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Delhi Wine Club
Michel Négrier of DBR Lafite

Posted: Monday, 21 January 2013 10:58

Passing By: Michel Négrier of DBR Lafite

Jan 21: Michel Négrier, Export Director for the markets outside Europe, of DBR Lafite was in India last week on his way to Thailand for promotion of wines from France, Chile and Argentina in the portfolio of the celebrity wine family from Bordeaux known for the First Growth Chateau Lafite. Subhash Arora had exclusive dinner with him at the Orient Express, Taj Palace Hotel and shared his experiences during the two years since he met him last.

During a recent visit to Mumbai, I was told by an excited friend about an invitation for a dinner where some top wines of Bordeaux would be served. When I asked who the importer was and whether it was Lafite, the answer that Aspri was importing it left me in no doubt that it was a dinner with the wines from Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite (DBR) coinciding with the visit of Michel Négrier, Export Director of DBR, whom I had met a couple of years ago when the wines were launched in India.

The confusion about the name and scope of DBR Lafite is understandable. Till a few years ago, and to some extent even today many people confuse the volume brand of Bordeaux, Mouton Cadet with the First Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild. There is yet another part of the prominent Rothschild family, Baron Edmond de Rothschild that came close to buying Chateau Margaux, but ended up buying Chateau Clarke. One hears about Rupert & Rothschild in South Africa, which is also from this side of the family.

While some of the confusion about these three families may be cleared up by reading an earlier article in delWine, Feature: Third Front in wine of Rothschilds suffice it to say that 'Chateau Lafite is part of DBR which is owned by the Rothschild family. Lafite in turn is owned by members of the family, but with different shareholdings,’ clarifies Michel once again.

Michel says that the growth of revenues during the last 5 years has been phenomenal, almost doubling with exports entering 70 countries. Last time when he came to India two years ago, eleven labels of DBR had been just launched and the supplies were made mostly towards the later part of 2011. Though starting with a small base, the growth has tripled and is charging ahead.

Asia has been the star market for his company, he says. Though he handles the US market, Central and South American market, in fact all markets except France and Europe and Chateau Lafite which is sold through negociants, the boom in China has been phenomenal he says. In fact, it has become the top market for DBR now, he says. The company has come down hard on the companies selling fake Lafites and acknowledging the Chinese government's initiatives to control the fake wine market by imposing fines to jail sentence, depending upon the monetary loss.

The company has been pro-active in collecting data on those who counterfeit their wines. Because of this the judgment process has become quicker and we get better results. Another example- at the wine shows held in various parts of the country, they could sell these counterfeits but now we can sue not only them but the show organisers can also lose their license. 'So I must say things are finally moving in the right direction,’ he says with an air of confidence.

Though unwilling to hazard a guess on the counterfeits since he is not involved in the marketing, he tells me that the 220,000 bottles market fetches around €100 million. The 1 million-case market for the DBR Lafite wines fetches around €50 million-half of the sales come from their Chilean winery in Colchagua Valley, Los Vascos which it had acquired in 1988.

So, has there been a change in his assignment during the last two years? 'Our marketing as you know is divided into two parts. One person looks after Europe for all products handled by DBR, including Chateau Lafite. I continue to look after the sales for ‘the rest of the world’ and in that sense there has not been any change except administratively our territory has become bigger because of growth of the market.' It is the growth of the Indian market that has made him decide to visit India every year. He also increased the area of his visit by adding Bangalore to the last time’s Mumbai and Delhi.

Michel is quite impressed about the changing trends during the last two years though. ‘The Indian wine drinkers are better informed; they ask more questions and ask more specific questions. They are more confident in what they choose. I am sure they want better and better wines as they get experience of drinking better wines,’ he says.

As we drink 4 different wines - a Reserve Blanc from Entre Deux Mers with 60% Semillon and 40% Sauvignon and three red wines from Argentina, Pauillac and Languedoc - he tells us about the difficult 2012 vintage and the uncertainty about how this would shape up, and that Chateau Rieussec, the First Growth Chateau of Sauternes will not make any sweet wine this year (following the example of Chateau d’Yquem). While the Amancaya Gran Reserva from Mendoza, did seem to have some rough edges and was a bit closed yet, the 2008 Reserve from Pauillac was truly a wine of substance- great balance and harmony, with a balance between the red fruit and oak with a long and fresh finish; it was absolutely a delight for the vegetarians who had ordered the porcini Risotto with Black Truffles. The wine did add synergy to perhaps the best-ever tasted Risotto for me and I must say I have had it at many an Italian Restaurant in several regions.

If the music by the charming crooner and the versatile pianist reminded one of an era bygone, it also highlighted the fact that Orient Express is still as majestic as it was when it opened 30 years ago (1983)-with the service and food that was as elegant as ever, at least this evening.

There might not have been the Chateau Lafite that my friend in Mumbai thought would be served at the dinner but the wines, food and the company of Michel Négrier and Arun Kumar, the director of Aspri made it an evening worth remembering.  

Subhash Arora

Tags: Michel Négrier, DBR Lafite, Bordeaux, First Growth Chateau Lafite, Aspri, Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite, DBR, Mouton Cadet, First Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Clarke, Rupert & Rothschild, Colchagua Valley, Los Vascos, Reserve Blanc, Entre Deux Mers, Sauvignon, Pauillac, Languedoc, Chateau Rieusse, Chateau d’Yquem, Amancaya Gran Reserva, Orient Express, Arun Kumar


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