The greatest wine discoveries on the planet might just be from an Australian brand that has been hiding in plain sight. In a conversation and tasting with Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago, LUX has a revelation

The world of fine wine is a paradox that make things interesting – sits Penfolds, a one. Some of the greatest wines are household names: who hasn’t heard of Dom Pérignon or Château Lafite? Yet others of the same or even higher stature are almost secret; few outside a tiny circle of collectors know of the wines of Henri Jayer or Château Rayas.

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And even seasoned wine collectors and aficionados could be forgiven for being confused by the “origin paradox”. This is not a story of religion (although, given the fervency of arguments it generates, it could be), but of location. As ever wealthier collectors delve ever deeper into their passions, the specific vineyard sites of specific producers can see their produce sell for a multiple of the price of the vines next door, ostensibly making the same kind of wine from the same type of grapes on the same soil.

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Chief Winemaker Peter Gago

Within this fascinating collectors’ maelstrom – and with wine, as with people, it’s the paradoxes that make things interesting – sits Penfolds, a producer at once revered for its super-premium collectable wines, and known for its good value everyday bottlings. Penfolds is a latticework of delicious paradoxes – a fine-wine world in itself. For example, it’s quite possible you will find a delicious, easy-drinking Penfolds red wine at a good metropolitan supermarket for the price of four oat chai lattes at Starbucks. Meanwhile, if you wanted to get your hands on a bottle of Penfolds g3, one of the producer’s most revered red wines, wine-searcher.com lists its average global price as around £18,500 (US$23,000) at the time of writing. Only 1,200 bottles were ever made. Even more extreme is Penfolds Ampoule, a glass and precious-metal decanter of one of its most rare wines, the Penfolds (monopole) 2004 Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon, of which only 12 were made, and which currently retails at around £127,000 (US$160,000) – if you can find one.

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A line-up of Penfolds classics

Penfolds’ slightly more abundant high-end wines, The Penfolds Collection, are celebrated by connoisseurs around the world: bottles such as Grange and Bin 707 sell for the same prices as the most prized châteaux from Bordeaux. The 2021 Yattarna, a Chardonnay, recently received a 100/100-points score from leading authority on Australian wine Andrew Caillard MW; like a super-luxe white Burgundy – Le Montrachet, say. For us, the most intriguing, and delicious (see tasting notes, opposite) Penfolds paradox is a development of the company’s different way of doing things. Grange, traditionally its most celebrated wine, made mainly of the Shiraz (Syrah) grape, has always been made from multiple vineyard sites across a vast area, in stark contrast to its counterparts in France, which are from tiny, specified vineyard plots.

Now, Penfolds has stretched that logic from Australia across countries and even continents: Penfolds II is a top-end Cabernet-Shiraz from Bordeaux and South Australia (in the same bottle). The company also now makes Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Napa, as well as making wines (in the Medoc/Bordeaux) with grapes sourced from across the Bordeaux region. Peter Gago, Chief Winemaker at Penfolds, says stretching the brand from the high end to the middle market is a deliberate, democratising strategy. “Luxury has many meanings to many different people – it’s a continuum,” he explains. “We mustn’t forget that this is Penfolds’ 180th year, and what we do at the top end has to permeate all the way down to entry-level wines. This is what sets us apart from other ‘luxury’ wines. I’m not saying I’m a socialist when it comes to luxury, but it’s not just for the chosen few, it’s for everyone to have a taste of. “What makes us unique is affordable luxury at one level, transcending to the 2012 Ampoule launched at the Baccarat Club in Moscow: courage coupled with quality.” Gago makes the point that Penfolds wines have rewarded investors in top-end wines as well as any of the world’s best: the Ampoule was launched at around £87,600 (US$110,000) 12 years ago, and one reportedly recently sold on the secondary market for around £130,400 (US$162,000).

Read more: Lewis Chester on Giacomo Conterno

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The Grange Tunnel at the Magill Estate, which is just east of Adelaide

UK-born Gago has been Chief Winemaker at Penfolds for 22 years and moves and shakes with rock stars and Hollywood actors who revere the wines; but he is never happier than when talking about the wines. He enthuses about Penfolds’ continuing collaboration with Champagne Thiénot, which has seen the release of some highly acclaimed vintage Champagnes in its first five years, including the 2013 Penfolds X Champagne Thiénot Blanc de Noirs, which last year was awarded Best Blanc de Noirs Champagne in the world by a panel of experts compiled by tastingbook.com founder Pekka Nuikki. (Champagne, of course, can only be made in the Champagne region of France.) He also enjoys the challenges of making a great Pinot Noir to match the best of Burgundy like a great Chambertin or Vosne-Romanée. “Some say that Australian Pinot Noirs lack the complexity of Burgundy. With Cabernet and Shiraz, we’re competing at any level. For Pinot Noir, the journey continues,” says Gago. It’s a journey Penfolds has been taking for nearly two centuries, and one that Gago and his successors will no doubt savour. Meanwhile, the greatest wine discovery you may make this year could just be a wine from a brand that’s been hiding in plain sight.

king charles

King Charles and Queen Camilla (the then Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall) taste the 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A with Peter Gago in 2015, Milton Wordley Photography

Tasting notes by LUX

1 Penfolds Grange, 2019, South Australia – £600 (US$740)

The ne plus ultra of Penfolds wines (if you ignore the hyperwines at hyperprices), and often thought the world’s best Shiraz (Syrah). This is a complex philosopher of a wine, which reveals layer upon layer over an evening. This vintage is still at school; try to find one of university-graduation age.

2 Penfolds Bin 707, 2019, South Australia – £450 (US$555)

Bin numbers are essential to an understanding of Penfolds wines, and 707 is an eternally velvety Cabernet Sauvignon that is a world in itself. It
is neither slightly austere, like a Bordeaux, nor open, like many great new-world Cabernets. A restrained lusciousness, like a young Daniel Craig.

3 Penfolds Bin 704, 2019, Napa Valley – £60 (US$75)

A Napa Cabernet by an Australian company? Zut alors! We loved the subtle fanning of flavours – more a refined tap on the shoulder than a knockout punch. More Bogart than Stallone.

4 Penfolds II, 2019, Bordeaux/South Australia – £270 (US$335)

A French-Australian blend! Double zut alors!
This wine has the intensity of Simone de Beauvoir and the persistence and artistry of Shane Warne. And chapeau to Penfolds for even trying.

5 Penfolds Yattarna, 2021, Australia – £135 (US$165)

Garnered a perfect 100/100-point score from wine critic Andrew Caillard MW; rich yet levitatingly fresh, powerful yet delicate, quite unlike anything else – like Margot Fonteyn driving an F1 car.

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In 1974, Giovanni Conterno purchased the entire 14-hectare Cascina Francia vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba. It is now known as the Francia vineyard.

What are the 12 greatest wine estates in the world? A subjective question, surely. Lewis Chester doesn’t think so. The British financier and founder of the Golden Vines awards presents his series for LUX of his golden dozen, the most collectible wine estates from the world’s major regions. For the second instalment, he looks towards Piedmont in search of the best Barolo 

Roberto Conterno is not like many Italian winemakers I have met. Firstly, he’s serious and fastidious. A clean freak, the cellar is always spotless. While tasting wine from one of his barrels, he almost had a coronary when a few drops of red wine spilled from his pipette onto the cellar floor. We met again a few years later, and nothing had changed, except he was keen to show me his new range of glassware, Sensory, that he had designed to taste with wines from any region. In the process, he opened some very pricey wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux to prove his point. Convinced by the taste test, I purchased the first 36 glasses sold in the UK market.

Roberto is deeply respectful of the terroir that he inherited from his late father, Giovanni. This includes the fourteen-hectare monopole (solely-owned designated vineyard) of Cascina Francia, in what is considered the best village in Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba. 400 metres in altitude, it includes 9.4 hectares of Nebbiolo, the varietal he uses in his Barolo designated wines. In 2008, Roberto increased the estate’s landholdings by acquiring 3 hectares of Cerretta, another well regarded vineyard in the village. Finally, in 2015, he purchased Arione, a highly-sought after nearly 6 hectare vineyard situated next to Cascina Francia.

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Monfortino is not a vineyard. It is a name invented for their top bottling at some point early in the 20th Century.

Although the estate makes more than seven cuvées, undoubtedly the best is Monfortino Riserva. An iconic wine designed for long-ageing, it has more than a hundred years of history since the inaugural 1924 vintage. Monfortino Riserva is aged for a minimum of five years in either 50+ year-old Slavonian oak or newer Austrian Franz Stockinger large casks (plus one year in the bottle).

Returning from the First World War, Roberto’s grandfather, Giacomo, had the vision to create a unique bottling of Nebbiolo, sourcing the best grapes from different growers, at a time when wine was typically sold in cask or purchased by local merchants for blending. Only from 1978 was the first Monfortino produced from grapes sourced from the family’s own Cascina Francia vineyard.

I first realised that Monfortino Riserva was one of the world’s greatest wines when I purchased some very old bottles from a little wine shop in Alba fifteen years ago: 1955, 1961 and 1978, all legendary vintages. Opening them at various dinners, they all performed remarkably well. The 1955 vintage had a bizarre trajectory. On opening, it buzzed with aromas of violets, rose petals and a hint of tar, collapsing to oblivion within twenty minutes of pouring. The wine in my glass had become a deadly shade of pale. However, after a further thirty minutes, it had miraculously revived and was as good as when it had first been poured. The greatest comeback since Lazarus!

Read more: Tasting Bollinger’s new luxury cuvées in Paris

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The selection of grapes for Monfortino typically takes place in the vineyard. It must be done early in the winemaking process because one of the key differences between Monfortino and their other bottlings is that there is no temperature control during fermentation of the Monfortino grapes.

Monfortino Riserva is still Italy’s reference fine wine. It is also one of (if not the) most expensive, with many vintages selling in the secondary market for more than £1,000 per 75cl bottle. But it’s worth every penny. Fear not, however. Roberto’s other bottlings, in particular Cerretta and Arione, are incredible wines that cost a fraction of the price of Monfortino Riserva.

Lewis’s Best 3 Wines from Giacomo Conterno

Giacomo Conterno, Monfortino Riserva, 2010: An iron fist in a velvet glove is the most apt description of a wine full of power and grace, that will no doubt be showing well for the next fifty-plus years. Monfortino is known for aromas of leather, licorice, incense and dried rose petals, and this wine has it in abundance. However, the coup de grâce was the extremely long finish that captivates you to drink the rest of the bottle before your wife reaches for the bottle.

Giacomo Conterno, Monfortino Riserva, 2002: I was lucky enough to try the 2001 and 2002 (in magnums) together at a dinner in Turin. It was a close toss up as to which gave greater pleasure. However, the 2002 got the nod as I was wowed by the balsamic and black tea aromas, savoury sweet mid-palate, and the silky but firm tannins. Just divine.

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Roberto Conterno is the third generation winemaker at the helm of arguably Piedmont’s most famed estate

Giacomo Conterno, Monfortino Riserva, 1955: you just can’t beat having a wine that’s older than oneself and marvelling at how it can make you smile. The flowery petal notes, the intensity of the palate despite the wine having lost almost all its colour, and a long delicate finish. The fact that the wine died and then revived miraculously only added to the long-lived memory of its happy consumption.

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Beautiful, big house with ah big terrace and garden

Since 1843, six generations of the Krug family have perpetuated this dream, enriching the Joseph Krug’s vision and savoir faire. Today, the Family House welcomes Krug Lovers from around the world to take a sensorial journey around Krug Champagne.

What are the 12 greatest wine estates in the world? A subjective question, surely. Lewis Chester doesn’t think so. The British financier and founder of the Golden Vines awards kicks off a series where he outlines for LUX his golden dozen, the most collectible wine estates from the world’s major regions. For the first instalment, he pays homage to Krug, the revered champagne house owned by LVMH

Why begin my personalised list of the World’s Best 12 Fine Wine Estates with Maison Krug? As a fine wine collector for almost twenty-five years, I have collected more bottles of Krug than any other wine: more than 1,500. More importantly, I drink more bottles of Krug than any other wine – every Friday night with my family at a minimum. My middle daughter, Anoushka, was just twelve years old when she developed a craving for Krug. Maggie Henriquez, at the time the Maison’s President & CEO, found out about Anoushka’s love of Krug and invited her and her friends to celebrate her future eighteenth birthday party at the estate!

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Krug evokes class and sophistication. In 2012, the late, great Paul Pontallier invited me to an 8-hour marathon lunch in the great salon of Château Margaux, one of the five left-bank First Growths. On arrival, Paul – the Château’s estate manager – served me a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée, the multi-wine non-vintage blend that Krug lovers around the world imbibe on a regular basis. At around 7pm, after having consumed six bottles of Margaux and a bottle of cognac, I asked Paul why he had chosen to serve me Krug: “We, at Château Margaux, want our guests to consider our wines as being at the same level as those from Maison Krug”. Wow! What an endorsement. Many years later, I would be told something quite similar by Don Weaver, the estate manager at Harlan Estate in Napa Valley, when he met me at the winery door holding two glasses and a cold bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée.

big green vineyard

Joseph Krug did not believe in hierarchies between his Champagnes, clearly written in his personal notebook in 1848. Today the House offers seven Champagnes, all of the same undisputed quality, each illustrating a different expression of Nature.

Krug ages forever. Along with Grande Cuvée, the ‘cheapest’ wine in the Maison’s range at around £200 per bottle, the Maison produces a vintage bottling in good years, as well as a formidable non-vintage Rosé, and a rare ‘Collection’ version of its vintage champagnes (only available to private clients). For those willing and able to pay thousands of pounds per bottle, they also produce – in miniscule quantities – a single-vineyard Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) wine, Clos du Mesnil, and a single-vineyard Blanc de Noirs (Pinot Noir), Clos d’Ambonnay.

Known for having wines that are generous on the palate, with huge complexity helped by ageing in wooden barrels, Krug is somewhat opposite in design to its LVMH stablemate, Dom Pérignon, which is known for its reductive style of champagnes. Unlike Dom Pérignon, Krug makes less than a tenth of the volume of wine, although getting the exact production figures from either Maison is as difficult as getting your hands on Russia’s nuclear launch codes.

Dark wine cellar

Olivier Krug, the sixth generation of the Krug family and Director of the House welcomes Krug Lovers from around the world to the Family House in Reims.

The Maison was established in Reims in 1843, by Joseph Krug, a true visionary non-conformist with an uncompromising philosophy for quality. Joseph’s novel idea was to craft the very best Champagne he could offer, every single year, regardless of annual variations in climate – rather than bottling a wine only in good vintages. He also introduced the idea of building an extensive library of reserve wines from many different years to craft the perfect blend. Six generations of the Krug family have continued Joseph’s work, with Olivier Krug being the latest in a long line of family members to be working at the estate which has been owned by LVMH since 1999.
The most recent innovation at the estate was numbering each bottling of Krug Grande Cuvée with an ‘Edition’ number. In 2016, Edition 163eme was launched, representing the 163rd annual bottling of Grande Cuvée from the time of Joseph Krug’s first vintage in 1844. Krug Rosé edition numbers shortly followed suit. Collectors can use the Krug app to quickly find out what and how many wines comprise any given Edition number, and even what music ensemble to pair with the wine. For instance, the most recent release, 171eme Edition, is blended with 131 wines from 12 different years (2015 all the way back to 2000), made up of 45% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay and 18% Meunier grapes. Julie Cavil, the Chef de Cave, recommends enjoying this Krug with Joseph’s Theme: Dream Variation (composed by Kazu Makino et al).

Read more: A tasting of Drouhin’s fine Burgundies

Lewis’s Best 3 Wines from Maison Krug

Krug, Clos du Mesnil, 1979: the first vintage from this iconic single vineyard, it ranks as one of the best three wines I have ever tasted from any estate. Aromas of roses and petals, and a finish that ran for several minutes in the mouth. Worldclass.

Krug, Clos du Mesnil, 2002: although still a relative puppy, I am convinced that the 2002 vintage will last for another twenty-plus years and be considered alongside the 1979 vintage as a legendary wine.

Krug, Vintage 1988: if you can find a bottle that has been stored well, the wine will be remarkably fresh, vibrant and complex, and I guarantee that it will blow your socks off.

wine bottles laying next to each other

Each year, Krug’s Cellar Master auditions 250 wines of the year and 150 reserve wines when creating a new Édition of Krug Grande Cuvée

The 2024 edition of the Golden Vines awards will take place in Madrid between October 25-27 2024. liquidicons.com

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Family of different generations sitting on a stone wall

The family Drouhin grew up in the vineyards and acquired a deep understanding of wine alongside their father, Robert Drouhin. They all have their own role and they share the same passion for wine

Veronique Drouhin was not supposed to run one of the world’s most celebrated wine producers. The scion of a family with holdings throughout Burgundy and beyond, she was born with the odds stacked against her in two ways: she was the second child, where traditionally the elder child took on the family business; and she was a woman in the very mannish world of wine.

“I did not think, when I was at school, that things would end up the way they did,” the urbane, lively head of Maison Drouhin says ahead of our tasting of some of her finest wines. But her elder brother, Philippe, decided that he wanted to devote his energies to being in the vineyards, making the wines great rather than running the company. And Veronique, although she is too modest to say so directly, showed the commercial nous required to take the company forward in the 21st century.

Drouhin is famed for making wines of finesse, vibrancy and balance. That was not necessarily always a plus point: there was a time earlier this century when many consumers of fine wines thought that the more powerful a wine was, the better. And being the head of a negotiant-producer, which both owns its own vineyards and buys grapes from small producers with their own vineyards, was also a double-edged sword as high-end consumers sought out tiny production boutiquewineries as a status symbol.

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But the pendulum has swung the other way, both on style, with finesse and balance most definitely back in vogue, and in terms of consumer demand, as the cost of wines from tiny producers shot upwards beyond sustainable levels. Drouhin, which makes wines from some of Burgundy’s most hallowed vineyards, suddenly looked like excellent value as well as high quality.

If there is a grace to the wines – more on which in our tasting notes below – there is also a grace to the head of the Maison. When I ask what she would have likely done if she had not been born into a major French wine dynasty, Veronique replies that she might have become a music. I can imagine her playing a Chopin sonata as much as I can imagine her tasting her wines or hosting a collector’s dinner.

Read more: A tasting of Dana Estate wines

Wine cellar

After carefully harvesting the precious fruits of a year’s labour, Maison Drouhin let their vines enter a period of rest, an enchanted interlude called dormancy.

Drouhin makes wines at a variety of price points: just days before this tasting of some of their highest-end wines, which costs hundreds of pounds/euros/dollars a bottle, I partook of a bottle of a more lowly Drouhin Savigny-les-Beaune red Burgundy, from the fulsome 2020 vintage, at a London restaurant. It was delicious, balanced, moreish; and very much in the style of all the others. But if you are seeking a high end Burgundy at a relatively reasonable price, look to the below.

