Friday, 8 February 2013

The Man Behind Château Haut Brion

Prince Robert of Luxembourg
In 1935, Clarence Dillon, a Texan banker, bought Château Haut Brion, one of the world’s greatest wine estates. Today, it is his great-grandson, Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who is at the helm of this Bordeaux first growth, as well as neighbouring La Mission Haut Brion and La Tour Haut Brion. But not one to sit on his laurels, in 2010, Prince Robert launched a new range called Clarendelle. Mimi Avery caught up with Prince Robert to find out more…

What is your winemaking philosophy at Haut Brion? How would you describe the Haut Brion ‘style’?

As the birth place of “New French Claret” or red wines as we still know them today....Haut-Brion set the tone for the entire philosophy at Domaine Clarence Dillon:  All of our wines seek balance, elegance and complexity. The winemaker must ensure the integrity of each wine and a reflection of the estate or “terroir” from whence it came.

Why did you decide to launch the Clarendelle range?

There was an evident gap in the market. All of the major wine regions in the world produced Super Premium Brands.....Bordeaux, the most famous of all wine region, did not.  I wanted to produce an excellent and affordable wine that was immediately ready to drink when it was brought to the market. In order to truly express their style and quality, the great wines of Bordeaux benefit from aging. We would only release the bottles when they are at this stage. This means that we have recently released our 2007 vintage before the 2006.... for example.  The brand strategy and success of Champagne were a great inspiration to me.

Clarence Dillon
Where and how do you select the grapes/wines for the Clarendelle range?

At Domaine Clarence Dillon we have a true blending culture. The blending process at our estates is similar to that of Clarendelle. The same group of winemakers is also responsible for overseeing the blending at Clarendelle, Haut-Brion, La Mission or Chateau Quintus.

We actually source wines directly. We therefore already have a finished product to work with. This offers us better quality control. Instead of being limited to the palette of our vineyards....we have the whole palette of Bordeaux to work with. This also affords us great flexibility. The Clarendelle wines benefit from the inclusion of some of the wines produced at our estates.

How do you ensure a £15 wine still reflects the Haut Brion style?

The key words will always remain balance, elegance and complexity.  We are producing wines today for future drinking....not fruit forward wines to put on a wine list, tomorrow.  We respect similar blends in the grape varietals as those at our estates: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for the red wines and Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites. In the case of Clarendelle whites we also sometimes include Muscadelle in the blends.  The winemakers of Domaine Clarence Dillon are responsible for overseeing the blending process for Clarendelle. We will age the wines for the consumer prior to bringing them to the market. Just like our estate wines Clarendelle will vary in style with every vintage but always maintain its quality.

The vineyards of Ch Haut Brion
What’s next for Domaine Clarence Dillon? Would you ever consider investing in vineyards abroad or in other regions of France?

We have recently acquired Chateau Quintus in St Emilion. This is one of the greatest terroirs of the Right Bank. The estate was considered as a 1st Growth prior to 1950....we intend to return it to its former glory! We have produced very small quantities of Chateau Quintus and Dragon de Quintus in 2011 and 2012. I am very pleased with the result and the critical acclaim for 2011.....our first vintage.

Investing abroad:  As a foreign family owning and managing a French Company....we are already abroad!

I believe you used to be a Hollywood screenwriter – how does the world of wine compare to Hollywood ?

Creativity and flair are important and you must nonetheless respect a certain form. In our case our limits and challenges come from the potential in the Microclimate ....and Mother Nature. Mother Nature can be as challenging and erratic as any Hollywood producers. I need challenges and creativity to keep me interested and driven. The status quo frustrates me.  Every vintage tells a new story. I like the passion that drives people in both of these worlds of wine and the arts. True passion sees no limits....and often beckons follies.

The cellars at La Mission Haut-Brion
What’s the best thing about being the man behind some of the best known wines in the world?

My hobby is my job and producing something that makes people happy and punctuates some of the finest and convivial moments of their lives. Ah the scenes that our wines have witnessed over two millennia......

Finally, if you were stranded on a desert island with just one bottle of wine, which wine would you choose?

Bottle: Nebuchadnezzar

Wine: Chateau Haut-Brion 1945

Unfortunately we did not produce any of these!

This would be my choice the coming years that might change as I evolve...and our great wines continue to evolve.

1 comment:

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