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Interview: Stephanie de Bouard of Chateau Angelus

Stephanie de Bouard, 30, is the daughter of Chateau Angelus owner Hubert de Bouard. After a five-year career in private banking in London she has just joined the family firm as deputy managing director, the eighth generation of the family to run the renowned St Emilion Grand Cru Classé. In her first interview with the UK press, she tells Adam Lechmere how she will approach the job.

You’ve just been appointed deputy managing director of Chateau Angelus – but you’ve always been part of the team. I remember a couple of years ago your father couldn’t present a Decanter Fine Wine Encounter masterclass and you stepped in at the last moment…

Well, I was born in Bordeaux, and grew up in St Emilion. Angelus has always been a passion, shared with the family, and even while I was in London for my private banking activities I always kept close links with my father and my family, and with the strategy of the estate. And when I was in London, I frequently did things for the business. Angelus was my passion and banking was my work.

Was it difficult to leave the banking world?

I really enjoyed working in private banking for the five years I spent in London, especially in this tough competitive environment – which by the way considerably speeded up my learning process. But I knew that one day I would go back to St Emilion and to my roots, and to continue being involved alongside my family in what had been initiated more than two centuries ago. So yes, it was difficult, but at the same time what was waiting for me in St Emilion was a wonderful thing. It’s a feeling that’s difficult to explain to be part of this, to be a member of the 8th generation and to feel that you have been given the responsibility to continue what has been started. And of course I’ll still go back to London for tastings and to represent the estate.

Given your experience in banking, what can you bring to Chateau Angelus?

I will be in charge of all the management aspects of the estate, alongside my uncle and my father, managing the investment, taking commercial strategic decisions, dealing with brokers, negociants and international distributors. So the experience in investment strategy that I got in London will be used, and my network of clients, critics and journalists will also be valuable. Another aspect is the need to have an open mind, internationally speaking, in terms of finance and management. But as we’ve discussed, I’ve never been apart from that – I’ve always been in touch with my father, so it’s not so new. What is new however is working here on a daily basis.

About three years ago I remember discussing China with you, and your conviction that it was dangerous for a Bordeaux property to ‘put all its eggs in one basket’. Three years on, things have changed a lot…

Yes, they have changed. It’s certainly very dangerous to depend on only one market. But it’s difficult for an estate or a negociant to intervene in the final destination of the wine. Many UK and US merchants sell a high proportion of their primeur direct to China or wider Asia. Demand increased in the past three or five years in China, prices were pulled up, and estates – and merchants – cannot go against the market: they will ultimately sell in Asia where the market is, or was. Now, with the significant correction of prices in 2011, it should make it easier for distributors to sell in their regions and so reconnect with their own markets. So we can see Bordeaux 2009 and 2010 clearly bought by China, but they are not buying so much of 2011. Is this because it is too expensive and they don’t like to be seen to be paying too much, or is it that in the current economic environment it’s still too difficult to buy 2011 even at a discount of 40%? That is a question we should think about.

Do you think 2011 is a chance for Bordeaux to reconnect with its traditional markets?

Yes, I think it’s a possibility that the traditional markets will come back to Bordeaux but of course it’s too early to tell. But the excitement of 2011 is that people are taking their time. Negociants say they haven’t yet sold all en primeur so it’s going to take more time to sell. It reminds me of 2006, 07 and 08, which en primeur took a few years to significantly appreciate in value. 2011 will appreciate but it will take time.

So you reckon the negociants are optimistic about 2011?

That’s not exactly what I would say. They are not necessarily pessimistic, but it’s difficult for them to have clear view on what’s happening, and of course there is 2012 coming up now

In terms of selling Chateau Angelus, where will you be focussing your efforts now?

My father first went to China in the late 1980s – he believed in the market and anticipated it – so we are aware of the importance of China and wider Asia. But we don’t want to depend on one single market so it’s important for me not to forget other regions. For example, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, the United States – which are already around 35-40% of our exports. I would also like to focus on Scandinavian countries, and Brazil and India. These are all traditional and emerging markets. Brazil is very limited but we would like to increase our presence there by 5% over the next 5-10 years. India is more difficult because of the different tax regimes: it’s not ready yet, so that is long-term, maybe 10-15 years.

To change the subject slightly, you must be watching developments at Chateau Latour with great interest? [Latour recently announced that 2011 vintage would be the last it would sell en primeur]

It’s too early to assess the consequences of getting out of the en primeur circuit. It will take some time before we can say if it will benefit the brand. At Angelus we’ve always played the game and sold through the Place de Bordeaux. It’s better that way: some years are better than others in terms of quality and we find it quite right that negociants are rewarded for their work in difficult years, as well as easy ones. We should never say never, but at the moment we remain in the en primeur system

But you want to have more control over where your wine goes?

This is one of the things I have started to implement. I don’t want our negociants to feel they are being watched over and checked up on but we need to have more information and transparency about our final clients. We can only get that through the negociants, so we will ask for more details in terms of geographical regions and more precise questions on final customers. We don’t need to know names but we want to understand better where the wines are going.

In the case of Diva Bordeaux [the negociant in which Chinese company Bright Food has just bought a 70% stake] how would you react if they started selling only to China?

We work with such a broad spectrum of negociants, dealing with many different markets. If Diva started selling 100% in one market, then our base is wide enough to limit the impact.

Would you ever withhold your wine?

We hope we won’t get to that situation. Let’s say the negociants are clever and they will understand it’s in their interest.

What is your first official visit as deputy managing director of Angelus?

My first official visit was to the St John’s College Oxford Wine Circle. We get a lot of requests from university wine tasting clubs to speak about the wine and the estate and Bordeaux. They have a lot of skill and are curious and know a lot about wine. This is the new generation – they all want to taste, discover, and share their passion.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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