The Drouhin tasting. Tasting notes by Darius Sanai

Whites:

Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, 2018

The Chablis brand might suggest a certain austerity and steeliness; this grand cru, from one of the most celebrated vineyards, had that but also breadth, depth and white nectarines. Very classy and surprisingly powerful; a Jaguar E-type of a wine.

Green field with a little house in the middle

The harvest date is determined through regular samplings. Maison Drouhin closely monitors the health and maturation of the grapes.

Beaune Clos des Mouches, 2019

A white wine from Beaune? Sacré bleu – or sacré blanc!  But what a wine this rare and prized bottling is. Rounded, rich fruit with freshness and sex appeal and a lot of layers. An open-topped classic two-seater Mercedes SL from the 1980s.

Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru Morgeot, Marquis de Laguiche, 2019

From Chablis we headed south through the forest of the Plateau de Langres (Chablis is not connected to the rest of the Burgundy vineyards), over the continental divide and down to Beaune. Now we travel a few kilometres further south, with the Cote d’Or hills rising to our right, in our 1973 Porsche 911S, in a solid period dark green. That’s what this wine is: super-elegant, precise, crafted, stunning.

Multiple wine bottles standing next to each other

The harvest date is determined through regular samplings. Maison Drouhin closely monitors the health and maturation of the grapes.

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2019

Back up the road we go, past Beaune, to the rounded Hill of Corton. Corton Charlemagne is one of the most celebrated white Burgundies, and this is a beautiful interpretation, with stony fruits and the complexity to match a three Michelin-starred chef’s signature Escoffier-style white fish main course. A 1960s Citroen DS Decapotable (in black, with cream leather) of a wine.

Reds:

Volnay Premier Cru Clos des Chênes 2018

Such finesse, a wine that only hints at its true depth of first sip, then keeps speaking with you, reciting poetry in your ear.

Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches 2018

Beaune is only a few kilometres away from Volnay, and this wine is made with the same, pinot noir, grape variety by the same producer: yet while retaining Drouhin’s finesse, this has power and muscularity. Like a Duke from the court of Louis XIV expounding on the virtues of his house musicians.

Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Amoureuses 2009

On first sip, this is a balanced, structured and slightly delicate red Burgundy. By the end of the second glass, it’s an artist, a pianist, a poet and a dancer – and not a particularly chaste dancer. A Chippendale from the 2000s, or a brilliant burlesque; all at the same time. Astonishing.

Chambertin Clos de Beze 2003

This is a wine you would have at your last supper, with capon, truffle, caviar and tripe sweetbreads (and maybe some pommes dauphinoise). Like a Falstaffian royal performing a perfect ballet while reciting Rumi.

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People sitting at tables in front of a large window overlooking a city
A pedestrian area with white parasols and a view of a city

Adrian Bridge, opened Porto’s Cultural District, WOW, in 2020

Starting his career in the British Cavalry Regiment, Adrian Bridge moved to Portugal in 1994 and is now CEO of The Fladgate Partnership, which produces Taylor, Fonseca, Fonseca-Guimaraens, and Croft Ports. Here, Bridge speaks to LUX’s Leaders and Philanthropists Editor, Samantha Welsh about being a driving force behind wine tourism in Porto and developing the city’s new Cultural District WOW
a man in a suit holding a glass of port

Adrian Bridge

LUX: What do you think your training at Sandhurst taught you?
Adrian Bridge: The military teaches a great deal about leadership and confidence. You also learn to make decisions based on the available information, no matter how imperfect. However, in planning action it is in the details where success lies. That requires breaking down a problem to its parts and thinking through all of the details. I believe that all business is about the detail and that is where success lies.

LUX: How would you say this has influenced your dynamic style of leadership?
AB: The moto of Sandhurst is ‘Serve to Lead’ and I strongly believe in leading from the front. This creates a company culture where everything should be possible. I do not ask people to do things that I would not do myself. I think that this allows us to push forward, to take risks, to do things that others might not attempt.

A bar with a decorated ceilings

Angel’s Share is the name given for evaporation process that takes place when wine is ageing in barrels. It is also the name of the WOW wine bar

LUX: Why is the house so good at innovating?
AB: To me, innovation is all about pushing boundaries. To remain at the top, you simply can’t sit still. You have to continuously question, push and evolve or someone will overtake you.

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Established in 1692, we are one of the oldest companies in the world simply because we don’t sit still. We are continuously expanding and innovating to appeal to both new and existing audiences. We have a reputation for quality and excellence that has been built up over time and continues to be sustained through the generations.

One of our best examples of innovation has to be the creation of Croft Pink; the first ever Rosé Port. We launched this product in 2008 with the goal to introduce Port wine to a younger generation. In 2011 we continued to expand this concept and launched a canned “ready to drink”- Rosé tonic.

 grapes in boxes and woman picking through them

The Fladgate Partnership produces Taylor, Fonseca, Fonseca-Guimaraens, and Croft Ports

LUX: Oporto is already a UNESCO World Heritage City, so what was your vision for WOW?
AB: Porto is a beautiful city full of history, charm and culture – all of great significance to Portugal’s identity. The vision of WOW was to bring a totally new set of cultural concepts to Porto and in this way offer quality content to the region.

We wanted this to be a game-changing space for both locals and travellers that really celebrates the culture, gastronomy, history and industries of Portugal. WOW is as educational as it is fun. To achieve this, we needed to make sure this was a dynamic district that featured regular exhibitions, unique events and seasonal experiences.

A lit up walkway with rocks on either side

The District is over 55,000sqm and includes 8 museums and experiences and 11 restaurants and bars

LUX: What does an immersive experience offer that can complement the traditional vineyard visit?
AB: One of the reasons WOW originally came to be was in response to the booming number of visitors coming to Porto – demand that we helped to create by building The Yeatman – and the lack of experiences that Porto had to offer. To appeal to this market, we continuously try to ensure that there is something new for people to do and see in the district. Technology really allows us to engage with guests in a more interesting and meaningful way.

After the traditional vineyard visit, I would definitely suggest spending a day at WOW. It’s a good idea to choose one or two museums, do a workshop at The Wine School or at The Chocolate Story – the chocolate museum, enjoy a typical dish in one of our restaurants, appreciate the sunset in our Angel’s Share bar while drinking a Port Tonic and stay to be amused by the video mapping in our main square.

steel factory with chocolate dripping

The Chocolate Story Museum

LUX: What is a sustainable vineyard model and how are you working to secure the future of viticulture?
AB: We are committed to protecting the environment and the future of our vineyards and the Douro Valley where our family has produced Port wine for centuries.

Our sustainable model incorporates a number of techniques and strategies which work together to create a balanced, diversified and sustainable vineyard environment. The basis of the model is the construction of narrow terraces each of which supports only one row of vines.

People sitting at tables in front of a large window overlooking a city

The view from Angel Share’s Wine Bar

This model was awarded the prestigious BES Biodiversity Prize in 2009, which recognises achievement in the fields of conservation and environmental sustainability.

In order to encourage industry change on a global level we established the Porto Protocol – the wine industry’s climate action network. Since our first summit in 2018, we have brought together more than 230 wine and wine adjacent companies from 22 countries to share solutions to combat climate change in the wine industry.

LUX: This year you have opened a new museum with a ground-breaking exhibition from TATE at the Atkinson Museum, what was the strategy behind that?
AB: The vision of WOW is to bring a totally new set of cultural concepts to Porto. The new exhibitions, especially the Atkinson Museum, reinforce this destination as a “must visit” hub for international travellers.

At the centre of WOW is the Atkinson Museum. Originally built in 1760, we have meticulously restored and modernised the space to meet international museum standards and attract exhibitions from the international art pool.

A sculpture of a hand pouring wine into a glass

Adrian Bridge has a private collection of 2,000 vessels and glasses which tell the story of  the evolution of drinking vessels from earliest civilisations to the present day with some of the collection dates back to 7,000BC

Our most recent exhibition, The Dynamic Eye was produced by the TATE Collection and featured over 100 works from 63 artists – this was the largest number of works travelling from TATE to Portugal. This is an amazing example of the quality of major exhibitions we are bringing to Gaia.

The idea is to bring new and different major international exhibitions, such as The Dynamic Eye, every year.

Read more: Italy Art Focus: Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

LUX: How can cultural philanthropy shine a light on the house values?
AB: As a family business, we are built on a set of strong shared values. We are continuously seeking opportunities that align with our core values. At the moment, one of my key priorities is sustainability in the wine industry and coming up with new ways to create new industry practices.

a blue map on the floor in a room that looks like a boat

Porto Region Across the Ages Museum

LUX: What would you like to be remembered for?
AB: When I came to live in Porto in 1994, I came to into a Port Wine Trade that was very traditional. Our company helped to consolidate that industry and lead it forward, not least with the innovation of various new styles of Porto. This was an achievement and in doing this I hope that I will be remembered for helping to enhance one of the greatest wines and wine regions in the world. This also includes putting Porto on the map as a destination and through that work we have helped to stimulate the development of the town and create jobs and wealth. However, I will probably just be remembered for altering the city centre through the construction of The Yeatman and WOW.

Find out more: fladgatepartnership.com

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There is a vineyard in the heart of Napa Valley that is a legend among wine cognoscenti; and one wine estate above all others that is celebrated for the wines it makes from it. Darius Sanai embarks on a tasting of Schrader’s celebrated To Kalon vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons

Schrader’s wines come from the heart of the Napa Valley in California

Anyone who enjoys the world’s great wines will have been asked a variation of the following question by a friend or acquaintance who is not a wine drinker: why are they worth it?

Top wines cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds/euros/dollars a bottle. What is it about a liquid, opened and dispatched over the course of a couple of hours, that is so much better than other bottles of very similar liquid, on sale for a fraction of the price?

My favourite answer is that a great wine makes you think. It carves its own conversation and memory in your mind. It has a depth and breadth of complexity which starts, like any foodstuff, with your sensory organs (smell, taste, sight, touch), but which then transfers into your brain to engrave itself on your experience.

Great food also has sensory complexity (and can also be expensive and confined to the very wealthy). But wine has two qualities which are unavailable to food: a bottle of wine accompanies you and your companions during the course of a part of a day (rather than as a course in a meal), taking part and assisting in numerous conversations. And a great wine evolves, and has a different conversation with you over the space of a couple of hours. The greatest wines leave a city’s worth of impressions on your mind.

I was thinking of this during our tasting of Schrader Cellars wines. Schrader is one of the big names of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: if you are a hedge fund titan in New York, an oil magnate in Dallas or an entertainment investor in LA, you will likely know the winery.

 

 

 

Jason Smith, Master Sommelier at Schrader

The first three wines we tried – three of the winery’s flagships – were all from a legendary piece of land, the Beckstoffer To Kalon vineyard in Napa Valley.

Drive by Beckstoffer To Kalon on Highway 29, the main road bisecting the valley, and you would be forgiven for missing it. Unlike some of the spectacular vineyards of the region, perched amid hillside forests or on mountainsides, To Kalon is flat, on the valley floor, just an array of vines. But then, so are vineyards like those around Chateau Latour or Chateau Petrus or Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux. Visual appeal has no relationship to vineyard quality.

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Like a Burgundy vineyard, To Kalon has a number of different wine estates making wines from its esteemed grapes; Schrader is probably the most celebrated. But what makes Schrader, as well as this vineyard site of To Kalon, so special?

The To Kalon vineyard is on the valley floor of Napa, touted by forested mountains

Jason Smith, the urbane, cosmopolitan General Manager of Schrader, with whom we had our tasting, is too modest to give a direct answer: it’s a combination of the vines and the winemaking. Smith is a rarity in that he is a Master Sommelier running a prestigious winery; and as such has real insider knowledge of the fabulous restaurants which manage to get their hands on a small stock of Schrader wines. He says the wines are best drunk over dinner with a small group of friends; although the wines weave such a conversation we would be happy to drink them alone.

Tasting notes by Darius Sanai

Schrader Cellars Heritage Clone 2019

So many layers wash over your senses when you sip this wine: as soon as you think you have separated and worked out the different elements, more arrive to replace them. If it were an artwork, it would be a late-period Rembrandt: on first note, a portrait of a person, then you notice the eyes, the unfinished sleeve, the posture; keep looking, and keep sipping, and more nuances appear and others disappear. Unlike a Rembrandt, this will improve over time: its conversation will be even more fascinating in 2029 or later.

Schrader Cellars CCS 2019

The To Kalon vineyard is cooled by breezes and fogs coming in from nearby San Francisco Bay

Schrader is very scientific over which parts of the To Kalon vineyard make which of its wines. CCS is made from grapes from nearest the centre of Napa Valley itself, near the river. The soil is full of mineral deposits, which apparently make the wine balanced, lifted. My impression was of a wave of blues, greens, greys and reds; its conversation was playful yet intellectual, never too heavy, but always very precise. It reminded me of a Chagall; not one of his sadder paintings, but a more joyful work, figures flying, but always with a poignant poetry behind it. Again, I would keep my next bottle for a few years, as this conversation developed as the evening went on.

Schrader Cellars RBS 2019

For me, the most famous of Schrader’s wines and the only one I had tried before, in various different vintages. This is not a wine that hides its qualities behind its coat. It is made from the warmest part of the vineyard, and Napa does get very hot in summer, although To Kalon is mitigated by both the fact that it is near the cooling effect of the Bay, and that the valley floor has cooling fogs flowing in from the Bay and the Pacific, which can also keep sunshine off. So with the richness comes a balance. Still, this is a showcase wine with power and wow factor: a Damien Hirst sculpture of a wine, a showcase. I would drink this anytime from now, but ensure Alain Ducasse was around in my kitchen to cook up a tenderloin with foie gras or alternatively a morel mushroom casserole with plenty of truffle and parsley, to accompany it.

Read more: A tasting of Vérité wines with Hélène Sellian

Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

The wine made for people who can’t afford or don’t want to broach the fabulously expensive wines above, I expected Double Diamond to be a bit of a disappointment, like the second wines of top Bordeaux chateaux are sometimes. But hell no. Although it’s made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, like all the wines here, Double Diamond is sourced from outside To Kalon (but within Napa Valley), and it’s altogether a different conversation. Open, delicious, very sophisticated in its own right, perhaps less demanding of your attention and conversation than the artworks above, which require the limelight; ready to drink now and not really needing a food accompaniment. A mid-career contemporary artist, perhaps Flora Yuhnkovich, enjoying their success.

Find out more: schradercellars.com

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Reading time: 5 min
A glass and wood building that says "Ornellaia" on it
A glass and wood building that says "Ornellaia" on it
Ornellaia, recently held its 15th charity auction dedicated to the Vendemmia d’Artista 2020 ‘La Proporzione’. The online auction, conducted by Sotheby’s, raised $300,000 contributing to a total of $2.5M since the project began.  Here, Samantha Welsh speaks to Ornellaia’s CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja about why this is an essential event and how he turned Ornellaia into one of the world’s most celebrated wine estates in the world

LUX: How did you start-out, and what were you invited to create with Ornellaia?
Giovanni Geddes: In 1999 I became CEO of Ornellaia; the same name as its first growth that represents the style of the estate.

Ornellaia also produces  a second wine, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia and Le Volte dell’Ornellaia, a blend made mainly by Merlot and represents a more joyful approach of the domaine style. Furthermore, Ornellaia produces two white wines, Ornellaia Bianco and Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia

A tree and deck in front of a green vineyard

LUX: How did you shine a light on the Ornellaia brand and build it separately to Masseto?
GG: I realised that it was important to create a clear distinction between Masseto and Ornellaia, so the latter did not become seen as a second wine. This is because Masseto was produced in a very limited quantity and sold at a higher price, so my idea was that Masseto needed to become an estate with its own name, its own identity, its own winery and wine. Masseto extended over 8ha and has now grown to around 11ha. We also set up a new management structure for the winery with the appointment of a Production Director and a Sales and Marketing Director. This was a milestone for the Frescobaldi group.

Three men standing up behind a man sitting in a chair holding a walking stick and a dog in his lap

LUX: What was the thinking behind the go-to-market strategy for Ornellaia; how does an art partnership potentially add value and position brand?
GG: My idea was production, promotion and brand building, so everything had to be the very best quality.

Vendemmia d’Artista project was presented in 2009 with the 2006 vintage. Since then, the estate defines every year the character of the vintage and commissions an international renowned artist to translate the vintages’ character in art. Every year 111 large format bottles are “dressed” with these art labels. These bottles have become sought after by collectors. Furthermore, in every case of six 0.75 litre bottles, one bottle bears an art label created by the artist.

green vineyards

LUX: How does the Vendemmia d’Artista project celebrate the exclusive character of each new vintage of Ornellaia?
GG: Each year, art is created and bespoked to the theme which best expresses the character of that particular vintage. First, we define the character of the wine, then an artist is identified and commissioned to interpret the character of the vintage in a series of art labels and one site-specific installation. There is no competition involved.

A room full of people and a woman giving a speech with a man in a wheelchair holding a dog in his lap

For example, Luigi Ontani, one of the most renowned Italian artists, interpreted the first Vendemmia d’Artista vintage (2006) “L’Esuberanza”, creating an artwork which portrayed this exuberant vintage; the following year, the wine was more elegant in style, so “L’Armonia” or “Harmony” was the predominant characteristic and a wonderful Egyptian artist, Ghada Amer created the concept for the artwork. The 2020 vintage, released this year, is balanced and “La Porporzione” as it has been defined by the estate, is represented by the conceptual art pioneer, Joseph Kosuth, through the art of language, an interaction and interpretation of ‘vino’ and art.

A large tree in the middle of a vineyard

LUX:  What happens with these art bottles?
GG: The artwork bottles are sold at auction through Sotheby’s. Usually there are ten lots offered (there were twelve this time) and they comprise several of the double magnums (3 litres), ten Imperials (6 litres) and the unique Salmanazar (9 litres). Proceeds were originally donated to international museums. Since 2019, we have been supporting the ‘Minds Eye’ programme of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the award-winning programme which immerses blind and low-vision people into multi-sensory experiences to foster art appreciation.

Wines side by side on a grand marble and gold mantlepiece

LUX: Where is demand for Ornellaia particularly strong?
GG: The demand for our wines is exceeding in all markets! We have the best collaborators in all markets that together with our team support the increased awareness of our wines and that of the appellation we are part of.

