Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the sixth in this series of blogs about his trip and his discoveries . . .
Bordeaux has a vast network of connected wine making families; some of whom have histories stretching back centuries. It pays to know who’s who as you can often find wonderful wines from the extended families of renowned wine makers, top chateaux owners and negotiants (Bordeaux wine merchants) at a lesser price than their more well known brethren. A case in point are the Garcin-Cathiards of Chateau Haut Bergey in the small appellation of Pessac Leognan.
Haut Bergey was purchased in 1991 by Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard. Sylviane is Daniel Cathiard’s sister and comes from a successful family of retailers. Daniel, a former Olympic ski champion, inherited the family’s small supermarket chain in 1970. Within 20 years, he had transformed it into the tenth largest mass distribution group in France, with 15 hypermarkets and 300 supermarkets. At the same time, he launched and developed a chain of sporting goods shops – Go Sport – in France, Belgium, Spain, and California. His group employed 9,000 people. In 1990, Daniel and his wife Florence sold all their business interests to buy Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. It could be said he was returning to his roots – his grandfather was also a negotiant . . .
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte traces its history back to the 14th century and is now world famous for its fabulous red and white wines thanks to the Cathiards. They have also developed a thriving wine tourism business based at the chateau which offers a luxury hotel, a Michelin star restaurant and a wine therapy institute. Mathilde (Daniel and Florence’s daughter) is responsible for creating the household name Caudalie – a health and beauty treatment and range of products based on the grape seeds left over from the must from making the wines. The Cathiards hard work and phenomenal success with Smith Haut Lafitte have lead to them being in the top 50 of the wealthiest winemakers in France.
Like Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut Bergey was a chateau ripe for rebirth. Haut Bergey also has a long history. It dates back to the 15th century.
In 1700 it was bought by Sir Jean-François de Cresse, a member the Bordeaux parliament. Within 24 months, he had expanded the vineyards to 100 hectares. In 1850 a new chateau was built, featuring the beautiful fairytale towers that rise over its rooftop. But, over the years, parcels of the vineyards were sold off and those remaining lapsed into non production. This all changed when Sylviane spotted the sleeping chateau.
Why family matters!
With an eye for excellent terroir and chateaux with bags of potential, plus their extensive knowledge of the markets, the Cathiards have a recipe for success.
Not only have both chateaux been brought bang up to date via major investment and modernisation but both have benefited from the introduction of renowned winemaking consultants.
When Sylviane purchased Haut Bergey she enlisted the expertise of top oenologists Michel Rolland and Jean Luc Thunevin, followed by Michel Rolland (who also consults for Smith Haut Lafitte).
Both Daniel’s Smith Haut Lafitte and Sylviane’s Haut Bergey lie on superb gravel based soils in Pessac Leognan; a little appellation north of Graves which lies close to the city of Bordeaux.
Home to First Growth Chateau Haut Brion and several top chateaux; Pessac Leognan produces both stunning Red and White Bordeaux. Haut Bergey is located in the village of Leognan and Haut Smith Lafitte lies in neighbouring Martillac.
Sylviane has successfully resurrected Haut Bergey and has now passed the reins over to her children, Paul and Helene Garcin. The wines are meticulously made and are considered to be some of the best value priced wines in Pessac Leognan.
Being less well known and missing out on the high profile that Smith Haut Lafitte commands, Haut Bergey’s wines do not command the same price.
Smith Haut Lafitte’s wines average £64 a bottle. However under Sylviane and her family’s care Haut Bergey has performed better than anyone could have expected and is one of the over-achievers in Bordeaux. Circa £19 – £29 a bottle (depending on the vintage) they offer wonderful value for money as the quality is exceptional.
You can find Chatau Haut Bergey’s website here – it’s well worth a look!