Friday, October 31, 2008

Late harvest

Yesterday was blackout day for my blog to show my support to the freedom of communication, at least on the internet.

Wednesday morning, in L’Essentiel, a blind tasting was organized for our Austrian friends. They are used to this type of fine wine tasting, done half-blind. At the same time, Jean Edouard Tribaudeau had the visit of one of his teacher from the Purpan school, who found me a bit excited… which is usually true and even more these days with all the various jetlags I still have to recover from.

The same Wednesday morning, we also had he visit from a photographer from Objectif Aquitaine, a nice person, and especially Pascal Rabillet, who had a few questions for me, some usual, others a bit more personal. I am always “touched” by the capacity of some journalists and surprised by my ability to still answer with “truth”.
In the afternoon, I had a meeting to discuss the new “ad” for La Dominique. For the first time, we called a professional photographer, Pierre Grenet from Astoria Studio in Bordeaux. The goal being to improve and at least be more visible in the press. The picture will take more space than the text for there is already so much information around: paper, net, radio, etc…

Just as a little joke, a journalist from France Culture wanted to invite me to participate to a program broadcasted live in Paris to confront 2 different generations on the same subject. She didn’t know if I was the “young” or the “old” one she needed for her program. I found it amusing.

I forgot to mention that we drank, with Pascal, a bottle of 3 Marie 2005: totally seductive, rich, of course, very rich, which is at least what should be expected from an expensive wine, but, in addition with more complexity, long, tannins and wood barely noticeable. A great bottle which will do well in blind tastings against its more expensive peers from Australia, the US, Spain, etc… Pascal sent us a telling picture after the tasting but I will keep it for us. The picture even looks blur!

The next day at noon, I stopped by the Clos du Roy to meet up with Jennifer and her guests who were having lunch, and just had a coffee. The 28 Euros menu looked good and creative, and the wine had a nice label… Well, you might think that I just spend my time drinking and eating, but even this time with coffee and a glass of wine, I was working. There is nothing against joigning work and pleasure.

The evening was also work and play. I attended the 50th birthday of a friend. More than 80 people were invited to share the buffet of this fun party. One of the guests mentioned the book of Pierre-Marie Doutrelant “Les bons vins et les autres” – the good wines and others (published by Seuil in 1976 and still available on eBay and in a few good bookstore specialized in ancient books). I was surprised that he knew this book which is still one the good books on wine and particularly on Saint Emilion (it features the top of the town, the bottom, the church, etc…)

While on my way home, not too late, I could almost have stopped by the truck stop La Puce in Bigaroux, where our gerbebaude was organized by Christophe for all the people who participated in the harvest of this late 2008 vintage.
The harvest is late for our team of full time pickers is currently harvesting the Cabernets Sauvignons from the plateau of Bel Air, near Fleur Cardinale who are also still not finished.
The rules for this game is to be the last one… logically, our Carmeneres are holding up and improve day after day, and should be the last one. But who knows!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

If we let our freedom be restricted

This is what le vin sur Internet en France (wine on the internet in France) will look like.

Back to the office

Tuesday was a busy day : catching up with mail from the past 15 days including all sorts of requests, signatures, checks to be signed for my company and Vignobles Fayat, prices for Christian… well, I had plenty of little things to take care making my day too short; especially as I also had the visit of a Brazilian at L’Essentiel (he will eventually import our wines in his country), as well as Adi Werner and some of his Austrian guests, great lovers and professionals of Bordeaux. We drank 2 glasses of Champaign and a bit of Valandraud 98 and Clos Badon 2001 to celebrate the first job of a pretty young lady with her friends. Following, we went to Saint-Emilion’s bookstore where Isabelle and François invited Jacques Dupont to sign his book “Choses bues” (things drank) which I already read and commented on my blog last September 29. I wrote:
“The 3rd book from Dupont helped understand better (probably voluntarily) this great critic from the magazine Le Point. It is now understandable why he likes so much women winemaker, why he likes “little crus”, I realized that he will never like Valandraud (the wood) and that our success is a bit of a handicap for him, for us…?
It doesn’t matter, he’s coherent, competent, and his book, which I still didn’t finish, reads like a novel.”
Since then I finished it and Jacques Dupont, who received from one of his friends the (complete?) comments from my blog, remembered this point “I believe that he will never like Valandraud” and seemed surprised. Perhaps, he didn’t read the entire comment, I wrote about Valandraud and not Virginie de Valandraud which is more to his “taste”, as it is concerning his taste. I rarely criticized good, or not so good, notes from critics, always thinking that it was not my place to discuss their opinion as I chose to present my wine.
It’s like the Saint Emilion classification: once you accept to participate, one has to accept the judgment. Otherwise, it is simpler not to participate.
In any case, lots of people attended this signing event, which showed, if it was needed, the importance of Jacques Dupont and a good bookstore. When will a similar signing event take place for the next books of Bettane or Parker?