LUX: With hindsight, what have you most enjoyed in your highly-successful career?
GG: Seeing Ornellaia and Masseto being recognized as Italian iconic wines, brings me great joy and pride.

rows of vineyards at sunset

LUX: What would you like to leave as your legacy?
GG: I have always wished to leave a very strong company and reinforce the estate awareness. Of course, Ornellaia and Masseto are globally very well-known, but I have always strived to amplify the characteristics and values of the wines far beyond the key markets.

Find out more:

ornellaia.com

masseto.com

 

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Reading time: 3 min
A swimming pool surrounded by a hotel trees and hills and fields
A swimming pool surrounded by a hotel trees and hills and fields

Glorious exteriors at the Como Castello del Nero, Tuscany

In the fourth part of our luxury travel views column from the Spring/Summer 2023 issue, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai checks in at the Como Castello del Nero, Tuscany

What drew us there?

What didn’t draw us there would be the more pertinent question. This 12th-century castle hotel is on a ridge overlooking half of Tuscany. In the far distance to the north, you can see the domes and spires of Florence; on another ridge to the south, the terracotta shapes of Siena. Both are a short drive away. In between are hilltop villages, and what seems like an endless expanse of forest, vineyard, field and wild boar.

How was the stay?

Our favourite spot was at the northeast corner of the extensive outdoor pool. It is on a terrace that drops away to fields and villages below. At the pool edge is a huge old oak tree, and we set our sun loungers to its left for a view of the hotel, the pool or the Tuscan wilderness, depending on how we turned our heads by a few degrees. The breakfast terrace, relatively newly created in a refurbishment by Como Hotels and Resorts, is a few metres away and has a similar view.

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Or perhaps our favourite spot was above the pool on the higher terrace leading to the hotel. This is a huge space, with sofas, chairs, planters and shrubs. The panorama stretches outwards and upwards, as this is an excellent observation station for shooting stars in summer.

A beige bedroom with white curtains around windows

The ancient-meets-modern elegance of the Loft Suite

The Castello has a couple of different wings that feature stylish and softly pared-back rooms and suites. Ours was in a corner on the ground floor, with views out and down the slopes.

A decision on whether or not to leave the hotel each day was a question of one irresistible urge meeting a countervailing irresistible urge. We resisted the temptation to visit Florence, but did drop by Siena, a pleasant 25-minute drive away. We enjoyed being back at the hotel for champagne as daylight disappeared.

Read more: The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, Review

There are innumerable wineries to visit in the surrounding Chianti region: you feel you could jump into them from the terrace. Of course, that would be too much effort and the option we preferred was to sit and enjoy the magical views and order wines to come to us. The hotel has decided not to mess around with the food.

A table and chairs in a wine cellar

Atmospheric dining in the Wine Cellar

Some of the best ingredients in the world, from olive oil to meat, cheese and fruits, speak for themselves at breakfast, lunch and dinner. At the Michelin-starred La Torre, guests can dine on the terrace in summer, while Pavilion offers all-day alfresco summer dining.

Anything else?

Italy is full of ancient buildings that have been converted to hotels with views. But there is nothing quite like the Como Castello del Nero.

Find out more: comohotels.com/tuscany/como-castello-del-nero

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A blue car by a lake with an orange sunset
A blue car by a lake with an orange sunset

Mercedes E53 AMG, a highly enjoyable tourer

In the first part of our Great Drives series from the Spring/Summer 2023 issue, Darius Sanai travels from Santa Monica to Napa Valley in a Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet, ending his trip in Napa Valley with a glass of Harlan Estate The Mascot, 2016

There is a freeway that leads from downtown LA to the ocean at Santa Monica, but we chose to take Santa Monica Boulevard, which arrows straight to the ocean. On every corner, there seemed to be a liquor store or 7-Eleven to remind us of hold-up scenes in movies. Of course, we put the roof down – you have to in LA, particularly if you are a foreigner driving a valuable car – way to go in style. In fact, our understated mid-blue AMG, with its black interior, attracted only positive attention – a couple of thumbs ups, and encouragement to rev the engine from kids on a street corner. Even in the land of the Tesla, some things never change.

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At the Pacific Ocean, we turned right. Keeping the ocean to our left, we cruised through Santa Monica, which, from the road seems just another collection of low-rise buildings and garish signs. The arc of the ocean and bay occasionally appeared on the left, culminating in mountains dropping into the sea in the distance. In time, the traffic lights became less frequent, the buildings less condensed, rocks and cacti popped up by the side of the road and the ocean lapped the left- hand carriageway. But this is not a place to put your foot down, as ubiquitous signs warn of police speed checks. Our neighbouring drivers, some in quite exotic and speedy-looking cars, travelled dutifully at the posted speed limit, too.

We didn’t mind, we were in it for the long haul. Soon, the mountains dropped directly into the sea, the road became tighter and we could feel the spray sweeping over our open roof between patches of cloud above. Signs for Santa Barbara, our first destination, started to appear. We took a spontaneous turn off at Montecito, to see if we could catch a glimpse of the world’s most famous non-reclusive, non-royal, reclusive royals.

A wooden table on a terrace overlooking vineyards

Breakfast on LUX’s private deck at Meadowood, Napa Valley

We didn’t see them, but we did find a picture-perfect clapboard high street, complete with immaculate children clutching Instagrammable ice creams, watched over benignly by immaculate parents. We stopped for a sundowner at the Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel in Montecito, whose lawns stretch out across a miniature railway line and drop down to a beach. Sailing yachts gently rocked up and down on the ocean beyond, the setting sun was weak in the haze, the air was cool and all it needed was Cary Grant to stroll over and sit next to us to complete the scene.

Santa Barbara was a fun trickle along the back roads from Montecito, which is built into a steep hillside. A couple of spontaneous turnings took us through canyons, hugging the inner edge of mountainsides, facing other mountainsides, which faced other mountainsides – a plunge into wilderness just minutes from manicured civilisation of the wealthiest kind.

The E53 AMG seemed made for this kind of journey. There are AMG models that are more powerful, more focused, more hardcore, but this isa four-seater luxury convertible that has been subtly enhanced by the manufacturer to engage on the sporting side, with plenty of thrust from its V6 hybrid engine. The relatively benign cruiser that had taken us up the coastal highway earlier that day turned into a racket with a foot flat on the floor, surging forward with a roaring buzz from the engine at front. Big tyres and four-wheel drive gave great stability around corners on the twisting roads. This is quite a big, heavy car, so we are not talking Ferrari handling, but it has plenty of security, plus the fun of roof-down motoring.

A blue lit up car parked outside a lit up grand hotel

The Mercedes posing in front of the RosewoodMiramar Beach hotel in Montecito, California

It was pretty exciting. We imagined it would have been even more so for passengers in the back seat, where, unlike many sporting convertibles, there is plenty of room to stretch out. We arrived in Santa Barbara feeling we’d had something of an adventure workout, as you should on a good drive in a sports car.

This trip was about us finding our own personal nirvana: a long drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway One. As one of the world’s most legendary roads, the map showed it to follow the exact contours of the California coast between our location and San Francisco hundreds of miles north.  Setting off again the next morning, we noted that a Sunday was probably not the ideal day to start the main part of such a drive because we were not alone. Camper vans, family vehicles, pick-up trucks and the odd vintage convertible were inching along the road in weather that more resembled northern Europe in winter than California in Spring.

Fortunately, both turned out to be ephemeral. What has seemed a dull day threatening rain cracked as the clouds fractured to show deep blue fissures above, and soon the overcast sky was revealed to be no more than seven blobs of low cloud clinging to the mountainside in the early morning, and soon dissipated. The air was so clear I was convinced we could see across the ocean to Japan. The traffic dissipated a little, too, enough for us to speed up and enjoy the ride.

A blue Mercedes with its headlights on with a sunset and palm trees behind it

The Mercedes E53 AMG on a windswept Venice Beach, California;

The scenery before us altered between rocky curves, enormous bays, tiny inlets and forests pouring down mountainsides in the sea. We stopped just off the road at a beachside food shack-expecting preprepared food, instant coffee and canned drinks at best  and asked for a white coffee. “Full fat, semi-skimmed, oat or soy?” was the response, and there was a choice between Ecuadorian, Guatemalan and Indonesian roasts. Next to a plate of homemade brownies were three bowls of multicoloured Middle Eastern-style salads, rich with beans, Mediterranean vegetables and za’atar. no ordinary roadside shack.

As we headed north along the coast, every few miles there was a sign to the right, pointing along a road heading inland up some deep valley, towards mountains that looked as uninhabited as the moon. Occasionally, there were signs for wineries to visit along the roads, over the mountains and quite far away. Tempting though the idea was, we resisted, partly because we were driving, partly because a signpost in the US west to a given location does not mean you are anywhere near that particular location, and partly because our end destination was the ne plus ultra of California wines, Napa Valley.

There was a lot of wiggling coastline between here and there, though, and we stayed overnight at a hotel set back in the hills with a distant view of the sea, offering some of the local wines (from San Luis Obispo) in its list, along with a vegan club sandwich. One glass of refreshing Chardonnay was enough that evening.

A swimming pool surrounded by trees and sunbeds

Meadowood Resort’s adults-only Cabana Pool, Napa Valley, Calfornia

The sign of a truly great touring car is one you actively look forward to getting into and driving each morning. Some cars are comfortable but dull, where you feel, as a driver, that you would just as happily be a passenger. Other cars are exciting but tiring, making you weary of the idea of another day at the wheel. The AMG was neither: each morning it welcomed us with its promise of comfort, power and responsiveness. A more powerful and muscular car would have become frustrating in the traffic, and it had enough feedback and driver involvement to keep us looking forward to the next set of curves.

Setting out again along the (now emptier) northbound route on the Monday morning, I reflected further on the car’s virtues. The interior is both functional and lavish. We liked the sweep of the dashboard, the classic-style round vents in the middle, the big wide digital instrument display. The only misgiving I had developed was over the sound of the engine. Cars these days are downsizing their engines, accompanying them with electric motors in the move towards electrification. The AMG’s engine, so created out of a combination of petrol and electric motors, was certainly powerful and responsive enough, but, though the engineers had clearly tried, it did not have the mellow, throaty voice you would expect of a big droptop car with sporting ambitions. That is not unique to AMG, though, and it is a characteristic that engine lovers will need to get used to until, in a decade or two, they are phased out completely,

After what seemed a million mountainsides curving into the sea, it was a relief to stop for coffee at the cute little seaside town of Carmel, and wander through its art stores and boutiques, and again a little later in the bigger town of Monterey, where we visited the oceanfront Monterey Bay Aquarium, having a play with manta rays in the process. This is no normal small-town aquarium: its Executive Director is Julie Packard of the Packard tech family, and, in its mission to inspire ocean conservation, it leads research into marine welfare, advocates to end plastic pollution and campaigns for, and monitors, sustainable seafood production.

A white wooden bedroom with a white bed and dark brown wooden doors and floors

Meadowood’s refined yet rustic Cottage Room with private porch, Napa Valley, California

A couple of hours later, we were navigating San Francisco’s cityscape, before hitting the roof-down button again as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge. Doing so in a droptop Mercedes with a little 1960s music playing was perfect. By that stage, we were seriously appreciating the car’s seats, which felt as if they had been created by many thousands of German engineering hours. We felt neither stiff nor uncomfortable, despite the long days on this great drive.

Napa Valley starts rather abruptly: one moment you are in an urban road system in the unprepossessing town of Napa, having left San Francisco Bay just behind you; the next, you are driving up a steep country road, hillsides either side, vineyards all around, with signs pointing to estates familiar to anybody with a passion for a fine wine. We carried on along the main highway, and, although this is no place for speed-testing, we were grateful for the rapid- fire acceleration of the car when overtaking a couple of pieces of rolling vineyard equipment in the face of oncoming traffic. Crossing the valley and the riverbed, we came to the gates of what looks like a grand residence on the hillside, surrounded by forest rather than vines.

Meadowood Resort was acquired and expanded by Napa Valley’s first family, the Harlans of Harlan Estate, as the area’s first luxury resort in 1979. Our accommodation was a wooden lodge with a large veranda up on the hillside, a big bedroom decked out in luxury country style and a little sitting room with a bottle of The Mascot, the latest wine creation from the Harlan family, as a welcome gift on the coffee table. We sat on our private veranda with a view across through the trees and out to the vineyards of Napa and enjoyed the balanced power of the wine – a vivid, rich, layered Cabernet Sauvignon.

Read more: A Tasting Of Organic Boutique California Wines From Diamond Creek

It was a short walk to the tennis courts and an almost Olympic-sized outdoor pool, where we swam despite the chilly weather that had descended. The cuisine by the pool is Napa Valley country perfection: grilled tuna, parsley, beans, a little tomato coulis, rucola. A bit further along the resort’s forest, the spa looked out over the trees and offered very natural, wholesome treatments in absolute silence, marked only by occasional birdsong. It was altogether a fitting conclusion to one of the world’s great drives.

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Reading time: 10 min
A tree and the sun shining over a vineyard
A tree and the sun shining over a vineyard

St. Eden vineyard

Darius Sanai examines the creation of Bond, one of the world’s most desirable wines and brainchild of Napa Valley wine royal Bill Harlan, over a tasting with its winemaker

Legacy is an important concept in the luxury industry. In a world where perception and status form a fundamental part of a brand, legacy means stability, and retained value. A Ferrari derives its value partly from the racing Ferraris of the 1950s, now worth multimillions. A Picasso or a Matisse is valuable because the artists retained and enhanced their status long after they stopped producing works, though the legacy of their collectors and dealers.

The world’s great wine brands have long traded on legacy: indeed, they are among the longest-lived legacy brands in the world, Chateau Haut-Brion, owned by Prince Robert de Luxembourg, was name-checked by Thomas Jefferson, American revolutionary and one of the country’s Founding Fathers. Brands like Chateau Lafite, Chateau Petrus and Domaine de la Romanée Conti may be hot among a new generation of collectors, but they have been desired and collected by royals and the wealthy for centuries.

No watch, jewellery or leather goods brands can claim a legacy as long as the world’s luxury wine brands: Chateau Latour came to prominence as long ago as 1680, centuries before Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Patek Philippe or Rolls Royce existed.

vineyard with a tree

Vecina vineyard

Bill Harlan is the founder and owner of Harlan Estate, one of the wine world’s modern luxury brands, based in Napa Valley, California. Unlike certain luxury goods, whose brand equity can be created by the illusion of marketing, the status of a wine, as a consumable product, rests largely on its inherent quality. No amount of brilliant marketing will make collectors crave a mediocre wine.

Harlan’s wines rose to the top of the tree through their quality, and also scarcity: to this day, to secure a case or two of top vintages, money isn’t enough (although they are as expensive as any of the world’s top wines), you need contacts.

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Harlan stepped back and handed the reins to his son, Will, a couple of years back, although Harlan Sr is still involved in the background. And one of the founder’s most interesting moves was the establishment, in the late 1990s, of a sister estate to Harlan in Napa Valley: Bond.

Bond would make wines from specific vineyards, all planted with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, deemed by Harlan and his team to be the best of the best in the region. The stated aim was to create “Grand Cru” quality wines, from specific sites whose terroir – combination of climate, soil and positioning – had been analysed closely.

A vineyard with mountains and a lake in the distance

Melbury vineyard

Grand Cru is, itself, a challenging term in the wine world: in some places, like Burgundy, it generally denotes the very best, and most expensive, wines in the region and the world. In others, like Champagne, it is less meaningful, in Bordeaux the term “Grand Cru Classe” covers hundreds of estates at different levels, and in Napa it has no formal meaning at all.

But a self-certification from the Harlan family has a meaning of its own, given their position at the top of the Napa Valley wine tree. And Bond is all about legacy: just as Domaine de la Romanee Conti has been known as among the very best physical vineyard sites in Burgundy for centuries, so Bill Harlan’s stated intention is for Bond’s vineyard site to be known as the very best places to create Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley for hundreds of years to come.

And it takes many years to make, and judge a great wine: for a great wine is not one that tastes excellent when it is five years old, but one that develops and is magnificent when it is 50. So, the jury is by necessity still out, but that doesn’t stop us from dipping our toes in the judgement pool.

A vineyard surrounded by fur trees

Pluribus vineyard

With that ambition in mind, Darius Sanai settled down for a Zoom tasting with Max Kast, Bond’s Estate Director and Cory Empting, Bond’s managing director of winemaking, of wines from Bond’s five sites: Melbury, Quella, St Eden, Pluribus and Vecina. We have a little history here, because a few years back, Darius included a bottle of Bond Melbury in a tasting of the world’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignons, which he hosted for the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan at the Four Seasons George V in Paris, which he chronicled in GQ magazine.The Bond wine was the overall winner in a field that included the likes of Chateau Lafite, Chateau Margaux, and California’s Screaming Eagle.

A man in a suit and red wine sitting with a glass of red wine in front of bottles of wine

Max Kast, Bond’s Estate Director

Empting is an engaging and self-effacing tasting host, without a hint of pomp or self-aggrandisement, despite the desirability of his products. He told LUX that he is constantly examining new sites, making wines out of them to assess their potential, to see if any other wines can be permitted into the Bond club. For the moment, there are five, all of them sharing power, finesse, and a sense of grandeur. Each subtly different in character, these are attention-seeking wines in that they demand your full intellectual engagement: they would be the centrepiece of any dinner, like an extra guest.

a man in a brown gilet and blue shirt standing in front of barrels of wine

Cory Empting, Bond’s winemaker

Although we will all have our favourites, it is not possible to choose an objective winner here: Bond wines are about the character of these ultimate vineyard sites in one of the very greatest wine growing areas in the world.

The Bond wines (tasting notes by Darius Sanai); in order of tasting, not of preference. All wines from the 2013 vintage.

Bond Vecina
A kind of wildness here, amid the grandeur and size. Very savoury, umami and smoked bacon with mulberries. Also a refreshing twist. My personal favourite, and one to sip, on a hilltop, alone, contemplating sunset over the distant forested hills.

Bond Melbury
Big and rich, but also stylish and layered, not overwhelming. This would be the Bond wine to serve to a lover of Chateau Margaux, to show California’s equivalent, before racing away the next day in your Ferrari GTO.

Bond wines: Melbury, Quella, St. Eden, Vecina and Pluribus

Bond St Eden
Fascinating wine: one we felt was being opened far too young. Very structured, concentrated, packed with nuance, shielded by a shell at the moment: stones, berries, plums, Mediterranean herbs, it’s all there. Decant it ahead of time and serve to a collector of Rembrandts, next to one of their Rembrandts. It’s that grand.

Read more: Chef Heston Blumenthal: The Culinary Resurrector

Bond Pluribus
Pluribus is so concentrated, so dense, that it would be the dominant factor in a meal of Simmental beef with foie gras and a béarnaise sauce. There’s a black fruit nature to this wine, with a kind of intense, graphite power, you feel you should write a letter with it.

