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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.

man

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.

wines

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

room

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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Advisory / vineyards

LUX x Deutsche Bank

As global content and marketing partner for Deutsche Bank, we create content, virtual and real life events, business, academic, institutional and individual introductions, and collaborate on ESG strategy.

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Photo by Andy Mann

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Photo by Ben Thourad

Case Study

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Deutsche Bank x LUX ESG Strategy

The Mission

To help Deutsche Bank position themselves as the lead banking institution to be pioneering ocean conservation and the blue economy.

Execution

Sourcing and securing key leaders to participate in events and conferences around sustainability and in particular ocean conservation and the blue economy.


Thought leadership content streams created for Deutsche Bank over multiple channels.


16 page section in LUX magazine and online featuring leaders in the ocean economy, investors and philanthropists developed over several years with a special edition dedicated to the conference.


Introductions to partners who can enhance Deutsche Bank’s involvement in the ocean conservation space.


Direct Introductions to potential clients who are interested in investing in the blue economy or philanthropically towards the Deutsche Bank Ocean Resilience Philanthropy Fund.

Result

Created high engaging, original and successful events conference connecting ideas, entrepreneurs, thinkers and leaders.


Formed long term-partners and clients in the ocean conservation space.


Produced content for the intended audience showing Deutsche Bank’s commitment to ocean conservation.

Case Study

strip

Deutsche Bank x LUX ESG Strategy

The Mission

To help Deutsche Bank position themselves as the lead banking institution to be pioneering ocean conservation and the blue economy.

Execution

Sourcing and securing key leaders to participate in events and conferences around sustainability and in particular ocean conservation and the blue economy.


Thought leadership content streams created for Deutsche Bank over multiple channels.


16 page section in LUX magazine and online featuring leaders in the ocean economy, investors and philanthropists developed over several years with a special edition dedicated to the conference.


Introductions to partners who can enhance Deutsche Bank’s involvement in the ocean conservation space.


Direct Introductions to potential clients who are interested in investing in the blue economy or philanthropically towards the Deutsche Bank Ocean Resilience Philanthropy Fund.

Result

Created high engaging, original and successful events conference connecting ideas, entrepreneurs, thinkers and leaders.


Formed long term-partners and clients in the ocean conservation space.


Produced content for the intended audience showing Deutsche Bank’s commitment to ocean conservation.

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Photo by Ben Thourad

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Photo by Ben Thourad

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Photo by Ben Thourad

Case Study

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Deutsche Bank x Frieze Art Fair x LUX

The Mission

Amplified Deutsche Bank’s leadership role as a bank in the art world, produced content for the intended audience showing Deutsche Bank’s commitment to art, and formed partnerships and client relationships.

Execution

Year round content creation and coverage in print, online, social media
and video.


Introductions to collectors and artists.


Exclusive events at Deutsche Bank, Frieze lounge and collectors’ homes.


Interviews and interactions with artists and collectors.


Special issues of LUX devoted to Deutsche Bank x Frieze.

Result

Amplified Deutsche Bank’s leadership role as a bank in the art world.


Produced content for the intended audience showing Deutsche Bank’s commitment to art.


Formed partnerships and client relationships.

Case Study

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Deutsche Bank x Frieze Art Fair x LUX

The Mission

Amplified Deutsche Bank’s leadership role as a bank in the art world, produced content for the intended audience showing Deutsche Bank’s commitment to art, and formed partnerships and client relationships.

Execution

Year round content creation and coverage in print, online, social media
and video.


Introductions to collectors and artists.


Exclusive events at Deutsche Bank, Frieze lounge and collectors’ homes.


Interviews and interactions with artists and collectors.


Special issues of LUX devoted to Deutsche Bank x Frieze.

Result

Amplified Deutsche Bank’s leadership role as a bank in the art world.


Produced content for the intended audience showing Deutsche Bank’s commitment to art.


Formed partnerships and client relationships.

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Read Deutsche Bank
special edition

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Read Deutsche Bank
special edition

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please contact
[email protected]

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Reading time: 19 min
A grey sports car outside a vineyard
A grey sports car outside a vineyard

The Aston takes in the Clos de la Roche vineyards in Burgundy, France

In the second part of our Great Drives series, Darius Sanai travels, in an Aston Martin DB11 V8 Coupe, from the Jura Mountains, Switzerland to London, UK via Burgundy and Champagne, France for a quick tasting of Amour de Deutz, 2008

In the Vallée de Joux in the Jura Mountains in Switzerland, signs for watch manufactures (factories) come as thick and fast as signposts for whisky distilleries on Speyside. Tempting though it was to make a stop (we at LUX know the watch manufactures well, but they require a little planning to visit), we dropped down a gear in our xenon-grey Aston Martin DB11 and zoomed out of the valley along snaking roads through deep forests. Every mile or so, the trees dropped away to reveal a lake or another valley. We opened the windows to hear the thrumming of the Aston’s V8 engine, a low, mellow but not over-loud rumble, bouncing off the slopes on either side of the road. This was a joyous drive.

