Industry opinion on the pricing of Bordeaux’s 2023 vintage

Viable release price distribution (as featured in Bordeaux Study Part I: Scalpel, please)

Wine Lister has published Part I of its annual Bordeaux study, titled Scalpel, please’. The report is informed by Wine Lister’s 80 million rows of data and reveals the results of our latest survey of 58 CEOs, MDs, and wine department heads from companies represent well over one-third of global fine wine revenues. Our latest blog explores some of the key findings from Part I, including trade recommendations for how the impending 2023 vintage should be priced in order to restore Bordeaux and the en primeur system to full health. We asked our survey respondents the following question:

On average, in order for the 2023 en primeur campaign to attract decent demand, what do you believe to be the maximum viable release price vs 2022?

When asked about the pricing of the upcoming en primeur campaign, the respondents called unilaterally for a price reduction on the 2022 vintage, while suggesting an average release price discount of -30%.

Americas and Asia (both smaller subsets of the survey) agree on lower median discounts, proposing -20% and -25%, respectively, while European trade members suggest an average -30%. La Place de Bordeaux and specialist merchants / retailers both suggest a median discount of -30%, top tier merchants / importers recommend a -23% discount, and auction houses call for an average -10% on the 2022.

Median by geography (as featured in Bordeaux – Part I, Scalpel, please)

 

Median by trade sector (as featured in Bordeaux – Part I, Scalpel, please)

 

Purchase the full study here (in French and English) to read more exclusive insights from the fine wine trade’s leading industry figures.


Bordeaux Study 2024 Part I: “Scalpel, please”

Study digest: key findings from from Bordeaux – Part I, “Scalpel, please”

With Bordeaux en primeur around the corner, Wine Lister has now published Part I of its 2024 Bordeaux Study: “Scalpel, please

The report is informed by our annual survey of 58 international leading trade figures alongside our 80 million rows of data, providing crucial information for those who are selling or buying Bordeaux en primeur over the coming months. Purchase the full report here for £150 (in French or in English) for exclusive insight on Bordeaux’s top-performing wines and market expectations for the 2023 release price. Our Pro subscribers can access their free copy here.

Please see our key findings below, or download the study digest in English: Study Digest ENG or in French: Study Digest FR.


France’s 50 best winemakers: Guillaume Pouthier of Château les Carmes Haut-Brion

Managing Director of the pioneering Pessac-Léognan estate: “Thinking you’ve made it spells the beginning of the end!”

Guillaume Pouthier, Managing Director of Château les Carmes Haut-Brion, has been awarded the title of France’s best winemaker by Le Figaro. The Pessac-Léognan estate, which today boasts a state-of-the-art winery designed by Philippe Starck, has experienced an unprecedented rise in popularity in recent years, its leaps and bounds in quality driven by the winemaker’s technical daring and spirit of innovation.

“I owe a lot to my mother,” the Toulouse-born winemaker tells Le Figaro. It was his mother who encouraged him to study agricultural engineering, when he had more or less given up on the idea of pursuing higher education. Today, after three decades of winemaking, he embodies one of the most meteoric success stories in the Bordeaux wine region, if not the whole French wine-making industry, over the past five years. Today, Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion is the fastest-selling en primeur wine, with prices that continue to rise on the secondary market, whereas so many others end up experiencing a decline. What lies behind such enthusiasm? The combination of a unique style – which manages to be both modern and authentic, and is appreciated by critics and consumers alike – with canny marketing management has made the château utterly irresistible. Rare are the winemakers who are able to tackle both fronts with so much panache, whilst remaining kind and humble. All these qualities justify the choice of Guillaume Pouthier at the head of Le Figaro Vin’s ranking of France’s 50 best winemakers.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Guillaume Pouthier: In wine, we never talk about “champions”. The word “champion” is appropriate in sport, where there’s a winner and a loser. Wines, on the other hand, will all reach their target consumers. We make wine in relation to a particular place. No one wine is any better than another; it’s just the purpose of each wine which ends up being different. The reason we make wine is linked to a form of expression. I don’t think I’m any better than the next winemaker and, what’s more, I’m very surprised to be so high in your ranking, especially when I see the exceptional people who have appeared in it. They are legends, whereas I am just a little troublemaker from Toulouse!

Have you been training for long?

I made my first vintage in 1994, so I’ve been doing it for 30 years. There’s still a lot left for me to do. It’s a real marathon – or even an ultra-endurance run. But I’d better lose some weight if I want to do one of those!

Who is your mentor?

I have several. My personal coaches are the people around me – my family – who put into perspective the pressure that I do, at times, feel. Professionally, one always has several mentors. In 1998, when I was only 25 years old, Jean-Marie Chadronnier took a big gamble in handing Château La Garde over to me, a young gun with no experience, and, for that, I am very, very grateful to him. Since then, there have been many people who have inspired me, for the purity of the wines that they produce, which move me beyond words. I am in awe of the wines made at Gonon (Domaine Pierre Gonon in Saint-Joseph, ed.), and of those made by Pierre-Olivier Clouet at Cheval Blanc, and by Baptiste and Julie Guinaudeau at Château Lafleur.

Would you say that wine is a team sport?

The two are synonymous. You can’t make wine without a team behind you, as, when you’re making wine, you’re never 100% right. Each vintage is made up of lots of different decisions, or paths, that you take as you go along. Each one is different, so each year we have to seek out new paths, in order to get to the same destination and make a great wine.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

It’s 100% about place. The winemaker is but a passing presence. Wine was made before they arrived and will continue to be made once they have gone. The winemaker is merely giving a voice, through the various vintages that they work on, to the place. They are the linchpin – the go-between that links the place to the wine that is produced from it. To say otherwise would be to give too much importance to the winemaker’s actions. Of course, we take decisions, and we make choices – but, ultimately, making great wines in less than great locations is something I don’t believe to be possible.

To what or to whom do you owe your success?

I owe it firstly to my parents, who made it possible for me to pursue higher education when it seemed like I wasn’t cut out for it. It was my mother who encouraged me to apply for Purpan (an agricultural engineering school in Toulouse, ed.); I was amazed to be accepted. It was there that I learnt to use a team sport mentality in my work – and it was that very mentality that I wanted to be trained to use. My studies there really helped me in thinking about the questions “What is higher education for?” and “What purpose does the concept of a team serve?”. On our own, we can go far but, together, we can go really far.

Is your family proud of you?

My daughters are 15 and 21. I’m not sure they truly understand what it means to be a winemaker. I think they love their father for who he is, and what he stands for in their eyes, without any thought of professional success. As for my parents, we’re quite reserved in my family, we don’t really show our emotions, we’ve never had this need to say out loud that we’re proud of each other. In our family, pride is out of place.

Who has been your biggest sponsor throughout your career?

I have several. The first is the owner of the estate, Patrice Pichet, who, each vintage, lets me try to make an exceptional wine with my team. Beyond that, our best supporters are all the wine enthusiasts out there who, year after year, are willing to invest a bit of money to buy these fine bottles. I hope they get their moment of pleasure from them.

Your favourite colour?

Blue. It’s a colour that you can find in lots of different places and one that I like to see in the distance – the sea, the sky, the horizon. What is wonderful with wine is that you must never give yourself any limits, never think you’ve got it all covered, you have to keep saying to yourself all the time that you are just at the beginning of your journey.

Your favourite grape variety?

Cabernet Franc, as it’s an unpredictable variety, which is very difficult to tame and to grow to perfect ripeness.

Your favourite wine?

One of my most treasured tasting memories remains a Jean-Louis Chave wine. I think it was during his father’s time – a Cuvée Cathelin 1991. It was a legendary Syrah, as it had everything that you could ever look for in a wine: perfect balance, a lot of complexity, with that kind of characterful elegance that Hermitage wines possess. Above all, it was a wine that made a very great impression on me.

