They have famous names and wine is in their blood. Margaret Rand meets the sons and daughters who will one day inherit Bordeaux.
Inheritance is a very ticklish subject in Bordeaux. Keeping an estate in one piece is against the spirit of French inheritance laws, which dictate that property is divided equally between all the children as inhertiance. And then there are inheritance taxes. So evecccan if you can pay the inheritance taxes, you still have to keep your brothers, sisters and cousins happy. If half of them gang up on you and want to sell their inheritance shares, you will probably have no option but to hand ownership of your property to a bank, insurance company or fashion house.
That doesn’t mean that inheritance is impossible, however. For every high-profile sale there are plenty of châteaux quietly arranging for the next generation to take over. So quietly, in fact, that one proprietor commented, ‘Things are at a delicate stage. I don’t want anything said that might be embarrassing.’ The heirs interviewed here show the range of talents that can be accommodated in wine, from winemaking itself to accountancy. For all its problems, it has to be more fun than a widget factory inheritance.
Edouard Moueix, 27 Etablissements J-P Moueix
‘I take care of the things my father doesn’t want to hear about,’ says Edouard Moueix (opposite). ‘For example, I am searching for computer systems, which we still don’t have. My father doesn’t know how to turn on a computer and he doesn’t want to learn.’
Edouard’s father is Christian Moueix, who manages Château Pétrus on behalf of his family and runs Etablissements Jean-Pierre Moueix in Libourne, itself the owner of several other properties.
Edouard, 27, arrived in Libourne last October, having spent several years working for the company in various capacities abroad. Indeed, he did a stage with Corney & Barrow in the UK in 1997; worked with Moueix’s importers in Japan for eight months; and spent a year and a half in the US. During this time he was involved with Dominus, the Moueix property in California, and it was then that he started working with his father, albeit long-distance.
‘It was a nice way to start working together,’ he explains. ‘Working with your father is,’ he muses, ‘difficult, but exciting at the same time. Other things than business are involved and you have to put the other things aside.’
He reckons, however, that Christian, in his turn, had something of a tough time working for his father and comments, ‘My grandfather was a very difficult person to work with. People who create things with their own hands are strong characters.’
When asked what he would choose if he could change just one thing about Bordeaux, he says, ‘It would be to do something that is already in process, and that is to have Bordeaux more open and receptive to what consumers have to say. Bordeaux was not very good at that for quite a few years and now it is opening a bit more; it’s a very good revolution.
‘I don’t know yet how I’ll make my mark – I still have to find my mark in myself – but I will not try to change traditions. Perhaps I will make my mark in communications. In the time of my grandfather and father, communications were not as important. The quality of the wine was enough to make people follow you. Now you have to tell them everything and perhaps some people create stories to make their wines different. I want to communicate about tradition and about the fact that wine comes from vines, not just from men.’
Florence Lafragette, 27 Châteaux Loudenne, de Rouillac and L’Hospital
The Lafragette family bought Château Loudenne in 2000, after having purchased de Rouillac and L’Hospital in 1996. Having initially studied law at Bordeaux University, at the age of 27 Florence (above) now runs all three.
‘At first I didn’t want to be in the family business, or in wine. But when you’re the seventh generation of wine growers and you live in Bordeaux, it’s difficult to do anything else,’ she says.
So eventually she moved from the law faculty to the oenology faculty, though not with the idea of making wine herself. Instead, she takes on a clear management role in the business: ‘It’s very diverse, complex, creative; it involves people management, the commercial side, communications.’
The family business is in Cognac as well as Bordeaux. In the former it produces that rare thing, organic Cognac, and in 1982 launched a blend of passion fruit juice and a Cognac called Alizé, which has proved a huge success on the US market.
Florence applauds her father for his idea – ‘It was a new product; he created this brand’ – and also applauds him for the way he leaves her to run the wine business, while he runs the Cognac company. ‘He trusts me a lot. I’m in charge, and I’m young, and he says he wants me to be in charge and not have him interfering. He’s not selfish with the business, he’s very open.’