At the same moment, in the Crillon Hotel in Paris, L’amateur de Bordeaux and the Bottin Gourmand were organizing their annual grand tasting event, and the internet was full of articles regarding the French position on advertising wine on the internet: even the former minister Evin, with the current minister Roselyne Bachelot, understand that evolution doesn’t mean laxity, even if some leaders are for the others scary “father strictness” camp recalling the worst hours of the American prohibition.

Thursday 30, will be a black screen day for many internet medias, including me. It’s not much but symbolic.

And to conclude on a light note, a picture taken during the harvest where Karl, my grand son, seems to take things in his own hands, and another picture of Murielle, taken by a very good local photographer who was visiting with German journalists.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

USA: end of the trip!... are the 2008 harvest the latest of the century?

I am finally back in Saint Emilion !
This trip lasted more than 15 days and finished in the cities of Boston and Portland: our main distributor was, for us, the crowning piece and the promises made to Christian were up to his hopes!
As usual, we had meals with customers, visited retailers, restaurants and fine hotels. In our last days of travel, we were received warmly in these states where few stars in the wine world spend time visiting. Therefore, our clients are not as blasé like in New York…
Our wines were well received and most person we met told me so and confirmed by sizeable orders!
I spoke about the new wave in Bordeaux, of course, I also spoke about garage and the Roussillon. As I did my presentations with humor, fun, I am, as well as our wines, perceived differently than my traditional colleagues: I added to the words heritage, terroir, finesse, the words creation, work and gourmandise!
In Portland, we were received like royalty in the grand hotel where a dinner was prepared by the chef. He achieved a fine paring between food and wine with great talent. Thank you.
Sunday, for lunch, I had a lobster roll and Christian a big and bright red lobster in a local restaurant recommended by the double of Aymar. We regretted to leave so soon (fresh lobster is sold for 4 Dollar a pound in local stores)…
Murielle and I will be back next year and will be introducing “Bad Girl”!

Spending each day in planes or airports isn’t very exciting, but during each trip I make, I feel that there is great improvement in regards to promoting our wines and the Chateaux I consult for. This time, we spoke about La Dominique, Clément Pichon, Commanderie de Mazeyres, Marojallia, Fleur Cardinale, Carles and Haut Mazeris. We also had the opportunity to present our wines from the Roussillon and even our Maury which was very well received, when one takes the time to present it!

In conclusion, as soon as we got back, several serious orders were received and we didn’t encounter any problems caused by the financial crisis as our prices and our wines are not meant for investments (including Valandraud) but instead enjoyed with a group of friends during a meal, or a lover or even for a business lunch!
Sales reps I met told me that they had a good time representing the wines I sell. I can say that it was a great pleasure for me to meet them and felt their enthusiasm. It gives me great confidence in the future, especially if we succeed with the 2008 harvest!

Speaking about the harvest…
The leaves held up and the grapes are tasty (I tasted some last night for dinner). Too bad for pessimists, 2008 will be good for us!
The Merlots from Bel Air Ouÿ (north side) were finished yesterday and the Cabernets Sauvignons from Haut Mazeris (Fronsac) as well.
In Valandraud, we still have the Cabernets Sauvignons from the plateau, as well as the Carmeneres.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Cinderella Wine"

We are already seeing results following my recent trip to Hong Kong and Shanghai, including this nice article, in Chinese, titled "Cinderella Wine".

More from the 2008 harvest...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

New York

We attended a tasting organized by our main distributors in NY (who also distributes the wines of Andrea Franchetti) with 40 different domains, and most likely over 200 wines presented. We poured a range from our portfolio, including Marojallia and La Dominique. Absent was Fleur Cardinale for we don’t have anymore stock available. Over 250 customers attended this event, some already carrying some of my wines.
I tasted an astonishing ripe and rich cabernet sauvignon from Washington state, DeLille Cellars 2005 “Grand Ciel” which costs 110 dollars per bottle (wholesale price). This wine could compete with any top wine from Napa or Australia, and of course very (Too?) different from any of our wines from Bordeaux. It is actually closer to a Hugo than a Margaux (for the rhyme). I enjoyed the buffet; the Chinese restaurant hosting the event served excellent dim sums, shrimp rolls, etc.

