After starting his career with Pernod Ricard as a Brand Manager and then a 4-year stint with Kodak, Lechanoine joined Baron Phillip de Rothschild as international marketing director in 2001. One of his priorities was to improve the quality of Mouton Cadet, the most popular brand of Bordeaux created by Baron Philippe, father of the current owner baroness Philippine, to go with the image of the company and make it in tune with the market.
The Decade of Mouton Cadet
A 10-year plan was chalked out in 2003. ‘I am proud to say that today the Cadet has become a value-for-money quality wine. Whereas earlier we used to make it mostly from bulk wine, now we make it from grapes bought from growers with whom we have long term contracts. In some cases we buy the fruit from their select parcels only. We pay top Euros for the grapes too. For instance the going rate today is € 800-900 per ton , we pay € 1100-1200 to our growers. We also improved the process and made the wine fruitier to keep the consumer’s taste in mind.’
He informs that Baron Philippe Rothschild (BPR) makes about a million cases, out of which 850,000 are red. When asked to share the figure of the figure of the Mouton Chateau wine produced annually, he declined, as a company policy to discourage undesirable discussion and debates. But he was clear that the amount of a million cases Mouton Cadet was too small compared to the total wines being produced in Bordeaux-barely 2%,
When queried if a company handling the top wine with limited production along with a product in big volumes at the same time could affect the quality of the icon, he clarified further that the fermentation of Mouton Cadet was carried out in another winery and was under the supervision of different staff.
Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild; the creation of Mouton's first premium white wine, Aile d'Argent; and a cooperative venture in Chile to produce an acclaimed premium red wine, Almaviva, with the huge Concha y Toro firm.
Style of wine
Power of Parker to prop up Bordeaux premier wines is legendary. The last time the Chateau wine of Mouton Rothschild received 100 points from Robert Parker was perhaps in 1982 when Bordeaux had a superb vintage. So how come despite their being known as a consistent producer, they did not score as high as their nearest competitors in the later years, I wonder. Aman Dhall felt that perhaps they are not really as powerful as Parker likes personally. In any case 'our wines are for drinking and not to be locked up for decades necessarily,’ justifies Lechanoine.
Wine to drink, not to store
A tradition and philosophy perpetuated by the late Baron Philippe has been that fine wines are meant to be drunk and not hoarded away in some bank vaults perhaps never to be drunk. Lechanoine is an avid supporter of the philosophy and says, ‘the pleasure of wine enjoyed with food is unique and we try to make them so they may be drunk younger as people want now. I could tell you that Mouton Rothschild 1945 was the best wine of the 20th century but I don’t know how astronomical the price is (a sales offer was received last Thursday by delWine for a three- bottle combo of 750 mL, Magnum and a Double Magnum from a Belgian fine wine company for € 107,500 +21% tax (about Rs.870,000). We strongly believe that a good wine must be enjoyable to drink once it matures and is ready to drink,’
adding that Mouton 1945 was the best wine of the century, an exceptional vintage and was perhaps still drinking perfectly.
Domestic Marketing and Distribution
Lechanoine who was the managing Director of the distribution company from 2006-2009 is quite vocal about the distribution arm of the company known as Baron Philippe de Rothschild France. Keeping in touch with the customer was always the philosophy and vision of the late Baron and now the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild who decided 20 years ago to get into the distribution of wines, spirits and liqueurs of high quality in France. "We distribute not only our own wines but that of Torres, Pol Roger Champagne, Macallan single malt, Campari and several premium products."
A revenue of € 90 million is not exactly small change out a of a total revenue of € 200 million for the group, he adds.
Entering New World- A Mouton with a Cap
Another example of the company trying to keep close contact with the consumer is their planned introduction of Mouton Cadet Sauvignon Blanc soon, with over 85% of this varietal being in the bottle. ‘We have been making Mouton Cadet White, Red, Rose and even sweet Sauternes. But we realized that many customers were shifting their preferences to varietals now. They would look at the Mouton Cadet white and not react positively. So we decided to add the varietal to our list.’ Something unheard of in Bordeaux as of now, he says. To cap it all, ‘we shall use a screw cap to keep it fresh.’ So would it be more Sancerre style or New Zealand style, I wonder. ‘Oh, it would be very much a Bordeaux style,’ comes the instant answer.
