Who’s who in Bordeaux

While other regions fall in and out of favour, Bordeaux retains its allure. Sophie Kevany identifies its pivotal people.

Anson, Deglise, Cazes
Anson, Deglise, Cazes

The Bordeaux wine region has 65 different vine growing areas, or appellations, 111,000 ha of land reserved for viticulture, and 6,300 wine estates, according to the Bordeaux Wine Council (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux, CIVB). Wine is one of Bordeaux’s leading exports. Almost 50 percent of its production leaves the country, and exports are at record levels. Sales to Asia alone, the leading buyer in 2017, accounted for 43 percent of exports by volume, up six percent on 2016. In the same year, 21 bottles of Bordeaux “appellation d’origine protégée” (AOP) wines were sold every second, around the world, a total of 630m bottles, or €3.65bn ($4.5bn).

Domestically, Bordeaux is one of France’s supermarket favourites, accounting for 46 percent of sales in 2016. Although robust, volumes were down three percent in 2016, compared with the previous year, again due to historically low harvest volumes in 2013, 2014 and 2015 — and likely 2017, although final figures have not yet been released. The average supermarket price for a bottle of Bordeaux in 2016 was about €5.35. That may seem low to those who are used to Bordeaux starting at €10.00 but, in France, the most popular price range for supermarket wines is between €3.00 and €5.00. Bordeaux red remains the best seller, at 85 percent, followed by white at eight percent and rosé at seven percent.

And, of course, Bordeaux is world-famous for its great chateaux. But while the names behind these legendary properties are well known, there are many others that work to ensure the region itself functions as well as it does.

The Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB) Wine Bar

Home to one of the most eclectic wine lists in town, the bar last year welcomed almost 80,000 visitors, up on three percent on 2016. Opened in 2006, it sits on the ground floor of the Bordeaux Wine Council’s triangular limestone building, in the heart of town. If you like a bit of schadenfreude with your chosen wine, it’s easy to imagine someone on the CIVB team working late upstairs, while you contemplate the aromas in your glass. About 30 different Bordeaux wines are on offer by the glass and the list is updated about once a month. A magnet for tourists, its aim to showcase the region’s diversity. Prices are affordable, ranging from €2.00 to €8.00 per glass. So successful has the concept been that the CIVB has opened similar bars in Shanghai, New York and Japan.

Allan Sichel, Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB) President

Allan Sichel, a highly respected figure, has been in the role since 2016. He is also the CEO of his family wine brokers, Maison Sichel (leading it since 1998); a municipal councillor in Margaux; and a member of the Jurade de Saint-Emilion, a wine-focused, ambassadorial group that traces its roots back to a royal charter issued in 1199 by John Lackland, King of England. The CIVB is tasked with a range of responsibilities by its wine-growing members, including data gathering, marketing and fighting counterfeiting. 

The Chapon Fin

Opened in 1825, the Chapon Fin is a cornerstone of Bordeaux gastronomy. It is housed in a beautiful old building on the Rue Montesquieu, the street named after the famous political philosopher and satirist who was born just outside the city in 1689. The Chapon Fan was one of the first restaurants to be awarded a star by the Michelin Guide in its 1933 edition (although it lost it in 2015). Leagh Barkley, the sommelier, is Canadian. He won the Exp’Hôtel award in November 2017.

Saint-James Hotel, Bar and Restaurant

The restaurant has been run by chef Nicolas Magie since 2017 and has one Michelin star. Lovers of architecture will have fun discovering the history of the building, designed by Jean Nouvel, while furniture aficionados can look around checking for signed pieces by Verner Panton and Charles Eames. Chief sommelier Adrien Champigny manages a cellar that holds nearly 15,000 bottles; about 1,800 of those are from other regions. 

L’Intendant and Cash Vin

Patronised by locals and visitors alike, L’Intendant is located in the town’s centre on Allées de Tourny, just footsteps from the Grand Hotel. The store was founded in 1886 and is owned by one of Bordeaux’s best-known wine merchant’s, Duclot — the only one allowed to sell Pétrus. Duclot also owns the Badie wine and Champagne stores, a little further down the road, as well as several other outlets in Paris and Brussels. Since its founding, L’Intendant has focused on prestige brands and larger bottle formats. With many of the wines coming directly from Duclot, L’Intendant promises, along with fair prices, excellent storage histories, thanks to its 20,000sq m cellar. 

Didier Coustou, Leclerc

Didier Coustou of the Leclerc supermarket Sainte-Magne-de-Castillon, a few kilometres outside Bordeaux, is the largest buyer of Bordeaux wines in the region. In 2016, the shop’s central buying facility became the 14th largest by turnover in France’s south-west region. Visitors who happen to be in Bordeaux in autumn might want to check the dates of the Wine Fair or “La Foire au Vin” — when all the main supermarkets sell bottles and cases at discounts — find a ride and make their way to Coustou’s place, known as one of the best in the area. 

Guillaume Deglise, Vinexpo

Vinexpo is one of the biggest wine fairs in the world, and the biggest in France. The 19th edition took place last year in Bordeaux and there is a sister event in Hong Kong that takes place every second year. Since 2013, Guillaume Deglise has been at the helm of both. A major international event, Bordeaux’s Vinexpo welcomed almost 2,300 exhibitors from 40 wine-producing countries and 40,500 international buyers, in 2017. In 2019, Deglise has said he will move the show to May, four weeks earlier than its normal June slot. The move — like the lower harvests — is linked to changing weather patterns in the area, which have increased the intensity and duration of summertime heatwaves. 