One of our importer’s sales reps told me that he never had a white wine as good as the Blanc de Valandraud N° 1. What is Sopexa doing? Many clients, already buying our wines, who visited us in Saint Emilion and ate at our house are promoting Murielle’s cooking. It feels good that, despite the many invitations and meals they get invited too, ours stand out in their minds. Sometimes, I wonder if our wines are responsible for our sales or Murielle’s cooking!

Our New York trip ended with a fine dinner in the 3 stars restaurant Jean-George organized by our distributor for a groupe of top sommeliers. The menu:

Japanese Snapper Carpaccio,
Vinegar Gele with Ginger, White Radish and Olive Oil
Blanc de Valandraud N° 1 2005

Foie Gras Bruee, Spiced Fig Jam and Toasted Brioche
Bad Boy 2005
Domaine des Sabines 2005

Smoked Squab a l’Orange, Asian Pear and Candied Tamarind
La Dominique 2006
Prieuré Lescours 2001
Marojallia 2005

Slowly Cooked Beef Tenderloin,
Miso Butter and Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Virginie de Valandraud 2004
Valandraud 1999
Valandraud 2005

Cheese plate

The harvest will be finished on Tuesday at Haut Mazeris, following with Virginie’s property in Lalande de Fronsac.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Charlottesville & Washington…

Sunday, we attended 2 tasting/meals, the 1st at Tastings, the 2nd in the Relais & Chateau Clifton. 2 good meals, prepared for a small group, less than 20 guests, gave the opportunity to taste and drink my wines with a meal and convince our guests to buy the range. Mission accomplished. I am now convinced that Bordeaux “Nouvelle vague” have a real place in the US, thanks in part to the strength of the French diasporas (who has been a bit abandoned) in the restaurant scene and wine industry.
Wine brings cultures together in a friendly atmosphere and the roots of vines remind us of the terroir, the country. Wine facilitates human contact, conversation and friendship.

Monday, we drove to Washington DC. A change from the countryside. We attended a lunch function at Michel Richard’s Central Bistro. This place is up to par with the best brasseries in Paris or Bordeaux.
Tuna and salmon Carpaccio served with an incredible seasoning, steak with unbelievable fries and vanilla crème brulée, served for a selection of Didier’s best customers. The choice of place and guests was top, sommeliers, restaurateurs or owners of wine shops. Even the famous wine critic of the Washington Post, Ben Giliberti attended. And especially our (Murielle and I) best ambassador, the 1st and very famous Mark Salter, from the restaurant Citronelle, who gives the tone concerning the credibility of any wine, as much in Washington DC than in Texas. Mark is part of the tasting comity for the magazine Tasted, along with Andreas Larsson.

In the evening, we attended a very fancy event (suit and tie mandatory) in the very old Metropolitan Club (1863), where Christian and I stayed and where my wines were served during a meal prepared by a French chef for only 50 guests (20 more were on the waiting list).
This time our Calvet-Thunevin Hugo and Maury were included as well as Commanderie de Mazeyres and de Carles. At 7pm, we did a little show for 50 people in a salon where several stars winemakers had already been. I was in good spirit and entertained the crowd with jokes making them laugh. Our guests were of the highest standing including lawyers, lobbyists, wealthy entrepreneurs, etc. I always meet one or two who tell me that they are friends of Jean-Michel Caze and Lynch Bages. I still have a long way before being at his level, and if Bordeaux could line up 50 Jean-Michel Cazes, it would certainly benefit all of us!

The organization and meal, which followed at 8 pm in this very exclusive Metropolitan Club, was made possible thanks to l’Essentiel in Saint Emilion where Carlos developed a good relationship with our host who was seduced by our Calvet-Thunevin 2001 or 2002 he tasted in Aspen. The wines of Roussillon opened the door to Bordeaux. This is an additional and positive sign for people who prefer openness instead of staying in their little world as well as for our distributor Eric Solomon who helped making these wines available.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Charlottesville, Virginie

Didier Simon received us in Charlottesville, a town of 40,000 inhabitants and a little corner of heaven in the state of Virginia. This beautiful town, with its forest, hilly landscapes and very “British” nature is very dynamic. Its university and intelligentsia have encouraged a wine culture and good way of life.

