Thursday, 6 September 2012

Wine Tasting with Louis Vialard

Visiting Bordeaux is an unforgettable experience. The luxury of the châteaux accommodations, the excellent food (coupled with rich sauces) and the attention to winemaking detail speak to the importance of this region that is the largest producer of AOC (appellation contrôlée) wines in France. But ask to purchase a bottle of the wine, and more often than not you would be politely referred to the nearest retailer. In contrast to many other wine regions, cellar door sales are a rarity in Bordeaux.

The reason for this is the stratified business model of selling wine in Bordeaux. The producers make the wine, but it is the négociants (wine merchants) who sell it, sometimes taking over the responsibility for bottling and ageing the wine as well. Courtiers (brokers) act as intermediaries between the producer and the négociant, helping to source stocks of wine and advising the producers on what price the market will bear. For this they typically get a commission of 2%. 

One of the players in this marketplace is the company of Louis Vialard S.A.S., a négociant that was set up in 1969. Its current chairman, Eric Hosteins, is a supporter of the Bordeaux trade structure. He explains that the négociants, with their extensive distribution network, play an irreplaceable role in getting the wine to the consumer. “We can deliver to a person in the middle of the jungle,” he states confidently. 

Besides acting as a distributor, Louis Vialard also owns wineries in Bordeaux and the Languedoc region. Eric was in Singapore earlier this August to conduct a tasting featuring wines from their own portfolio. Asia is a key region for Louis Vialard, accounting for nearly 70% of sales, with China alone responsible for a third of the company’s turnover. Eric attributes the company’s success to two reasons. “We produce rather good wines. And we remain affordable.”

Château Cissac, a Cru Bourgeois from the Haut-Médoc is undoubtedly the company’s most prized asset. The vineyards are planted on sandy gravel over clay and limestone with a composition of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. The average age of the vines is 30 years. Maturation of the wine is in French oak casks (30-40% new) for 18-20 months. The 2008 poured at the tasting was in typical Bordeaux style, firm with notes of black fruit and toasted oak. Initially quite reticent, it opened up nicely after half an hour. 

Also featured at the tasting were wines from Domaine de Saint Dominique, a winery located in the Hérault department of the Languedoc region. Eric jokingly refers to this as his “toy winery” but some of the wines are nonetheless worthy of serious consideration. I was particularly impressed by the 2007 vintage, a blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 10% Merlot. Although classified as a mere Vin de Pays due to the use of non-traditional varietals, the wine showed complex notes of leather, tea leaf, chocolate and well-defined black fruits backed with grippy tannins and a harmonious structure. Domaine de Saint Dominique also produces a range of varietal wines under the La Chapelle label which are meant for everyday drinking. The latter is sold mostly in restaurants in the Southeast Asia region.

Eric was upbeat about the future of the wine business, but it is undoubtedly a business that is changing rapidly. The shift from traditional wine markets to the Far East, coupled with fluctuations in the price of fine wine means that companies cannot adopt a “business as usual” approach. As Eric states succinctly, “The risks are higher now”.

No comments:

Post a Comment