This clear division of responsibilities obviously makes life a lot easier. ‘We talk all the time and if I want advice I call him, but it’s not like it would be if I was working with him and all my family in one château. That would be difficult, because we all have strong personalities. In fact, it would not be possible.’
There are two different worlds in petit château Bordeaux, she says – those who make the best wine they possibly can and those who don’t. ‘The people who don’t work for quality also sell their wine with “Bordeaux” on the label, so it’s difficult for us to explain that we want to produce a quality wine, that we work a lot. It will change. Everybody knows that it’s a problem. But I would like the image of the non-classed growths to be better.’
Jean-Christophe Mau, 32 Château Preuillac
Admittedly, Jean-Christophe Mau (above) is less of an heir than he was. At 32, he runs Château Preuillac for his family, but his father’s stake in the château and the family négociant business, Yvon Mau, is 51%, and handing it on to Jean-Christophe’s generation as inheritance could whittle it away still more.
Jean-Christophe explains, ‘My father wants to give me Château Preuillac as an inheritance, and for me it is possible, but when I have children and want to give it to them, the tax will be so high that maybe they can’t pay. What my father might do is buy another château and so have one to sell and one to keep.’ Jean-Christophe works half for Mau and half for Preuillac. ‘My father is my boss and it’s not easy, but he’s a good manager. It was very difficult at the start, but now it’s okay.’
Jean-Christophe’s hard work at Preuillac has been paying dividends in terms of wine quality, but hasn’t yet had an effect in terms of wider recognition.
The wine has been improving, but the new cru bourgeois classification, announced last summer, was based on the efforts of the previous owner, and demoted Preuillac from its ranks. The French wine journal, La Revue du Vin de France, promptly did its own classification based on blind tastings of the 2000 and 2001 vintages, and listed Preuillac among the 100 wines (rather than the new classification’s 247) it considered worthy of the crus bourgeois title. The official judgment on Preuillac was overturned on appeal, and the château readmitted to crus bourgeois ranks, pending a further assessment.
In common with some of the other heirs apparent I talked to, what Jean-Christophe would like to change about Bordeaux is its vision of the market. ‘Too many people in Bordeaux don’t understand what the consumer wants. In the past, there wasn’t the same competition – wine drinkers had no choice but to buy Bordeaux.
‘There should be a better relationship, too, between the négociant and the producer. I’m both négociant and producer, so I see both sides. A lot of Bordeaux producers still say, “My customer is the négociant.” No, their customer is not the négociant. Or the customer says, “He sells me low quality,” and the producer says, “He pays me low prices.” We have to work together for better results.’
Stephanie Rolland, 30 Vignobles Rolland
Stéphanie Rolland joined her parents’ company three years ago, but leaves the winemaking to her father, Michel, and her mother, Dany, both of whom are among Bordeaux’s, and France’s, most respected consultants. Instead, she studied accounting and worked for a year and a half in Reims before moving to Bordeaux.
She says, ‘It’s good that we’re not doing the same thing; it’s complementary. I work with my mother in the office, and in a few years’ time I will try and take over the financial management completely, but I’m just beginning.’ Stéphanie is 30 now, but will she spend her entire career in the family company? ‘Now I can say yes, I will stay. Three years ago I didn’t know. My parents were building a business with wineries in France, Argentina, South Africa and other countries, and at the beginning I didn’t know if I would enjoy it enough.’
She praises the way her father has changed winemaking practices. Indeed, he is probably the most influential Bordeaux winemaker of his generation and has been in the vanguard of the move towards greater ripeness and concentration. Stéphanie herself, has no wish to take centre stage, though. ‘My goal is to be in the shade for the moment. I want to give my best, but not be in front of my father.’
Like all her contemporaries interviewed for this piece, Stéphanie regrets the narrowness of much of the Bordeaux mentality. ‘They forget that other countries are also making good wine. We are not alone in Bordeaux,’ she asserts.
Thibault Despagne, 31
Châteaux Bel Air Perponcher, Rauzan Despagne, Tour de Mirambeau and Lion Beaulieu. None of these châteaux are quite household names, but British Airways serves Tour de Mirambeau white on some flights – and very good it is, too. That it is so good is thanks to Thibault Despagne’s (overleaf) father, Jean Louis, who found himself in California after a hitch-hiking trip to South America, met people like Robert Mondavi, saw how technologically advanced California was compared to Bordeaux, and in 1973 built an ultra-modern cellar at his family property in Entre Deux Mers.