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The DB11 Coupe is a piece of automotive architecture, sculpted, so it seems, from a block of granite. It feels satisfying to drive, even if you are not moving. It is very satisfying, and not a little fun, to drive when you are. The empty French roads allowed us to accelerate a little faster and farther than perhaps we would have done in Switzerland, where we had started that morning, or back in England, our final destination. It’s not overly challenging, but it is nicely weighted to give you a sense of Aston Martins of old, which were slightly macho and brutish as well as beautiful, like Sean Connery as James Bond, or perhaps a young Marlon Brando. Fortunately, too, it does not succumb to the latest trend of making extremely fast cars too easy to drive.

the black leather interior of a car

A peek inside the Aston Martin DB11

You would not buy the DB11 if you just wanted a very fast car, we mused, as the road, having descended down through the north side of the mountains, straightened out along a plain lined with wheat fields. These days, almost any electric car – and there seems to be a new one every day – can be programmed to go as fast as a moon rocket, but where’s the fun in that? This Aston, with its masterpiece of an exterior and equally chiselled interior, and lovely waffles of leather all around inside, is an event to be in and to arrive in. The hotel we were staying at that night in Burgundy, Hostellerie Cèdre & Spa Beaune, gave it pride of place in its car park.

A car behind an arched gate

The Aston Martin DB11 V8 Coupe in the courtyard of the Deutz champagne house, France

The Cèdre is exactly the kind of place you want to arrive at when touring France. A little palace or big mansion (take your pick), on the edge of the old walled town of Beaune in the centre of Burgundy’s wine country, it has a driveway lined with very smart cars that show the measure of its clientele, who travel from all over the world to stay and taste wines here. There is a maze of a garden with ornamental ponds and seating dotted around the foliage. We sat there that evening and enjoyed a glass of poignant 2019 Château de Meursault, salty and nutty and balanced, from a small producer just a couple of miles away. The air smelled like the wine. Inside, the Cèdre is traditional and rich, like the home of a wealthy merchant. By the bar, an Enomatic machine, which preserves open bottles of wine, serves a selection of the great vintages of Burgundy – no need to visit a wine estate, just stay here and taste.

the outside of a white hotel with tables and parasols in a garden

Garden dining by night at the Hostellerie Cèdre & Spa Beaune, Burgundy

Our room was characterful and split-level, with bedroom and bathroom on one floor and a living area in a gallery above, big enough for a group of four to stretch out on the sofa and chairs, fine wines in front of them, and chat into the night. The room didn’t have a big view but it had an interesting one, across the outskirts of Beaune to the vineyard slopes creating its eponymous, and delicious, red wine. One of the world’s most ancient vineyard sites, its history can be traced back 1,000 years. This is a soulful hotel.

A massage chair with a brown towel on it surrounded by stone and glass walls

The stylish Nuxe Spa in the vaults of the Cèdre

Our focus the next day was a drive across the countryside of central France, from one of its great winegrowing regions, Burgundy, to another, Champagne. These are connected by an autoroute, and getting there can take fewer than three hours. But that would not do justice to a car like this, so we took the back roads instead. First, we wound our way up the low, but very definite ridge of the Côte-d’Or, where we saw the same Burgundy vineyards we had seen from our hotel room, and then through forests, glades and ancient villages on the Plateau de Langres. This is Charlemagne territory, one of the most historic but unexplored parts of France. In each village there were at least a few grand houses, hundreds of years old, that wanted to tell a story.

A lounge with a fireplace and leather brown chairs

A cosy ambience at the Cèdre Lounge Bar,

The Aston ambled happily through them, like a big dog strolling with its mistress, then roared down the empty byways when the countryside emptied out a little. After a couple of hours, wanting to make it to Champagne for our next meeting, we headed back towards the autoroute, joining it near Charles de Gaulle’s home village of Colombey-les-Deux-Églises. On the smooth French highway, the Aston reverted to its alter ego of relaxed grand touring car, purring quietly.

Champagne bottles lined up

The sublime tasting at the Deutz champagne house, France

Deutz is not a champagne house that is familiar to so many international wine collectors. It doesn’t market itself like the region’s more famous names. Perhaps it doesn’t need to, we reflected, as our taxi dropped us at the maison’s cobbled courtyard (the Aston having been parked safely at our hotel for the night). After a tour of the massive underground cellars, we were shown into a beautiful historical house, its decor preserved as the Deutz family created it in the late 19th century. The tasting room was really a garden room, looking out onto lawns and intricately planted borders.