What’s your favourite vintage?

I have two: 2016 and 2022. They are both vintages where we made certain choices – making choices always implies some form of sacrifice.  At a certain moment, you have to accept that to improve, you have to make wines that are a little less extracted, less in-your-face, which will allow you, somehow, to make wines that are much more expressive. Today, those two vintages are the translation of a particular place, they are the image that I visualise when I think of Les Carmes, they represent the choices that we have made as a team, and which have allowed us to make the wine that I had always hoped to make.

If your wine were a person, who would it be?

One person, and one person only: the place it comes from.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

Sharing a bottle amongst friends – not necessarily with connoisseurs, but with people who appreciate our winemaking philosophy and where the wine comes from.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine?

I enhance my wine every day, with the passion that my whole team puts into their work. That shared passion that runs throughout the team – from the winemaker through to the estate owner – is the best enhancer that exists. In life, you need to be both willing and able to do things. We are lucky enough, with our owners, that we are able to do whatever we want to do – which is fairly rare!

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of having encouraged my team to work together, as one, and to take pride in each other’s work, in the project that we have accomplished together and in the recognition that we, and the château, receive from our peers.

Who is your most formidable opponent in Bordeaux?

Mother Nature. With global warming, things are getting very difficult, very stressful, because there are so many different elements and events which can spoil a harvest. It really worries me, as I think this phenomenon will be considerably magnified in vintages to come. Behind each vineyard, there are people, and decades and decades of work which could be erased in a few minutes. You might escape the clutches of disaster for a year, two years, perhaps even three, but I’m not sure you can escape them eternally, between frost, hailstorms, diseases, heatwaves, etc. We do everything we can to prepare for these events, but I’m not sure that we will always manage to recover. We’re putting up a fight, but we have no guarantee that we’ll succeed: even with all the means in the world, it’s Mother Nature who decides.

What’s your most innovative tactic in the vineyard?

No great red wines are made without some moisture restriction, so optimising water management between plots is what makes us tick. This year, it was a real challenge. When it comes to our cultivation techniques, we work the soil, at different moments of the day, and we use different kinds of cover crops. We use green manures of varying compositions, according to the quality of the soil and its porosity. We have certain indicators and, using these indicators, we always try to optimise the moisture restriction without going all the way to hydric stress, because we know very well that it’s when we are stressed that we end up making mistakes.

And in the cellar?

At a time when everyone was against the idea of varietal extraction, we dared to use whole-bunch fermentation – as it used to be done in days of old – and submerged cap techniques.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

The person who succeeds me will have to be someone innovative, passionate and, above all, who is not afraid of mixing things up. Nothing is worse than inertia. I’m not in favour of change for change’s sake, but I am in favour of constantly reassessing things. Bordeaux is a powerhouse, the likes of which exist in very few places around the world. The Place de Bordeaux, if we’re talking about distribution or sales, is the same. However, you mustn’t start thinking you’ve made it, whatever you do – because that spells the beginning of the end!


France’s 50 best winemakers: Marie-Andrée and Marie-Christine Mugneret of Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg

“When we arrived on the scene, there were very few women in this profession,” recount two sisters who co-own and manage this exceptional Burgundy estate.

Occupying the #2 position in Le Figaro Vin’s ranking of France’s Best Winemakers 2023 are Marie-Andrée Nauleau-Mugneret and Marie-Christine Teillaud-Mugneret of Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg. One of Burgundy’s hidden treasures, their domaine is today considered to be a jewel in the region’s crown, despite its understated discretion.

The pair’s father, Georges Mugneret, believed, “It is not a job for women!”. Following his untimely death in 1988, the sisters were faced with a dilemma: should they sell their precious plots to the buyer their father had found before his death, or should they rise to the challenge of taking over the estate? In a heartwarming turn of events, the buyer stepped back chivalrously from the deal, encouraging their mother, Jacqueline, to allow her daughters to write a new chapter in the family history. For Marie-Christine, a pharmacist by trade and already a mother, this entry into the world of wine was unexpected. By contrast, her sister Marie-Andrée, nine years her junior, had always dreamed of working alongside their father. Barely 20 at the time of his death, the young woman was already immersed in her oenology studies. Marie-Christine was the first to join the estate in 1988, and Marie-Andrée followed her when she finished her studies three years later.

The Mugneret sisters, who together represent the third generation of winemakers in the family, make a formidable team, with Marie-Christine in the cellar, and Marie-Andrée in the vineyard. The two women have not lost their taste for hard work, even after more than thirty years at the helm. Today, their wines are every bit as good as their better-known Vosne-Romanée neighbours: caressing, full-bodied and sumptuous, they are the ultimate expression of the extraordinary purity and finesse of Pinot Noir.

How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Marie-Christine Teillaud-Mugneret: Unlike a sporting champion, you don’t necessarily realise straight away that you’re a wine champion. It’s during the various tastings that you realise that you’ve succeeded with the vintage.

Marie-Andrée Nauleau-Mugneret: I’d never asked myself that question. The idea of being wine champions is somewhat abstract for us.

How long have you been training?

M-C-T-M: For 35 years. As the eldest sister, I started first, in 1988, because Marie-Andrée hadn’t yet finished her oenology studies, so I’ve had three more years with the estate.

M-A-N-M: That makes it 32 years for me, officially, but it’s a profession that we were familiar with long before that, when we were children.

Who are your mentors?

M-A-N-M:  In the truest sense, it was our father, because he was the person we worked with the most. We lost him at a very young age, as he died at 59. We also have memories of what our grandfather, who was an excellent craftsman, told us, so we have two different mentors, each with their own method. Our grandfather’s method was more traditional, while our father’s was more innovative. Another of our mentors are the vintages we’ve experienced, year after year.

Is winemaking a team sport?

M-C-T-M: Yes, it would be complicated to be a winemaker on your own. We inevitably have to work with other people.

M-A-N-M: When harvest rolls around, which is the culmination of a year’s work in the vineyards, we really feel the cohesion of the team. That’s the strength of our work!

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

M-A-N-M: Both. The winemaker must work in perfect harmony with the terroir. If the winemaker does not adapt to the terroir, or if he or she lets the riches offered by the terroir go to waste, there will be no good wine.

M-C-T-M: With a difficult terroir, even the best winemaker will not be able to express perfectly his art.

To what do you owe your success?

M-A-N-M: We owe it to the education and legacy that has been handed to us. I’m not talking about inheritance when I say legacy, but the work ethic that was instilled in us. When Marie-Christine and I took over the estate in 1988, before even thinking about satisfying the wine critics, it was absolutely essential that we got each vintage right, that we did our job as well as we could. That is what has enabled us to climb the rungs of this magnificent profession, one by one. We also owe it to the support of our mother, who has played a key role, even though she was never involved in the production.

M-C-T-M: We had grandparents and parents who encouraged us to focus on the smallest details. Just skimming the surface wasn’t enough.

Are your daughters proud of you?

M-C-T-M: I think so, yes.

M-A-N-M: Yes, but not necessarily in terms of professional success. I think they’re especially proud of the fact that, as women and mothers, we’ve managed to make our mark, vintage after vintage. In 1988, when we arrived on the scene, there were very few women in this profession. We didn’t have any brothers or cousins, so we had to push on. I think our daughters are prouder of that aspect than of the estate’s reputation, which came later.

Who is your most important sponsor?

M-A-N-M: Nature, the perfect suitability of the Pinot Noir grape variety, which we are lucky enough to grow, and these terroirs, microscopic on a global scale, which we are lucky enough to manage.

M-C-T-M: Nature can be our best supporter, just as it can be our most terrible adversary.

What’s your favourite colour?

M-C-T-M: Blue, matched with ruby.

M-A-N-M: Blue, too, because it’s the colour of the sky and of the sea.