Bond Quella
This fascinating wine was quite closed, almost light, on opening, but transformed in the hours after our tasting to have a Burgundy-style elegance and lift, along with a freshness of mountain river beds and plenty of dense fruit. We’d find the oldest vintage available to drink now, or buy a case now to drink in 2040.

Find out more: bond.wine

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vineyards and the ocean in the distance with mountains

Colgin Cellars was founded by Ann Colgin in 1992

One of the greatest of all American wineries, Colgin, makes sublime wines from distinctive vineyard sites, and is now majority-owned by LVMH. CEO Paul Roberts, himself a wine world superstar, takes Darius Sanai on a tasting of its great cuvées and chats about the importance of geography
A man standing with a wine glass on a balcony with a lake and vineyards in the distance

Paul Roberts

One of the most compelling things about wine, for any serious wine collector, is the dramatic differences that can occur in quality, reputation and price, between wines that seem, on the face of it, extremely similar.

Any admirer of luxury goods can see why a Patek Philippe commands a greater price than a Swatch. But with fine wine, you can often have several bottles that, on the face of it, all appear to be Pateks, yet with some costing a multiple of tens, hundreds and in some cases, thousands, of times the price of the others.

This is most famously the case in Burgundy: wines made from the same grape type, in the same place, sometimes just across the road from each other, or occasionally from adjacent vines, can command prices so different you might think one was made in a factory and the other from moon dust.

The alchemy here is a combination of what is known as terroir (a blend of the exact soil, the aspect of the slope, the nanoclimate, and so on) and the people making the wine: and the differences are greatest in the world’s greatest wine regions.

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Paul Roberts believes in the importance of all these elements, and he should know. His in the unique position of, firstly, being one of the most successful master sommeliers in the US – an “MS” being a notoriously challenging position to achieve, requiring almost unfathomable theoretical and practical ability; and, secondly, being the CEO of one of the world’s great wine estates.

A road going into the distance with vineyards on either side

The Colgin estate is made up of three vineyards: Tychson Hill, Cariad and IX Estate

If you have been brought up on a diet of Bordeaux and Burgundy, you may not know Colgin, Roberts’ estate in Napa Valley. But you should. Colgin is, along with names like Screaming Eagle and Harlan, at the top of the tree of American wines, and commands prices to match: the same as those of a Château Lafite or Cheval Blanc.

He is also, as I discover when we speak over Zoom for this article, as passionate about the specific geographies within Napa Valley as any Burgundy producer is about the inflections of the slopes of the Côte de Nuits.

A view of hills and vineyards with the sun shining on it

Tychson Hill was originally planted in the 19th Century and belonged to Josephine Tychson, the first woman to build a winery in the Napa Valley

Colgin wines come from three distinct vineyards sites in Napa: Tychson Hill, Cariad, and IX Estate. Roberts, quietly spoken – almost gentle – thoughtful, articulate, is very keen to counter what he thinks (and we would concur) is a widely held misconception that Napa is just one warm, sunny valley. “It’s a small wine region, and it’s also one of the most diverse places on earth,” he points out. Due to repeated volcanic activity over the aeons creating dramatic differences in soil (“we have more than half the world’s soils,” he points out), the proximity to the cold Pacific Ocean, the location and topography of the mountain ranges on either side and San Francisco Bay to the south, Napa Valley is geographically intricate – more so even than Burgundy, which famously lies on a leeward slope just south of France’s continental divide and at a location which allows it to benefit from various unique climate effects.

Roberts flies the flag for Napa’s diversity and distinctiveness, and also for the fact that Colgin is what it is, partly because of the three sites the estate has chosen to make wines from. IX Estate is the most southerly of the three: to a neophyte that might suggest it makes the richest wines, but the neophyte would be wrong. This vineyard is located at between 335 and 425 metres altitude up in hills on the east side of the valley, and it’s actually located beyond the first hillside ridge, which means it partly faces east.

vineyards and a lake with mountains in the distance

Cariad vineyard is located in the western hills overlooking St. Helena

Cariad is on the west side of the valley, a few miles away, on the hillside but at a lower altitude, on volcanic soils. And Tychson Hill is at the lowest altitude, on the hills outside the pretty town of St Helena, further north. North in Napa terms normally means warm, because you are further away from the cool of San Francisco Bay (of the famous sea fog), but a gap in the nearby mountains lets in cool air from the Pacific…

All in all, the permutations of climate (exact location) and terroir (general wine vibe) in Napa are almost endless, and enough to make Burgundy and Bordeaux plain by comparison. “We are fortunate to have three of the best vineyard sites in Napa,” says Roberts. Tasting the wines, below, we can only concur. Colgin wines have power, subtlety, length, and a kind of dreaminess that only really great wines achieve. We would rank them as high as any Chateau we have tasted from Bordeaux.

wine bottles on a table in front of trees

Colgin wines include Tychson Hill, Cariad, IX Estate and IX Estate Syrah

The Tasting
Notes by Darius Sanai

Colgin IX Estate 2018
Although it contains a similar blend of grapes to a great Bordeaux, this wine shows how Napa is a world unto itself. Drippingly hedonistic yet also beautifully balanced, it’s a bottle to share with great friends over dinner at Bacchanalia on Berkeley Square in London.

Colgin IX Estate 2013
Similar blend, from the same high vineyard over on the east ridge of Napa Valley; this, with the benefit of a little age, is showing itself like an arrival at a ball at Versailles taking off their coat and allowing a glimpse of the diamond necklace. Needs the respect of a delicately cooked cut of Kobe beef.

green rows of vineyards

There are huge differences in the soil around the estate due to volcanic activities

Colgin IX Estate 2010
Diamond necklace and also those bespoke, emerald-studded Louboutins on show. At 13 years old, this is a wine that just suggests what it will be like at 30. Gloriously complex, but we would wait another 17 years.

Colgin Cariad 2018
An extraordinary wine for its savoury, velvety, stone-infused decadence. If this were from Bordeaux, people would be talking about it as a peer of Haut-Brion and Margaux. Young but so drinkable. One for diner à deux in your Chateau in la France Profonde.

a birds eye view of a vineyard and a lake in the distance

IX Estate was carved into an east-facing slope overlooking Lake Hennessey

Colgin Tychson Hill 2018
Another utterly distinctive wine; Roberts points out the volcanic soils here on the western side of Napa Valley. Layers and layers of summer fruits, with a controlled punch, and freshness. We would have this at Christmas with closest family, at the Gstaad Palace, with Simmental beef and a light peppercorn sauce, girolle mushrooms, and truffled mashed potato. The food can’t overwhelm the wine.

Read more: A tasting of Dalla Valle wines with the owners

Colgin IX Syrah 2018
The outlier: from the IX vineyard, but made with Syrah grapes rather than the Cabernet Sauvignon blends above. Think of the greatest Hermitage wines but then amplify them through a Pivetta Opera sound system for richesse like you have never encountered. Extraordinary.

Find out more: colgincellars.com

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A corridor with a wooden plank leading to a view of vineyards
A man in red trousers and a grey shirt standing next to a woman in a white shirt and trousers standing on a terrace

Will and Amanda Harlan

Will and Amanda Harlan have taken over an American icon. The siblings are now running Harlan Estate, the legendary wine estate created by their father Bill Harlan, who famously set out in the 1980s to prove that America could create the equivalent of a Chateau Lafite. Included in the family’s holdings are two other top-end California wine estates, a luxury resort, and one of the world’s most exclusive private members’ clubs. Darius Sanai speaks with the new generation about succession, family harmony, and plans for the next 200 years

Chatting with Will and Amanda Harlan, you wouldn’t think they were royalty. Will, Amanda’s elder brother, is thoughtful, gentle in his mannerisms, philosophical but focussed in his thinking. Amanda is, ostensibly, more outgoing, more cheery and chatty, although plainly her social vibe hides plenty of deep intent – she was, earlier in life, a professional dressage rider who won gold and silver at the junior OIympics.

And although neither Will nor Amanda are actually royals, even in a my-great-uncle-was-a-Hapsburg, European extended way, they are royalty in an important sense. Their father, Bill Harlan, founded Harlan Estate in Napa Valley in 1984. A real estate developer (among other things), Harlan Senior set out to create a wine estate near California’s Pacific Coast that would rival the great names of France – Château Lafite, Cheval Blanc, Romanée-Conti – for both quality and reputation.

Harlan set himself a monumental task, but achieved it remarkably quickly. His fourth vintage was rated a perfect 100/100 by the uber-wine critic Robert Parker; his British counterpart Jancis Robinson of the Financial Times labelled Harlan one of the ten best wines of the 20th century. Harlan Estate then rode on a wave, partly of its own making, of enthusiasm and glamour for the top wines of California. The wave was fuelled by the 1990s dot com boom that minted thousands of new millionaires in the area: if your home was in Pacific Heights, why would you only champion wines from across the world in France?

hills and vineyards and a blue sky

Harlan Estate is on the west side of the fabled Napa Valley

Harlan Estate rapidly became a near-mythical wine, family owned, hard and very expensive to get, desire and scarcity fuelling each other. Part of it was a lust for the new, among the newly rich, that created the contemporary art boom of the era that has never stopped since; part of it was that Bill Harlan made exceptionally good wine, a true match for the great names of the old world, in a style that was more rich and less bitter than a classic Bordeaux. Harlan Estate was a top-level wine that didn’t need an instruction manual to be properly appreciated.

Harlan Snr contributed to his revered status by announcing a 200 year plan for the estate, to gain a long-term reputation equal to the world’s greatest chateaux. Napa Valley was turning from a beautiful area, between two mountain ranges, with some wine farms, to some of the most desirable real estate in the US. The area’s private members’ club, Napa Valley Reserve, part-owned by the Harlans, is one of the most exclusive in the world, with a $165,000 entry fee. Billionaires are left on waiting lists for the top Napa wines, led by Harlan and other names like Screaming Eagle.

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I first met Bill Harlan and his wife Deborah at an event in France in 2015. The division I headed at Condé Nast had just been asked to take over a wine and luxury magazine run by a Hong Kong wine writer, and the Harlans, along with other celebrated names in wine, were at the publication’s lavish launch party. They were incisive, distinguished, curious.

I then spent some time with Will and Amanda in Napa in early 2022. It was wintertime, but the ongoing drought and days of blue sky and uninterrupted sunshine made for a spectacular backdrop as we toured the Howard Backen-designed buildings and high vineyards, bordering forests, at Promontory. Promontory is another of the family’s properties: situated on a mountaintop separating Napa with neighbouring Sonoma, much of it is wild woodland, interspersed with vines, making wines with a cool, stony complexity.

We also visited Bond, another property of the family, another intellectual project, this time with the aim of making distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon out of single vineyards chosen to be distinctive. While much of the Harlan vision is inspired by Bordeaux, Bond has a vision rooted in Burgundy, where individual vineyards, and even areas within vineyards, are identified as the best of the best.

vineyard with trees and hills in the distance

St Eden Vineyard

And we tasted The Mascot, the brainchild of Will: a wine they would hesitate to call entry level, as the price of a bottle is more than a meal for four in a family restaurant in Europe, but which is aimed to be more accessible, both in terms of price and style. The Mascot’s raison d’être is that it is made from younger vines of all three properties (Harlan Estate, BOND, and Promontory). Initially, it was a blend made for the family table, but Will and Amanda convinced their father and the winemakers to let them offer it on its own. The Mascot is a delicious red wine that is both fresh and deep: a more playful Miu Miu to Harlan Estate’s architectural Prada.

One of the most striking aspects of the trip was a visit to the Napa Valley Reserve. This is part super-exclusive wine estate, part hyper-exclusive members’ club, on the eastern side of Napa Valley with views of the Mayacamas Mountains. Members pay very high fees to join, and as well as access to some quite sublime restaurants and spaces, they get to create their very own blend of top-level Napa wines.

I was amazed so little has been made of Napa Valley Reserve globally – a similar club in France or Tuscany would have attracted reams of magazine pages and petabytes of digital coverage, and would have hosted numerous fashion shoots and art shows. But royalty is discreet. Too discreet, I wondered, as I wandered around, thinking idly of who might create something at a similar level in Europe. Bernard Arnault of LVMH would make it a Cheval Blanc and commodify it. François Pinault of Kering has the pedigree in Chateau Latour (and Christie’s) but no hospitality experience. Michel Reybier of La Reserve group? Soho House? Sharan and Eiesha Pasricha of Maison Estelle?

Finally, I caught up with Will and Amanda together, over Zoom, to speak about succession and what it feels like taking over such a carefully assembled portfolio of estates and properties – the family also own Meadowood, a luxury hotel resort in a wooded valley on the edge of Napa – with a view to the next 200 years.

Will, ever thoughtful, sometimes philosophical, never predictable, tended to take the lead, as elder sibling and managing director. Amanda, with a smile in her voice, would defer but sometimes come in and make her point, enthusiastically and with an articulacy and economy of words.

Meadowood Spa Reception Lounge with sitting area and fireplace

The spa at Meadowood, the family’s luxury resort on the east side of Napa Valley

The impression was of the next generation, in a family succession, taking over from a powerful and charismatic father, who are taking the reins thoughtfully, respectfully, and with the same determination shown by their parents: and with the confidence to do what they wish, within the context of a 200 year plan.

LUX: What is it like to be part of a succession?

Will Harlan: That’s not a word we have internally used, but it is a succession at the end of the day. And this transition of generations, I think the most important word we find ourselves using is continuity. Being able to provide that structure and environment in which we can pass along the most amount of experience and wisdom and everything from the previous generations, not just of the family but of the team as well, so I think we find ourselves thinking more in terms of continuity.

LUX: Taking over a family business, do you ever feel daunted, ask yourself, what if I mess it up?

WH: I mean, there’s always going to be an element of that and I think it’s important to have an element of that, because without feeling that it’s daunting you might be missing, first of all just how much potential there, is, and I think you’d be missing a certain aspect of humility, and without that I don’t think you’re open minded enough to grow and continue to improve and evolve. As Amanda says, we’ve been doing this for a little bit and my learning curve feels vertical, it feels like we’ve been drinking from a fire hose, for me, a little over ten years and it doesn’t seem like the fire hose is turning off any time soon. So, there’s that element, but at the same time, I’m now building up a bank of things that I’ve now gotten the hang of, and some familiarity, enough that there is a little more balance between the comfort and discomfort of the daunting nature of the role.

Amanda Harlan: I was going to say, Will is a couple years ahead of me and I think in a very different way has been working very closely alongside my father, there was a very crucial passing of the baton the last few years, and on the visionary, philosophical side, has been a lot closer to it than I have. The first five or six years of my joining the business, I was out in the market, so for me, I think it was very exciting and maybe the daunting part is just setting in a little bit. But I do have to say, maybe along with the inevitable rollercoaster of emotion that comes day to day, I’d say the most exciting and maybe solid part for me is that I’m not doing it alone, and that I have my brother and Cory [Empting, Managing Director of Wine-growing] and a really solid team around us, that is arm in arm with us as we climb this proverbial mountain. But I can’t speak for my brother.

A corridor with a wooden plank leading to a view of vineyards

Promontory, the Harlan family’s newest property, has a winery designed by Howard Backen with long, organic sightlines

LUX: What are hardest things that you have to do day-to-day in the business?

AH: I mean I would say, a lot for me of this steep learning curve… my studies took me to other places, studying psychology, studying sociology, being very close with people and human behaviour and I think as I delve deeper into leadership and management and learning from our team and my parents and with Will and Cory, I think a lot of the thing I’m learning most is how businesses run, how finances run, a lot of these behind the scenes inner workings, of opening the hood of the car and recognising you’ve driven this whole thing but you didn’t really understand how it worked. So maybe the most challenging thing for me right now is really trying to get up to speed with my contemporaries within the company. And I think, time. I find myself on a day-to-day basis challenged with how can I maximise the time and I do my best to prioritise but when you’re so close to something and so passionate I find myself challenged with time to get everything done with intent and great focus. That’s what I would say my greatest challenge is.

WH: I think maybe the thing that hasn’t come as naturally to me, while I love the wine business, is the management of people aspect. It is just such a different kind of role and I think that is the place where I’m really trying to put in the work to improve: management, leadership, as we go through this generational shift, I think that’s the place where I find myself feeling it every day.

LUX: Will, is there pressure being your father’s son?

AH: I mean, in some ways. There’s an expectation, whether or not that’s what the world expects or what the team expects, there’s always going to be, at least for me, this drive and dedication to go further and beyond and always attempting as a team to realise our potential and go beyond anything the first generation could have.

LUX: And with the wines themselves, obviously you want to keep things on track, everyone wants to improve what they already have, but is there room for improvement?

WH: I feel really strongly about this. Yes, of course. There’s room for improvement. It takes generations to really understand a piece of land and you take Harlan Estate, no one farmed the land before us, we’re the first people to farm this plot and to think we’ve got it figured out would be almost hilarious.

LUX: We spoke about the 200-year plan, so it’s now 200 years’ time from now, and my successors are creating a book on 200 and something years of Harlan and they’re speaking to your successors. What are they going to write about the second generation? What will you have done by the time you hand down to whomever you’ve have handed down to?

A wooden house lit up

A reception at the Napa Valley Reserve

WH: I feel like they may recount that the first generation was able to identify the land, and able to put the elements together to form the foundation, and the second generation was really able to build on top of that and understand the character of the place, understand the latent identity of this place, and really was able to refine the translation of this into the wine so that by the end of our tenure, people see each one of these, Harlan Estate, Bond, Promontory, as really independently deserving of being at the table among the really fine wines of the world. And at the end of that fifty years in front of me, we will have had the benefit of having wines that are now 50,60,70 years old that can show, that can prove that not only are these compelling when they’re young, but they take on and can achieve these facets that we see in some of the old wines after some serious ageing.

AH: To add to that, I think really doubling down on having our internal organisation be somewhere that’s really committed to great human capital and flourishing in a lot of ways, and us being a place that people hope and dream that maybe they’ll also have children that will be inspired and want to also join our family business. So, those are the only other two little things I would probably add on that I would love to be remembered and recognised as our generation was part of.

LUX: Do you ever disagree about anything?

WH: In general; I might make the general statement that our family is fairly aligned in terms of feeling strongly that the direction and vision that we’re on is the right one. For instance, I don’t think there’s ever been a case where my dad and I were misaligned on the vision, maybe we disagree on how to get there, but we’re totally there on what the potential is, what the opportunity is, and where we feel we can take things. I think our default setpoint, even with Amanda and I, I think is that we’re pretty aligned. Amanda and I are very complementary in terms of our skillsets and the things that we can bring to the business, so I’ve at least never felt that competitive nature that could come and maybe misalign priorities or intent.