A window with flowers behind it

Window views from the garden room at the Deutz champagne house

Deutz is about quality more than marketing – more than anything, we thought, as we were guided through a selection of the maison’s champagnes. The vintage rosé, 2013, was delicate, balanced, floral and beautiful. They only got better. The prestige cuvée, Cuvée William Deutz, had a power, a richness and a kind of nobility to it – the sort of champagne you would serve at the coronation of a king (a shame the French got rid of theirs), or perhaps at a dinner to mark the 200th anniversary of your watch manufacture. But it was another one of their champagnes that really got into our souls.

three wine glasses on a table

Tasting of Cuvée William Deutz and Amour de Deutz

Amour de Deutz is made from 100 per cent Chardonnay, the best picks of the white grape that the maison gets its hands on every vintage. We tasted the 2013, 2009 and 2008. They were sublime: complex nutty creaminess, a savoury edge, richness yet ethereal lightness and a kind of golden flavour. Each was more powerful than the last, yet as gentle as a butterfly. Featherlight yet eternal.

Read more: Great Drive: Santa Monica to Napa Valley, Califonia

The next day, powered by memories of the Amour de Deutz, we cruised back to the UK in the beautiful, purring Aston, a case of golden champagne treasure in its (small but adequate) luggage compartment. The perfect little grand tour in the perfect grand tourer.

Find out more:

astonmartin.com

cedrebeaune.com

champagne-deutz.com

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of LUX

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Reading time: 7 min
vineyards and blue sky
vineyards and blue sky

The Clos de Tart buildings and vineyard rising directly behind the local village

A celebrated winery is acquired by one of the titans of the luxury industry. After a subtle transformation, Clos de Tart emerges with refreshed ancient buildings and upgraded winemaking. Darius Sanai visits François Pinault’s flagship estate in Burgundy. Photography by Martin Morrell

In the heart of the little village of Morey-Saint-Denis in eastern France, next to the old church and across the road from the boulangerie, is a very old, important-looking building with an archway entrance and an arched window set high in the facade, a cross-shaped window above. The village ends at this building, and beyond it are rows of vines, striped laterally across a hillside rising to a forest above.

Clos de Tart written under window

The cross above the arched window, a reminder of the Cistercian nuns who ran the estate for centuries

This building is the winery of the Clos de Tart, a name close to the hearts of wine lovers, who for centuries have prized the Grand Cru Burgundy red wine made here in the vineyard behind. The vineyard itself is a monopole, an area owned by one single owner, itself a rarity in Burgundy, where patches of land are often split into strips for different owners.

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The Clos as we know it was founded in 1141 by winemaking Cistercian nuns, who ran it until the French Revolution in 1789. Their manual press, carved from wood like a giant olive press, is a highlight of any visit to Clos de Tart. The estate became even more celebrated in 2018, when it was bought by the Pinault family through its holding company, Artémis Domaines. Owners of Château Latour and Christie’s auction house, the Pinaults are also the second most powerful force in the luxury-goods group through a majority ownership of Kering, the group owning Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and many other premium brands.

brown roof with rows of vines

Views of the vineyard

Four years after the estate changed hands, I am sitting with Frédéric Engerer, CEO of Artémis Domaines and the man in charge of all the Pinault’s wine holdings, in an upstairs room in the winery, above a little courtyard, facing the vines. A refurbishment of the winery buildings has just been completed by Paris-based über interiors architect Bruno Moinard.

Details from the refurbishment by Bruno Moinard

The highlight of this gentle revitalisation is a tasting room on the upper floor of the main building, with windows looking out to the vines and trees beyond – a contrast to Burgundian lore that dictates that even the best wines are tasted in a damp, dark cellar with a view only of barrels.

beige stairs

Details at the estate

We are speaking ahead of a little concert planned at the winery that evening, featuring an octuor (octet) of musicians drawn from the Berlin Philharmonic and leading orchestras in France, an elegant celebration of the completion of the works. The Clos de Tart estate is another jewel in the crown of the Pinault family.

A cellar filled with barrels

The refreshed cellar, photographed by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Quite aside from its holdings in luxury goods and art, its wine group now comprises one of the great estates of Bordeaux, in Château Latour; two Burgundy estates (Clos de Tart and Domaine d’Eugénie), the leading white-wine estate in the Rhône (Château Grillet) and a highly respected champagne house, Jacquesson. What next for Artémis Domaines, I ask?

6 barrels of wine

The vat room containing the precious vats of Clos de Tart’s red Burgundy wine

After a raised eyebrow and a shrug, Engerer offers a little hint. “In Burgundy, we are so happy to be here in Clos de Tart, but we have only red wine with both Burgundy estates, so rebalancing the two colours a bit would be amazing. In the Rhône it is the other way around – only white…”

green bushes and beige buildings

Views of the vineyard and the restored buildings at Clos de Tart

We should keep tuned for developments, it seems. Lovers of Clos de Tart should be in for a treat because the aim is to make one of Burgundy’s great wines – albeit one that doesn’t achieve the prices and desirability of its most famous labels, like La Tâche or a top Grand Cru Chambertin – even greater. But Engerer also wants to speak about the wine being made now.