Wine stores are profitable Aladdin’s caves. All my friends’ wines are sold here and some of my wines, in addition to the ones sold by Didier, are already present: Cambon la Pelouse, Rollan de By, La Vieille Cure, Les Grands Maréchaux, Lalande Borie, Ducru Beaucaillou, Fleur de Boüard as well as Chapelle Ségur, la cuvée Viva, Tour de Guiet, Peyfol, Fombrauge with Fleur Cardinale, Clément Pichon, Sabines, Bad Boy and even Flor de Pingus, tenuta de Trinoro ! Lots and lots of choice. And I don’t mention the various beers.

We visited Tastings and had a good time with the owner, he looks like an artist and has a great sense of humor, and enjoyed a delicious crab cake. We then drove to Richmond to participate to a wine tasting organized by Emerson. It was very well attended, and properly organized by this beautiful and large store. Their customers had the opportunity to taste Blanc de Valandraud N° 2 2006, Lalande Couturier 2005, Fonguillon l’Enclos 2005, Bad Boy 2005, which I often autographed, the 3 de Valandraud 2003 and Clément Pichon 2001. The involvement of the owner made this tasting one of the best I participated in the USA in a long time.
A good number of Francophiles attended including Bob Talcott, the stylish and sparkling, boss of Can Can brasserie where Fleur Mongiron 2005 is already served by the glass. Thank you for globalization and Guy who bought this wine which I saw in this corner of Virginia.

We had dinner at our friend’s home then went to bed early after spending a good day talking and visiting retailers which expressed the personalities of their owners. The impersonal atmosphere of our hotel is depressing despite being correct.

A final thought: If every distributors I work with did the same job Didier on Bad Boy, I would need to produce 100 times more!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Houston - Texas

Another busy day, as soon as we landed in Houston, we visited clients with Steve, the sales rep of Lebanese origin, with 9 wines to introduce to his customers. Steve has been in this business for a long time and has a portfolio of 40 clients, including 30 serious ones he visits 2 to 3 times a month. For us, he made a selection of a few clients he thought would be interested in our wines. His choice surpassed his expectations for all his clients were seduced and vaccinated. I use this word when I leave a strong impression. So, why vaccinated? Simple; before his first client, Steve didn’t know who I was and if just another wine merchant like so many others. In our first meeting, with the French owner, and his brother, of a popular restaurant in Houston, Le Mistral. These Frenchmen, Sylvain and David Denis (the chef) already had Valandraud 2001 on their wine-list. The price (quite reasonable) was already high. Steve started to take us seriously. The tastings, where he was able to discover the wines finally convinced him.
Since then, he used the word French Connection. I don’t know if the word is appropriate, but so what. Every French person greeted us with passion, took the time and each time planned to order several wines, including Valandraud.

In addition to the wine stores we visited, we went to an astonishing wine bar, where 80% of the customers are women (lucky guy), then another, where the Russian owner had an incredible eyes and a sure palate, an Armenian, fan of Ausone and Saint Emilion, professional with his large gourmet store filled with Mediterranean aromas. The great surprise was meeting 2 Frenchmen each owning 2 restaurants. The first, Bistro Provence and Don Camillo, where we had a good lunch, had as brother-in-law, Christophe Paul from Café Rabelais.
Christophe Paul is neighbor of Pascal Andraud, Murielle’s brother and my parents-in-law in Brantirat (township of Sablons de Guitres). That was a surprise for me as I had already heard about him through Pascal, his “American” friend. Christophe, a passionate wine enthusiast, visited Valandraud to taste the 2005 vintage.
We had dinner in his restaurant Café Rabelais (full of customers) with a friend if his from Burgundy (life can be rough, but, fortunately, I am used to it…). We spent the evening talking and talking, cracking jokes like kids. Nicolas, the Burgundy “rabbit” with his jokes and humor of attorney and Christophe, with his passion for wine helped me to recover from the jetlag. I went to bed just before midnight. I hope that the rest of the trip will be at the level of Texas, where I will certainly be back. This time, without jetlag to be able to be in better form!

Friday, we made a presentation to the sales staff of our distributor in Houston, then flew to Washington via Chicago where Didier is expecting us, one of our efficient importer of Bad Boy and more.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Austin, Texas, one of the richest cities in the USA was pleasant. Its youthfulness and natural wildlife with thousands of birds singing in the center of town, opossums and squirrels running around and fancy hotels like the Four Seasons, restaurants hooked on wine. We visited a wine bar/wine store with a clean and well thought out design, and a selection of more than 100 wines by the glass. We met attentive and curious sommeliers, owners enthusiastic to discover new wines to ad to there already full wine lists, and moments where work didn’t prevent from having a good time! It was far from the idealized image I had about Texas with the TV series Dallas and JR’s ruthless environment.