M-C-T-M: Sometimes, when we arrive in the morning, we are dressed practically the same, even without meaning to.

Your favourite grape variety?

M-A-N-M and M-C-T-M (in unison): Pinot Noir!

M-A-N-M: We’re so lucky to have been born here! Pinot Noir offers unrivalled delicacy and variety. Even when it’s grown in other regions, it’s a grape variety that captivates us.

Your favourite wine?

M-C-T-M: I like the Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Chaignots, it’s a safe bet, whatever the vintage, whatever the moment, whoever you open it with. I often compare wines to people, and for me it’s a reliable friend you can count on.

M-A-N-M: For me, it’s the Ruchottes-Chambertin (Grand Cru, ed.). I remember very well when our father bought the plot, because it was a wonderful story involving the Rousseau family. It’s a wine that has charmed everyone, like a new-born baby that wasn’t expected. It’s not exuberant, but delicate.

What’s your favourite vintage?

M-A-N-M: 2002. We liked it so much that, unfortunately, we don’t have much left in the cellar. It offered the generosity of a sun-drenched vintage, but with the great delicacy of a cooler, wetter year.

M-C-T-M: For me, it would be the 2012, ten years later. It’s a vintage full of finesse, which admirably expresses all the terroirs. With this vintage, produced in small quantities, we really have the expression of Pinot Noir from each of them. In fact, I think it’s because we had a small quantity that we were able to achieve this definition and precision.

M-A-N-M: To conclude, we could say that our favourite vintage is always the next one!

If your wine were a person, who would it be?

M-C-T-M:  Each wine has its own personality and, as in a family, each is different from its brother or cousin, with similarities and differences. Each sets itself apart: Chaignots, for example, is the reliable friend, while Chambolle-Musigny is more delicate.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

M-C-T-M: Wine should remain convivial and provide pleasure. You need to be in good company, or already in a good frame of mind. If you are tired or stressed, you should give up on the idea of tasting.

M-A-N-M: Being “in good company” can just mean being with one other person.

M-C-T-M: You need to be with people you feel comfortable with, with whom you want to talk and share.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine?

M-A-N-M and M-C-T-M (in unison): Oh no!

M-A-N-M: During the harvest, we pump ourselves full of vitamin C or treat ourselves to a little chocolate.

M-C-T-M:  A gourmet treat is the only kind of enhancement we allow ourselves!

M-A-N-M: The fruit we harvest has to be the only ingredient in our cuvées, meaning that it’s the terroir, the fruit, and the weather conditions of the year that really make the vintage. If we tamper with any one of these three factors, we won’t get the balance we want.

And what about chaptalisation?

M-A-N-M: I discovered chaptalisation with my grandfather, who was in favour of very moderate chaptalisation. By adding a little sugar, it allows the vats to ferment a little longer, so you gain complexity. I call this support, not chemical enhancement. It’s the banana Rafael Nadal needs when a match drags on too long.

At what price would you be prepared to sell your domaine?

M-A-N-M and M-C-T-M (in unison): At no price.

M-A-N-M: It’s a question we had to face when our father died. He was an ophthalmologist as well as working on the estate, so he was juggling two roles. He had a completely devoted wife, our mother, who made life run smoothly for him every day. When he knew he was going to die, he said to himself: “If my daughters do this job, they’ll never be able to be mothers. That can’t happen!” He insisted that his chartered accountant find him a buyer a few days before his death. When our father died, the buyer came to see our mother. He said to her: “Look, I promised your husband that I would buy your property. I didn’t discuss the price with him, and I’m not here to discuss the price with you, I’m here to tell you: ‘Try it with your daughters, it’s worth giving it a go!’.” He was an extraordinary person because he could very well have said: “Your husband promised me, he made a commitment”. We have enormous respect for this magnanimous man.

Who is your most formidable opponent in Burgundy?

M-A-N-M and M-C-T-M (in unison): The weather, the climate, nature.

What is your greatest achievement?

M-C-T-M: I think it’s having succeeded both in being a mother and in maintaining the estate, and in doing both at the same time. I hope I haven’t neglected either my children or the estate along the way.

M-A-N-M: It’s exactly the same for me, and, what’s more, for the fact that our daughters decided to join us of their own volition (the two sisters each have two daughters, ed.). It was their choice; we never forced them to do it. One day, in 2016, we were having a family meal, just talking, and Marie-Christine and I said: “Look, we’re getting on a bit. It’s a tough business we’re in. If none of you want to take over the business, we’ll understand, but we’re going to have to make a decision”. And our daughters all stopped eating, and said, “But that can’t happen! You mustn’t even think about selling. Give us time to come back to the estate!”. And that is what happened, slowly but surely. Today, three of them work with us and the fourth, Clémence, Marie-Christine’s second daughter, is a lawyer specialising in rural law.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the cellar?

M-C-T-M: In the cellar, I try to instil the importance of attention to detail in Lucie (Hinterlang-Teillaud, ed.), who works with me on blending, bottling, and so on. There are lots of things that she’s already grasped in broad terms and in terms of technique, but I push her to go further and further into the finer details. I ask her to check things and then check them again, to think things through and then think them through again, to go over things and then go over them again. It is a little OCD!

And in the vineyard?

M-A-N-M: Our best tactic is to keep listening to and learning from the vines, and to be constantly seeking balance. You must be attentive, not get stuck in your ways, and try to understand and interpret.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

M-A-N-M and M-C-T-M (in unison): Our daughters!

M-A-N-M: Now the challenge is to pass the baton. We’re running around the estate to ensure a smooth handover, but we still want to keep on running for a while!

M-C-T-M: As Marie-Andrée says, we don’t want to stop here. I’d like to continue running very gently, without leaving the domaine completely.


France’s 50 best winemakers: Frédéric Faye of Château Figeac

Managing Director of the iconic Saint-Émilion estate: “You can plaster make-up on a lot of things, but the truth always comes out”.

Standing at #3 on the podium of France’s Best Winemakers in 2023 is Frédéric Faye, Managing Director of Château Figeac. Since joining the estate in 2013, the passionate, yet patient, winemaker has proved himself many times over.

In 2013, at just 32 years old, Frédéric Faye took over from Count Eric d’Aramon as Managing Director, after holding the positions of Head of Cultivation and Technical Director for the estate. His work was recognised once again in 2022, when the property gained the coveted status of Grand Cru Classé A. The celebrated Saint-Émilion property, which has belonged to the Manoncourt family since 1892, seems to have reached its rightful place, with an instantly recognisable style, and increasing precision with each vintage.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Frédéric Faye: Personally, I’m not so sure I’m a champion. It’s really Château Figeac and its wine that are the champions. I’m lucky to have been working here for 21 years, alongside the Manoncourt family, who placed their trust in me. So the champion is really Figeac, and its great terroir.

Have you been training for long?

I have been training for 21 years at Figeac, but I started even before that. I come from a farming family in the Périgord, and you could say I’ve always been immersed in agriculture. Whether it’s working the fields, with my grandfather, or raising cattle and growing vines. I’ve been harvesting grapes since I was a child. I grew up in this environment, and understood early on what wine could do, how it brought people together and inspired them, how it conveyed emotion and pleasure. You could say I’ve been training for a while.

Who is your mentor?

I’ve had several inspiring moments, especially when I started at Figeac. I was fortunate to meet Thierry Manoncourt, with whom I talked at length about his terroir and his vision of wine in general, not just at Figeac in fact, and I can say he has been a coach of sorts to me. My family, with its farming roots, also played that role. Other than that, for the day-to-day, I don’t really have a mentor. Working, gaining experience, constantly questioning myself – these are the things that help me progress.

Would you say that wine is a team sport?

Wine is completely a team sport. Even a great navigator trying to circumnavigate the globe needs a team to sail. The navigator stands at the helm, but they need other skills. That’s essential. Here, at Figeac, we have a great team. One I’m really happy with.