table with windows, chairs, wine glasses

Aspects of the revitalised tasting room and Old Press Room

Ever methodical, he first talks about the potential of the raw materials: the grapes grown in the 18.5-acre rectangle that is the Clos de Tart vineyard, just above us. At the foot of the slope, he says, “you have this reddish soil, it’s not very deep and there’s a lot of limestone underneath. And this makes the wines very delicate, very complex.

spinning wheel in dark room

The tasting room and Old Press Room are a pinnacle of the estate’s elegantly simple renovation

There’s probably more complexity on the north side and a bit more structure on the south side. But even with those north/south differences, you move up the hill and the slope becomes much steeper at mid-point, and then you have deeper soil, and that’s where the sun heats the vines more and gives you a style that is richer, deeper, generally ripening a little bit earlier, with more muscle. And the muscle is even stronger when you go south than when you go north.”

stone steps and brick walls lit up leading to an arched door

Modernisation of the historic interiors by Bruno Moinard,

If that all sounds a little mind-boggling, it is, and Clos de Tart’s new guardians are in the process of working out just what potential they are sitting on. Engerer says a key development in the revived winery is the ability to make wines from small individual parcels of vines in the different positions in the vineyard, all the better to judge the balance of the final blend.

brown sofas and a coffee table in a glass and stone room

Viewpoints of the historic interiors, refurbished by Bruno Moinard

For the wine lover, the difference is in the tasting. Clos de Tart has always been a great Burgundy. But that evening, after the magical concert and as a sunny evening turned into a deep blue night, guests tasted some of the great vintages of the past, including 1990 and 2005.

old sealed wine bottles

A selection of vintages of Clos de Tart Grand Cru wines

We were also given a tasting of the first vintage made by Engerer’s team, headed by winemaker Alessandro Noli: the 2019. Just three years old, this should have been shy and immature compared to the past greats, but it just seemed like a more layered, more precise, more delineated and more delicious progression of the same elements.

Read more: A Tasting of the World’s Greatest Champagne Houses

Apparently, as the team understands the natural resources they have on their hands more with each year, things will only get better. In the meantime, we are more than happy to settle for a few cases of the 2019, ideally sipped over a rendition of Mendelssohn by eight talented musicians from the Octuor Éphémère, with the slopes of the Clos de Tart as a background.

Find out more: www.clos-de-tart.com 

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

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An arrow sign saying 'Red Rock Terrace' with bushes and a pink rose
An arrow sign saying 'Red Rock Terrace' with bushes and a pink rose

Diamond Creek Vineyards was founded in 1968 in Napa, California. Image courtesy of Diamond Creek

Diamond Creek is a name that resonates among the most discerning international wine collectors. Its wines, made from fully organic vineyards with minimal environmental damage, combine distinctiveness, complexity and sophistication. Diamond Creek’s Red Rock Terrace, Volcanic Hill, and Gravelly Meadow, are all based on Cabernet Sauvignon, and all priced around the same elevated level, yet are subtly but distinctly different in character. LUX meets President of Diamond Creek Vineyards, Nicole Carter and Graham Wehmeier, winemaker at the estate, which is now owned by the Louis Roederer champagne house, for a conversation and tasting over Zoom

Graham Wehmeier, winemaker at Diamond Creek:

“One of the magical aspects of this place that you have, just a stone’s throw away, obviously different soils and very different wines as well. To the point where even if you are not a collector or a wine geek or you didn’t know what terroir means or you don’t care, you could still taste the difference [between the different wines], it is that clear from glass to glass.

A vineyard with a road curving round and trees

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Vineyard. Image courtesy of Diamond Creek

The vineyards are very different in terms of temperature, Gravelly Meadow being the coolest, Volcanic Hill being the warmest. When we taste them side by side, the hand print of the three vineyards is quite strong.

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The altitude difference is 30 meters between Red Rock and Volcanic Hill, the top of Red Rock is almost level with the top of Volcanic Hill, then they both go down to the creek, which is where Gravelly Meadow is. It is the lowest, that is also why it is so cool. The cooling down there is so noticeable, on a hot day.

The creek has a big effect, in terms of soil difference. The creek’s soil for whatever geological reasons really stops on the north side of the creek and then the red soil starts the south of the creek.

A house in the distance surrounded by grape vines

The Diamond Creek Winery. Image courtesy of Diamond Creek

I would agree that Gravelly Meadow has a taste of wet stones. I have no idea if it is something the grapes actually absorb; I would absolutely not rule out that grapes on rocky soil absorb the smell of those rocks, they are sitting there all summer long. It is very romantic, and one of the great things about Diamond Creek: Red Rock gives you these red earth flavours and Gravelly Meadow gives you these gravelly flavours and Volcanic Hill just tastes like a volcano in its flavour spectrum. ”

grapes on a vine

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Image courtesy of Diamond Creek

Tasting notes, by LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai:

We tasted the three celebrated single vineyards wines from Diamond Creek from the 2011 and 2018 vintages. 2011 was an interesting vintage in Napa Valley, relatively cool and wet, it was initially looked down on by some influential critics. But cool for Napa is not the same as cool in Northern Europe, and actually wines created by skilled winemakers from top vineyard sites were quite outstanding and balanced, suitable for palates that don’t want the fruit bomb type wines some Napa estates produce, particularly in hotter vintages.