In any case, I still had a hard time with jetlag. I still didn’t recover from my trip to China.
I must point out to the professionalism of our prospects, who tasted our wines with open minds, able to be part of the Grand Jury Europeen, and chose wine without asking about the classification, the notes from Parker or the Wine Spectator. I even saw in the store of a French person who was a student of Emile Peynaud, an old Ferret and the 2007 and 2008 Hachette guides!
Their only questions: can we get the wines immediately?! When will you be back? Can you help us with our competition for Best Sommelier of Texas (of course we can, again, where are Sopexa and various institutions supposed to promote our wines?).

Another plane to catch to fly to Houston, no time to get bored, nor to spend to much time watching TV, although Sarkozy seemed to address the right issues regarding this crisis (rating agencies, balance sheets, remuneration, etc…).

Unfortunately, between my trip to China and the USA, I didn’t have much time to respond to comments posted on my blog.

I will try to answer to a few:
To Charles Traonouëz ( who is in charge of Château Malromé): indeed, in my opinion, it was wise to use the Tribaie machine this year… while waiting for a new one which will make this one obsolete. This is how it goes for the “latest” equipment, the next one will be better. It is no point to use it on the whites, our traditional way being most likely the best way, but only with red grapes where it works well, indeed.
We will see when we taste this wine compared to others.

To Patrick Essa: All the grapes don’t have this beautiful golden color, many being more “normal”. In any case, too bad that the harvest takes place during the same period… I would have certainly hired you as a consultant for a real-condition test… In addition, people would talk about it ;-)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Update on the harvest

The parcel in Fongaban has not been yet harvested:

Dallas and work

Tuesday, we spent the day visiting clients of our distributor, carrying 10 samples. Everywhere, we were well received and got either immediate orders or to be confirmed. Restaurants are often ran by newcomers to the USA, 1st generation Americans ready to invest and work, without counting hours and difficulties. For instance, a couple of Mexicans we met just opened a restaurant 4 months ago; the boss is full of courage, only sleeping 4 to 5 hours per night, except days the restaurant is closed when then, he can sleep 7 hours! Per month, they have to pay 7000 Dollars, electricity/gas 1500, 9 employees, nor him or her receiving any salaries. It reminds me my beginning in Saint Emilion where Murielle’s salary helped us pay for the rent in the HLM de la Plante in Libourne (HLM is an inexpensive project/council house complex) and food. Her salary of nurse helped us to survive for more than 3 years!

In 1984, the second hand car I bought, very old second hand, a Renault 10, cost me 150 Euros, less than the watch I’m wearing which I bought when I was a bank employee. When I see what’s happening with banks and the stock exchange today, I say to myself that the world is upside down, countries, prisoners of speculators, having to pay for their mistakes, while our “little” Mexicans have to work like slaves to pay for their debts. Bizarre no? Don’t we take the risk of making democratic and moral rules incomprehensible? Hope for a new world?

Thursday, October 16, 2008


We arrived in Dallas Texas on Monday. I still felt incredible jetlag accumulated between France and China. I don’t really know what time it is?

As soon as we arrived, we had a serious tasting with our good…very good distributor for Texas. They carry a wide range of wines from our portfolio including Calvet-Thunevin Constance and Hugo, Baby del Rey, Cazal de Roque, the wines from Fezas Chiroulet with the whites, the Vin de Bob from Bergerac, Haut Carles and Château de Carles, Lalande Couturier, Bel Air Ouÿ, Valandraud red and white, Franc Maillet and Commanderie de Mazeyres from Pomerol.
The tasting organized for their sales team went well and no one mentioned the financial crisis. Instead they were looking forward to placing these wines in the best restaurant, wine stores, etc.
Texas is wealthy, but the passion and eagerness of the employees of this distributor with such positive attitude are what is often missing in Bordeaux, at least in the world of the wine.

We had dinner in a steakhouse which served quality meat. Their wine list were as impressive as La Tour d’Argent in Paris with wines like Ausone 1900, Cheval Blanc 1900 1947, Mouton Rotschild 1945, etc… And they sell more than 30,000 bottles per year! 3 vintages of Valandraud and Calvet-Thunevin are already listed and probably Commanderie de Mazeyres and Haut Carles will be added. My American hosts had sympathy for me and I was able to go to bed at 10 pm, and by 10:05 I was sleeping like a baby.

One more thing, we drank a Dominus 99, all in finesse and very Bordeaux like and a Cluzel Roche Grande Place 2005, shut tight?