‘He was ahead of his time,’ Thibault says. ‘When he built the cellar he was still selling his wine in bulk to the négoce. But he believed in himself and in his wines, even though at the time it was difficult to sell Entre Deux Mers., Now we sell in 30 countries.’
What he has also done, and what makes Thibault admire him still more, is to divide the inheritance between his three children, hand over the inheritance and retire – to the extent of being out of the country for six months of the year. ‘He’s 60, full of energy and full of ideas,’ says Thibault. ‘You have power when you’re 60 and successful, but he wanted to give us the chance to show what we can do. He retired for us.’
Thibault, at 31, now looks after sales, marketing and communications and also runs Château Lion Beaulieu, a property Jean Louis bought in a run-down state and handed to Thibault to renovate. Thibault, who lives at the château, has doubled planting density there to 6,000 vines per ha (hectare), put in drainage, replanted some vines and installed a new gravity-fed cellar. He has been working full-time in the company since 1999 and his sister will soon join him. Their brother, a graphic designer, does the labels and website.
Jean-Louis’s absence for half the year means Thibault is forced to take decisions on his own, which he seems to relish. ‘It’s very difficult for two generations to work together, especially if one of them has been very successful. I’ve never proved anything. Family businesses are difficult, for wives, too; you need political smoothness.’
Not that wine was his early ambition. He preferred the idea of architecture, but when he finished his studies he wanted to travel. He had to fund his travels, so he had to work and inevitably ended up working in wineries. ‘Bordeaux was a magic word. Even though I’d only done two vintages with my father, I was able to work in wineries in New Zealand, Australia, Chile and California – and I discovered I liked it.’
Now he’s planning the next ultra-modern cellar which, like its predecessor, is intended to last 30 years. As he says, ‘there has to be continuity, but too much tradition kills you.’
Julien Sereys de Rothschild, 32 Château Mouton Rothschild and others
One of Philippine de Rothschild’s two sons, Julien (above), 32, has opted for a career in fine art, and since 2001 has worked for a Paris gallery where he specialises in Old Master drawings and prints. ‘As a family we have enormous interest in the business, but we are not involved day to day… It’s better like that, but we are very close to wine always, and wine and art are closely linked.’
They are especially closely linked at Mouton, where Julien’s grandfather, Baron Philippe, built up an outstanding collection of wine-linked artefacts. Last year, Julien published a book about the collection called The Museum of Wine in Art. The cultural links between art and wine are obvious, but Julien points, too, to the aspect of uniqueness. ‘A work of art is singular, like a wine, and both are created to last the longest time possible. They both change with age and a drawing, once destroyed, cannot ever be replaced. In the same way, one day there will be no more Mouton 1945.’
PHILIPPE Sereys de Rothschild, 40 Château Mouton Rothschild and others
Philippine de Rothschild’s elder son, Philippe, 40, has headed towards business as a career. ‘These are waters in which I know how to swim, more than my brother,’ he says. He is on the group’s board, and on the boards of one or two subsidiary companies, as well as being involved more informally in discussions about strategy and people.
He also presents the group’s wines at dinners all over the world, but insists there is no plan as to who will, in time, take over Philippine’s role. ‘What was a château 15 years ago is now a family group. A big piece is blended wine; then there is Almaviva; and there is Opus One. You can’t look at it the way we looked at it 15 years ago. There are jobs for two people, which was not the case 15 years ago.’
Ask Philippe how he will make his mark using his inheritance and he says, ‘The wine business will be expanding into new territories in the next 20 years and I will develop other things like Almaviva and Opus One – new products, but always top quality… The revenue from Bordeaux will decrease [proportionately]. There will be opportunities around the world and we mustn’t miss the train.’
Margaret Rand is an award-winning wine writer and co-author of Oz Clarke’s Grapes and Wines, £18.99, Little Brown.