Working from 6.30am to midnight, it's a tough life for top Bordeaux MD Pascal Delbeck, as ALAN SPENCER discovers
If Pascal Delbeck, gérant (MD) of Vignobles Dubois-Challon (group of four growths), gets to bed by midnight at Château Belair, he will be awake when the alarm goes at 5.30am to be up for the embauche (start of work) at 6.30. Growers, like farmers, work by the sun, not the clock.Breakfast comes first. Strong percolator coffee, orange juice and toast with marmalade. A quick shower, dress and straight to the office. With his dark eyes and black beard spotted with grey, Delbeck has the look of a devout Ayatollah. ‘I save time not having to shave,’ he quips. At the office, he opens the shutters, checks the fax for messages, lets out Strelitza the cat, a name chosen by Marie-Amandine, his 14-year-old daughter, and looks at the electronic barometer for the forecast. Then, when the workers arrive at 6.30, he distributes the day’s tasks with his chef de culture.
Les Vignobles Dubois-Challon owns four vineyards, at Château Tour du Pas Saint-Georges, Château La Grave de Moustey, Château Dubois-Challon and Château Belair. On most days Delbeck will do the rounds, checking for mildew on young shoots, or the state of véraison as the grapes change colour, .
Delbeck has two businesses of his own: DVD (Delbeck Vins Développement), set up to exploit his know-how and his patented inventions, and a start-up called Accent Terroir, which is run by three young men and consults on homeopathic methods of disease control. Delbeck may need to discuss developments before going back to the château to organise the next few days’ treatment programme, spraying with Bordeaux mixture or dusting with talc against grey rot.Checking last-minute orders for the upcoming vendange, preparing barrel-samples for tasting by journalists or clients, Delbeck never has a dull moment. Going through the mail with his secretary, he must dictate replies and check stock to meet orders.
Lunch is half an hour from 12.30pm to 1pm and is carefully timed. At 1.10pm he phones his secretary, then lies down and instantly falls asleep. Seven minutes later she rings him back. Completely refreshed, he rings his mother. Sadly, Delbeck’s father passed away at the end of Vinexpo. ‘He waited till Vinexpo was over,’ he says, ‘before he let death come.’
Coffee is taken daily with Madame Dubois-Challon, the owner of the group. Delbeck has performed this ritual faithfully for the last 26 years. Together with la patronne, he opens mail and takes important decisions about the châteaux, the personnel, finance and business.Nearly every day a group visits the château at 3pm. Later in the afternoon, the latest experimental decanting pit for used water (a by-product of cellar hygiene) may need his attention, plus there may be appointments with suppliers or interviews with journalists.Delbeck enjoys entertaining and is well known locally for his fun-loving conviviality and warm-hearted generosity. Wine is a pleasure to share and Delbeck is a devoted wine lover. His favourite pastimes are tasting games, when he invites friends and connoisseurs to guess the wine and/or vintage. He often entertains, for business as well as pleasure, with a group for dinner in the evening.
When the guests have left, usually around midnight, Delbeck empties the decanters and glasses, and loads the dishwasher before climbing into bed. Days are full and Pascal is usually tired. ‘The moment my head hits the pillow, I’m asleep,’ he says.
Alan Spencer is a wine journalist based in Bordeaux.
Written by ALAN SPENCER