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Delhi Wine Club
Sylvie Cazes of UGC Bordeaux

Posted: Wednesday, 06 June 2012 14:27

Star Interview: Sylvie Cazes of UGC Bordeaux

June 06 : Coming from the well-known Cazes family of Bordeaux having several chateaux, a cooking school, a deluxe hotel, a wine school, Sylvie Cazes wears many hats, the most visible being the President of UGCB and CEO of four Bordeaux Estates including the famous Second Growth Pichon –Longueville Comtesse Lalande. She led the delegation of 33 UGCB producers recently when Subhash Arora had an exclusive chat with her

Click For Large ViewHow does it feel to be the first woman president of such a powerful group with annual revenues of €300m, I ask Sylvie who was elected the first ever woman President of UGCB formed in 1973

‘ It’s nothing special, really. Women have played a very important role for a long time in France since our country has been at war several times and when men went to war, women had to tend to the farms. Besides I had been working with my family winery Ch. Lynch Bages and was even the CEO of the parent company Domaines Jean-Michel Cazes. I have been involved with UGCB for the last 15 years.’  First elected in 2008, she was re-elected for another 3-year term last year.

So is she not involved with the family business with her brother Jean- Michel- Cazes?

Frankly, no. I am not involved with their management now at all-you may call it a family split. I am deeply involved with the UGCB. I was honoured and pleased that Frederic Rouzaud ( great grandson of Camille Olry-Roederer, owner of Louis Roederer Champagne, Chateau Pichon- Longueville Comtesse de Lalande known popularly as Pichon Lalande and several other chateaux and businesses) thought me worthy of heading four of his estates including Pichon and Chateau de Pez in St. Estephe which are part of UGCB and are here in India for the tastings.

What else is she involved in and aren’t her hands too full ?

Click For Large ViewI am primarily involved in these activities though I am also on the Board of the Grands Crus Classés Association. I was elected as a Counselor to the City of Bordeaux. I am in charge of wine development and wine tourism and the project of Bordeaux Cultural and Touristic Wine Centre under construction. I am a member on the Board of the "Conseil des Grands Crus Classés en 1855” and  a member of the Board of  “Adage” : association for the promotion of the Bordeaux Opera.

You spend over €4 million in conducting tastings while the châteaux don’t even sell directly to importers. What is the purpose of the 50-60 annual UGCB Tastings?

Precisely. Because they deal with negociants and brokers, the producers lack direct touch with the importers and consumers. Through these tastings, they get to know the importers, distribution channels and the peculiar problems in each country-like India has multiple taxation. It also helps journalists and distributors in France and other countries to know these wines and taste the latest vintage. Since the rules of UGCB dictate that either the owner or the senior staff must be present, it is a great opportunity for the visitors to get the direct feel of the chateau.  (This makes these tastings very important. I found the majority of Chateaux at the tasting being represented by the owners or the top management- Sylvie was also representing  her two estates, Chateau Pichon Lalande and Chateau de Pez)

Is it your first trip to India, I ask

No, I was here 3 months ago. My first time was 25 years ago but then I came only as a tourist.

What is your experience and gut feeling about the Indian market ?

Frankly India has been a very small market so far. It is not an immediate market for us. There are a lot of barriers but we are hopeful of the FTA being signed soon. The world is becoming global and I am sure India wants to be a part of it. I also know that the market has been expanding; especially, vineyards have been growing and the quality of wines improving. This is good for our wines. As more and more people start drinking wine-even domestic wine, they would want to try finer wines like Bordeaux.

India has great potential. It is a great economic power –bigger than we are. People travel a lot, experience wine and food. There is a trend toward a new way of life and the Art of Living so the wine consumption is growing. Production of wine is also growing which is a major factor for us. It happened in China and the US and is already happening in Brazil. Of course, Russia is more complicated; it is a very administrative country, though the sale and consumption is increasing again.

Do they plant to come back next year and make it an annual feature ?

We have been thinking about coming to India for the past few years. We will have to wait and see when we go back to France. We have had a good experience so far. About 200 people came in Mumbai, many of whom were from the hospitality industry. Even Delhi had over 100 people and several importers also came.

What is the Membership of UGCB ?

Click For Large ViewCo-optation into UGCB is like a club. We like to keep the number stable. Two people were taken in this year recently, taking the number to 135.

Coming from a family of vintners does she plan to set up her own winery in the future ?

I don’t think so. I am very happy in what I am doing. I have three children- all in their mid twenties. They are pursuing independent careers in non-wine areas like engineering and finance. I don’t think they have any inclination to get into this business either-at least not at the present time.

What does she think of En Primeur 2011 for Comtesse Lalande ?

Comtesse Lalande 2011 is a great wine to buy en Primeur. The quality went down a bit from the 2009 and 2010 like most chateaux in Bordeaux but the prices are almost half, making it an attractive option to invest in.

Chateau Latour pulled out this year of En Primeur. Does she think this would have an effect ?

I don’t think it will have any impact. The proprietor of Latour deals in luxury products. He wanted to introduce the same model to wine trade. I don’t think it will work.  A few people have already tried before  and they failed. All our members sell en Primeur, even though their wines  may not appreciate a lot in value. That way the consumer makes some money by buying it cheaper now and they liquidate some of the stocks and generate some cash income. So it is an important part of their business model.

Does she think Sarkozy helped the wine industry as President ?

Click For Large ViewI think Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy was very helpful to Bordeaux when he was the President. The Mayor of Bordeaux was very close to him. He helped firstly by protecting appellation system. Some people wanted to ban marketing through internet but now it is allowed- we believe he was instrumental in it. Although he didn’t drink wine, he was a true economist and for him new viticulture was particularly important.  The government had started working on a new project ‘Made in France’, part of which was the big project  of craftsmen and artisans displaying in New York  and California, which included  Bordeaux wine bars to be created in these villages. We don’t know what the strategy of the new President will be and how the project will progress.

Since she is pressed for time, we had to curtail our interview with her inviting me to visit Bordeaux and me telling her that we shall hopefully see her with the troupes  next year too, though she did not give any indications yet. ‘But if we come, there may be different producers as we have to give equal chance to all our members,’ she concluded.

Subhash Arora


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