AH: I totally agree. I’ve always felt very grateful to have a brother that was really solidly great at all the gifts that weren’t bestowed upon me.

WH: And vice versa!

swimming pool surrounded by deckchairs and palm trees

Meadowood Fitness Pool

LUX: What are those gifts? What are your complimentary skills?

AH: I mean, I feel very very grateful that I have a brother who is also very much like my father in being a visionary who also comes at life with a very philosophical view, who is very thoughtful and intelligent and brilliant, but is also not afraid to go beyond and dream big, but is also very fair and very kind and I think is very strategic, and able to be a problem solver in a way that I was never able to. But I think as a leader and someone who constantly has his finger on the pulse of what’s happening, globally, not just in the world of wine, but I think across many different platforms and fields, it is very settling for me knowing that someone, especially my brother, is able to see beyond the scope on which we are focused every day.

WH: Well first of all, thank you Amanda. And again, vice versa. Amanda’s natural setpoint of just being someone that cares deeply and can connect with people, I don’t care who it is on the planet, from celebrities and royalty, down to really pretty much anybody that she comes across. And connect in a very real, authentic, and caring way, and the relationships that she builds effortlessly, I think, are things that I’ve found myself oftentimes having to work very hard at. We have to engage and bring people into what we’re doing, not just from an intellectual standpoint but from an emotional standpoint, and there needs to be some connection on a human level, that comes to Amanda very naturally. She accomplishes at a very high level, but also very authentically and in a very caring way.

AH: Making me tear up over here Will. Thank you.

LUX: Is the focus then to take what you already have to another level?

WH: It certainly is from my perspective and the word focus, is really important, to me but also to where we are. In the evolution of our family business, we now have three wine growing endeavours here in Napa Valley: Harlan Estate, Bond, and Promontory, in addition to Meadowood and the Napa Valley Reserve. We have these three pillars, we founded each one of these in the same 25-year period of time, and I think we all feel and believe so strongly in the potential of each one of them. In that we are just barely scratching the surface today of the potential of each one.

valleys and hills with trees and vineyards and fog in the distance

The vineyards at the Promontory property are set high in the hills amid wild woodlands

As we understand the land of each of them, really elevate our ability to translate the instinct and latent character of the land into the wine, we see a much more exciting and compelling potential by retaining a certain focus and going deeper and deeper and deeper and bringing our wines to the next level, next level, next level. That to us is more in line with our culture and our philosophy and our vision, rather than expanding the other direction, broadly and trying to grow more in size or in breadth, or in diversity of different business, ancillary or lateral moves. That’s how I look at it, but it’s not for lack of belief in potential, evolution, and growth. But the growth for us is more this deepening than size or breadth.

LUX: Amanda, you are responsible for Meadowood [the luxury resort] and also Napa Valley Reserve [the private members’ wine club and estate]?

AH: Indeed, it’s under one umbrella. We are diving deeper into the next iteration of what Meadowood is and will become, as well as the Napa Valley Reserve and the generational shift that is occurring.

LUX: And with Meadowood and Napa Valley Reserve, isn’t that a completely different business to making great wines? And is your membership becoming more international?

WH: Well, the Napa Valley Reserve has a wine growing element to it. We have vineyards, a winery, that’s part of the concept. In terms of membership, I would say about half of our new members that are coming in aren’t necessarily local members. We have a much broader group of folks that are interested in what we’re doing at the Napa Valley Reserve. So when they do come to Napa Valley, from, let’s say Hong Kong, once or twice a year, they are able to create tradition within their family and have their family come and spend time in the vineyard, really work closely with our team, creating their own blend and maybe tweaking it a little bit each time they’re here, year after year. We have a couple of events that are the pinnacles of bringing our membership together a couple of times a year.

Wanting to be closer to nature was accelerated during the pandemic, and I think creating new tradition within the 21st century has been a big part of bringing family together that may live all over the world, but come together a few times in the year, predominantly around flowering, when the vines are flowering, and then harvest time. So, I would definitely say that with the current international members we do have, we have had a huge upswing since the pandemic happened and folks really wanting to be closer to nature.

Entrance with flowers

Napa Valley Reserve Entrance

LUX: With the wines – you could sell everything you produce several times over in the US alone. Yet you enjoy selling worldwide.

WH: From a very early age, we were brought up with this very long-term vision, this 200-year plan that my dad talked about quite a bit. Part of this is that we have got to think quite far down the road, oftentimes outside the span of our own lifetimes, which takes a while to get used to, really with the vision of feeling that, first of all Napa Valley, as a region has the potential to be considered among the fine wine regions of the world. We’re a younger region, but I think we’ve made some pretty good strides in that direction. And on top of that, the particular interest within the Napa Valley is identifying those plots of land that aren’t just of the highest quality, but have that very specific and differentiating and distinctive character, that we can produce wines ourselves that deserve to be among the finest in the world.

Read more: Lamberto Frescobaldi on 1000 years of tradition and wine

And I think in order to create the strongest foundation for this family business in the long run, we felt it was pretty important to have an international scope, not just from a business perspective, being able to be very diversified in our audience, but also in terms of credibility. There’s a huge amount of significance of being able to say that not only are we a great wine in America, but we can really gain this credibility with the international trade, critics, collectors, etc, and having that international presence that positioning outside our home market was really important as we build this very long term foundation, being considered really among the fine wines of the world.

LUX: Is there a snobbery among old world collectors, that they look down on wines from from Napa, or are we over that?

WH: No, of course you still find a little bit of that, and I don’t think that will ever totally go away. Maybe a hundred years from now it’s a little bit more economical, but no, I think there’s still a lot of work that we need to do, being out in the world, building relationships, telling our story, but more importantly showing the wines. Not necessarily just the wines from this year, but showing the wines that we made thirty years ago and showing that these can age and can actually develop and evolve into really elegant and compelling wines, that’s on us, we’ve got to be out there doing the work to build that understanding.

A tankroom filled with wooden barrels

Promontory Fermentation Room

LUX: For me, Promontory is on a level with Chateau Cheval Blanc. But how do you achieve that sort of brand equity for Promontory when there isn’t that much of it around?

WH: We just need to be in the market, building these relationships internationally. What Cheval Blanc has that we don’t have is time. They’ve got a storied history. They’ve been doing this for multiples of the amount of time that we’ve been doing this, and so I think there’s just a market presence because of that historical awareness for Cheval Blanc, and at this point there’s a pretty big delta between that and us. Can we diminish that gap, of course. That’s what we’re going to be trying to do, that’s what time on its own will do, I don’t think we can circumvent that completely. Even just to be mentioned in the same realm as some of these great wines of the world, for us is inspiring, and it feels like an honour to be considered among these.

Find out more:

harlanestate.com
www.promontory.wine
www.bond.wine

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A man in a blue jacket jumping over small hedges in front of a house
 A man standing next to a bleu canvas and a speech bubble on top of his with words in it

Jeppe Hein before a speech-bubble message and chalk panel, elements of the artist’s multimedia, interactive project for Ruinart Carte Blanche 2022, ‘Right Here, Right Now’

When Danish artist Jeppe Hein was given the coveted Carte Blanche commission by champagne house Ruinart, he was determined to create something quite different, by taking art-fair visitors back to nature and making an appeal to the senses. Candice Tucker reports

We are lying on the ground surrounded by by trees, breathing slowly, ever more slowly. The silence and peace is palpable. Stress ebbs away, nature flows through us. There is a gentle waft of incense and the sounds of the countryside.

It is a comforting, uplifting experience, probably about as far from the hubbub and glamour of an art fair as conceivable. And that is just what the Danish artist Jeppe Hein had in mind, when he took us on an excursion as part of his Ruinart Carte Blanche commission.

A man in a blue jacket jumping over small hedges in front of a house

The artist experiencing the Ruinart estate through the senses, part of the responsive idea of his Carte Blanche work

Carte Blanche is Ruinart’s annual series, begun in 2017, in which leading global artists are given, well, carte blanche, to create what they like (well, almost – there are some limits, we imagine), as a tribute to the historic champagne house. The artists’ resulting work, in this case Hein’s ‘Right Here, Right Now’, and a rolling associated art programme (of which we were part in this moment) then travel the globe to be showcased at the world’s greatest art fairs, including Frieze in London and New York, Art Week Tokyo and Art Basel Miami.

A smiley face drawn in white chalk on a blue panel

A chalk face drawn on another panel

At this point, as part of his project, Hein was taking us, an assembled group of the world’s art media, back to nature. We were at the Royal Pavilion at the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, a peaceful setting in a huge park on the edge of one of the world’s great metropolises.

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In that moment, he succeeded, and again, as the nature vibe continued over a meditative lunch in the Pavilion (vegetarian because, of course, the artist wanted us to commune with the world of plants and trees). By extension, the concept of sustainability continued with it.

A man in a white tshirt with a blue picture on it, looking into a mirror as he puts his hand into a hole in the wall

The artist at the exhibition

Nature, and a return to it, is a common theme in both Hein’s life and his often playful experiential art. He was raised on a biodynamic farm in Denmark, and his art has long explored the space between the natural world and what we make of it and from it. He famously declared burnout in 2009 and said he was going to slow down and reconnect with nature. He now lives by the Grunewald forest, a kind of equivalent to the Bois de Boulogne on the edge of Berlin.

People drawing on canvases in an exhibition

visitors contribute to the artwork with chalk drawings

Champagne, meanwhile, is a product of nature, but one that also needs the careful craftsmanship of humans. Unlike wine, it could not occur naturally, as it needs a painstaking second fermentation process in the bottle to become what it is. Ruinart is a champagne beloved of the world’s art collectors. On any collector’s yacht, you are likely to be served its Blanc de Blancs, an ethereal, delicate yet richly seamed creation made of Chardonnay grapes. At a soirée, you will likely be drinking Ruinart Rosé, with its undercurrent of summer berries and autumn woodlands from the combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

A man in white t shirt drawing with chalk on a blue panel

Jeppe Hein makes his own mark on a chalk panel

Hein’s ‘Right Here, Right Now’ considers peace, the senses and interactivity in response to the world of Ruinart. At the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, 10 minutes from our lunch, installations included a column with a hole. Put your hand in and a raisin comes out: you must eat the raisin following specific instructions to ensure you appreciate each of your senses. In another column hole, there is a spray of perfume. There are also installations on a wall on which you can draw faces in chalk, so your own marks become part of the artwork – chalk makes up the underlying soil of much of the Champagne region, and is intimately associated with Ruinart. Further artworks feature speech bubbles that carry messages of mindfulness. There is an appeal to all five senses and all four elements.

A mirror speech bubble that says 'Be aware of your small sensations"

a speech-bubble message invites consideration of sensorial responses

The gastronomic side is equally important for Hein. And, we imagine, for Ruinart, as there can be few better accompaniments to very pure cuisine of the highest level than the highest quality champagne, with its clean direction and precision. Five leading chefs are creating a “gastronomic dialogue” with Hein as part of this “nomadic artistic adventure”, travelling during 2022 from Paris to London to Miami, and points in-between. “We invite people to experience Ruinart champagne, the chefs’ food and my art, at a totally new level,” says Hein.

A man wearing a blue jacket smelling a plant

The artist considers the scents of plant life on the Ruinart estate. Opposite page: work from previous Ruinart Carte Blanche projects

What does the artist himself think about what he is creating? “I was very inspired to go to Champagne and see so much creativity, precision and inspiration. There was a link to my own studio, to how I get an idea, or work around an idea and try to make models and express it and, in the end, it comes out. I fell in love with the champagne cellars – they have 11km of them. We walked along them, there was a yellow light and it was eight degrees or something. If you touch the walls they are wet. All these physical experiences got me totally engaged into trying to bring that feel to the art fair, to the experience of people there.”

Read more: An Interview With KAWS

‘Right Here, Right Now’ is, he says, “about the moment of being here. When you take the chalk in the interactive installations and start to draw, you are in the moment, not thinking too much. I’m trying a few things with the sense of smell, which goes straight to the brain and can reflect on something you smelt when you were five. Smell is always activating old memories, which I think is beautiful. When you’re working with all the senses, you can activate a lot of feelings. In my work, I’m not trying to be in your head, I’m trying to bring you into your body.”

It is a quite different experience to the usual art-fair hubbub; one perfectly enjoyed over a creamy, delicate glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.

Past Masters

Since 2017, leading contemporary artists have responded to Ruinart via the champagne house’s annual Carte Blanche initiative. Here is a glimpse of some of the works

People made out of leaves in a field

Lui Bolin, 2018
In ‘Reveal the Invisible’, the Chinese artist created eight almost hidden works that considered the quiet tasks undertaken by workers to create Ruinart champagne.

 

A drawing of a blue bird with a red grape in its mouth

David Shrigley, 2020-21
Across 42 artworks, in ‘Unconventional Bubbles’ the British artist provoked witty debate about nature and raised awareness of the environmental challenges that motivate Ruinart

 

A green and yellow leaf

Vik Muniz, 2019
In ‘Shared Roots’, the Brazilian artist made a series of pieces using Chardonnay vines and other raw materials that form part of Ruinart’s transformative work

 

Find out more: ruinart.com/carte-blanche

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX

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Reading time: 6 min
wooden barrels in a brick cellar with yellow lights
wooden barrels in a brick cellar with yellow lights

In 1141, Cistercian nuns from the Tart Abbey acquired the vineyards that later became Clos de Tart

Francois Pinault’s historic Burgundy estate hosts an evening of music and wine in the vineyards of Burgundy, to celebrate its renaissance. LUX Editor in Chief, Darius Sanai, joins an exclusive gathering.

Frédéric Engerer, CEO of the Pinault family’s Artemis Domaines wine estates group, held quite an evening to celebrate the revitalisation of the fabled Clos de Tart estate in Burgundy under the family’s aegis. The family headed by luxury goods magnate Francois Pinault, who also own Chateau Latour among others, bought Clos de Tart in 2018 and its centuries old buildings have been reworked lovingly to refresh their feel.

A man standing in a vineyard

Frédéric Engerer, CEO of Artemis Domaines

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An orchestra known as the Octuor Ephemère, drawn from the ranks of the Berlin Philharmonic and orchestras in Paris, played a selection of pieces by Mendelssohn, Mozart and Duke Ellington to a small but highly exclusive crowd comprising some of Burgundy’s most celebrated wine estate owners and some of Artemis Domaines’ most significant clients from around the world.

an orchestra playing in a white stone room

The orchestra performing in a room at the 1200 year old wine estate, recently revitalised by Paris based architect to the stars, Bruno Moinard.

The wine itself, one of Burgundy’s most famous, made from 100% Pinot Noir from a single parcel of land above the buildings, is also receiving an upgrade to even dizzier heights with the help of newly appointed winemaker Alessandro Noli.

A group of men standing in a stone room holding glasses of wine

Some of the wine world superstars:
Jean-Marc Roulot, Frédéric Engerer, Pierre Morey, Jean-Louis Chave, Etienne de Montille, Éric Rousseau, Pablo Alvarez and Clos de Tart winemaker Alessandro Noli

The evening concluded – for agreeably long time – with a tasting from magnums of Clos de Tart from 1970, 1990, 1995, 2001, 2005 and 2015.

a brochure and a vineyard in the background

A unique programme among the vines in Burgundy

Read more: Top Picks from Bonhams’ Gstaad Sale

There was also a little bit of the 2019, Noli’s first vintage, on show. That was our favourite: even more layered, even more sensuous. We hope it’s not being disloyal to say we enjoyed the evening even more than parties over the years given by brands like Gucci and Bottega Veneta, owned by the family’s Kering Group. Santé!

Find out more: clos-de-tart.com

Photography by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

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Reading time: 2 min
Two women standing in a vineyard
Two women standing in a vineyard

Left to right: Naoko and Maya Dalla Valle

We taste some of the most admired vintages of Napa Valley, through the decades, with two generations of the owning family of the Dalla Valle estate, Naoko and Maya

Naoko and Maya Dalla Valle make some of the most magical wines in the world. From their vineyards in Rutherford, in California’s Napa Valley, the mother-and-daughter proprietors of the eponymous winery create red wines which combine perfume, subtlety, style and power, that have become cult acquisitions for collectors. They also score high in the increasingly important sustainability stakes, as all the estate’s vines are farmed organically.

Dalla Valle was started by Naoko and her husband Gustav in 1986; it shot onto the wine world map in the early 1990s, when Robert Parker, the super-critic and then the man who could make or break a high-end winery, gave a perfect 100/100 score to their flagship wine, Maya.

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As well as being their most prized wine, made from their best vineyards, Maya was their daughter, then a baby. Thirty years later, Maya is the winemaker and increasingly active in running the estate. Parker no longer makes or breaks a wine’s image, but standards are still the same. The Dalla Valle wines, made of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, come from vineyards on the Rutherford Bench, just above the valley floor of Napa and home to what wine enthusiasts would call some of the best “terroir” in the region, which now produces some of the world’s most expensive wines.

The two wines we tasted on our Zoom tasting and chat are celebrated for an elegance, complexity and sophistication that is not always found in the great (in every sense) wines of the Napa Valley. Below are short extracts of our conversation, and our tasting notes.

green vineyard with a pathway in the middle and mountains in the distance

LUX: Can you go back in time and tell us about making your first wines?
Naoko Dalla Valle: We created the Cabernet Sauvignon in 1986 commercially. Then 1987, we purchased more land from the neighbour and we planted additional about five acres of Cabernet sauvignon. And that turned out to be the best vineyard on the property and then we combined with that highest quality of the Cabernet franc we produced, and decided to create this special wine called Maya. People think she is named after wine, she came first! We immediately got noticed by Robert Parker and we immediately started getting very high scores and then by 1990, we got 99 points. For the 1992 vintage, we received 100 points from Robert Parker, we were the second winery in America to receive that score. That put us on the map. We have been fortunate to be able to maintain the quality.
Maya Dalla Valle: I would also point out the fact that, my father unfortunately passed away in winter, December 1995. So shortly after we had learnt about this 92 vintage Maya, so it was also a very sentimental moment but also for my father, he passed knowing that we were going to be ok. I am first generation American, both my parents came from different countries [Japan and Italy]. My mother had the choice to sell the winery and go back to Japan to work. We had family there, she could have easily have done that, but she had grown a fondness and a deep love for our property and the vineyard and land and winemaking, that she really took this business to next level.

