An initial press conference on 9 November at Château Haut Brion, Pessac-Léognan Premier Grand Cru Classé, yielded news of ‘repositioning’ Bordeaux’s youngest appellation, Pessac-Léognan, with a new logo and publicity campaign that de-emphasises its link to the larger Graves region, while underscoring its Bordeaux city origins.
Pessac-Léognan: L’Esprit Bordeaux is meant to clearly communicate that Pessac-Léognan’s 70 châteaux with 1,880 hectares under vine ‘flank the outskirts’ of the Aquitaine capital, making ‘our wines quintessentially Bordeaux’ – so goes the text in a branded brochure that highlights the appellation’s soils and climate, its red and white wines, its family-owned wineries and its proximity to the city of Bordeaux.
Speaking at the conference, Jacques Lurton, president of the Pessac-Léognan wine association, explained that although the appellation was created in 1987, ‘it is developed on an ancient terroir where the first wines were cultivated 2,000 years ago, less than half an hour from Bordeaux city centre’.
‘The idea was to effectively define our strengths, and what we want to become, or where we want to go in the future,’ said Lurton during a second event at the end of November.
‘We wanted a new logo first, and then a new tagline,’ which was put forward by branding consultant Pascal Beucler and inspired from answers given during a survey of wine industry professionals.
‘The idea is that we are an urban appellation within the city of Bordeaux so we have to look towards, and associate, it with our communication’ said Lurton. ‘We are proud of the connection and we want to bring the spirit that links us to the fore,’ he added.
‘It was something quite strong for us to choose this, but we chose it together. It’s important for us to support Bordeaux too’, said Severine Bonnie of Château Malartic Lagravière.
‘We have done many things over the last four decades,’ said Domaine de Chevalier owner and winemaker Olivier Bernard, ‘and now it’s time to take the next step.’
The campaign is less about new initiatives but rather recognises work achieved over the last 35 years, said Beucler. Using a French play on words: Après le faire, c’est le faire savoir, he said.
In the past three decades Pessac-Léognan has pursued a dynamic promotional policy including hosting open house weekends in December and June for 25 years, organising wine tastings in major European cities and around key dates such as the Avant-Première des Primeurs evening in April. There is also the Pessac-Léognan trophy for sommelier students as well as ongoing research with the ISVV and Bordeaux wine schools.
The new bi-lingual English and French brochure is ‘like a manifesto of what we are today and what we’d like to be tomorrow,’ said Bonnie who was part of the committee agreeing the new guidelines.
While the group admits; ‘it’s not a revolution’ – they affirm it’s more an ‘evolution’ while emphasising the production of classified Bordeaux red and white wines as ‘unique’.
Pessac-Léognan counts 14 classified growths from the Graves appellation of 1953 in 10 communes from the northern part of that region, but Graves has become associated with lesser quality further south. As Ben Giliberti, wine educator for importer Calvert Woodley in Washington D.C., put it: ‘The vast majority of classified growth buyers now recognise the importance of the Pessac-Léognan designation’ as opposed to what he calls ‘the swill that’s made in the rest of the Graves’.
Pessac-Léognan has more stringent rules for vineyard planting density and yields and its estates are more innovative for organic and biodynamic winemaking.
Muting the link to Graves reflects a practice that consumers may not have noticed in recent years. Most of the 14 classified estates, including eight for white wine, have removed references to Graves. The front label of the 2010 vintage of Château Malartic Lagravière, for example, indicates ‘Grand Cru Classé de Graves’. But the 2020 label only shows ‘Grand Cru Classé’ with the appellation designation of Pessac-Léognan.
‘It’s a bit of an emancipation’ – un affranchissement – from the Graves origins, since the classification was set before the creation of Pessac-Léognan, said Lurton. Those keeping the Graves reference now wonder whether they should also remove it. ‘With this initiative, we may consider cutting the umbilical cord (to Graves) by also removing the specific reference, but it must be done with the consent of the entire family at the château,’ added Edouard Kressmann of the classified Château Latour Martillac.
Branding consultant Beucler draws a parallel with another famous Bordeaux region, saying that Château Latour does not advertise so much the Médoc – even if it’s a classified First Growth from the 1855 classification bearing the Médoc name – but rather as Pauillac, the more specific appellation within the region. Industry observers like Giliberti agreed: ‘Replacing Cru Classé de Graves with just Cru Classé makes sense to me as they are all Pessac-Léognan anyway.’
‘We are coming from the Graves, but where others focus solely on their appellations, we are doing the same,’ said Bernard. ‘Pessac is born in the Graves, today we are still part of it, but our communication is not to be as close as we’ve been in the past. It’s not to forget the Graves but Pessac-Léognan has its own story,’ he added.
As for the Crus Classés they are ‘happy to have a strong base’ and to benefit from the new branding, said Bonnie.
The new logo will be mainly used for social media and promotional purposes but may be added to wine labels – front or back. It will be up to châteaux owners to decide.
It is not clear how important this initiative is for end consumers – strong brands like Haut Brion, Haut Bailly, Domaine de Chevalier and Smith Haut Lafitte sell well whatever logo or appellation identity but the group hopes to strengthen the ties between the appellation and Bordeaux city as its ‘strongest supporter’.
‘We all share the same idea and the same goal – that’s not so easy but we’re all working together’ to continue to improve among other things; the quality of the wines, the tourism efforts and the overall image of Pessac-Léognan.
‘We have the only vineyard in Bordeaux you can reach by tram, and others by bike’, said Lurton and there are plans underway to develop wine routes by boat.
‘Now is the right time to make a new step,’ Bernard concluded.
Additional reporting by Georgie Hindle.