Jane Anson reports on the latest Bordeaux wine estate to open a wine bar, but it isn't who you might think...
Bernard Magrez had his just a few minutes walk away from Paris’ Opéra in the 2ième arrondissement, although I just learnt that it closed in September 2017, with ‘no current plans to reopen’.
These high profile outreach programmes continue with Château Latour at Ten Trinity Square Club in London.
And – at a push – Château Margaux in London, with Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos, the youngest daughter of estate owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos, opening the brilliant La Clarette in Marylebone; although she is always very clear in pointing out that the two are not directly linke). All beautiful projects with sky high budgets.
So you can see why it’s oddly satisfying to report that the first château to do something similar back home in Bordeaux is not a classified estate with deep pockets and a clever marketing team but a woman winemaker who bottles under AOC Entre deux Mers, AOC Bordeaux and AOC Bordeaux Supérieur.
Called rather neatly Un Château En Ville, this small but lovely wine bar and shop was opened by Estelle Roumage of Château Lestrille in December 2017 on rue Saint James in Bordeaux’s old town.
A key axe for the Saint Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage route in the 13th century, in 2016 rue Saint James got its own article in Le Monde for representing all that is best about the renewed energy of Bordeaux.
Pedestrianised since 2006, it is home to an array of bars and coffee shops (my favourite being Books & Coffee), and tons of quirky small boutiques, such as the brilliant Dock des Epices spice shop and one of the few traditional luthier shops in southwest France, where Hervé Bérardet crafts and repairs violins, guitars and other stringed instruments.
Think Brick Lane in London, Bleecker St (okay, five years ago) in New York, Hollywood Road in Hong Kong.
All of this was a key attraction for Roumage, specifically as a reflection of the kind of wines that she makes, and the general clientele that she feels the more affordable Bordeaux appellation wines should be aiming for.
‘I began looking for a retail outlet in 2013, but it took until 2016 to find the right place,’ Roumage told me this week, a few days after I had been in to explore the shop.
‘I had to find somewhere that really reflected the spirit of Château Lestrille. What that means is somewhere friendly, not on one of the grandest shopping streets of Bordeaux, with a good mix of independent shops that focus on quality products’.
All of this is particularly heartening because the odds are stacked against you as a small Bordeaux producer. Collectively, you are responsible for 52% of the output of the region, but economically a fraction of that.
A full 39% of wine made in the Entre deux Mers region – which includes a lot of AOC Bordeaux – is sold en vrac, or in bulk. And there’s a clear price ceiling for the rest.
Expect buyers to get scarce as soon as you head above €5 or €10 (in extremely isolated cases) trade price, even though the difference between the best and the least interesting terroirs in this vast area (which in theory includes every square inch of Bordeaux vineyard, as they all have the right to use the labels AOC Bordeaux or AOC Bordeaux Supérieur, but in practice means everywhere outside of the more prestigious village and communal appellations) can be huge, with some areas of extremely high quality limestones, clays and gravels.
Land prices can make all this more palatable of course.
You should only spend an average of €20,000 per hectare to buy an estate, although if you bought it in 2000 you may have seen the value of your land drop by somewhere between 2 and 25% while the appellations around you have shot up to ever more dizzying heights (Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé at €6 million per hectare anyone?).
Château Lestrille has been in Roumage’s family for five generations, and she is an oenologist who made wine in New Zealand and Chile, as well as living in the UK for a number of years, before returning to Bordeaux.
And with Un Château En Ville she is by no means the first Château owner to bring Bordeaux wines to consumers in innovative ways.
Just last week, on February 1, Château Guiraud in Sauternes inaugurated its La Chapelle de Guiraud restaurant, run by the Nicolas Lascombes group, joining other Châteaux-with-tables such as Châteaux La Dominique, Marquis d’Alesme, Candale, Léognan, Troplong Mondot, Lynch Bages, Smith Haut-Lafitte and d’Agassac.
But until the opening of Un Château en Ville in December 2017, no one had done the same thing in Bordeaux in the city itself – missing out on what is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in France. Roumage is capitalising on this by working with the tourist office, downtown hotels and travel agents, all of which is much easier in the city than out in Lestrille’s very beautiful but more peaceful commune of St Germain de Puch in Entre deux Mers.
‘Ideally this becomes our major retail outlet for our 15 different wines,’ she says.
‘To make that happen, I need to make it welcoming to just drop by for a drink and a plate of something to eat. So far, so good – we have had more visitors that we expected in our first months of opening, and have set up evenings like Picnics in the City on Tuesday and Wednesdays, After Work Thursdays, and Oysters with Entre deux Mers on Fridays.
‘So far I think we are the only ones, but I hear others are interested – and the more we can make this link between Bordeaux city and its surrounding Châteaux, the better. But I’ll always be happy that it was an Entre deux Mers estate that did it first…’