Read more: A new photography prize for sustainability is launched

The tasting focussed on two vintages of its three celebrated single-vineyard wines, Gravelly Meadow, Volcanic Hill and Red Rock Terrace. Made from three near-adjacent vineyards, all based on Cabernet Sauvignon, they have very different characters, due to the differences in soil, temperature and aspect between the three vineyards, a perfect illustration that the concept of terroir can be as powerful in California as it is in Burgundy, where it reflects very distinctive wines, made from the same types of grape, from nearby vineyards.

A vineyard and a road

Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Vineyard. Image courtesy of Diamond Creek

2011 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow:
This is the vineyard by the creek at the bottom of the property, cooler than the others and as its name suggests, surrounded by stones. Sublimely balanced wine, with stones, slightly dusty tannins, cool blue fruit, a little meatiness. Improved for hours.

2011 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace:
Richness and tannin in balance, with an underpinning of medium-ripe, almost smoky fruit. Hints of freshly-rolled Havana cigars. More punch than the Gravelly Meadow, but beautiful equilibrium.

A black and white photo of a man and woman

Al and Boots Brounstein, founders of Diamond Creek Vineyards. Image courtesy of Diamond Creek

2011 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill:
Denser, lots of filaments of black fruit, plenty of power, and a wine that would match an umami cut of steak, like a bavette, with the acidity to match up to a cuisson a l’échalotte.

2018 Diamond Hill Gravelly Meadow
Lashings of stones, lots of blue and red fruits, a kind of transparent limpidity. A wine to enjoy by itself, and also one to keep in the cellar for as many years as you can bear as it will only improve. Pretty much unique: although if you are a fan of the great and classy Bordeaux second growths like Chateau Pichon Comtesse (in the same ownership), you will love this wine.

A vineyard with flowers growing on the side and sun shining on the trees

Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Vineyard. Image courtesy of Diamond Creek

2018 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace
Wow! Dense yet light, layers of opulence but with a kind of restraint that seems to be the hallmark of this estate. Porterhouse steak with mushrooms; or maybe even just the mushrooms, on a brioche.

2018 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill
A big wine with rich fruit, but balanced and defined, with definite tannic offset, in no way an unbalanced Napa cliche. Darkness and light in one wine, and so many layers. One to hang on to for 10 years, if you can find it, and if you can bear doing so. We don’t approve of foie gras, but if we did, we would recommend it as an accompaniment; as it stands, go for some marbled Wagyu beef, or a mushroom and truffle tart with a hint of olive oil from a single estate in Tuscany.

Find out more: diamondcreekvineyards.com

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entrance to villa
tuscan landscape

Dievole is surrounded by the endless green and gold hills of Tuscan legend. Photograph by Marco Badiani

The second half of our journey through Tuscany takes us to Dievole, a luxurious wine resort in the heart of the region’s famous rolling hills

Where

On a ridge surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and forests, in a wild part of Tuscany just 20 minutes’ drive from Siena.

The arrival

Dievole is surrounded by the endless green and gold hills of Tuscan legend. Arriving from Florence, you divert south towards Siena and turn northeast along a winding country lane, great houses appearing suddenly on hilltops, wild boars popping out of the vineyards. This is not a highly touristed part of Tuscany, you feel you are a visitor among locals, yet it is easy to get to Siena and the villages on the Chiantigiana trail. The last part of the journey takes you down a dust track to a tidy car park at the back of imposing stone buildings; there is also an old chapel opposite the pleasant reception office.

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italian villa

The Dievole winery and hotel. Photograph by Alexandra Korey

The views

This is deepest northern Tuscany, the land of Chianti and olives. The hotel’s main pool has an infinity edge overlooking vineyards and a forest in the valley; forest and vineyard extend for miles up ridges and down dells. There is another pool of equal size on the other side of the hotel. Above the pools and below the main buildings are grassy gardens where you can sit and have lunch or a drink on a wonderfully casual scattering of garden furniture. The formal terrace, for breakfast and dinner, sits behind one of the gardens and has a symphony of cicadas at night time.

Read more: Professor Peter Newell on why the wealthy need to act on climate change

The rooms

Modern Tuscan chic without trying too hard: high ceilings, plenty of marble and space. Some rooms have the same views as the pool, others look more inwards, but all are generous, genuine, authentic and light.

entrance to villa

views of vineyards and hills

The entrance to the villa (top) with views across the estate’s vineyards vineyards and the northern Tuscan landscape. Photographs by Alexandra Korey

Wining and dining

Breakfast is the standard Italian luxury fare of a buffet biased towards fruits and cheeses. Lunch was our favourite meal here, just sitting at a table on the lawn above the low wall, beyond which the ground dropped down into the valley below. The nearest other guest was 20 metres away; indeed, Dievole is a magnificent place for not feeling on top of anyone. For lunch, our favourite pick was a grilled turkey breast with a salad of local tomatoes, whose punchy flavours went with the flavours of the air.