LUX: What makes your terrain special?
Maya Dalla Valle: We are on the east side of Napa Valley, and it is about 500 feet elevation at the peak. What’s interesting is that this little bench that we sit on is a result of a landslide that occurred four million years ago, from volcanic origin, so we have volcanic iron rich bedrock soil… things are constantly moving. We often see these small boulders pop up in the vineyard each year through the surface. It makes us wonder sometimes if we are farming rocks or farming grapes.

a woman with two dogs

Maya Dalla Valle and her corgis

LUX: You represent a generational change of winemaker. Has there been a generational change of consumer preferences?
Maya Dalla Valle: The younger consumer is not the same kind of buyer as the previous generation. They seek more authenticity and are able to connect with your brand. Then they become more loyal. You need to show them what you are doing in a way they can feel like they connect with you. We talk a lot about our sustainability, we are organic, we did organic certification for our vineyard to show accountability of what we do.

The tasting: (notes by Darius Sanai)

Dalla Valle Maya 1990
Scents of black olive, truffles, perfume top notes, a wine you could wear to the ball at the Chateau de Versailles. At the same time it is rich and dense, but not at all heavy, on the palate. Tastes develop in the mouth for a long time. One of the great wines of the world today, at 32 years old, but I would like to try it again when it is 64. The star of the show.

Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992
Very deep, layered wine, stratified, almost. Lots of muscle, black fruits and herbs. One for Kobe beef, simply grilled, on a Friday evening alone.

Dalla Valle Maya 2010
Like a young Russian prince wearing a cloak. Beautiful but quite closed to start with; opened up after half an hour of conversation, to reveal a complex, surprisingly delicate personality.

a vineyard and mountains in the distance

Dalla Valle Vineyard

Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Quite different to the Maya, remarkable that it is grown from land so nearby. Full and rich, black fruits and mountain herbs, and a zinginess that makes it quite distinctive. To share with an old friend, in your mountainside ranch in Wyoming.

Read more: Luxury Travel Views: Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa, Épernay

Dalla Valle Maya 2018
Expected this to be very closed, as it’s so young, but this is like walking into a jewellery shop, with a multitude of colours of flavour. Dazzling stuff, and you would drink it while celebrating your latest deal, but with a hint of guilt, because it will plainly be so much better in decades.

Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
A rich Napa cabernet, meaning power and weight, and also with a lightness, meaning people who prefer elegant wines will also enjoy it immensely, particularly over a meal of grilled miso vegetables on the terrace of your Umbrian palazzo on a coolish May evening.

Find out more: dallavallevineyards.com

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Reading time: 5 min
horse working on vineyard
black and white portrait of a man

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, chef de cave of Champagne Louis Roederer. Image by MKB.

Louis Roederer’s Cristal is one of the world’s most glorious wines. Rich, powerful and full-bodied, yet delicate and effervescent, it is a blend of supermodel, Olympic athlete and aesthete, and has a history like no other champagne. It is also misunderstood, used as a status symbol, to the puzzlement of its makers, who simply see it as the pinnacle of organic winemaking. Darius Sanai meets Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Roederer’s creator, to talk about the joys of fizz

“Sorry I was late, it’s very busy right now with the harvest.” Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon smiles as he pulls up a chair and sits down opposite me. We are in a wood-panelled tasting room at Louis Roederer’s HQ in Reims, the capital of champagne. Meeting the maker of Cristal at its home may sound glamorous, but all around is evidence that champagne is a drink created on farms, not a kind of luxury brand. My walk through Reims on this chilly autumnal morning took me past monolithic buildings and empty courtyards; the Roederer offices are on a quiet side street lined with warehouse-like buildings, centred around a courtyard which is pretty enough, but functional. People in galoshes stride around. Everyone looks focussed; the tasting room has a historic feel but also feels functional, with a row of empty wine glasses and a sink in the corner. We are drinking small bottles of water, not champagne.

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I came because I was interested in the story of Cristal, past, present and future. This is the champagne created in a clear glass bottle reputedly because Tsar Nicholas II was frightened of being poisoned (and presumably didn’t know about soluble poisons); it then gained a reputation as a nightclubber’s favourite, due to its price and distinctive packaging. And yet all the way through it has been revered by wine connoisseurs as a kind of insider’s top champagne: a wine lover’s champagne. Simultaneously unctuous and refreshing, ravishingly rich yet light, it has a complexity few, if any other champagnes manage to match.

Much of that is down to Jean-Baptiste, who is sitting suitably socially distanced as I start to ask questions, both of us secretly relieved that we are not doing a tasting at 9am to accompany the interview – he has a working day ahead of him, and I a drive.

champagne glass and vineyard

The character of Cristal is carried through from vine to glass as an expression of its terroir. Courtesy of Louis Roederer/Emmanuel Allaire

LUX: What is it that makes Cristal special? Is it a mixture of nature and nurture?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Yes. Place, the soil, is very important, but that is just one aspect. The winemaker is the link to the terroir, to the place. From this link between man and nature, one creates style, and we have had for a long time a clear vision for our wines. Cristal has a discreet power, it is elegant, it is soft, and then with time the more you taste it the more you realise how strong the wine is. The texture, the roundness, has to be delicious. And then, behind that, you have power, with length and ageing potential. You need time for Cristal – this is its secret. The link to place is in this sort of expression – not too powerful, not too clean, but just in between.

So, nature is of course important, but the way we farm to achieve that style of grape, is the key to Cristal. If we farm the same land differently, we will end up with a completely different wine. There is one champagne house, for example, which picks their grapes a week before ours. That is their vision, for the grapes to be not quite ripe. This is another expression of the same place, the same identity. Farming is at the front while nature gives us the elements. We are very lucky in Champagne, we have a unique mixture of climate and soil. We are between the ocean that brings water and the continent that brings dryness and heat. So, this complex matrix of elements all ends up in Cristal.

Read more: The gastronomic delights of Suvretta House, Switzerland

LUX: You have said that the 2020 vintage formed part of a trilogy of recent vintages. Can you say what you mean by this?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Yes, ’18, ’19 and ’20 make a trilogy of three beautiful vintages. And 2020 is amazing because there were the strange conditions, of course. 2020’s acidity is just in-between ’18 and ’19, and the alcohol levels and sugar content are a little bit lower than the other years, which makes a very elegant, clean, precise wine – the terroir, the soils, the place all speak very loudly. We had a dry July and August, but while many think the temperature is important, it’s not at all the issue with the vintage. In dry conditions, water only comes from the soil. It does not come from rainfall because there wasn’t any, so climate disappears from the wine’s taste. It is only the soil because the clay the vines are growing in does not react like chalk or sand. The problem is today that while everyone talks about climate change, which is good, it’s only part of our story. The main part here is about soil.

LUX: The way you make champagnes is quite different to many others in Champagne.
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Each one of our 415 parcels has a specific identity and is dedicated to one of our vintage wines. At Louis Roederer we craft the wine right from the farming of the parcel, which includes both vines and vineyard management. The result are ripe grapes customised to our style and fermented or aged in different vessels to keep the specificity of each parcel all through winter and our blending sessions. We do single-vineyard winemaking nine months a year to create the ultimate final blend.

LUX: And how important is what you do after the grapes are picked?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: It is very important in that you need to be super-present. It is a work of jewellery, like that of a Swiss watchmaker. You need to be very precise so as not to lose what you have from the vineyards. This precision is really my motivation, and it makes Cristal a bit different in the world of champagne. I do not want our winemaking to be too prominent. It has to be there, but it has to be completely transparent. My target is really to bring what I get from the grape into the bottle with a lot of care and subtle rebalancing of acidity by using leaves or oak, but I try to stay true to the vintage’s harvest. That is the big difference between Cristal and Dom Pérignon, for example, for whom vintage is less important than maintaining the Dom Pérignon style. We can accept Cristal being a little different each time if truer to the specific vintage. But don’t think we do nothing here – we do a lot. This morning I was smelling a lot of vats and tanks to make decisions about what to do, if we should rack it, if we should aerate it, and so on. We are really proactive, but we mustn’t put too strong an imprint on the wine.

grapes in a barrel

Courtesy of Louis Roederer

LUX: Is Cristal a fine wine like great Burgundy or Bordeaux, or is champagne always going to be ‘other’, somehow different to still wines?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: I believe the secret of champagne is that it’s a serious wine, for sure, but the bubbles make it different. It’s simply more than wine.

LUX: Our readers are wealthy consumers and collectors of wine, not necessarily technical experts in wine. Could you explain to a typical reader of ours what makes Cristal special?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Cristal is special because the terroirs it comes from are the best in Champagne, and its long-term performance since 1876 has been maintained and showcased year after year, demonstrating the quality of the terroirs and making it the oldest prestige cuvée in Champagne. Historically, Cristal comes from the best location in the region. It is not even the best cru and I am not saying that we have all the best plots, as we are in a neighbourhood with some very beautiful plots. But Cristal has these old, mid-slope vines; the mid-slope is perfect because you get the humidity from the top of the hill and the heat from the bottom. You get eternal softness. It is not extreme like the forest or the valley. When the weather is very hot the mid-slope is cooler, and when it is very cold it is warmer. Cristal is born in a very special place chosen specifically by the house, making it the ideal champagne. So, what can we do best here? Cristal, by the selection of plots, in the way we farm them and in the way we blend the grapes, is all about reaching this ideal of purity and finesse. And, as I was saying earlier, we really have a link to the place, we consider each crop of Cristal as a jewel, and our job is to maintain it to be the brightest and most beautiful as possible. It is precision, haute-couture farming in the choice of material and date of picking, making wines that are elegant yet powerful.

Read more: Brunello Cucinelli on cashmere and humanitarian capitalism

LUX: How does Cristal evolve with age, and what specific biochemical properties allow it to age well?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Because it is grown on chalky soils, with low yields and picked at good ripeness, Cristal has great acidity, low pH, a high concentration and a dry extract which are great assets for ageing over many decades.

LUX: A lover of Burgundy may be attached to a particular vineyard plot. Yet Cristal, while made from Burgundian grapes, is a blend of many vineyards. How does this work?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Because Champagne’s climate is more oceanic, so more unstable than Burgundy’s, champagne makers have invented blending of different parcels and villages to reach a better quality every year. It is not about consistency of style, but the best possible quality in a particular vintage. A blend of Cristal is a little bit like the blending of all the grands crus in Burgundy. Imagine making a blend of Corton Charlemagne, Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, La Romanée, La Romanée-Conti, La Romanée-St-Vivant, La Grande Rue, La Tâche, Richebourg, Échezeaux, Grands Échezeaux, Clos de Vougeot, Musigny and Bonnes Mares, with the only condition being that the blend has to be a better wine than each one of them. That’s the way we think about creating Cristal.

LUX: What does sustainability mean to you?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: It means developing the excellence of the quality and identity of our wines, as well as the resilience of the biodiversity and climate of our vineyards’ ecosystems. It means reducing our impact on nature by decreasing our overall footprint by being as restrained as possible in all fields of activity and taking care of employees and consumers. In the end, there is, of course, an economic side as well, but innovation stands at the centre of what we do to make it all happen.

horse working on vineyard

Louis Roederer has 242 hectares of vineyards across the Champagne region, mostly given over to the pinot noir and chardonnay grapes from which all their vintage wines are made. Image courtesy of Louis Roederer

LUX: Specifically, what measures have you taken to counter climate change?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Since the beginning of life on Earth, the climate has been changing. It’s the essence of farming to adapt production and practices to this constant change. What is changing is the speed of this adaptation. We must focus on developing a strong resilience in our ecosystem so that it can cope in a fast-changing climate. We also need to innovate and try new things. And we need to decrease our carbon footprint to help slow down global warming.

LUX: You switched to organic farming in 2012. What difference has that made?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Yes, this is unique in champagne. Changing to organic production has delivered us a better conscience. I was talking about jewels and what I want for my jewel are the best farming conditions. I do not want to use pesticides or add things to my soils. It gives me and my team a good conscience to say we do things honestly, and that we do things for the next generation that are free of all excess chemicals. In the wine itself, it has really changed the alcohol/acidity ratio, which was exactly what I wanted it to do. It gives a little more ripeness, a little more strength and richer flavours. At the same time, a higher acidity, or lower pH, gives more freshness. Over the years, we have done much blind testing and we think we have got an extra texture, an extra aroma. Everything is a bit amplified. It has also pushed us to rethink our winemaking. We were fermenting our wines in a way that was traditional to the house, using sulphites and so on, but, thanks to organic farming, we have been able to reduce our sulphites and, in the case of chardonnay, to not use any sulphite at all, because the wines are stronger and they can take it. I think we have more resilient wines in the end, but it is too early to say. I think it will also increase the ageing potential of my wines because there is so much of everything. You know, with wine ageing you start with a potential and you lose a little bit and continue losing until the wine becomes static. But along the way there is a point of beauty where you get maybe less fruit, more texture and aroma, it becomes more complex with different umami flavours. I think we can extend this a little bit. This is nothing new because, in fact, champagne was organic before 1960, so all the champagnes from ’28, ’29, ’47, ’49, ’62 and ’64, were all organic and they aged beautifully. I am more into wanting the wine to last than immediate pleasure, but you need to find a balance and, in this, I am modern and classic at the same time – it has to be delicious, which is modern, but the classic demands that it lasts and be even more beautiful in 40 years. Maybe that is what Cristal really is, modern and classic at the same time.

LUX: Do you think that Cristal, and prestige champagnes in general, are taken more seriously now than they were 20 years ago?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: I think so, yes, and it is accelerating. What I call ‘label drinking’ is becoming less and less important. It still is, of course, but people are much better informed now. Unlike in the past, they want information, to hear what we say about the vineyards and how we make the wine. People are looking for more transparency, more honesty, more values in what they drink over and above just a label. Also, I think there is a very interesting price point, because when you make wine like Cristal, which is at a high level of quality, the price difference is quite big. If you look in the still wine world in France, I can see wine lovers and collectors who are now becoming champagne collectors. That is fantastic. Last but not least, champagne has really shown a lot of modern aspects which came largely from grower communication. In Champagne, it is not just Moët, Pol Roger and Bollinger; there are also small growers who do a great job and present completely different wines, and that is contributing to this exciting moment for champagne.

Read more: Superblue’s experiential art centres & innovative business model

LUX: Is there a typical Cristal drinker/fan/aficionado?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: That’s a good question. I know a few American and Japanese aficionados. They are often collectors of great Burgundy, but I am talking about a small niche of collectors, which is not the main market. We used to sell a lot on the nightlife scene in the 80s and 90s, but not so much anymore. Our main clients for Cristal now are restaurants and private buyers. So, I would say there are more wine lovers in general, but I also think that with Cristal, because it’s elegant and refined, it catches the attention of a lot of people who are not so much wine lovers. I remember a Californian lady telling me, “I just drink Cristal”. I asked what else she drinks, and she said, “Just Cristal, I love Cristal, I drink chardonnay”. It’s funny, because she was speaking about Cristal, but then about chardonnay. I think it shows that she wasn’t very knowledgeable but liked the softness and roundness of chardonnay, and she found this in Cristal with its elegance, lightness, chalkiness and minerality.

LUX: Do you feel that more people are now identifying as champagne connoisseurs?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: I think so. I meet more and more people who want to discover the experience of mature champagnes. It probably has to do with people finally realising the exceptional freshness and ageing potential of Cristal.

LUX: And do you think that, just as there are ‘cru-distes’ who are obsessed with the cru, that there are ‘Cristalists’?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: There are some. I don’t know how many cru lovers there are, nor do I know what their average age would be. I would see some ‘crudistes’ perhaps as older people, and most likely men, too. The old club, let us say. I think Cristal attracts more young people. When we do tastings, we do not want to do it for just the happy few but larger groups, too. In New York, for example, I do some very expensive tastings for the elite and we know them, I go to their place and I drink the wine with them, they are friends. But if we do more of an educational tasting, and if we can invite a few young people who maybe do not have the money but have the strong desire to experience it, I like it. This makes sense for our mission. We make the wine of today and tomorrow, not the wine of yesterday. When I bottle Cristal 2020 next year, it will be consumed on the market in ten years’ time. We need to look at these new generations, they are important, they should inspire us first. Thinking again about the classic tradition and modernity, it is good to find a nice balance between those two worlds, because we need to know where we come from, and we also need to have a vision of where we are going.

vineyards

Cristal 2012 was Roederer’s first vintage produced by fully biodynamic farming methods following several years during which the champagne maker, unique among other houses, gradually converted its vineyards to being organic. Image courtesy of Louis Roederer

LUX: Can Cristal be drunk by itself or should it be accompanied by food?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: It really depends on the Cristal that we are talking about, and it depends on my mood. Sometimes I can enjoy a glass of Cristal by myself and just drink it with no food, nothing, just relaxed. Or it can be matched with food. Roughly speaking, I tend to drink a young Cristal by itself or with seafood, such as crabs or oysters, those kinds of salty, light food that combine well with the acidity and the softness and fruit of Cristal. If I have an older Cristal, then it comes to gastronomy. And technically, with some you can try many things depending on the bottle. I did a tasting yesterday, because we are going to launch our Cristal Vinothèque in October. It is from ’99, so it is a 20-year-old wine. This is a wine to have with veal, with mushrooms, with something fleshy enough to withstand the Cristal. There is less carbon dioxide. I am surprised sometimes, when I am on a journey for instance, and somebody opens a bottle of Cristal with me to be drunk with a food that I would never have dreamed could be eaten alongside champagne. I remember in Hong Kong a few years ago I had some with snake soup, a combination I have never imagined, yet it worked well, it was crunchy.

LUX: Tell us more about the Vinothèque wines. Who are they for?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Vinothèque is another expression of Cristal with time. It’s more developed but it’s fresher, too. I believe this wine will meet the expectations of Cristal lovers and all lovers of mature Burgundies and riesling. It’s definitely gastronomic. My original idea, when creating Cristal Vinothèque, was that, in our modern world, even wine lovers who don’t have the patience to wait for 20 years before enjoying a bottle of wine, cannot know that in that time their taste may drive them to appreciating mature champagne. So, I planned to keep some bottles to make that experience possible for the impatient ones! In between, I found so many new aspects of ageing in our ‘laboratory of time’ that I have fine-tuned the project into what I have called ‘In Pursuit of Eternal Youth’!

LUX: Are there plans for any other Cristals? Single-grape or single-vineyard?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: Yes, we have some ideas. I have many triumphs in the cellar, where we are trying to do different things. Cristal stays what it is with the terroir and so on. Cristal is also pinot noir-dominated so it will always be a blend. We could not do a Cristal Vin de Blanc, or Cristal Vin de Noir. I don’t see the logic behind doing that or see it as being true to Cristal. We can work on different aging. If you want to play with pure chardonnay, we can create it. I have plenty of vineyards and we are planning to do something with them in the year ahead.

LUX: How did you cope during the pandemic?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: We didn’t stop. I kept working in the vineyards and the cellar. We put the marketing and the commercial teams in the vineyards. Everyone was part of the harvest. There is a team spirit at the moment. Today, we are experiencing a great moment, aside from Covid-19, something positive that we have never done before. But now we want our life back, to travel again, go to the markets, to Japan, the US, where we have vineyards. We have to start living with the virus and keep going.

