Describe your winemaking philosophy.
We believe that good wine is made in the vineyard. To this end, over the last five years we have been concentrating on our vineyard management—reduced yields, good canopy management and sustainable viticulture. We have officially entered this year into the organic conversion for the Avocat vineyards. We have been following a non-chemical path for the land and have decided to officially formalise it, and it will take three years before we can label our wines organic. As a consequence, the grapes that enter the winery should be ripe, disease free and tasting good! However, we live in Bordeaux and some would say that the powers up above dictate the weather and hence the vintage!
What wines or winemakers helped influence your philosophy?
Didier Dagueneau, who passed away last year, for his use of biodynamic practices, wild yeasts and generally not being afraid to do things (and look) differently. Sandrine Garby, winemaker at Yquem, for being a fantastic winemaker and such a gracious person.
How involved in grape-growing are you? Is there a particular vineyard site that wows you year after year?
We do everything here; we own all our vineyards and we don’t source fruit from elsewhere. So pretty involved! The Avocat vineyard, which we bought in 2002, is a single “enclos” vineyard. Before we bought it, it had been abused, but after five years of careful viticulture it is starting to produce WOW fruit. It is on an elevated plateau exposed to the elements, and 100 years ago it was a famous vineyard that had been allowed to lose its way!
How do you think your palate has evolved over the years? How do you think that’s influenced your wines?
Yes, of course. I believe it is so important to taste as many wines as possible, from all different regions and producers. The cellar palate is a huge disability for producers. I think our wines have evolved due to our palates, but we also listen to our consumers, who are looking for less alcohol and approachable wines. Studies show that apart from investors, 90% of wine bought is drunk within five days of purchase.
What kinds of food do you like to pair your wines with?
Our dry white with “fruit de mers.” Come to the Bassin D’Arcachon and have a glass of dry Bordeaux /Graves wine with a plate of oysters—unbeatable! Of course the barrel-aged Graves has sufficient enough weight to accompany chicken and pork dishes. I have to admit to being partial to it as an aperitif when I am cooking! The Avocat red is excellent with any red meat, game (I have a recipe for Hoi Sin Duck on the barbecue if any one is interested!), pasta and cheese. However, my view is that there are not any right and wrongs in wine matching—if you enjoy it while eating popcorn in front of the baseball game, GREAT.
What changes are planned for coming vintages? Any new (top secret) varietals, blends or propriety wines on the horizon?
We have planted half a hectare of Carmenère this year—it will be interesting to see how that ripens here in Bordeaux. It was widely used here in the 18th Century. I have another secret, but it would not be a secret if I told you…
Is there a style of wine that you think appeals to critics that might not represent your favorite style? How do you deal with it?
I am afraid that some of the old boy critics would not really like our wines; we are not into gigantic alcoholic fruit bombs and do not use a reverse osmosis machine to concentrate the wines. Reverse osmosis=points with several important critics. We deal with it by finding clients who are capable of making their own mind up about the style of wines they appreciate, generally these clients appreciate finesse, quality and good value! For example K&L!
What do you drink when you are not drinking your own wine?
At the moment we are fortunate to have a collection of Napa wines made by female winemakers. I am part of a group of women, “Women in Wine,” and we received 16 female vintners from Napa in January. So, had a glass of Spottswood 2005 last night—delicious .
Do you collect wine? If so, what’s in your cellar?
Yes, we collect all vintages from Léoville-Barton—one of the good value Cru Classé each year. We also have a few cases of the ’05 Bordeaux from the top Cru, but I think they will go towards college fees. I cannot bring myself to drink wines of this value.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the wine industry today?
There are quite a few! At the moment the strength of the Euro for us is a problem for our export market, we do listen to our importers and try to make things easier for them to sell our wines at a consistent price. Unfortunately, production costs are still increasing here in France, and with the weaker economy worldwide it is tough for everybody at the moment…
The other big challenge for the wine industry is to try and negate the publicity put out by the anti-alcohol brigade. Of course wine must be drunk in moderation, sensibly and socially. Wine is a vital part of the food experience. No one is recommending over-drinking nor drunk behaviour. However, surely individuals should be responsible for their behaviour, not relying on the state to make all alcohol consumption illegal?
What about the French paradox? Why not ban butter, salt, sugar, fat and red meat while we are at it? Let us all eat lentils, rice and drink only water. Whoever thought life should be fun and living a pleasurable experience would be mistaken in this current big brother environment. People have to start taking responsibility for their own decisions (good and bad) and stop looking to Government all the time!