wine experts think that one day, the high end of China's wine market for imports could match America's, valued at over $2 billion a year.

Elite vintners from Saint-Emilion, Médoc and other prestigious regions have the most potential in China, experts say. The low end of the market belongs to Chile, Spain and Australia.

The French education of Ms. Yan began in 2004 when she decided to pursue a master's degree in business administration in Rennes, hoping to land a spot in one of France's big pharmaceutical firms. But last spring, a cousin who imports wine to China helped her land a six-month internship at a 130-year-old château called Maison Rivière.

When owner Philippe Rivière picked her up at the Saint-Emilion train station, she introduced herself as "Jessica," a name she thought more in tune with Western culture (and one that the Chinese apply as a reference to any successful businesswoman); her Chinese name, pronounced in French, sounds exactly like the word for China (Chine, pronounced sheen).

Surrounded by romantic châteaux, "I felt like I was a princess in a movie," she says.
It didn't take long for Ms. Yan to catch the eye of Christophe Lebail, Rivière's Japan export manager. The 39-year-old Mr. Lebail, an accomplished chef, spent hours preparing sumptuous meals for the novice, developing her palate for the wonders of foie gras and pungent Reblochon cheese.

They recently moved in together.

Mr. Lebail has also helped Ms. Yan discover that some Chinese stereotypes of the French simply aren't true. "In China, people say the French are the world leaders in perfume because they don't take showers," she says.

She is puzzled, though, at how much the French seem to go on strike, and smoke. "In China, if you strike, they just tell you to go home," she says. "And I thought that in a developed country like France, people wouldn't smoke so much."

When Ms. Yan's internship with Rivière ended last November, she opted to work with Mr. Thunevin, whose Etablissements Thunevin produces 15 brands and 200,000 bottles, with annual sales around $15 million. Its finest wine sells for up to $650 a bottle.

After training, Ms. Yan will frequently travel to her homeland, where Mr. Thunevin hopes she will use her language and social skills to begin making inroads among restaurants, stores and wine dealers.

For now, Ms. Yan is a familiar sight among the wine bars and châteaux in Saint-Emilion. She walks among the cobblestones in high-heeled boots and wraps her slender frame in a fake fur coat. Fluent in Mandarin, French and English, she is also mastering the stilted argot of the sommelier.

"I used to like wines that were easy to drink," she says. "Now I believe in a long finish and a complicated structure."

She still has a few things to learn, however. One recent day, she betrayed her naïveté by asking a colleague whether the French wine world could take a lesson from Coca-Cola. Why not, she suggested, generically label all French wine as "Bordeaux," even those made in Saint-Emilion? "You can still have different kinds, like Coke light and Coke lemon," she said.

"Xin, that's against the law," said colleague Cécile Montsec, patiently explaining France's strict labeling rules based on regional classifications.

Nonplussed, Ms. Yan turned her attention to translating postings from Mr. Thunevin's blog ( into Chinese and sending email solicitations to Chinese distributors, restaurants and hotels. She's also preparing her own blog, "about what it's like to be the only Chinese person in Saint-Emilion."

Eventually, says Ms. Yan, the Chinese will warm to luxury wines. She is so confident of the market potential, she wants to be paid on commission.

In the meantime, she is still struggling with some of the basics. "Remind me, how many bottles do we manufacture a year?" Ms. Yan says to Ms. Montsec, who replied: "We don't manufacture anything, Xin. We create luxury."
Write to John W. Miller at john.miller@dowjones.com2


Bravo and congratulation to my friend Peter Sisseck for his great notes for Flor y Pingus 2004:
Source Reviewer Rating Maturity Cost

Wine Advocate #169 Jay Miller 97 pointsDrink 2007-2015 $50.00
(Feb. 2007)

In the wonderful 2004 vintage, owner/winemaker Peter Sisseck hasoutdone himself. If I were just starting to build a wine collection and hadlimited income, I can think of no better foundation than a dozen bottles of 2004Flor de Pingus. In the context of the world’s great wines, it is a stupendousvalue, a steal. It is 100% Tempranillo from very low yields and is aged 14months in 100% new French barriques. Opaque purple in color, it emits alreadycomplex aromas of smoke, toast, coffee, blueberry, blackberry, and licorice.Lush on the palate, super ripe and sweet, as well as multi-dimensional, thisgreat effort can be drunk now, but I’d opt for cellaring it for 6-8 years toallow further evolution.
Importer:The Rare WineCo., Sonoma, CA – Tel. : (707) 996-4484

Source Reviewer Rating Maturity Cost

Wine Advocate #169 Jay Miller 100 points Drink 2017-2032 $400.00
(Feb. 2007)

In the wonderful 2004 vintage, owner/winemaker Peter Sisseck hasoutdone himself. The 2004 Pingus comes from 100% estate vineyards,biodynamically farmed. It is 100% Tempranillo and is aged 18 months in newFrench oak. It offers more of everything from its splendid nose of cedar, smoke,charcoal, blackberry, and blueberry to its thick, super-concentrated, andlayered mid-palate. The tannins are totally concealed and the pure finish isremarkably long. The wine deserves at least a decade of cellaring and shoulddrink beautifully for 25 years thereafter.
Importer:The Rare WineCo., Sonoma, CA – Tel. : (707) 996-4484

Thursday, March 1, 2007

DECANTER event in London

On February 22, 23, 24 2007 we presented Clément Pichon and La Dominique in a Decanter event. This event took place in a chic palace « The Landmark », a 5 stars hotel with spacious rooms.

Catherine, Laurent, Murielle and I received a big customer in the restaurant Roussillon, which had, as the name indicated, a selection of wines from the Roussillon and the South of France.
We had a risotto with Black truffles from the Périgord which we enjoyed greatly and drank a Roc des Anges 2005 Cuvée Segna de Cor (I think) good, in the style of wines not too heavy and fresh from the Gauby school, a pleasant wine and a Soulanes blanc Maury with chocolate desert. In addition and in the same register, and especially in our taste, a wine which, unfortunately, is all sold in the USA, La Pertuisane 2004, rich, ripe, powerful, garrigue, spices, chocolate, from grapes mainly grown in this little corner of paradise we know well as it is where Jacques Montagne produces his Mas and Clos del Rey. I am talking about the Coume du Roy, a virgin place free of pollution, where even cellular phones don’t work!

We attended a breakfast where men were wearing gray pants, blue jackets, in the Crus Classés 1855 style, as Murielle indicated, while we were wearing Lacroix, Gauthier or Calvin Klein, two different world yet each looking for the best, classic, modern. This shows that Bordeaux is undeniably today’s world leader in great wines.

In any case, the number of people who visited our stand was quite limited, maybe 20 people tasted our wines. The fact that we were number 87 on the liste might have not helped. Our sign might have also contributed, vignoble Clément Fayat is not as well known as Château La Dominique. Fortunately, the quality of the contacts versus the quantity is more important. Near us, our friends and colleagues had more attendance, Cyril Forget for Larrivet Haut-Brion, or all the stand representing white wines attracted well informed consumers (supposedly, more than 600).
Next to us, the Château La Lagune with Caroline Frey allowed us to be often photographed, I was able to better know Mr. Jean-Noël Hervé from the too discreet Château Moulin Haut Laroque (who has a blog) Fronsac, near Château de Carles, I spoke to Stephen Broux and Andrew Jefford, and also met the 3rd generation of the very promising Château Sérilhan with his father, one of the best way to communicate for the future!