Nous sommes à Dallas dans le Texas avec pour moi un gros décalage horaire, l’accumulation de celui de la France avec celui de la Chine. Je ne sais plus très bien quelle heure il est ?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Saturday 11 : we don’t stop !

We were invited by Mr & Mrs Fayat for a meal at Château Clément Pichon, along with a group of important guests. All being good friends with the Fayat family.
It was an amazing privilege for us to be invites, especially for Murielle who seemed more happy than me. Is that possible?
What a consecration for us to be included in such a illustrious group of fine guest, for most being characters, creative minds, entrepreneurs, top fashion designers or owners for famous chateaux or negoce business.

What a great opportunity to be able to drink La Dominique 1989, one of the successes of this property, as well as seeing our Blanc de Valandraud as opener.

We finished picking the Merlots this week in the Fayat vineyards, and now it is the turn of the Cabernets. Again, we’re experiencing a vintage is again made with unexpected nice weather.

A full day Friday

Event though I didn’t get much sleep due to jetlag from my Chinese trip and the excitement of catching up on all my work, I spent Friday with 5 Russians shooting a film to be broadcasted at the end of the year on Russia’s 1st TV channel. Murielle, Valandraud and I will be the main focus of this documentary!? The day started at 8:30 am and ended at 9:30 pm. I went to bed in no time for a welcome sleep.

The team was very professional and will most likely produce and very nice film. Hopefully, it will help increase the visibility and notoriety of my wines and customers (La Dominique, Fleur Cardinale, Haut Carles…)
In the meantime, we drank for lunch:
Valandraud Blanc N°1 2004, really good
Valandraud 1998, excellent, in its peak, almost with a decadent palate, as some classic integrists would say, too sexy… (a swear word exists in French starting with p…). In anycase, a real pleasure.
Valandraud 2000, corked (thanks to Amorin), poured it down the drain.
It wasn’t much to drink for 7 people, so I got a bottle of Petrus 1998 from my cellar. It wasn’t meant to compare but to please and honor my guests. Petrus is always a winner! The wine was beautiful, holding back and an insolent youthfulness. This wine was produced with a specific objective : duration and restrain.
Murielle, “our” Russians and I drank this wine to the last drop and the bottle was properly filmed during 10 minutes! Vive Petrus!

In the evening, after a long day of shooting, harvest, cellar, fall landscape, a wine with an evocative name was served. Only one wine, but in a double magnum. It was La Petite Sibérie 2001. One the favorite wines of our translator and friend. Here too, the bottle was easily finished, with pleasure and certainly too young… well, it was for an appropriate occasion…

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Les Garagistes

Here is what Oz Clarke wrote on Valandraud… and me !

Les Garagistes
‘Why has it taken you 15 years to cone and see me?’ Jean-Luc Thunevin almost shouted at me across the dining table. He wasn’t angry, just bemused because he thought we’d got so much in common. We’d be talking about breaking down the barriers in Bordeaux, about preaching the meritocratic gospel that everyone should have a right to try and produce something special if they wanted to and prepare to bust a gut in doing so, despite the fact that they might have no money and no fable ancient plots of vines. And we’d be talking about the pleasure principle. He was mourning the fact that people don’t drink his beloved Valandraud, they just taste it then endlessly and aridly dissect it. And finally they mark it out of 100. Why don’t they drink it? ‘Either you like the wine or you don’t like the wine,’ he said, ‘all the rest is just blah, blah, blah.’ (I didn’t know the French used this phrase – it sounded wonderfully dismissive in his broad French accent.)

And I had to wonder, why hadn’t I come to see this friendly, effusive iconoclast, the creator of the radical, revolutionary wine movement known as Les Garagistes? I decided the reason was that I was rather frightened by the changes they were bringing about in a landscape I loved for its familiarity rather than for its acrid fumes of class warfare. I didn’t trust this garagiste movement. So I spent quite a bit of time reading about the men and women and their wines, and hardly went out of my way to taste them, let alone buy them and drink them. And the astronomical prices they achieved made me deeply suspicious of the producers' motives.