Was moving up a division hard for you (Château Figeac is now a Saint-Émilion Premier Grand Cru classé A, ed.)?

We had prepared and worked for it. We all knew challenges were going to arise when changing divisions. It’s also a point of pride, of satisfaction, knowing that Figeac has found its rightful place today. And for the Manoncourt family, it represents recognition of their work.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

The terroir, decidedly. You cannot make great wines without a good terroir. To that, you must add the savoir-faire and the team. The captain needs to rally the troops, defining the work objectives and what needs improving.

Are your parents proud of you?

Yes, of course my parents are proud of me. For a start, I chose the career I wanted early on in life. In my last years of secondary school, I took a special agricultural option, before eventually becoming an agricultural engineer. They always supported me. I think they are proud of me.

Who has been your biggest sponsor throughout your career?

The Figeac terroir. It is exceptional, very particular. It gives me the tools to succeed. And then, of course, the Manoncourt family, who trust me and have helped me grow on their estate.

Your favourite colour?

Green – I love green. It’s the colour of a healthy plant, one that is full of promise. It’s also the colour of hope, which one must always have.

Your favourite past season?

2022. It was the first vintage with Château Figeac’s new ranking, the first vintage made in our new cellars, with a previously unmatched level of precision at the estate. I really enjoyed 2022, with its exceptional, very particular climatic conditions. It was a real surprise and a source of satisfaction to have made this vintage.

Have you chemically enhanced your estate in the past?

Never, because that would be artificial, and goes against my work as a winemaker, which consists of finding the purest way of bottling the terroir of Château Figeac. There has never been any doping here.

In the industry, chemical enhancements are a recurring topic.

Absolutely, you can play around with these tricks. But in the long run, when you’re making age-worthy wines, 10 years down the line, all of this disappears and only the terroir remains – and the great wines. You can plaster make-up on things, but it all disappears in the bottle, and the truth always comes out.

As a great leader, have you had offers from other clubs?

People stopped making me offers when they realised how much I was thriving at the estate, and at a very competitive level.

Clearly, the club is not for sale?

The club is not for sale and no changes are in the works. Perhaps one of my qualities, not to seem self-centred, is my loyalty. Loyalty towards my teams and the Manoncourt family, both are essential to keep moving forward.


Now published: Wine Lister’s 2023 Wine Leagues

As 2023 draws to a close, Wine Lister has published the fourth of its annual Wine Leagues. The study explores this year’s top-performing wines and producers within a series of categories, informed by our annual trade survey of key industry players. It reveals exciting developments in the world of fine wine and shines a light on consumer trends and estates on the rise.

Read some key findings in our study digest below or download the full report for free here.

 


France’s 50 best winemakers: Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon of Champagne Louis Roederer

Cellar Master of the prestigious Champagne house: “In people and wine alike, it’s the shy ones that you need, not the loudmouths”.

Distinguished Cellar Master of a Champagne house that is mapping out the future for the entire Champagne region, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon is a resolutely hands-on winemaker. #4 in Le Figaro Vin’s rankings, the visionary winemaker reveals the philosophy behind his success.

Founded in 1776 by Mr. Dubois and his son, the Champagne house really started to flourish under Louis Roederer, who inherited the company in 1832. Rather than buying grapes, Roederer chose to buy vineyards, meticulously selecting the very best parcels. In 1876, his son, Louis Roederer II, created the first prestige cuvée Champagne, designed for Tsar Alexander II, to which he gave the name Cristal. Later, during the 1920s, Léon Olry Roederer led the Champagne house, and, upon his death, it passed to his wife Camille. Her grandson, Jean-Claude Rouzaud, assumed responsibility for the company in 1975, deciding to consolidate the vineyards. Headed since 2006 by Frédéric Rouzaud, the seventh generation of the family, the Louis Roederer Champagne House is today one of the foremost producers in the Champagne region, propelled by the inexpressibly brilliant Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Deputy Managing Director and Cellar Master since 1999.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: There are a lot of us winemaking champions around! Wine is a passion for me. I’m lucky to lead the life that I lead, to be able to follow the evolution of the vines and the grapes right up to the final product.

Have you been training for long?

Every year marks the start of a new training session, a new exercise. Each vintage, we have a new match to play and, each year, we have the chance to get it right or to get it wrong. If we do get it wrong, we have to work out why we’ve been less successful with certain elements, so that we can improve the following year. Our training begins with our very first vinification, but it’s a profession that you learn with experience. Each year, you refine your style a little further. It’s a process of improvement that takes a whole career.

Who are your mentors?

I have had several mentors. I’ll stick to my teachers, as, to be a great champion, you need to have been well schooled. Our generation is perhaps somewhat more spontaneous than previous generations, but I think that formal training plays an important part. Amongst others, I had Denis Dubourdieu, who taught me to know and understand the Bordeaux region, as did Jacques Boissenot. Instead of talking about “mentors”, I’d rather talk about the people that I have met along the way. You learn about grape-growing from travelling around, heading into the field to meet people who are at the forefront of innovation in their region. You must have no qualms about going to speak to them and learn from them; each person has their own precise experience which feeds into the whole.

Is winemaking a team sport?

It is clearly a team sport. At five o’clock in the morning, it’s my teams who head out into the vineyards. To be a good winemaker over the kinds of surfaces that we cover, I think you also need to be a good manager. You have to be able to identify the role of each person, find out what they are good at, and, above all, let them express that little bit extra, and give meaning to what they do. That’s really fundamental. It’s very much for that reason that I chose to go biodynamic a little over 20 years ago. It wasn’t to join the Rudolf Steiner school of thought (Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and pedagogue, was the founding father of biodynamic agriculture, ed.), which I still don’t understand to this day, but to give a certain freedom to my teams, to give them the power to play their part in this shared adventure. For that is exactly what this is, a shared adventure. Each stage in the process is important, and each person plays their part. So, yes, it is very much a team adventure, and that includes sales as well. It’s all very well to make good wine, but you also need to be able to get it distributed and sold. That’s very important too.

Has playing in the Premier League for so many years been difficult?

It is very demanding, yes. You have to keep on pushing – you have to be working on tomorrow’s Premier League today. You have to innovate again and again, without ever stopping.

What do you mean by that?

Wine goes through trends. There are some winemakers in today’s Premier League who will have disappeared tomorrow. In the wine industry, you need to be constantly innovating. That is what is so interesting in our profession: it’s about roots and tradition, but there’s also a great deal of innovation involved, as you need to be questioning what you are doing all the time. Sometimes, innovating is about reinforcing what you are already doing, but in a clearer, more effective way. My role as champion is, I think, to simplify. I have to make my teams’ work easier, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. I need to make things easier to understand, not complicate them. The more easily understandable things are, the more brilliantly they will be done by everyone.

What is the key to making a good wine: the players, the team captain, or the pitch?

It’s a whole combination. You need athletes – people with talent – and you need to get them to work together. It’s like blending wine. When you’re creating a blend, it’s not the strength of the individual personalities that counts – we know, when we taste wines individually, that a blend of the best wines is likely to make a good wine. The goal in creating a blend is to make a wine that is even greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not by blending champions together that you’ll make a champion – you need to find wines that are a little shy. The same thing applies when you’re creating a team: it’s the shy ones that you need, not the loudmouths, not the ones who have the most obvious talent. The shyer members of the team are often the facilitators, who bring the team together. Here, we return to the analogy of the football team: you need attackers and defenders, but also midfielders, who distribute the ball – it’s precisely this distribution of the ball which does all the work. That’s really important in a team. It’s for that reason that, both in my teams and in my wines, I consider the shy ones to be so important, as I know they are what will make the difference.

Have you had a good sponsor over all these years?