Jane Anson, wine writer

Born in the UK, Jane Anson is the author of Bordeaux Legends, the first major book to tale a holistic look at the rise of Bordeaux’s five first growths. Anson also writes tasting notes on Bordeaux wines for Decanter magazine and is a weekly columnist for Decanter.com. More recently she has published a book on natural, organic and biodynamic wines called Wine Revolution, and, in 2016 won the Louis Roederer Champagne award for International Feature Writer of the Year. She is a graduate of Bordeaux’s Faculty of Oenology where she studied winemaking and tasting with some of Bordeaux’s most respected producers and academics, including the late Denis Dubourdieu. 

Nicolas Martin, Bordeaux Tourist Office 

Nicolas Martin is the director of the Bordeaux Tourist Office. According to Martin’s data, 56 percent of Bordeaux visitors already have some wine tourism experience, either a château visit or a wine tasting. But Bordeaux’s success as a destination is probably thanks to its multifaceted nature. So while tastings and châteaux visits are a key element, tourists also enjoy the city, its history and architecture and, just an hour or so to the west, the maritime pleasures of the Arcachon Bay, the Dune du Pilat (the biggest dune in Europe) and a significant stretch of Atlantic coastline. According to a study conducted three years ago, the revenues linked to tourism in the Bordeaux city area, known as the Metropole, were worth €980m.

New wine tourism projects in the pipeline include a restaurant in the chapel of Sauternes’ organic Château Guiraud and a project to renovate the hotel, spa and golf course, Relais de Margaux, by the owners of another Bordeaux hotel and spa, the Sources de Caudalie. 

Cité du Vin

As of June 2016, many are also making their way to one of Bordeaux’s newest and biggest tourist attractions, the Cité du Vin. Last year the exhibition, which is housed in a Guggenheim-like swirl of a building and cost €81m ($99m), drew 445,000 visitors through its doors. The initiative, which took almost two decades, was spearheaded by one of the highest-profile women on the Bordeaux wine scene, Sylvie Cazes. A wine producer, Cazes also runs her own wine tourism agency and owns the Chapon Fin. 

Pierre Castel, wine (and beer) producer

Pierre Castel, owner and president of the Castel Group, with headquarters in Bordeaux, is a local and international financial heavyweight. He and his siblings, nine in total, are a living rebuke to the oft-quoted maxim that the best way to make a small fortune in wine is to start with a large one. They started very small and grew to become the largest wine producer in Europe, as well as the second largest beer and soft drinks producer in Africa. Wine brands include Malesan, Listel, Patriarche and Kriter and the group now sells 640m bottles a year and employs 28,000 people. The family has become the ninth wealthiest in France, according to latest rich list compiled by French business weekly Challenges, which estimates Castel’s fortune to be nearly €11.5bn. As well as beer and wine production — with one of its latest offerings being a non-alcoholic wine called Grain d’Envie — the group has acquired national wine seller Nicolas. 

Pierre Antoine Castéja, Négociant Maison Joanne

Pierre Antoine Castéja and his family also feature on the latest Challenges rich list, although a little further down at 388th. Founded in 1862, the Maison Joanne in Bordeaux (along with two subsidiaries, Joanne Bordeaux USA and Joanne China — are now led by Pierre Antoine Castéja, Olivier Castéja, Éric Castéja and Hélène Fournier, all descendants of founder Paul Joanne. The company also owns vineyards, including Sauternes’ classified growth Château Doisy-Védrines. Joanne possesses one of the largest collections of Bordeaux wine in the city, stored in a 14,500sq m cellar, holding six million bottles. Having moved into the direct export space with Joanne US and Joanne China, the company is now exporting to 63 different countries. 

Xavier Coumau, Courtier

There are about 100 courtiers working in and around Bordeaux. These are the men (and a few women) who help the producers and négociants reach pricing agreements when the time comes to sell every harvest. Xavier Coumau has been in the business for almost 25 years and has built up a significant network, dealing with 15 négociants and just over 60 producers. A key part of his job is building trust and loyalty between the merchants and growers. In a sign of the times, last year Coumau took on his first organic wine producer. As president of the Wine Brokers Union, he is also involved in the Bordeaux 2025 Ambitions initiative (formerly called Bordeaux Tomorrow). The event gathers major wine industry players together to consider the future of Bordeaux’s vineyards and wines. One of their current challenges, he said, is how to maintain Bordeaux’s status and identity in the face of rising wine production standards worldwide. 

Stéphane and Christine Derenoncourt, Winemaking Consultants

Stéphane and Christine Derenoncourt run Derenoncourt Consultants, specialising in biodynamic and natural wines. The company, founded in 1999, now deals with nearly 130 producers from 17 countries. Originally from northern France, Stéphane Derenoncourt set up shop at Domaine de l’A, in Bordeaux’s Côtes de Castillon region. The estate has 10 hectares of clay-limestone soil and the vines are mainly Merlot (80 percent) and cabernet francs (20 percent). Two years ago, the Derenoncourt vineyard was recognised by the Culinary College of France — le Collége Culinaire de France, an association charged with promoting quality French food — as one of its Quality Artisan Producers (Producteur Artisan de Qualité). He was also recently invited to join the organisation’s Select Winegrower’s Ethics Committee (Comité Ethique de Sélection des Vignerons). 


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