Within a 20km radius of Dievole are some of the top wineries of the region and the hotel’s relaxed, professional staff seemed happy for us to sample their wares during lunch. Dievole’s own wines are served at the restaurant during dinner. Not as famous or profound as other local wines, theirs were well priced and a good accompaniment to the food.

The highlight

The views changing colour and texture daily; and the staff, who made things run beautifully without ever falling into the old Italian trap of getting in the way too much. Tuscany for true connoisseurs.

LUX rating: 9/10

Book your stay: dievole.it

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue.

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vineyards
vineyards

Harlan Estate’s vineyards in Napa Valley, California

Will Harlan is the second-generation managing director of California’s iconic Harlan Estate, maker of some of the most expensive and desirable red wines in the world. Over a Zoom tasting of the winery’s flagship wines, Harlan, who took over from his father Bill this year, talks to LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai about how to create a business for the generations

LUX: Your father Bill Harlan, who founded Harlan Estate, got into the wine business almost by accident.
Will Harlan: Yes, Harlan Estate is the first wine endeavour that my father founded, it got started in the early 80s and his vision for Harlan Estate evolved over the course of his life. He grew up in Los Angeles, not around wine, or anything, but he had the opportunity to go to Berkeley [part of the University of California].

During his college years, that he had heard about this place up north, where you could taste wine for free. They wouldn’t check your ID and he really enjoyed going up there as a college student and kind of developed this very fuzzy dream that someday, if he could ever afford it, he would love to find a piece of land, plant a vineyard, make a little bit of wine, start a family.

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He graduated and did a number of different things, but it wasn’t until he approached his forties where he finally had the wherewithal to be able to start thinking more seriously about this dream of coming to Napa. It was probably in the late 70s that he started coming up here and looking for vineyard land, not knowing anything about the wine industry, and through a certain series of events, he tried to purchase a piece of property.

man looking out over vineyards

Will Harlan, second-generation managing director of Harlan Estate

[Napa wine legend] Robert Mondavi really took my dad under his wing, wanting to show him the potential of Napa and that not all land in Napa is created equal. Robert understood how fuzzy this original dream that my father had was and maybe how naïve it was too, but he also recognised that my dad was genuinely interested in doing something in wine and wanted to help.

Mondavi says, “Bill, I know you’re interested in buying some land in Napa Valley, but not all land is created equal. I want to send you to France and really show you what some of the great wines of the world are all about, pieces of land that they’ve been able to capture and what sets them apart.” So he organised a trip for my dad to go to Bordeaux and Burgundy, made the introductions. At the time I don’t think the French wine producers were particularly excited about welcoming random Americans into their homes so it was really important that Robert was able to set this up. My father returned to Napa Valley with this drive, this new vision of wanting to create a “first growth” of California.

LUX: What is your personal vision for Harlan Estate?
Will Harlan: I’m very excited for the future. I feel like there’s so much potential. As a region, I think we’re really coming into our own, in terms of an international kind of understanding and recognition, but I also feel that there’s always the opportunity to understand your land better.

Read more: Product designer Tord Boontje on sustainable materials

LUX: How does Napa Valley compare to Bordeaux, or specifically your wines to top wines from Pauillac (home of chateaux like Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild)?
Will Harlan: We never like drawing comparisons. They are all different expressions of Cabernet and I think that’s wonderful. We have quite different climates. In Napa Valley, we have almost no rain during the growing season, but we have plenty of sunshine and the humidity is very low so we don’t have mildew issues. We have vines that get quite dry by the end of the growing season so we’ve got to focus almost all of our efforts on ensuring that all of our vineyards are used to this low hydration environment by forcing them to grow very deep root systems for example.

It’s very easy for us to ripen fruit. It’s never really a question whether or not we’re going to achieve ripeness. For us, it’s about aligning that ripeness at an earlier stage in the season before acidity begins dropping off and before sugars start to rise too much.

At the end of the day, the character of the two regions is quite different and I feel that the best thing you can do is to try to really understand your plot within your region and make it the best version of itself.

wine tank room

The Harlan Estate tankroom

LUX: We know some wine collectors who think about buying wine estates and then decide against it, saying they will be a money-pit..
Will Harlan: I’d say they’re probably right! It requires a lot more investment than people expect, but mainly, a lot more time. People who are very wealthy tend to understand return on investment timelines very well and once they start understanding what that means in the wine world, they think, “Right, you wouldn’t touch this.” So, I think it really comes down to what are your motives? Are you doing this because you happen to love wine and you love drinking wine and you think it would be fun and interesting? I would probably say  that’s not the ideal lens to approach getting into the wine industry. But if you’re ready to devote your life and your time and your effort, and probably more capital than you might think, then okay.