The Rouzaud family. I have been working for them for 35 years: I spent 16 years working with Jean-Claude, who hired me 35 years ago, and I have just finished my 16th year of working with Frédéric. The Rouzaud family is my sponsor and has given me the very best Champagne terroirs. They have given me Roederer and Cristal, and the chance to elevate them to an even higher level. They are my greatest sponsor.

What’s your favourite colour?

I have two favourite colours: white and blue. Why white? Because it’s the colour of chalk. Chalk represents purity and I always have this colour in mind when I’m blending. And blue? Because it’s the purity of the sky. I always imagine the white soil and the blue sky when I’m making Cristal. That’s what guides me, visually, at the blending stage.

What’s your favourite vintage?

I won’t call them my “favourite” vintages. They are, instead, watershed years: vintages which made me realise that I needed to change, ones in which I realised I wasn’t going in the right direction and needed to regain my bearings, or ones which taught me to be a better winemaker. 1996, 2002, 2012, and, I’d say, 2018 and 2019. They are all vintages which mark some kind of turning point for me. 1996 was the great revelation that the focus had to return to the grape-growing, even in Champagne. 2002 was the year when I really discovered climate change. There is something happening to our wines, which is not normal – or, at least, we are not working with the same material we were working with previously. 2012 is the halfway point in my conversion to organic and biodynamic methods – especially organic. It was a very difficult year. We had to work hard to keep the team together. We could have backed out and said that organic grape growing didn’t work, and then gone back to conventional methods. However, we did the opposite and accelerated our transition. For me, that was fundamental. And, in 2018 – more so than in 2019, in fact – it was the total transition to certified organic status for Domaine Cristal.

Have you ever chemically enhanced your vineyard?

Never. On the contrary, I think I’ve spent my career doing the very opposite. By distancing myself from chemical intervention with our switch to organic methods, I think I removed the chemical enhancement that was muddying the waters, so that each terroir can now express itself in all its glory once again.

Have you already had offers from other clubs?

Yes, of course. There have been numerous offers from other clubs in France and abroad. However, there’s a real bond of loyalty – and a real complicity – that has developed between the Rouzaud family and me.

Are you going to sign for another 10 seasons?

Yes, I’ll sign for another 10 seasons, without a second thought. In the Premier League!


France’s 50 best winemakers: Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine Leroy

Exclusive interview with Lalou Bize-Leroy, Burgundy doyenne and wine legend: “Natural wine is complete nonsense”.

At 91, Marcelle Bize-Leroy, more commonly known as Lalou, from Domaine Leroy, is a force of nature. Standing at #5 in our rankings, we met her on her home turf in Auxey-Duresses.

The proud daughter of a winemaker father, Lalou Bize-Leroy founded her own négociant business and produced her first wines in 1955. Pioneering biodynamic viticulture in the rather conservative Burgundy region, she quickly gained a cult following, inspiring many of her peers both in France and across the globe. Cultivating an approach based more on instinct than on science, she sees her vines as living individuals, and likes to think that each wine is endowed with its own personality. Thanks to their unique resonance, her cuvées now reach stratospheric prices, particularly at auction.

Wife of the late Marcel Bize, who died in an accident in 2004, and co-manager of the legendary Domaine de la Romanée-Conti between 1974 and 1992 (in which she remains a shareholder), Lalou Bize-Leroy is wine royalty. It was an immense honour to meet her for an exclusive interview.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Lalou Bize-Leroy: I certainly don’t see myself as a champion, I’m an apprentice, somewhat studious, very studious actually. And every year I learn something.

Have you been training for long?

I tasted wine a lot from an early age; my father even brought wine to my lips when I was born. As a child, when I was supposed to be napping I would watch for the moment my parents left the lunch table to go into the drawing room, and I would sneak down into the dining room and finish their glasses. I’ve loved wine ever since I was a little girl, and I still do today. I must have been three or four years old, and it never did me any harm. I wanted to emulate my father, who told me from very early on that I had a good palate. I was as proud as a peacock, of course!

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

You have to respect the terroir, which of course means respecting the vine, cultivating it as it should be cultivated and not treating it like a cash cow. Small yields are essential. We average between 15 and 20 hl/ha here. Anything more can still be good, but I think 20 hl/ha is perfect. Vines are living creatures, no two years are ever the same, and each time it’s a different lesson that the wine – the vine’s offspring – teaches us. We try to do our best, and often we don’t do well enough.

You can always do better, if you take greater care. That said, there are years when we can’t do a thing. In 2004, for example, there were so many unripe grapes that we declassified everything into generic Bourgogne. That you have to be prepared to do, above all.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the vineyard?  Biodynamics?

Biodynamics is a meaningless term. What people used to do was biodynamic, it just wasn’t called that. I was the first in Burgundy to talk about such things. Biodynamics involves taking the view that everything is alive and then respecting that life. We are, for example, all under the influence of the moon, and vines react in the same way as we do. As far as I’m concerned, I never cut them back, because I think it’s a massacre. Pruning a vine is just not right. It’s a plant – we’re not at the hairdresser – and these plants are being made to suffer like martyrs. Do people think I’m crazy? Well, yes, I am crazy. And the vines love me for it. They’re happy and look magnificent, with their tall canes. They’re free and content, without any stress. Cutting back is an abomination. I stopped doing it in 1988 because I couldn’t stand it anymore, it made me ill. The vines were happy straight away – or, at least, that’s how I understood it. I may have been wrong, but I don’t think so. Today, some people are starting to stop pruning, or to prune less.

And your most innovative strategy in the cellar?

You have to leave things to happen by themselves, keeping an eye on them, but, most importantly, not interfering constantly. I admire all those very specialist wine-making experts but, personally, I’m afraid of tinkering too much. If your cellar is too warm, then yes, you might think of intervening, as the wine needs to be just right, at exactly the right temperature. Our cellar is at a temperature of 12 to 14 degrees, with no draughts, as I don’t think the wine likes being blasted by cold air. Ultimately, of course, I have no idea, as I’ve never asked, but I don’t think it would feel sheltered or comfortable. I talk to my wines, I say “You’re beautiful!”, and to my vines, “You look beautiful!”, or “You look tired!”, or “Thank you.” You have to be present, to listen, look, smell, understand, and of course, taste. If the wine has a good, cool cellar, and is topped up – twice a week in our case, so that the barrel is very full and there is no oxidation – then the wine gets made, but we aren’t the ones who make it. It has everything it needs to be good, like all living things.

That’s something a “natural” winemaker might have said, so does this mean that you produce natural wine?

Natural wine is complete nonsense, of course it’s natural. If one lets the wine make itself, it won’t be any good. A wine still requires care.

Who is your mentor?

My father, for a start – an extraordinary man who allowed me to do everything. At the age of 23, he let me buy everything I wanted [for the estate]. He would always say, “She knows.”

Is wine a team sport?

You can’t make a wine on your own, it’s impossible – it’s a team effort. There may, however, be someone in charge. At my estate, things are mostly done according to my wishes, but I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own.

What is your favourite colour?

Blue. Ever since I was little. Yes, I am wearing blue today, I’m wearing it on purpose, even though my outfit isn’t all blue. I also like white.

Your favourite grape variety?

Pinot! I don’t know any other grape varieties. I was born with Pinot; we come from the same world. Other grape varieties, like Syrah, are almost different civilisations for me – but I’m not saying they are any less good.

Your favourite wine?

We have 26 wines on the estate [Domaine Leroy, ed.]. I like them all, as long as they have their own character. You have to make sure they retain their personalities at all costs. I prefer Saint-Vivant to Richebourg, for example. It’s not that I don’t like Richebourg, but my taste tends to lean towards something more refined. I prefer a Musigny to a great Chambertin, but there are some magnificent Chambertins!

Your favourite vintage?