LUX: What do you enjoy most in your job?
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon: I like to be out there, in the vineyards, working hand in hand with nature, observing and taking the best from it to create something ultra-civilised. It’s all about transforming raw material into ultimate beauty and emotions. And it is important to me to know that the wine I create today will definitely survive me!

champagne bottle

Cristal 2012. Image by Emmanuel Allaire

“Six Vintages that express Cristal in all its glory” – Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon’s picks

2012: “After 20 years of exploration, research and conversion, the Cristal estate is fully biodynamic from the 2012 vintage onwards”
2008: “A legendary vintage, the ‘Cristal of Cristals’ ”
1999: “My first vintage as chef de cave”
1993: “This really showcases how good Cristal can be in a difficult vintage and how selecting the best plots from the 45 grand cru plots that comprise the Cristal estate each year is vital. The decision is dictated by the vintage conditions, so working hand in hand with nature, listening and observing is crucial”
1989: “A hot, ripe year but still with the tension and salinity that is the signature of Cristal, which comes from the terroir”
1988: “A cooler year that has developed well with a total contrast of style”

“These last two vintages show how much the region’s climate can vary from one year to the next with a clear impact on the style of the wine. The challenge is to make great wines from both.”

Find out more: louis-roederer.com

This interview was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.

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Reading time: 20 min
wine estate entrance
wine estate entrance

Spottswoode wine estate in Napa Valley, California

Spottswoode Estate is Napa valley wine aristocracy. Its wines, selling for hundreds of dollars a bottle, are in demand from collectors globally. Beth Novak Milliken, the estate’s second generation owner, is also a leader in sustainability and biodiversity and has secured coveted B-Corp certification for the estate. She speaks to LUX about her challenges and hosts a tasting of some of her finest wines for us over Zoom
woman standing on driveway

Beth Novak Milliken

LUX: Where does your sustainability ethos come from?
Beth Novak Milliken: It started in 1985, Tony Soter started to take us down a path that we really couldn’t have envisioned would take us where it is now. He was our founding winemaker and started making our wines in 1982. In 1985, he went to my mum and said that he really wanted to take over the farming of the vineyard. He made the suggestion of organic farming and as she trusted him a great deal, she said, “Sure, let’s give it a try!”

That was way back before people were talking about organics – we were amongst the first to farm organically here. We stuck with the organics and planted with that in mind, and never looked back.

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Around 2000, we started planting the insectaries in the vineyard to bring some biodiversity to what is obviously a mono-culture. We set up solar power at the winery in 2007 and added solar  at the estate the same year. We get a great majority of our power from solar, and that which we don’t get from solar is from renewables. Then in May 2019, we came up with our core purpose statement, and all of a sudden everything accelerated.

vineyards

The Spottswoode vineyards

LUX: What are your aims and dreams?
Beth Novak Milliken: We want to inspire others. I’ve been looking to Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia (he is truly my hero), what he has done and how he has pushed for environmental causes in such an amazing way. We joined 1% for the Planet in 2007 and since then we’ve given a minimum of 1% of gross revenue every year to environmental causes that we believe in (it’s usually more than one percent) and it’s a remarkable; you start to feel like your business is something greater than just yourself.

I am the second generation of what will, hopefully, be a long-term multi-generational family business and our biggest threat to continued success is climate change because we are agriculturally based and that really brings it home. In ’17, ’18, ’19 and ’20, we had the highest heats we’ve ever had. We had 117° F (47 C) one day – that’s desert heat!

We have had historic fires that just seem to keep coming, and it is a consequence of climate change. It is is hotter, drier, warmer, windier, and a lot more variable. It’s a remarkable time, and we feel like we really need to act to inspire others.

Read more: A glamorous escape to the Lanesborough

LUX: Was there ever a choice, long-term, between quality of wine and sustainability, or sustainability versus keeping the business going?
Beth Milliken: Never. The two are completely compatible.

LUX: Tell us more about the B-Corp certification and why you decided on it?
Beth Novak Milliken: B-Corp is the gold standard for a business that operates for good, that operates because it cares about its community, the planet, its employees, everything really. It’s how we’ve been operating anyway, so this was really just taking that and putting a certification on it.

It’s a very rigorous process. There are many questions about how you treat your natural environment and how you treat your employees, everything from pay to wellbeing. We feed people here everyday, we always have, and it’s always organic food. We’re minimising waste, and taking care of our community.

LUX: In terms of the sustainability side, what’s next? As a wine-producer, what must you do?
Beth Novak Milliken: We are applicant members of International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA). We are going to be LEED-certified on this entire property, and we’re working on our zero-waste platinum certification.

four wine bottles

A selection of Spottswoode wines

A tasting of a historical collection of Spottswoode wines, hosted by Beth Milliken over Zoom

Tasting notes by Darius Sanai

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 1985

Wow! The greatest aged Napa Cabernets have a unique character, completely distinct either from what they tasted like in their youth, or from aged Bordeaux made from similar grape varieties. On opening, this had a port/cognac “rancio” layer to it; after a few minutes, that diffused and we were left with this lifted, almost light, but nevertheless deep, earthy, woodland soil filled wine with a core of steely dark fruits. If I had blind tasted it I would have guessed it was a Grand Cru Chambertin from Burgundy – not a Cabernet Sauvignon. Amazing stuff and proof too much Napa wine is drunk too young.

Pair with: Cep mushrooms on plain polenta, while sitting on a mountainside in the Alto Adige in northeast Italy while having a chance meeting with someone you broke up with many years ago and are still in love with. Don’t ask why, just do.

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 1996

This is a wine to serve to the kind of narrow-minded snob who says all California wines are obvious, fruity and easy. It is as iron-clad as any Pauillac from 1996 (Pichon Lalande springs to mind), behind the curtain of tannin is an array of subtle savouriness. No fruit bombs here. One that will develop even more.

Pair with: Dinner with a client who proclaims only to like old-fashioned Bordeaux, at their house in Schwabing. Serve it blind and prepare to be amused.

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Roasting coffee! Almonds! Thistles! This is a wine with massive presence and subtlety, simultaneously. There’s some creamy fruit in there also but it’s at the back and very restrained, like smelling it in its packet rather than eating it. It’s 15 years old and needs another 15 years. But it’s very balanced.

Pair with: This one needs a muscular bavette or skirt steak, with apologies to our vegan readers; ideally at a steakhouse in New York City, with the guys at the next table hollering about the game or some deal they made or a girl.

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

After concluding that the 1996 and 2006 are possibly too young to drink now, what about the 2018, from a stellar vintage? Ironically the 2018 is delicious, creamy-rich with bluecurrant (not a thing but that’s what it tastes like) and branchy tannins balancing themselves out on a see-saw on your tongue. Irresistible.

Pair with: Share with your closest friends at dinner by the shore of Lake Geneva in summer, over some aged Comte cheese and maybe very old Mimolette.

Find out more: spottswoode.com

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Reading time: 5 min
mother and daughter in vineyard
mother and daughter in vineyard

Amélie Buecher, winemaker at Vignoble des 2 Lunes

LUX tries an at-home wine tasting experience with VIVANT, and discovers a group of women who are committed to producing and promoting organic wine

After a tiresome year of Zoom meetings, virtual exhibitions and product launches, it’s difficult to get properly excited by the idea of another digital platform, even if there is the alluring promise of real wine to drink at home, but – and bear with us here – VIVANT is actually doing something a little bit different.

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Launched by American entrepreneur and investor Michael Baum, VIVANT is a super slick, ultra modern online market place/educational centre/streaming service for wine enthusiasts who not only want to drink great wine, but also learn about it from expert advisors and producers through interactive wine experiences and beautifully curated content.

wine tasting test tubes

VIVANT’s ‘Women in Wine’ tasting kit

There’s a wide selection of experiences to choose from, divided into categories such as ‘Food & Wine’ or ‘For Serious Wine Geeks’ with varying difficulties depending on your existing wine knowledge. We were invited to experience the ‘Women in Wine’ tasting event and about a week before kick-off (the events happen in real time), a beautiful, white box arrived by courier, containing six 100ml test tubes of wine along with the login details for the platform.

Eventually the evening rolled around, we logged onto the site, and the event began promptly at 6pm with the virtual appearance of our wine advisor Kateryna Dobbert. The format was impressively futuristic, resembling a kind of spaceship control panel with Kateryna talking in the centre of the screen and a message board running down the side where participants could enter questions, comments and ‘cheers’ other members by pressing a wine glass icon. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy, but it got more fun after a few (or several) sips of wine, and we realised that we could earn points through our interactions which contributed to our VIVANT level (although we’re still not entirely sure what that level equates to beyond self-satisfaction).

Read more: Olivier Krug on champagne and music

The experience was divided into a series of videos in which the producers of each wine talked about their processes and some of the challenges they faced as women in a traditionally male-dominated industry after which Kateryna guided us through a tasting with a few follow up quiz questions to test our knowledge. It was well-focused and fast-moving, with the whole experience lasting around forty minutes, but it could have been comfortably stretched out over an hour as we occasionally felt rushed through the tasting parts.

The wines themselves were excitingly varied and after the experience ended, the platform handily saved the corresponding bottles to our profile, avoiding the hassle of having to note down the names of our favourites.

women winemaker

Coralie Delecheneau, winemaker at Domaine La Grange Tiphaine

While our experience highlighted women in the wine industry, VIVANT is centred around promoting and supporting sustainable producers and organic wines. Each of their winemakers is required to sign the VIVANT environmental pledge, which, amongst other things, promises that no synthetic chemicals or additives will be used in the vineyards or wine making processes. The general idea is to create a global community of producers and consumers who are committed to making more environmentally-conscious choices and although the future remains to be seen, it feels like a good start.

Find out more: vivant.eco

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Reading time: 2 min
man truffle hunting

Truffle hunting has been in severe decline since the early 20th century, but is once again on the rise as a craft and is currently highlighted by the Respected by Gaggenau campaign

The art of the handmade, and the appreciation of high-quality, low-volume makers, are having a resurgence. With the help of the German luxury appliance maker and their Respected by Gaggenau campaign, the future of crafts and the artisanal, whether in food, winemaking or the crafting of objects, is looking brighter, as Lisa Jayne Harris explains

“The nobility and humility of great craft transcends industries and products,” says Master of Wine, Sarah Abbott. “Artisans offer a sense of adventure, excitement and nuance that’s simply not available elsewhere.” The mystique that comes with creating a product by hand – whether that’s a time-honoured way to age wine and make cheese, or a modern take on knife making – touches us in a unique and deep way that mass-produced goods cannot: “People respond to the beauty, sweat, toil and integrity of craft,” Abbott explains. “We’re in a time of a craft renaissance. Our respect for authenticity and integrity in what we make and consume is growing.”

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The resurgence in craft’s popularity is at odds with our increasingly digitised everyday lives and fast-paced consumerism. But therein lies its draw, as handcrafted objects seem to reverberate with the energy of their maker when we hold them in our own hands, and they promise to last longer than impulse purchases, too. “We live in a throwaway world,” says author and food critic, Tom Parker Bowles. “So, it’s really refreshing when things are made to last. Technology has a built-in obsolescence to force us to buy a new phone or whatever, but we’re looking at a more sustainable future in all areas of our lives, including food sourcing.”

truffle in man's hand

Both Parker Bowles and Abbott are judges of the Respected by Gaggenau initiative, which honours, supports and promotes small producers and artisans in the food industry. “We want to give something back to people who deserve it and need it most,” explains Gaggenau’s managing director, Dr Peter Goetz. Regional experts will nominate artisans who use skilled, traditional techniques to create exceptional and authentic products in food, wine and design.

Such authentic artisanal products are distinguished by their fundamental values of patience, passion and heritage. Both maker and customer have to be patient: “People who appreciate the finer things are usually happy to wait,” says professional truffle hunter and owner of The English Truffle Company, James Feaver. His business plan manages customers’ expectations and controls truffle pre-sales so they don’t take on more orders than are achievable. “Every day of hunting depends on the vagaries of the weather. If people get in touch in advance, we do our best to deliver, but we only harvest what’s sustainable and available at that time. I’m more like a fisherman than an artisan baker. I don’t make truffles like a baker makes his bread; nature has done all the hard work and I just find them.”

seasonal produce

Gaggenau appliances can be adapted to any seasonal food preparation.

It’s the passion of people like James who make artisanal products stand out. “True artisans really believe in something,” says Gaggenau’s head of design, Sven Baacke. “They have a vision, they’re digressive, authentic and have a strong character. I see that throughout Gaggenau, too, not just in the design team but in the engineers and every department. We’re all striving for the best.” Abbott believes the character of an artisan winemaker is so palpable that she can taste the ‘maker’s mark’: “There’s a certain idiosyncrasy, a distinctive personality and edginess in the wine over different vintages. Great wines from large producers tend to be more polished, assured and even, but artisanal wineries exist on a knife edge, and you can often taste that in their wines.”

Read more: How Chelsea Barracks is celebrating contemporary British craft

The future is uncertain for many small producers. James has led a British truffle hunting resurgence, but the skill very nearly died out when the last professional truffle hunter, Alfred Collins, hung up his boots in 1930. “At one time there were 10 truffle hunters working out of Alfred Collins’s village,” explains James. “Truffle hunting was a sport for the gentry, like shooting or horse riding, but when Collins retired the custom and his knowledge disappeared too. I’ve been truffle hunting since 2008, and it’s only in the past dozen years that knowledge has come back to this country with our renewed interest in sustainability, British produce and farmers markets.” Crafts like truffle hunting are essentially a shared cultural memory, unique to each community they come from, and only by supporting these skills can we ensure they’re not forgotten. As the Arts and Craft designer William Morris said, “The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.”

artistic photograph of kitchen

An image from the ‘Frozen in Time’ series by culinary artists Studio Appétit for Gaggenau

Climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to the future of artisan food businesses. “We’re already seeing lower rainfall and higher temperatures,” says James, “And that’s not good for truffles.” Sustainability and biodiversity are necessarily at the heart of artisanal work, because they’re more connected to their locality and environment. But this means climate change affects them even more acutely. “Artisanal wineries typically focus on a single small region or wine style,” Abbott points out. “They can’t spread their bets like larger producers, who mitigate risk across multiple regions and grape varieties.” If one variety fails, the small producer’s whole livelihood is at stake.

portrait man in chair

Managing director of Gaggenau, Dr Peter Goetz

Everything that makes craft special – the fact that it’s unique, handmade, small scale and highly skilled – is exactly what puts it under threat. The Heritage Crafts Association maintains a list of endangered and extinct handicrafts in the UK, including bell founding, scissor making, tinsmithing and cricket ball making, and they advocate for their preservation. But thankfully many craft producers have demonstrated their ongoing resilience through the Covid-19 pandemic by pivoting their business models or selling directly to customers. While that works on a local level, it still leaves them exposed in the longer term. “Many of these makers are third, fourth or fifth generation. Their domestic reputation is typically very strong, but it’s a challenge for them to reach diverse markets to weather our increasingly global economic storms,” Abbott says. “Small producers thrive through a more intuitive, organic relationship between maker and consumer but in a noisy, ever-expanding, luxury global market. Without resources for strategic marketing or PR, they struggle to be heard.”

Support programmes such as Respected by Gaggenau can go some way in giving artisans a voice and helping them keep doing what they do best. An appliance manufacturer championing small, independent producers might sound surprising, but the Respected by Gaggenau initiative reveals how much they have in common. “Of course, we are an industrial manufacturer,” says Baacke, “and some of our high-tech processes are best done by machines. But if the kitchen is the heart of the home then appliances are the soul. There is always a human touch to our work, like the hand-polished finish or detailed quality control. It’s the perfect balance between craft and industrialisation.”

The 2020 Respected by Gaggenau prize will bring global attention to three regional producers in food, viniculture and design. “Nominees are likely to be unsung heroes,” says Goetz. “Such as a farmer who produces a small amount of exceptional beef for just a handful of top chefs each year. We want to give that farmer recognition and promote their story to our discerning network.”

Ultimately, it’s up to us all to maintain the heritage of craftsmanship: “I’m an optimist,” says Tom Parker Bowles, “But we have to keep supporting artisan producers and value where our food comes from to secure a better future.”

Find out more: gaggenau.com

This article features in the Autumn 2020 Issue, hitting newsstands in October.

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Reading time: 6 min
A sommelier in the act of pouring wine into a table of glasses
Gaggenau formal dinner layout with black table dressing

The scene of the 2018 Gaggenau Sommelier Awards ceremony gala dinner, held at the Red Brick Art Museum in Beijing

More than sheer knowledge of wine, it takes dexterity, impeccable service and the ability to inspire the diner to be a top sommelier, as the finalists of the 2018 Gaggenau Sommelier Awards in Beijing discover. Sarah Abbott, a judge at the final, describes the peaks of that fine wine world

We are watching Kei Wen Lu about to extinguish a candle. He pinches – does not blow – the flame out. I breathe a secret sigh of relief, and discreetly tick my scoresheet. Beside me, fellow judges Annemarie Foidl, Yang Lu MS and Sven Schnee mark their scorecards.

A sommelier smells a glass of red wine

Kai Wen, one of the 2018 finalists

Such is the assessment of elite sommellerie. Kai Wen won the Greater China heats of the Gaggenau Sommelier Awards, and he is now performing the “decantation task” in the grand final, in Beijing. He faces a room of Chinese and international press, and the relentless gaze of we four judges.

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For this task, there are 40 elements on which our young finalists are judged. Decanting seems straightforward, perhaps: open a bottle, pour it into a decanter, leaving any sediment behind, and serve a glass to each of your four guests. It is the attention to tiny details that transforms the everyday to the excellent, and the exigent to the sublime.

This task has been created by judge Yang Lu, Master Sommelier and Director of Wine for the Shangri-La Group. Yang has passed the toughest sommelier exam in the world and knows what it takes. Mentor and hardened veteran of elite sommellerie, he challenges these young recruits with his relentless eye for excellence.

Two men and a woman stand in front of Gaggenau sign and sleek metal cabinet

From left to right: David Dellagio, Mikaël Grou and Emma Ziemann, three of the finalists, in front of Gaggenau’s wine storage cabinets

The guéridon must be wheeled smoothly to the right of the host. The bottle must be eased from the shelf and placed gently into the wine basket. You must remove the capsule foil cleanly, and the cork smoothly, without disturbing the bottle in its cradling basket. Ah, but have you remembered to light the candle before you’ve uncorked the bottle? And to wipe the bottle lip with a clean napkin before extracting the cork? And have you assembled those napkins on the guéridon before you bring it over? Kai Wen’s hand is steady as he decants the wine over the lit candle. The room is eerily silent, a camera man is panning up close, and Kai’s every move is magnified for audience and judges on TV screens.

