Saturday, January 31, 2009

Let's Kill All the Négociants

Hervé Laviale proudly resting his foot on a case of 2005 Cos magnum

I had an interesting meeting with Mr. Hervé Laviale when he stopped by the store last week. Mr. Laviale is the proprietor of at least four right bank Bordeaux estates: Château Franc-Mayne in St.-Emilion, Château de Lussac in Lussac-St.-Emilion, Château St. Jean de Lavaud in Lalande de Pomerol, and Château Vieux Maillet in Pomerol.

Well-dressed, animated, gregarious, humourous, proud, but not pompous, and a unpretentious gentleman, I enjoyed tasting some of the wines he brought and exchanging honest notes on each one with him.

What drew my attention the most was his frank comments on some of the problems I raised on Bordeaux, specifically the high prices and the commodity-like marketing. He agreed, and blamed it squarely on négociants.

In Bordeaux négociants are the middlemen who directly buy the wines from all important chateaux for reselling to wine merchants all over the world. In their role they control the sale, distribution, and pricing of the wines of Bordeaux. This channel has existed for centuries. Only the very minor chateaux work outside the négociant system in Bordeaux. In the case of Mr. Laviale, his St. Jean de Lavaud and Vieux Maillet don't go through négociants; instead, he sells them direct to his US importer, Neal Rosenthal.

maillet.JPGI agree with Mr. Laviale that négociants are bent on preserving their power and control. The négociant system is an anachronism and its demise would free up the chateaux and the marketplace to trade the wines more freely and efficiently. Consumers would benefit by paying a lot less for Bordeaux.

We tasted three wines during the meeting. First was the 2006 Lalande de Pomerol, Château de Lavaud. A tiny estate, just 1.1 hectares with a production of 6,000 bottles. This is a charming wine, with a nice fruit core and a firm grip on the palate. The finish is surprisingly good for a delicate wine.

Next was the 2006 Pomerol, Château Vieux Maillet. The name is very interesting as maillet means mallet. This is from a 8-hectare estate situated near L'Evangile and La Conseillante. The wine is quite masculine, with good dry extracts; elegant on the palate, but not severe, as it had a delicious fruit core. It is a delicate wine, not powerful, but not soft either. It is firm on the palate and conveys a muscular structure.

Me.JPGFinally the 2004 Pomerol, Château Vieux Maillet. Very much a contrast to the 2006 as this is more seductive and charming; the fruit is juicy, ripe, and tender on the midpalate. In the finish, it recalls the muscular firmness of the 2006.

Château Vieux Maillet
16 Chemin de Maillet
33500 Pomerol, Gironde
Tél : +33 (0)5 57 74 56 80
Fax : +33 (0)5 57 74 56 59

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