Besides the 2-decade old Rose made from the same grapes as the Rouge, the Mouton Cadet Sauternes is produced by Chateau Coutet on their behalf, using their declassified grapes-Sauvignon and Semillon, he shares the information while tasting the dessert wine at Diva. It is unfortunate that the dessert wines have not caught on yet in India, including this wine, I tell him.
The company image
Baroness Philippine Rothschild, the matriarch of the family is very conscious of the image of the company and in whatever we produce- Chateau Clerc Milon and Château d'Armailhac, the Fifth growths and its neighbouring estate, Domaine de Baron'arques Languedoc be it Opus One in Napa, Almaviva or Escudo Rojo in Chile, each with their own personality and characteristics, though Escudo is designed to be a Bordeaux –style wine.
The 78-year old Baroness may not be working on a day-to-day basis at the winery or getting involved in the pricing structure etc, but she very much looks after the general direction of the company. When we wanted to launch the Mouton Cadet Sauvignon Blanc in screw cap, her first and only concern was how it will affect the company’s image. Once convinced, she gave the go-ahead.
Long Term Relationship
Baron Philippe Rothschild is one chateau that believes in long term relationships. Their Asia Export Director Anthony Gourmel came last August to launch Mouton Cadet Reserve range and repeated it with the visit of the Managing Director of BPR this time, so it is credible when Lechanoine says, ‘we believe in long term relationships. Of course we have targets to achieve in the short term too but we believe the Indian market will be very interesting in the future. It won’t explode at the rate China did, but the growth will be steady. It is our observation that unlike China, it will be with the knowledgeable people and there will not be a big Show-off factor.
‘Our continuous visits are a testimonial to this policy. It is financially disastrous to visit India for the current volumes but we are meeting our importer, F & B people and high end consumers for the long term,’ says Lechanoine who was grounded till recently for 4 months due to a fall in his house and could not move out. ‘I used this time to do my home work about the emerging markets like Russia, China and India,’ he says.
160 year old family tradition
‘Founded In 1853 by the Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, ours is the only First Growth that has been in the hands of the same family continuously,’ asserts Lechanoine, adding ‘ this helps us take quick decisions and in the long term interests unlike some other Chateaux owned by corporate groups who are answerable to shareholders. We are also not into any other business; this is our core business. We are not into real estate, cosmetics, food , fashion or any other allied businesses so the entire focus of the family is in making wines in our wineries in France, USA and Chile.’
‘For example when it came to deciding on introducing MC Sauvignon Blanc we didn’t have to go through winded board meetings and approvals and the Baroness took the decision fast after considering various inputs.’
The 1855 classification came into existence two years after the winery was bought by the founder, Baron Nathaniel Rothschild in 1853 and perhaps for this reason and/or the family rivalry with his cousin from the Lafite Rothschild branch of the family, the winery was recognized only as a 2nd Growth classification. But Baron Philippe worked relentlessly after he took over and in 1973 the estate was officially classified as a First Growth, taking the number to five.
The company owns 200 hA of vineyards after expanding over the years and has 20% of vine growing area of Pauillac, he says. BPR also proudly owns 6 hA of vineyards where Sauvignon and Semillon are grown. Aile d’Argent is a well regarded white wine of Bordeaux. India will soon be also getting the third wine of the Chateau-Baron Nathaniel Pauillac which is already available in the emerging Asian nations of Japan and China, he informs me.
New Vat Room at Mouton
Next time in Bordeaux if you visit BPR, don’t be surprised to see a new vat room, a testimonial to the estate continually improving its facilities. While extending a very warm invitation to visit the Chateau and to check out the new cellar, Lechanoine adds cautiously that it may be a while before it is ready, perhaps ready for the next harvest.
A Day out at Mouton
While inviting me to visit BPR, Lechanoine also talks about the programme- called a ‘Day with Mouton’, which one can visit from 9 am to 7 pm and experience what the company goes through in a one - year cycle, including a visit to the vineyards from where the grapes are purchased.
We had a great Evening out at Mouton, thanks to Brindco which imports their wines directly and through negociants, organizing a dinner with these two visitors at Diva where we were also able to enjoy Mouton Rothschild 1999, the last vintage of the millennium. Hugues Lechanoine, CEO of Baron Philippe de Rothschild will be back soon, as he promised.
For earlier article click Anthony Gourmel of Baron Philippe de Rothschild