But Jean-Luc explained that it was imperative to charge a high price to justify the toil and commitment. When you start with nothing, and can produce a couple of thousand bottles, you have to charge a high price. The trick is to make a wine worth the money. And that's the secret of the true garagiste. The true garagiste is someone like Thunevin who started with no money to buy decent vines or smart equipment, no background in vineyards, just a belief that if you sacrifice yourself to whatever vines you have managed to scrape together, reduce their yield by half, care for them one by one, pick the grapes as ripe as possible – almost riper than you dare, and if necessary berry by berry – if you then take them to your shed or shack – and in his case his actual garage squeezed into a backstreet on the lower side of St-Émilion – and you buy the best barrels you can and continue to commit yourself totally to fermenting and maturing the wine, never cutting corners and always ruthlessly removing portions of wine you think don't reflect your passion – if you do all this, the flame of the garagiste is clearly alight in you and you can make a great wine no one has ever heard of before. If you then attract the attention of the merchants and press and demand an exorbitant price, which the market pays, you have proved that the old order can be broken and a new meritocracy can take its place. Just as happens in California or Australia, but up until now had never happened here.
Not all garagistes are like Thunevin. Some are; like Michel Gracia, the local stonemason with his impressive Ch. Gracia. Others are like Comte Stephan von Neipperg, owner of Classed Growth Canon-la­-Gaffelière, who was refused permission to include a small new plot of excellent land in his Classed Growth property and so built himself a winery and followed all the vigorous demands of the garagiste approach to produce his thrilling micro-cru La Mondotte – unclassified but much expensive than Canon-la-Gaffelière. And there are others like Bernard Magrez who slices off one little amphitheatre of particularly favoured vineyard in his main property and turns it into a dense, powerful micro-cru, as he has done with Magrez-Fombrauge and Ch. Fombrauge.
Maybe these guys aren't imbued with the spirit of the garage since came from a privileged or moneyed background, but they took up the cudgels, albeit in their own interests, after the garagistes like Thunevin, or Jonathan Maltus at Ch. Teyssier had led the way. And eventually, as Jean-Luc says, the revolution had to come from the little people, because had nothing to lose. World famous wines wouldn't put their reputation on the line. And now? 'Well, what we do and what Ch. Latour does is not that different, but they have every possible technical aid. I just myself and my wife.’

Jean-Luc Thunevin is the revolutionary spirit who Sparked the whole garagiste movement which has had such a galvanizing effect on Bordeaux giving producers all over the region, however faintly regarded, the confidence to say – ‘if I want to make a great and I am really prepared to commit myself, then I can'. On recent visits, I've tasted outstanding wines from Blaye, Bourg, Castillon, the Premières Côtes and Entre-Deux Mers which owe their existence to Thunevin. Ch. Valandraud was his first venture – and thats the original vineyard below, 0.6ha (1.5 acres) of St-Émilion land he freely admits was a bit ropey, sitting as it does next to the communal vegetable allotments, but it was all I could afford. Valandraud is much bigger now, with far better land providing most of the grapes. But this cold, drab little patch of vines is where the garagiste revolution was born

Excerpt from Bordeaux by Oz Clarke, page 202 & 203, published by Pavilion Books

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hong Kong and Shanghai

We left Tuesday evening from Bordeaux with Air France to Paris, then Hong Kong in Business class : Quality service, nice wine list (Côte du Rhône from Perrin, delicious). Unfortunately, the food was terrible!
2 to 3 meetings a day were setup for us in Hong Kong, with a few serious importers. We’ll see if orders will be confirmed by the end of the year. In any case, considering the number of importers which opened since the elimination of taxes, Hong Kong is not the sort of place to setup shop if you worry about competition! Lets not forget that Bordeaux is still the reference: just check out the Lafite Rothschild and Petrus available!

We watched a beautiful firework which lasted 20 minutes over the Hong Kong bay to celebrate the Chinese national holiday. Again the Chinese invented fireworks! If time permits, do as I did, have your hair cut: hair salons offer a level of luxurious care which I haven’t found in France. True, I usually go to the hairdressers in the Carrefour shopping mall!

Our customers in Hong Kong are worried: the stock market, custom regulations and control from China, Macao and all the British settling… in addition to the Japanese and even groups of Chinese!
In any case, stores were full of shoppers.

We had a very good meal at the Victoria, with our Franco Chinese partner F.T.I., who is doing a good job. We will certainly see returns soon.
We met with importers where FTI works as an agent, with journalists where FTI works as a PR, press and meetings with French expats who play a role promoting wine, and they are plenty!
FTI looks for customers who need their experience and structure: stores, offices and function room – show room. This is interesting for people who want to promote their product like my company, a Cognac, a wine region…
Why doesn’t France have an efficient structure providing financial and contractual help with export for companies who have the courage to setup such structures in China? This would prevent the time and energy wasted looking for partners instead of customers.