1955! It was my first year, I’m sorry, but it’s still just as good. The ’55, ’59, ’61, ’64. I just love them.

If your wine were a person, who would it be?

The life of a wine mirrors the life of a person. I try to age my wines for a very long time. They are either male or female. They are, variously, babies, teenagers, and – fortunately – adults too! Here we are in 2023. This 1955 Mazis-Chambertin [in our glasses during the interview, ed.] is a youthful oldie with a lot to say. He’s an adult with a lot of experience. Only wine can tell you what the land is all about.

The vine is a true reflection of the person who grows it; it’s much more than just a plant. It’s like a person, it’s a living being. It needs a lot of care – it’s capricious and doesn’t let itself be managed like a herd of cows. It responds to our actions and wants to be loved. When I go to see my vines, I can feel how happy they are. They’re happy, and so am I.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

Being open, being prepared to accept its message, as every wine has something to say. You mustn’t expect it to be a certain way. Just take it in!

With whom?
Never alone, because wine is for sharing. When I’m on my own, I don’t even feel like drinking wine. And you shouldn’t indulge in it every day.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine?

Oh no, neither one of us needs it. Chaptalisation is not doping, it’s a form of support, and I’m not against it. If the weather is fine all year round, there’s no need for it. Sometimes you have to do it, it’s a fallback: if there’s not enough natural sugar, you have to add some.

To what do you owe your success?

There’s no such thing as success. There’s always room for improvement. We sometimes make progress, especially in understanding the terroir, the grapes, and I think we make a little more progress every year. That’s thanks to the vine, and it also depends on what the good Lord sends us. In short, I don’t think we should be complacent.

What is your greatest achievement?

I don’t have any, I’m not proud of anything because I have no reason to be. I’m never satisfied, as dramatic as that may sound, because I’m never very happy. I always have the impression that I haven’t gone as far as I should have. Wine is about striving to do better, but perfection doesn’t exist in this world. We’re happy as a family, I have a daughter who’s just lovely, and then I have my dogs.

If you’re not proud of yourself, are your dogs proud of you at least?

You’d have to ask them [Nine and Olga, ed.]. She [Nine, at our feet during the interview, ed.] is sleeping at the moment, but she loves me. I’ve always had dogs, often rescued ones. They arrive at my house – all I have to do is open the door and they’re there, it’s very handy!

Who is your most formidable opponent in Burgundy?

There are no opponents. There are only fellow winemakers who do their utmost, as I do, each in their own way.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?
A lot of people, but I don’t know them. I go out very, very little and have a lot of work to do. I’m old, I don’t see anyone. As for my wines, there’s not a single bottle I’d be willing to part with.


France’s 50 best winemakers: Julie and Baptiste Guinaudeau of Château Lafleur

Winemakers at the iconic Pomerol estate: “It’s easier to make great wines with strong women and sensitive men”.

Our next interview in Le Figaro Vin’s series finds us in Bordeaux’s Right Bank, where we meet Julie and Baptiste Guinaudeau, who stand at #6 in the rankings, a couple who create the kind of wines you fall in love with.

Just like its illustrious Pomerol neighbours, Petrus and Vieux Château Certain, Château Lafleur likes to keep its cards close to its chest. Julie and Baptiste Guinaudeau, partners in life and in wine, are at the head of this micro-estate of 4.58 hectares. Dynamic, engaging, and sociable, they are pursuing the work of Baptiste’s parents – Sylvie and Jacques Guinaudeau – who, in 1985, decided to take over the tenancy of Château Lafleur from two cousins, Marie and Thérèse Robin. In 2001, the Guinaudeau family acquired the entire estate. Baptiste and Julie, then aged 20 and 18, decided to take a leap of faith and move in. Twenty years later, this seems to have paid off: Château Lafleur is a cult name among professionals and collectors. Since buying their flagship estate, the Guinaudeau family has slowly built a constellation of different sites across the region, where they produce several wines: Les Perrières, Château Grand Village, and Les Champs Libres. These wines, more accessible than Château Lafleur, also showcase the skill and sincerity so characteristic of Baptiste and Julie’s work.

 


Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Julie Guinaudeau. – At the end of the day, this doesn’t really change anything.

Baptiste Guinaudeau. – What are we the champions of? Of nothing. We are, first and foremost, farmers; our lives follow the rhythm of the seasons. We are fortunate to be in this position and to be doing the work we love. Above all, we are very lucky.

Is wine a team sport?

BG: Yes, without a doubt. Wine is truly a team sport, one that isn’t bound by time or borders. Even more so in Bordeaux, contrary to the somewhat dusty, fossilised, “members’ club” image people have of it. In the wine world, Bordeaux is an exception. Nowhere else involves so many people who do not hail from the region and as many women in leadership roles. In fact, Bordeaux might be the region with the freshest and most feminine approach.

It’s important to stress that wine doesn’t encompass a single profession: there are several. We can’t do everything alone. For this reason, it’s essential to know who to surround ourselves with. We have an international, multidisciplinary team. Thanks to the renown of Bordeaux, we attract people from all around the world that want to work with us. We’ve never needed to post job offers anywhere. There are 25 of us in the team, of which a little under a third had never made wine before working with us. A third come from abroad, another third from other parts of France (most of whom had nothing to do with wine before joining us), and a final third from a more “classic” background. We really appreciate this group of people, who always give it their all.

Who is your mentor?

BG: Here, that would be me. You always need a conductor, a team coach, who has an overview of the game, but I discuss things with Julie and my parents a lot. We are a couple, following in the footsteps of another couple, Sylvie and Jacques (Guinandeau, Baptiste’s parents and previous estate managers, ed.) in the story of Lafleur. They are the ones who built the foundations of what we are today.

We have a specific progression path at Lafleur, and it always begins in the vineyard, for a cycle of two to three years. Out of 25 people, there’s only one person who’s never pruned a vine plant: our accountant! Other than that, everyone starts out in the vineyard with us. This is the foundation, the “core curriculum”. During those first few years, you get to know the true character of the person you have before you. This evolves: the team members mature, they change, and we constantly strive to get the best out of them.

Have you been training for long?

BG: We both began our careers in wine very young. We started working together 22 years ago: 2001 was our first joint vintage. What sets us apart is that we make wines together, as a couple. We are both in love with each other and with the wines we make. We are living on-site, 100% immersed, and are lucky to own the estate. We are among the youngest, but we already have two decades of foolishness and success behind us. My parents brought us into the fold from the get-go. Throughout the 2000s, the four of us worked symbiotically. We are a family that has been making wine for many years, but we’re only the second generation of full-time winemakers.

JG: I worked on my parents’ organic farm in the Lot-et-Garonne. I met Baptiste in high school when I was 16 years old. I came to Bordeaux to learn oenology – there was something magical about winemaking for me. I had the opportunity to make my first wine at Lafleur in 2001, which confirmed to me that it was something wonderful. I grew up with a strong sense of taste instilled in me, through my parents, who grew tomatoes and other vegetables. For this reason, I had a very developed palate. Wine naturally followed in the footsteps of my upbringing.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the team?

BG: Everything! We have a somewhat simplistic formula that states that great wine is the sum of three elements: a great soil (with a favourable climate); great genetics (when it comes to the variety); and a winemaker that calls the right shots at the right time.

To what do you owe your success?

BG: We owe it to discomfort, which is at the heart of our profession. As long as you feel discomfort, you’re not in any danger. It’s comfort that’s dangerous. Within prestigious, historic appellations, it’s being tempted to rest on your laurels. For us, discomfort came from having to buy Lafleur in 2001. When you buy land in Pomerol in the 21st century, it’s an investment, a gamble, one that needs to work out. The second discomfort came in the 2010s, when we had to change our distribution model because we weren’t reaching our consumers anymore. We looked for the best ambassadors, the best distributors, to share our vision with them. The latest thing that is stirring up discomfort is climate uncertainty, which we have always lived with, but which has turned a new corner today. What’s interesting is that we have never felt so much agency over it.