Read more: Is Germany the next global art hub?

LUX: How much harder is it to make a great wine at this level than a good wine? And what do you have to do differently?
Will Harlan: It probably comes back to my feelings on character versus quality. First of all, it’s about finding a piece of land and being able to capture that land to create a very distinctive wine. It takes a lot of time and resources, but you also need to recruit a team that has the capacity to really dive in and understand the land. You have to have one of the better teams around, but you also have to understand that it takes time, decades, even generations for people to truly connect to the land, to become familiar with the properties, the growing seasons and how they react to different weather environments.

LUX: We are tasting the 2006 Harlan Estate today – is that the year you started being involved in the family business?
Will Harlan: In ‘06, I was almost 20 years old. So, I wasn’t as involved in the family business yet, but I was always a little bit curious about the wine industry. I didn’t actually think I was going to go into it. I don’t think I had the perspective or the context at that age. On the other hand, it was the first year I worked harvest which was the start of my experience.

family on a lawn

The Harlan family on the lawn of the estate

LUX: And then we have the 2012. By then, you were then fully involved. Is that correct?
Will Harlan: I had started working on a little side project. I was living in San Francisco, working in the tech space and the consumer internet tech space. It turns out San Francisco is just close enough to Napa Valley to feel that gravitational pull I had already started to feel. I was curious about wine, and I was starting to attend a lot of the blending sessions that we had.

I had this idea of wanting to create my own little bottling. It didn’t have a label or a name. I was just bringing it to different social events. I ended up building that into its own proper label called “The Mascot”, which is made from the younger vines by different properties. That was the spark for me: getting to see that I could find my own entrepreneurial path within wine and the family business.

So, that’s what drew me in, but of course, I didn’t really have any credibility in wine world. You have to have worked a proper harvest. 2012 happened to be the year that I got really serious about joining the family business and so I spent that growing season in the winery. It was so rewarding and so fascinating to really understand the production side of things.

Read more: The gastronomic delights of Suvretta House, Switzerland

LUX: Was there ever a possibility given how close you are to Silicon Valley, that you might have just ended up there?
Will Harlan: Very much, that’s what I thought my life was going to be. So, I’m glad that I found my way back to wine, but the tech world has always been very interesting to me.  I got to forge a few really strong friendships there with folks that were at the beginnings of their path.

LUX: There’s quite a strong link between Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Napa Valley vintners…
Will Harlan: There is. I feel like we have two speeds: Silicon Valley moves extremely quickly and Napa Valley moves at the pace of the seasons. I think Silicon Valley oftentimes yearns for something that is connected to the land, something that is physical, something that has a visceral core to it, that connection to nature. But at the same time, Napa Valley can learn from the Silicon Valery approach to work. So, there’s a wonderful connection between the two.

LUX: Bernard Arnault [owner of LVMH and Chateau Cheval Blanc, Dom Pérignon and Krug champagnes, and many more] or Francois Pinault [owner of Chateau Latour, Clos du Tart, and many more] come to you and say, “Name your price. I want your winery.” What do you say?
Will Harlan: We never built any of this with the intention of selling.

LUX: I’m offering you $2 billion.
Will Harlan: We’re not doing this for the money. Before my dad was in wine, he was in real estate development. You can make a lot more money in real estate development than you can making a few thousand cases of wine. It’s never been our driving motive. And as I said before, you only really get into wine if you truly love it.

wine bottle

Harlan Estate 2006

The Wines (tasting notes by Will Harlan and Darius Sanai)

Harlan Estate 1994

Will Harlan: It’s always had a certain energy and an incredible density. It’s a very tight weave, not necessarily a heavy fabric, but the weave is very fine. It’s just beginning to soften, showing you a little bit of detail. We think it’s going to be one of our very long-lived wines.

Darius Sanai: Initial impressions are of a full bodied, fruit-led wine, but after a few seconds this dissolves into an array of lacy micro-flavours, from meats to dried fruit via summer blossom. Remarkable. As good as any top Bordeaux, except different, less stern and reticent, more talkative, but just as much of a polymath. Serve at a dinner with guests including Ptolemy, Queen Elizabeth I, Einstein, Jane Austen and Audrey Hepburn.

Harlan Estate 2006

Will Harlan: A cooler vintage. It’s taken a bit of time for this wine to relax. It’s still in the phase of being a little bit introverted. It has a certain herbal quality that I always recognise and I feel there is some wonderful detail in there and some higher notes.

Darius Sanai: This wine is all about potential. Like dining with a group of star PHD students from Oxford and Stanford. Enjoyable company now – it’s not closed down or dull – but you just know how much more it will have to say in 10 or 20 years.