In Shanghai, everyone is working, building being constructed, plenty of energy. Recommended places: Napa, for instance, where a restaurant, a place for wine presentation are located in an old house, classy, as well as Champaign bars, restaurants everywhere, we just need to “educate” customers and professionals.
Visit in Suzhou where FTI will setup a second wine shop and a restaurant, before focusing on Beijing.

Our reds are being harvested in Saint Emilion: more than a third has been done. The nice weather is encouraging!

The harvest of the whites is finished

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2008 vintage

In mid September Sovivins made a very professional analysis of this year vintage:
"2008 seams to be more like 2001 than 2007 or 2002"...

It would be great if this gets confirmed !
Thank you David Pernet !

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cuvée Constance 2006

Published on the site of the Wine Advocate ;-)))

2006 Calvet-Thunevin VDP des Cotes Catalanes Cuvee Constance : 91 points

"A blend of Grenache with 30% Syrah and 10% Carignan, Thunevin and Calvet’s old vines 2006 Cuvee Constance serves as their entry-level wine, which makes the quality on display here quite extraordinary. Of course, this wine’s elevage accords with entry-level status: all in tank. But when you get a whiff of the cherry and plum preserves, coconut, mint, dark chocolate, vanilla and exotic spices emanating from the glass, you may well ask what level of toast was used for the concrete! A creamy texture complements the nearly over-ripe fruit character and inner-mouth perfume and spice, and faintly bitter notes of coffee and dark chocolate and pungent smokiness, along with notes of stone and lead pencil, add counterpoint to a long finish. " D. Schildknecht

Friday, October 3, 2008


Problem free corks exist, according to Mr Baugier. He claims that the Diam cork is THE answer.
Maybe it is the solution… but for wines which can be cellared no more than 5 years. This is enough time for many wines. Except for 80% of mine which can last between 10 and 15 years. I still sell fair priced wines from 1999/2000 (and which can be kept for more than 5 years).
Even though I am known for modern wine, I still try to make, or sell, wines which are able to age and even improve with age…

The screw-cap works well. I experimented with my 2nd white and the results are promising. In addition, the esthetic has greatly improved. I already wrote about glass corks. Actually, I am waiting for the reliability of the Diam process for natural corks, not composite ones.

In the meantime, I pray that my cork supplier (Bourrassé, in the Landes) keeps providing me with good product…

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A bit of everything...

Good news : In the USA, the Wall Street Journal now sells wine on the internet to its readers ;-))

Michel Bettane is against the “peopleisation” of wine: So goes the title in the LCI Gastronomie magazine. Still, I hope that some stars will attend the Grand Tasting on November 21 and 22 at the Carousel du Louvre.

On the online auction site (eBay), a few malicious minds are selling fake classified growths. Unfortunately for them, they tried to sell to a professional who noticed they were fakes. If we have to be careful of bad authentic wine and in addition fake ones, it’s going to be hard to make sense of all of this!

Is 2008 a good vintage?
On September 17, in, I replied to Jane Anson’s question: if the good weather stays, we will again have a miracle.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Viva Korea

We had an important visit and tasting from our Korean partner and our client – a Bordeaux wholesaler, the Bordeaux broker, the Korean buyer and his boss.

We visited our properties in Saint Emilion, our warehouse in Saint Magne, tasted at L’Essentiel wines which could interest them and ate at our house where, in addition to the very well made Clos du Beau Père 2006 and rare cuvee Axelle de Valandraud 2000, I served 2 wines blind:
Decanted just 20 minutes before serving, no one guessed the vintage except the Korean boss. Goes to show why he is such a wine lover.
Hard to guess, but it was a 1998. Was Valandraud the wine on the right or on the left? 3 said left, 2 right. It was the carafe on the right. Every one said that the other wine was from the right bank… it was from the left bank: Mouton Rothschild 1998!
Blind tasting are quite difficult! Fortunately, both wines were good. My goal wasn’t to prove that Valandraud was the best. Most blind tastings organized at my home, as opposed to others (which I won’t name…), are not meant for Valandraud to come out first, which is easy if the tasting is properly organized – but only to prove that even tasted blind, Valandraud holds up and can be compared to first growths and even can also often be rated amongst the best. Today, the price of Valandraud is below first growths, making it attractive. As our friend wholesaler present said, make Valandraud a statutory wine, quite rare and expensive offering an alternative to cult first growths and often very expensive.

The presentation of Valandraud in Korea will neither refer to “Cinderella Wine” used in Japan, nor “garage wine” used in the USA, but “Boutique Wine”. Viva Korea!