Are your daughters proud of you?

JG: They are, because they see how hard we work. There are few women in my profession and our daughters are proud to see me amongst other strong women in a male-dominated field.

BG: My daughters are proud of their mother. It’s easier to make great wines with strong women and sensitive men.

Who has been your biggest sponsor throughout your career?

BG: My parents.

Your favourite colour? 

BG: All the reds.

JG: Yellow, because it’s the colour of the beautiful light we’re often blessed with in Bordeaux, that casts its warm glow on the landscape.

Your favourite variety?

BG: Bouchet. That’s what we call Cabernet Franc on the Right Bank. This fine variety fathered the two main Bordeaux varieties: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Born in the Basque Country, it was brought to Bordeaux by sailors, before ending up in the Loire Valley. It has everything going for it: grace, character, and a sense of balance that we love. As it’s relatively unknown, it always evolved in the shadows, and we identify with it. We live by the proverb “pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés” (“to live happily, live hidden”, ed.). Bouchet has been living on the Right Bank, in the shadow of Merlot.

Your favourite cuvée?

BG: The one we will discover next, whether that’s at home or somewhere else. I live in the future more so than in the past. At the moment, I really like the wines of Elian Da Ros – a winemaker from the same village that Julie grew up in, in the Côtes du Marmandais (in the Lot-et-Garonne, ed.). He is listed in Michelin-starred restaurants all over the world, but he marches to the beat of his own drum. His flagship wine is called Le Clos Baquet.

JG: The wines that have moved me the most have been German Rieslings. We’re very fond of the Prüm family, for example. If we had to pick one of our own cuvées, it would be Les Champs Libres. I love the idea that we can create something completely new with a Bordeaux variety (but with Liger-Sauternes genetics – Les Champs Libres is a Sauvignon Blanc from the Bordeaux Blanc appellation, but with a more Burgundian style. The first vintage was released in 2013, ed.).

Your favourite vintage?

BG: Always the next one to come!

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

BG: It would be Lafleur.

What’s the best way to enjoy it?

BG: Very simply and spontaneously.

JG: In a relaxed state.

With whom?

BG: With novice drinkers.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing your estate? 

BG: We’re dangerous enough as it is! We don’t need to and neither does the wine. Great wines are pure wines, they don’t need any help to express themselves. We’re sometimes lucky enough to be able to go far back, and taste wines that are a century old. Even in that crude state, they are wonderful.

JG: We’ve tasted some incredible bottles. When we think about it technically, the conditions in which the wine was made, you realise the finest vintages were always the toughest, those where you managed, despite everything, to make a great wine.

For what price would you be prepared to sell your estate?

BG: It’s priceless. You would have to buy us alongside the estate, good luck with that!

Who is your most formidable opponent in Pomerol?

BG: We don’t have opponents. It might be because there’s less of a competitive spirit in Pomerol. You don’t have the weight of history, of rankings et cetera, unlike in other Bordeaux appellations, because our appellation is relatively young. We are tiny and we need each other. Together, we feel stronger. If we had an opponent, it would be the climate, but things aren’t black and white, because the climate can also help us. Just like a sailor fears the sea while depending on it, we fear and depend on the climate.

What is your greatest achievement?

JG: That Jacques and Sylvie placed their trust in me. They allowed me to express myself, to be a part of the family and hold the reigns, alongside Baptiste, of the production, in the vineyard and in the cellar. Others also saw my potential, such as Claude Berrouet (previously winemaker at Petrus, ed.), who taught us a lot. He educated our palates.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the vineyard and in the cellar?

To work and be in love! More seriously, we don’t innovate, because you must be wary of innovations in viticulture. Above all, you need to avoid being suddenly behind. You need to think long-term and take things slowly, but you also need to be able to act in the moment. We tinker, but we don’t innovate.

What’s your most original tactic?

BG: We harvest grapes that we’ve pruned. When we’re in the vineyard, we think about the wines we’ve enjoyed the previous day and discuss their various qualities. In the cellar, we always consider how we birthed the vintage, we think about the vines a lot. We spend a lot of time at the tasting table. We are against parcel-driven vinification. It can be very risky in tiny estates like Lafleur: micro-vinifying in the absence of mass. What makes the difference between a great wine and a good wine is the quality of the tannins, their length on the palate and the minutes that follow. The quality of tannins is linked to a delicate maceration. We prefer talking about “infusion” and “diffusion” rather than “extraction”. You need a minimum of mass for that, so these choices happen very early on. You can’t separate all the vines by age, by variety, by soil. 80% of the grape blend is made during the harvest.

JG: Wine is made in the vineyard. Once it passes the doors of the cellar, the die has already been cast. At Lafleur, it’s the sum of all the little details each step of the way, in the vineyard and in the cellar, that determine the end result.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

BG and JG: Our daughters!


France’s 50 best winemakers: Perrine Fenal and Bertrand de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

New managers of the domaine: “Our dual leadership brings clarity and balance, allowing us to move forward more effectively.”

For the 43rd interview in Le Figaro Vin’s series, we return to Burgundy to meet Perrine Fenal and Bertrand de Villaine, who stand at #7 in the rankings. As leading figures in the region, they give us an insight into their passions, convictions, and savoir-faire in this exclusive first joint interview.

DRC. Three magic letters that any oenophile can instantly identify: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a legendary estate whose wines not only reach stratospheric prices at auction, but are also magnificently sumptuous and elegant, as if touched by a divine hand. This jewel of the Burgundy region, spearheaded for over fifty years by the iconic Aubert de Villaine and often considered to be the most prestigious estate in the world, is now run by Perrine Fenal and Bertrand de Villaine. Inspired by their illustrious predecessors, the two new guardians of the temple have achieved perfect harmony. Perrine Fenal, appointed co-manager in 2019 following the passing of her cousin Henri-Frédéric Roch, and Bertrand de Villaine, appointed in 2022 to take over from his uncle Aubert, represent the Leroy and the Gaudin de Villaine families respectively. The Gaudin de Villaine family has owned half of the estate since 1881; the Leroy family has controlled the other half since 1942. The new representatives emphasise the advantages of a historic system of joint management which, according to Bertrand de Villaine, “brings clarity and balance, allowing [them] to move forward more effectively”.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Bertrand De Villaine: We’ve never thought of ourselves as champions. What motivates us is not glory, it’s being out there in the vines.

Perrine Fenal: Our wines are the champions here.

Have you been training for long?

PF:  I am self-trained, but I am lucky enough to have been born with winemaking heritage in my blood, soul, and heart, thanks to a grandfather, a mother, and a whole family of winemakers, whose know-how has been “infused” into me.

BDV: In contrast, I arrived on the scene later, some fifteen years ago now, and with a background more focused on international sales. I began training in the field from scratch, without the “infusion” that ran through Perrine’s veins. I wasn’t very closely involved with the estate when I was young. It all happened very slowly and steadily with my uncle (Aubert de Villaine, ed.). There was real training involved, both in terms of technique and passion.

How long have you been co-manager?

PF: Since 2019.

BDV: Since 2022.

Who is your mentor?

BDV: I started out in the vineyards with my uncle, and Henri Roch (the previous co-managers, ed.). And then, our estate workers were also my coaches, on a very practical level. Perrine and I are a real team: we coach each other and build our partnership every day. That’s the advantage of having two people, it brings clarity and balance, and allows us to move forward more effectively.

PF: In our family and within the estate, there have always been pairs of co-managers, sometimes with one less prominent than the other, but there has always been a representative from each family. I think that our way of working is quite special, it’s a real asset. At the moment, my coach is the life of the estate, our employees. Bertrand is also my coach. And we have Aubert, of course, as an inspiration, but he’s not a coach, he’s a sage. I also have my mother (Lalou Bize-Leroy, former co-manager, ed.) who, from afar, is also a presence and an inspiration.

