Generation Game

bordeaux, chateaux People & Places Articles
  • Thursday 21 August 2008

PANOS KAKAVIATOS speaks to five family estates in Bordeaux to find out the best and worst aspects of running a family château

Château Thieuley has become a highly regarded Bordeaux AOC since Francis Courselle took over from his father in 1972. Now retired, he has a hand in all decisions made at the château, helping daughters Sylvie (far left) and Marie, who co-manage the estate. Marie makes the wine, while Sylvie manages marketing and commercial matters both in France and abroad. The entire family decides on the final blends.

Francis on Marie

‘Marie’s best qualities are her pugnaciousness and willingness to succeed. But she is like her father, with a tendency towards organised disorder.’

Francis on Sylvie

‘I admire Sylvie’s dynamism. She sometimes lacks confidence in commercial negotiations, but this will change as she gets older.’

Marie on Francis

‘I admire his ability to anticipate problems and make good decisions. The only trouble is, he sometimes wants to control everything.’

Sylvie on Francis

‘My father is terribly impatient, and could definitely be a bit more internet savvy. But his ability to stay positive is a source of motivation for Marie and me.’

Château Haut-Bergey

Pessac-Léognan

Acquiring the château in 1991, Sylviane Garcin- Cathiard carried out a renovation programme, which included rebuilding the entire vat room and cellar. Daughter Hélène is in charge of marketing and promotion for Haut-Bergey and the other family châteaux, including Clos l’Eglise in Pomerol.

Sylviane on Hélène

‘I greatly appreciate Hélène’s passion and determination to succeed, but on the negative side, her temperament displays a certain youthful fieriness.’

Hélène on Sylviane

‘My mother’s ability to take in events – and handle difficulties, no matter how important – is a lesson to me. But sometimes I find her too calm.’

Château Malartic-Lagravière

Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan

When he bought it in 1996, Alfred-Alexandre Bonnie undertook extensive renovations at Chateau Malartic-Lagravière. These days: ‘I attach myself to my armchair and to the vines which appreciate me most… and the pressure is enormous,’ he says. Son Jean-Jacques jokes that he does everything his father

‘does not like to do any more’.

Alfred-Alexandre on Jean-Jacques

‘I appreciate my son’s willingness to take on as many responsibilities as possible: he steals all my good ideas and makes them his own (though between us, this actually pleases me). He tells me as little as possible to maintain his power, but fortunately I have loyal old friends who keep me informed.’

Jean-Jacques on Alfred-Alexandre

‘I love my father’s availability, curiosity, willingness to help, and his generosity. The main problem is that he wants to know everything, even the dullest details. And he should try to get out to play golf more often with my mother.’

Château Lynch-Bages often outperforms its official Fifth Growth status. Jean-Michel Cazes no longer holds an official or direct operational position, but presides over the supervisory board for the family holding, which includes other domaines such as Les Ormes de Pez in St Estèphe. Son Jean-Charles Cazes is the château’s general director.

Jean-Charles on Jean-Michel ‘Working with my father proves that over time things always get clearer – they settle. I admire his capacity to listen and his sense of anticipating future developments. I can think of nothing negative to report.’

Jean-Michel on Jean-Charles

‘Over time, our working relationship has improved. I

have grown to admire my son’s rigour and enthusiasm. If

there were anything negative to say, I would only share

it with him.’

Château Beau-Séjour Bécot’s terroir lies on St-Emilion’s famous limestone

plateau. The property is managed by Gerard Bécot, from harvesting and

vinification to blending, sales and bottling. Daughter Juliette helps with the distribution and promotion of the family’s three wines: Beau-Séjour Bécot, La Gomerie and Joanin Bécot.

Gerard on Juliette

‘Juliette has acquired a very good knowledge of our markets, but she spends too much time on the telephone. I also gets annoyed with the hairs left by her dog Java in our office.’

Juliette on Gerard

‘I have learned to always work seriously,by never taking things too seriously. I appreciate my father’s humour, which lightens difficult periods and makes everyday work more cheerful. I value his sense of fair play, though he always has the last word – and by that I do not mean he is always right!’

Château Beau-Séjour Bécot

Premier Grand Cru Classé/St-Emilion Grand Cru

Bécot’s terroir lies on St-Emilion’s famous limestone plateau. The property is managed by Gerard Bécot, from harvesting and vinification to blending, sales and bottling. Daughter Juliette helps with the distribution and promotion of the family’s three wines: Beau-Séjour Bécot, La Gomerie and Joanin Bécot.

Gerard on Juliette

‘Juliette has acquired a very good knowledge of our markets, but she spends too much time on the telephone. I also gets annoyed with the hairs left by her dog Java in our office.’

Juliette on Gerard

‘I have learned to always work seriously, by never taking things too seriously. I appreciate my father’s humour, which lightens difficult periods and makes

everyday work more cheerful. I value his sense of fair play, though he always has the last word – and by that I do not mean he is always right!’

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