Christian Seely is MD of the AXA Millésimes group of vineyards, which includes prestigious properties in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Hungary, Portugal, Napa and Sonoma. He is also president of négociant Compagnie Médocaine des Grands Crus, also part of AXA Millésimes. Seely is also part-owner of Quinta da Romaneira in the Douro and co-founder and joint-owner of English sparkling wine producer Coates & Seely.
How did you get here?
I began working with AXA Millésimes when I was appointed MD of Quinta do Noval just after we acquired it in 1993. Noval had gone through a difficult period, and the vineyards and the wines needed a lot of love and attention. I spent seven marvellous years in the Douro working with the Noval team to bring it back to being great again. Then, in 2001, AXA invited me to come to Bordeaux to take on the role of MD of the AXA Millésimes wine group, and that’s what I have been doing ever since.
Any tips on time management? How do you divide your time successfully between so many properties?
The key is to have brilliant, competent people in each property with whom you can work on the basis of mutual confidence and trust. I spend a lot of time travelling to the properties; that is important, but it is also important that my presence should not be necessary all the time – and it isn’t.
What’s the most common misconception about your job?
Maybe the idea that I’m a winemaker. I am not. I take full responsibility, and with great happiness, for all the wines that we make, but each vineyard has a team of dedicated viticulturists and oenologists striving to make wines that express the grandeur of the terroirs we work with. We share that idea, but it is not me making the wines; it’s the very talented people who surround me.
Your greatest professional moment?
Perhaps when we tasted the Quinta do Noval Vintage and the Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Ports of 1997 when we had the final wines ready for bottling in 1999, and I realised that Noval was back to making great wines again. There have been many similar moments since then, at Noval and at other properties, but that moment was profoundly thrilling: we realised that it was all going to work, and that this great vineyard would be producing wonderful wines again.
And your greatest mistake?
Not planting more vines in the Douro for making white wines earlier. We now realise the potential for dry unfortified white wines in the Douro, and our best ones are from vines we planted around 15 years ago. I just wish we had planted more!
What advice would you give someone wanting to follow your career path?
This is the sort of job you can only do if you love every minute of every day and are prepared to devote yourself to it entirely. Also, you must never forget that the purpose of what we do is to give people pleasure. If you cannot feel that pleasure yourself, have fun and share that feeling with those around you, then it probably will not work.
What do you enjoy drinking at home?
I drink the wines we make at AXA Millésimes on a regular basis, as well as those of Coates & Seely and of Romaneira, but I drink wines from all over the world from many producers, with an entirely open mind. Of course, to drink wines from a vineyard that you have known and worked with for many years is a wonderful experience, but it is also great fun to see what is going on elsewhere, and I spend a lot of enjoyable time doing just that.