Yang has set traps. He has planted dirty glasses. And he has set out two different vintages of the requested wine. One ‘guest’ decides that she doesn’t fancy the red wine. Can she have a glass of sparkling wine instead? Contestants will lose six marks if they pour the sparkling before serving the other guests their decanted red. More points are ripe for deduction for forgetting the side plate or to offer to remove the cork, or for unequal pours. And for puffing out that candle.

Kai Wen is friendly, focussed and diligent. He avoids most of the traps and completes the decantation within the scarce nine minutes.

Read more: How politics trumps science in the GMO debate

Despite the rigour and specificity of the marking scheme, the personal style of each contestant comes through. Emma Ziemann is the Swedish finalist. Confident and authoritative, she impresses by greeting the judges as if in the theatre of a busy service. She holds our eye, and sails through the decantation, coping well with a dastardly technical question from Yang – designed to put the contestants off mid-pour – about the Saint-Émilion classification.

The pressures of time and occasion are merciless, and most evident during the blind- tasting challenge, in which contestants must taste, describe and identify seven wines and drinks. All identify the Daiginjo Sake without problem, but the old stalwart of French crème de cassis liqueur stumps several. These non-wine beverages are served in opaque black glasses, masking any colourful clues.

A sommelier in the act of pouring wine into a table of glasses

Mikaël Grou, the eventual winner of the 2018 Gaggenau Sommelier Award

South African finalist Joakim Blackadder shows relaxed charm and cool humour. Mikaël Grou, the French finalist, excels. Engaging and poised, he tastes, describes and correctly identifies five of the seven wines and beverages within the allotted twelve minutes. Mikaël impresses for the range and precision of his technical vocabulary, and for his enticing, consumer-friendly descriptions.

All instructions from the judges are spoken and may be repeated only once. It is easy to miss a critical detail. Young, enthusiastic Zareh Mesrobyan is the British finalist. Originally from Bulgaria, he works for Andrew Fairlie’s renowned eponymous restaurant in Scotland. Annemarie Foidl, head of the Austrian Sommelier Association and our chair of judges, gives the instructions for the menu pairing task: Zareh has thirty seconds to read the menu, and four minutes to recommend one accompaniment for each course. “Please include one non-alcoholic beverage and one non-wine beverage.” Zareh seems to love the task. He does triple the work, giving not one but three creative and detailed pairings for each course. Sadly, he cannot gain triple marks.

Read more: Artist Rachel Whiteread on the importance of boredom

The structure of sommelier competitions is well-established around the world, and ours includes many of these classic elements. But Gaggenau is looking for that extra spark, so Annemarie has devised a new task called Vario Challenge, after Gaggenau’s new wine storage units. Built into the stage wall are several wine storage units, calibrated to different temperatures. Each contestant must work their way through a delivery of twelve wines, describe each wine to the judges as if to a customer, and put the wine in the correct cabinet. Swiss finalist, Davide Dellago, excels, wheeling between judges and Vario with grace, and summing up the style and context of each wine with wit and confidence.

The world of sommellerie can seem elitist and arcane. The cliché of the stuffy sommelier
persists, rooted in an increasingly faded world of starched cloths and manners, and of
knowledge used as power, not as gift. As Yang Lu says to me later, it’s critical that sommeliers retain their love for and connection with customers. They must work the floor. Taking part in competitions is a means to an end, not a job in itself.

And what is that end? After a gruelling day of competing, our six finalists worked the floor at a gala dinner. Here is the theatre where sommellerie performs. And this was quite a production. The Red Brick Art Museum, a young, bold architectural venue in Beijing’s art district, was a hip, stylish space. Banqueting tables were dressed in silver and late-season flowers and berries, evoking autumnal birch and harvest bounty. It was time for our young sommeliers to serve not clipboard-wielding judges, but honoured guests.

A chef and assistant plating up dinner in the kitchen

Chef André Chiang plating up for the gala dinner

Our finalists presented six wines with six courses, to each table. The menu was created by André Chiang, the Taiwanese-born, Japanese-raised and French-trained chef, who won two Michelin stars for his Singapore restaurant, Restaurant André. Thoughtful and visionary, Chiang is a revered superstar of contemporary Asian culinary culture. So, the pressure was on.

Sommelier talks guests through wine choices

South African finalist Joakim Blackadder

The finalists had been given just two hours on the previous day to taste the wine with the judges and acquire the facts they needed to tell their wine stories with conviction and colour. All the wines were Chinese. Just five years ago, matching exclusively Chinese wines to food of this nuance, precision and individuality would have been a tall order. Big, gruff, blundering Cabs were the rule. But the ambition and accomplishment of Chinese winemaking today has soared, and these were excellent matches. So it was that our contestants were able to tell a new story of Chinese wine to guests. Of six different styles, of six different grapes, and from six different regions.

Grace Vineyard Angelina Brut Reserve 2009, an intricate and sabre-fresh, champagne- method sparkling, was served with the pure, enticing first course of braised abalone with green chilli pesto and crispy mushroom floss.

They presented Kanaan Winery’s mineral, elegantly aromatic 2017 Riesling with the softly textured, seductive second course of asparagus, caviar broken egg and non-alcoholic Seedlip Garden 108 herbal spirit.

Read more: PalaisPopulaire & Berlin’s Cultural Revolution

Contemporary Chinese wine is inspired by European traditions, but the deeply traditional aged 2008 Maison Pagoda Rice Wine thrilled our sommeliers with its tangy, nutty intensity. Both strange and familiar, it recalled old Madeira or Oloroso, but with a deeper, salty well. It was superb with the dark marine crab capellini, laksa broth and curry-dust sea urchin.

There is one dish that Chef André never removes from his restaurant menu (I suspect, having tasted it, for fear of riots). European culinary tradition and Asian technique come together in this dish of foie gras jelly, black truffle coulis and chives. Part jelly, part mousse, this intelligently decadent dish was paired with the delicately sweet, honeyed 2014 Late Harvest Petit Manseng from Domaine Franco-Chinois.

The first and only red of the evening was perfumed and confidently understated. 2015 Tiansai Vineyards Skyline of Gobi (yes, as in the Gobi Desert). This scented, floral and plush syrah/viognier was a surprisingly successful pairing with chargrilled Wagyu beef.

You know that a wine culture is developed when signs of an iconoclastic counter-culture peek through. Our final wine of the night was, in essence if not in name, a natural wine. Bottled in one-litre flip-top bottles and made from the too often dismissed hybrid grape vidal, the 2017 Mysterious Bridge Icewine was as wild and fresh as the mixed-berry jelly dessert with which it was served.

Our sommeliers told these stories. They blossomed in service, freed from the heat of their earlier competition but also strengthened by it. They delighted our guests with their own delight in these new discoveries. This is the calling of sommellerie – to notice, describe and share the beauties of wine with new ideas of what is beautiful.

In the end, Mikaël Grou was victorious. But, as fellow judge and head of Brand Gaggenau, Sven Schnee said, each of those young sommeliers were winners. They, and we, were touched by this experience of Chinese history, culinary culture and pure vinous potential.

Discover more: gaggenau.com

This article was first published in the Winter 19 Issue

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Man picking purple grapes on a vineyard
Man picking purple grapes on a vineyard

Axel Heinz, Masseto’s Estate Director and Winemaker

The maker of Masseto hosts a private dinner for LUX readers in London, along with LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai

Masseto label on wine bottle with red wax stampAxel Heinz is not what you would expect of a Tuscan winemaker. Half German, half French, he speaks English with a perfect Received Pronunciation public school accent, the result of a UK school education. He is also thoughtful and philosophical about the great issues surrounding wine – and how he has helped turn Masseto, the jewel in the crown of the estate he runs, from being just another good Italian red, to one of the world’s greatest wines, on a par with Chateau Lafite and Petrus, within just 15 years.

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Axel was on sparkling form while hosting a dinner for friends of LUX in London this week, introducing some wonderful vintages of Masseto.

Masseto's vineyard director Axel Heinz in a wine cellar

Axel Heinz at the LUX Masseto dinner

wine bottles lined up against a burgundy wall with a decanter

A selection of wines a the LUX dinner

The 1998 showed the mark of a truly great wine, having developed into a subtle kaleidoscope of delicate flavours and layers. I asked Axel what it was that allowed some wines to develop this astonishing complexity with age – to improve, rather than just get older – and his answer was that it is a blend of magic and expertise. Of the eight vintages we tasted, the 2006 is the most celebrated, but my favourite was the 2010, with its blend of power and poetry.

Read more: Meet Manhattan’s star real estate broker and fixer Gennady Perepada

Masseto is also changing, for the better, with a new winery opening on its estate on a hillside above the Tuscan coast, next year. It’s a magically beautiful place, and the place, and its creations, were celebrated with much gratitude and joy at our private dinner in London.

masseto.com

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Château Mouton Rothschild vineyard in autumn with golden leaves

Château Mouton-Rothschild vineyards in autumn Image: Mathieu Anglada Saison d’Or

We all know that collectors of fine art are liable to collectors of great wine: how better to appreciate a Joan Miró painting or Takashi Murakami installation than over a glass of one of the world’s finest wines?
German artist Gerhard Richter creates artwork for Château Mouton Rothschild

Gerhard Richter. Image: Studio Gerhard Richter, 2017

Château Mouton Rothschild, one of the great estates of Bordeaux, takes the connection further, commissioning a different leading world artist to design its label for its top wine every year. To collect bottles of Mouton from the past sixty years is to be immersed in original creations from the likes of Miró, Pablo Picasso, Jeff Koons, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Lucian Freud, Keith Haring, Wassily Kandinsky – the list is a who’s who of the world’s great artists.

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So it’s no surprise that the latest, 2015, vintage has been announced to be sporting a label by the great German expressionist Gerhard Richter – indeed, one could wonder what took the collaboration so long. Richter’s other-worldly ability to reinvent himself, to pioneer new genres, and to blend elements of the social commentary so prevalent in contemporary creative culture with the purism of fine art, makes him the most collectible living artist. His works sell for tens of millions – a development which he apparently scorns.

Gerhard Richter's artistic label for Château Mouton Rothschild

Gerhard Richter’s label for the 2015 vintage

The work he created for his label, Flux, is stunning, alive, compelling, angry and colourful. The technique he uses involves spreading enamel paint on a plate of plexiglass on which he then presses and moves another glass plate to generate a swirling composition of colours. Richter then photographs the still fluctuating colours when he considers their composition to be momentarily harmonious.

It is appropriate that Richter, who turns 86 next year and who spends his summers at the other-worldly Waldhaus Sils in Switzerland’s high mountains, has been paired with 2015, one of the greatest vintages of recent times. Like the 2015 ‘grand vin’, he is an artist whose works will stand the test of decades – and even centuries.

chateau-mouton-rothschild.com/label-art

 

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Interiors of Michelin-starred Esszimmer restaurant in Munich
purple grapes hanging on the vine in the Masseto vineyard in Tuscany

The Masseto vineyard in the Maremma region of Tuscany

LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai was recently invited to a private tasting of Italy’s greatest wine, in a spectacular location. Masseto may now be a global superbrand, but it didn’t disappoint.

Italy makes many serious and famous wines, from the Barolos of Conterno to the Brunellos of Soldera. But there’s only one Italian wine which has crossed the Rubicon from the serious wine community – who examine vintage, vineyard, slope aspect and barrique ageing in exquisite detail – to what we call the general luxury connoisseur.

The latter is the category of wealthy people who live busy lives and, while immersing Chef prepares canapes to accompany the tasting of Masseto fine winesthemselves in life’s pleasures, don’t have time to work out which Conterno makes the great Barolos (it’s Giacomo) or whether Brunelli is the same as Brunello (it isn’t). They know and consume the greatest things in the world: they might own a Ferrari F12 TDF, a house in St Moritz and another in Malibu, eat at Osteria Francescana and own a Heesen boat and a Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon. But they’re just too busy to sweat over the arcane detail of the wine world.

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That doesn’t mean they don’t know wine – they drink more fine wine than a Master of Wine could ever afford – and nor does it mean they only consume brands. Wine is a world where there’s nowhere to hide: if Chateau Pétrus really weren’t as good as it’s supposed to be, people wouldn’t buy it.

The wines that pass through the luxury connoisseurs’ lips are mainly French: Pétrus, Margaux, La Tache, Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc. And only one Italian wine makes it into this highest echelon: Masseto. Masseto is made a grape’s throw from the Mediterranean, in a beautiful vineyard sitting on a slope between the coast and an ancient forested hillside, in the Maremma region of Tuscany. This rather unspoiled stretch of Italy, between Rome and Pisa, produces other rather good wines, like Sassicaia, Tua Rita and Guado al Tasso (among many others). But it’s Masseto that has the brand recognition.

Interiors of EsZimmer restaurant for wine tasting of Masseto

EssZimmer: a sophisticated setting for a private tasting of Italy’s greatest wine

It’s made from Merlot, like Chateau Pétrus, and it’s rich, rounded, velvety and hedonistic. LUX had the privilege of being invited to a recent private tasting of no fewer than 15 different vintages of Masseto, held at the two Michelin starred Bobby Bräuer‘s EssZimmer restaurant at the BMW Museum in Munich, Germany. Hosted by winemaker Axel Heinz, and Burkard Bovensiepen, the owner of the BMW Alpina car company (and fine wine importer) and accompanied by such glorious dishes as ‘venison from the region, spice crust, onion ravioli’, it was beyond memorable.

Read next: President of LVMH Watches, Jean-Claude Biver on the popularisation of luxury

Masseto label on wine bottle with red wax stamp

Vintages served were the 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Did we have a favourite? The 1989 is no longer available but had a gentle timelessness that we could drink every day. The 2010, we would splash on as the world’s most lavish cologne, before licking it from the belly of…let’s move on. The 2011 was a Roberto Cavalli gown of a wine. The 1997 was a Chanel couture creation in all its perfection. The 2015 should have been undrinkably young; but was like drinking the stars.

Only the most recent vintages are available now, and we recommend drinking them with your favourite person, even if, in some cases, that means sharing them.

masseto.com

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Barricaia Masseto 1 (media)[1]

By Darius Sanai
Editor in Chief

On business in Italy, my route takes me along the coast of the Maremma, the beautiful and curiously unspoiled Tuscan coastlands. Combine the words Tuscany and Mediterranean and images of overcrowded beaches and packed rows of villas interspersed with batallions of ice-cream wielding middle-class children come to mind. But in reality, the Maremma, which stretches down from Pisa towards Rome, is one of the least-populated and least-touristed parts of Italy. Partly, this is because it used to be dominated by marshlands (and was once a malarial zone) and has little of the community history of the rest of Tuscany. But that changed 100 years ago, and the lack of tourism now is a mystery: there are beaches, the pineta (the long stone pine forest that wraps along the entire Mediterranean coast, when it is allowed to), picturesque hills, and now, no malaria.

What the Maremma does have, famously, if you are a wine lover, is some of the most interesting wines in the world. A few decades ago, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, a member of the Tuscan wine aristocracy, planted vines here and created a wine called Sassicaia, which shocked the then conservative and inward-gazing world of wine. This was a wine from nowhere, which was of the quality of the Bordeaux first growths (the likes of Lafite and Latour). Was it a freak?

Sassicaia came from a sloping benchland called Bolgheri, between the sea and the wonderfully-named Colline Metallifere, the Metallic Hills, that border the area. To prove it wasn’t a freak, Incisa della Rochetta’s cousin, Ludovico Antinori (from a branch of the famed wine family, but not the main branch) planted his own wines nearby and in the early 1980s created another Bordeaux-style wine called Ornellaia. While not quite as celebrated as Sassicaia, it also make its mark at the top (or rather bottom) of the world’s wine lists.

There was a patch of land just outside the original domain of Ornellaia that Antinori planted to Merlot, one of the grapes of Bordeaux, and the dominant grape of two of Bordeaux’s legends, Chateau Petrus and Le Pin. Like a great patch of land in Burgundy, it was planted on a slope, slightly concave, with different soils and bordered by wild forests at the top. Like the land of Chateau Petrus, the soil was mainly clay. One day, Ornellaia’s owners decided to make a separate wine just out of grapes from this new vineyard, which was called Masseto, just for fun. The wine was so good, they have told me, that they decided to continue making it formally, in 1986.

And a legend was born, because Masseto is now the single wine of Italy that can take its place in the world’s private jets with the luxury brands of Bordeaux (Lafite, Petrus, etc) and California (Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, etc). There may be other wines of Italy which the professional wine tasters find equally good in some years, but they are obscure. Step into a restaurant in Moscow, Dubai or London and order a Masseto, and your companions, whether or not they are wine buffs, will know the card you have played.

“That is the middle part of the vineyard”, Axel Heinz tells me, inching along a sloped dirt track in his Audi. Heinz, handsome, articulate in several languages, and from some theoretical geographical combination of Germany and Bordeaux, is the winemaker for Masseto and Ornellaia, and has been for the past 10 years. “It is the grand cru of Masseto.” He is pointing to a slight hollow in the gentle slope, where grapes of a deep red hang from rows of green leaves. It’s just a vineyard, but I feel the same frisson as when walking the soils of Chambertin or La Landonne in France. The Mediterranean glistens in the middle distance, at its edge the delightfully empty beach by Bolgheri. Brooding forests rise towards the deep blue sky behind.

Vigna Masseto 1 (madia)[1]In the winery, a modernist building constructed in 1989 to blend into the earth, in a tasting room looking out over vines and hills and swathed in late summer sun, we taste some Massetos. The 2012, very young, remember, is deliciously, surprisingly open, broad, layered with bright fruit and cedar. It will be released to the world this autumn. The 2010 is older but tastes younger, more tannic, more closed, proud, just revealing hints of its couture gown from underneath a gabardine Burberry trenchcoat. I make a mental note not to drink the cases I have at home until 2020.

There are others, but the memorable wine, an astonishing wine, is the 2006. It has the breadth and openness of the 2012 but also a tunnel of depth, you can taste all kinds of bosky, subtle, sexy, bedroom-parlour touches and tones. These can only intensify over time. I make another mental note, to buy a case of the 2006 and drink a bottle a year over the next 12 years. Or to use it as perfume.

As I leave, I ask Heinz about the abandoned farm building next to the Masseto vineyard itself. It had been sealed off with fencing; a suggestion that there were plans afoot. “Yes, we are building Masseto’s own winery there,” he says. “Work starts this year and will be finished by the time we harvest the 2017 vintage”. So, Masseto is going it alone within the portfolio? “Yes,” he smiles. I see the flowering of a new, solo, luxury brand.

Darius Sanai

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Reading time: 4 min