Is wine a team sport?

BDV: We’re lucky to have such high-calibre employees. We learn a lot from them. We have a truly collaborative community that works very well, whether it’s from the vineyard to the cellar, or from the cellar to the vineyard, with us in the middle.

PF: Absolutely. We have all these essential jobs, all these people who are crucial to what each person does and to the final result, from the labourer to the person who packs the last bottle in the crate.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

PF: The terroir, without a doubt.

BDV: The terroir, and the respect that the winemaker has for the terroir, and therefore the winemaker too.

PF: It’s an osmosis between terroir and people.

BDV: If you don’t have the right terroir and the right vines on that land, and if you don’t have a good winemaker, you won’t make good wine.

To what do you owe your success?

PF: We are fortunate to have an exceptional terroir, which others before us have been able to identify, promote, and preserve. We have the immense privilege of holding it in our hands for a short while, and then passing it on to others.

BDV: Our real mission is to pass on and preserve the space that has been entrusted to us. Although there’s a title deed on a piece of paper, we don’t own this place: it’s a national asset, the legacy of a long history. This history is still very much with us, thanks to Saint-Vivant Abbey. Our greatest pleasure, our glory, will be to pass it on in as good a condition, if not better, than when we received it.

Is your family proud of you?

PF: Pride isn’t a word that’s used much in my house. Love, support, trust: these words have more value than pride.

BDV: We involved our two families, against their will, in this adventure. We work a lot, which creates constraints. I’m rather proud of them for accepting this. I hope that when our children see us working, they realise that it’s by working that we manage to have little comforts, little pleasures, and good times to share with others.

Your favourite sponsor?

PF: Lovers of our wines, who are moved when they open a bottle, quite apart from any question of price or snobbery, who rediscover the joy of celebrating a moment in life.

BDV: As Perrine says, the only thing that interests us is the emotion that our wine will bring out in a person or a group of people. Our best sponsors are the people who drink our wines.

What is your favourite colour?

PF: White, because it’s the sum of all the colours.

BDV: Blue, but it changes depending on my mood.

Your favourite grape variety?

BDV: A bit like us, it’s an inseparable pairing: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Here, we have no choice when it comes to our appellations and, in any case, these two grape varieties have proven their worth over many years in Burgundy.

PF: I’m sticking with our good old Pinot, which stands up to whatever the weather throws at it. Its expressions are so varied that there are a multitude of sub-families that we will never tire of studying.

Your favourite wine?

BDV: I have a special bond, an affection, for Saint-Vivant, whatever the vintage. It’s often the Saint-Vivant that gives me my first thrills when tasting a new vintage, but I appreciate all our wines for what they are.

PF: For me, it’s often La Tâche. In 2022, it was incredible! A real hero.

BDV: Sometimes, with La Tâche, you have to wait 20 years for its full expression, but in 2022, we had a Tâche that welcomed you with open arms.

Your favourite vintage?

PF: I’m very sensitive to new things, like births for example. My favourite vintage is the one that has just come out of the fermentation vats to be put into barrels: the 2023.

BDV: It’s not my favourite vintage, but perhaps the most memorable: my first vinification in 2008, when I asked myself “What am I doing here?”. We had to throw away half the grapes, it was a terrible vintage. Perrine and I were lucky enough to taste a few 1971s, three different vintages that were quite similar to each other. I had the impression that I was almost more impressed than the people we had tasted them with. You open a bottle of wine that’s over 50 years old, and the quality is incredible.

If your wine were a person, who would it be?

PF: Its terroir. That’s what makes a wine a great success. It would be simplistic to compare a wine to a human figure.

BDV: Each of our wines has its own character. The Saint-Vivant is a very welcoming wine, like a maternal figure who takes you in her arms, who is strong and tender at the same time. Grands Échézeaux is a marathon runner, a wine that starts slowly and takes its time.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

PF: Once again, it comes down to a question of mindfulness. Do you taste a wine to show your friends that you can afford it? That would be a shame. The best way is to let yourself be guided by your emotions, so that the emotion is there from start to finish.

BDV: With my old friends from before the estate. For some wines, I’m thinking in particular of the 1971s, you want to sit quietly in an armchair, in a moment of introspection, to drink them. Other wines are more suited to sharing; they bring an extra dose of conviviality.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine?

PF: Yes, I often think of using vitamin C!

BDV: We improve our grapes by adapting the pruning system, but that’s maintenance and training, not chemical enhancement, to strengthen the vines and produce better quality grapes. We don’t use any chemicals; we’ve been biodynamic for years. We work more on plant cover, on microbial flora and on maintaining our soils, sometimes adding a little fresh compost. Nature does all the enhancement by itself, producing large quantities of grapes due to conditions that are optimal for growing fruit.

PF: Sugar is a drug, and the sun has given us vintages with a high sugar content in recent years!

Who is your most formidable opponent in Vosne-Romanée?

PF: The sky, and the weather (which is also our ally).

BDV: In 2021, for example, the weather was a fearsome adversary and it won the race. That said, it didn’t win entirely because we have some very fine wines in this vintage, but we just don’t have many of them!

PF: It forced us to give it our all, which is always good when you’re up against an opponent.

BDV: There’s a lot of fair play in this battle with nature, because it takes a lot, but it also gives us a lot.

Who is your most feared competitor?

PF: Competition is a good thing. What we fear most are the vagaries of the climate that could deprive us of vines for several years: an extremely severe frost, devastating hail, for example, or a ravaging fungus, such as flavescence dorée. We are in competition with ourselves, vintage after vintage, with our own wines.

BDV: We don’t take part in competitions, in the literal sense. We have no desire to compare our Échézeaux to another Échézeaux, or our Grands Échézeaux to another Grands Échézeaux. On the other hand, they are our mirrors, which can sometimes be our most formidable competitors!

And your greatest achievement?

PF: I don’t have much of an ego, so I don’t have much pride. Maybe it’s my long years of yoga! I am profoundly happy, have moments of joy, moments of sharing, but no pride.

BDV: For me, they’re my children, but it’s more a question of satisfaction than pride. I’m satisfied to see them progress in life, and to know that the team I form with Perrine is working well.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the vineyard and in the cellar?

PF: We don’t really know the word “innovative” around here!

BDV: It would be more a general feeling of never being still. In other words, winemaking is something that’s in a perpetual state of flux, and you have to be constantly on the lookout without becoming overly anxious. We stay open-minded, we observe, we try to make decisions that are reversible. As far as the vines are concerned, we’ve decided to opt for a pruning method that enables us to encourage the growth of wood and bring life to the vines, so as to ensure their longevity.

PF: We’re starting the third season with a more personalised pruning of each vine, with the aim of creating as little dead wood as possible and encouraging the flow of sap as much as possible. This requires a lot of work and time. You have to be very reactive, very aware of what’s happening at the right moment.

BDV: This approach is less invasive. We realise that the winemaker himself does a lot of damage to his own vineyard, leaving wounds and scars. And perhaps we could also add that we have to be careful with technology. It can sometimes provide solutions that run contrary to the idea we are defending. In other words, the vine must also fight naturally. We can help it by pruning, for example, to defend itself against the cold, but if we intervene too much, we run the risk of erasing all the properties that the terroirs bring to the wines and, by doing so, creating wines without personality, that don’t reflect their vintage and their cru.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

BDV: We know full well that we’re just passing through. We don’t know today who our successor will be, there is no chosen one, no pretender to the throne. It will be someone who seems to us to have the same thing at heart as we do: the privilege [of managing the estate] and the humility that it requires. Our real mission is to give this domaine back to others.

PF: Honestly, it doesn’t even matter whether it’s within our families or not.