Harlan Estate 2012

Will Harlan: This is a vintage very close to my heart. It was a very good growing season Wonderful. It always had this welcoming generosity. It is almost this kind of spherical experience on the palate. Very, very welcoming, very approachable and very seductive in a sense. Very plush and velvety tannins.

Darius Sanai: One to open when receiving the Marquise de Pompadour in one of your rooms at Versailles.

Harlan Estate 2016

Will Harlan: In the long run, I feel that this will be recognised as one of the great vintages of Harlan. It’s kind of like the 1994 in a certain sense. The winter before the 2016 vintage, we finally got some much-needed rain. It shows you so much detail and complexity, even though it’s quite young. It’s special.

Darius Sanai: An intellectual and a seducer: rich and rigorous at the same time. It doesn’t taste young, and it’s delicious now, but you know all its complexities will develop over the eras. A wine for the President to open to celebrate the US Tricentennial in 2076.

Find out more: harlanestate.com

 

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a horse in a vineyard
a horse in a vineyard
Cristal is the champagne of champagnes, and the new vintage is both brilliant and biodynamic. Give yourself a home-made health cure by buying and sampling, says Darius Sanai

Beetroot Kombucha. Acai beaker with a shot of charcoal. Turmeric, aloe vera and spinach booster shot. To these health drinks, we can add another: Cristal 2013.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

Cristal, as you all know, is the creme de la creme of Louis Roederer champagnes, made in a clear crystalline bottle, as famously favoured by Tsar Nicholas II before he graciously made way for 70 years of communism and prudishness. The bottle comes with its own UV-protective wrap (UV light is the enemy not only of your face on that yacht in Mustique, but of champagne) and in a presentation box; and probably unlike all the ingredients in those health juices, it is 100% biodynamic and organic.

bottle of champagne

Cristal 2013. Image by Emmanuel Allaire

Short of joining Elon Musk on Mars, there is no better way of looking after the soil than farming biodynamically. Not only are all pesticides banned as they are in organic farms; biodiversity is positively encouraged in Roederer’s biodynamic vineyards. Bugs and minibeasts roam free. Vineyards are ploughed by horse and fertilised by, ah, natural horse fertiliser. “It brings us close to the soil,” says winemaker Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon. Can the same be said of the spinach farms producing your green juice?

We were sent a bottle of this new release to taste. Rich and feather-light at the same time, it grows and grows as you taste it and is probably best sampled with a lightly sauced, line-caught sea bream at, say, Oswald’s. Cristal at best is a wine that improves for decades; and 2013 is Cristal at best, according to Lecaillion: “The Cristal of Cristals. It will age beautifully.” As long as you avoid being overthrown by some cultural revolutionaries in the interim.

Find out more: louis-roederer.com

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Man standing against pillar
Man standing against pillar

Matteo Lunelli, CEO & President of Ferrari Trento

Italian sparkling wine producer Ferrari Trento was founded in 1902 and is now under the leadership of the third generation of the Lunelli family. Following the recent announcement of the brand’s partnership with Formula 1, LUX speaks to CEO and President Matteo Lunelli about respecting tradition, sustainability and the challenges of the pandemic

1. How do you become Official Toast of Formula 1, as Ferrari Trento has just become?

Ferrari Trento has already been celebrated at many of the world’s most prestigious events. This includes being the Official Toast of the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles for the past five years and of the BNL International Tennis Tournament in Rome in 2019. The Formula 1 podium is one of the most iconic moments in the world of sport and has been a dream of ours for a long time which we are thrilled to now see come true. Formula 1 chose Ferrari Trento, firstly, because we share common values of passion and excellence, and also because Formula 1 is centred around innovation and looking to the future. This can be seen through this decision to go “beyond” the traditional choice of champagne, with a brand that not only offers a guarantee of quality but is also an ambassador of Italian style. We are thrilled to embark on this project as we strongly believe in the future of Ferrari Trento and in the dream that Giulio Ferrari, our founder, started over a century ago.

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2. You are the third generation of the Lunelli family to keep Ferrari Trento alive, and you have maintained many historic practices within the company. Are there any notable traditions that you needed to let go of?

Our goal is to innovate, but respect traditions. There are certain things that will never change at Ferrari Trento like the pursuit of excellence in every detail and the intimate link with our territory, because all our wines are made exclusively with grapes cultivated on the slopes of the Trentino mountains. On the other hand, we need to adapt to a market and a context that changes rapidly and, therefore, we constantly aim to innovate our business model. Over the years we have embraced digital media in our communication strategy, we have expanded to new markets abroad in order to grow our export sales, and we have moved to organic viticulture, putting strong emphasis on sustainable production.

Formula 1 sparkling wine

Ferrari Trento is the official sparkling wine of F1

3. Ferrari’s Trentodoc sparkling wines utilise environmentally friendly systems which heavily reduces water-consumption in vineyards. Is the wine-industry more broadly taking steps to become more sustainable? Should it do more?

We can certainly say that in the past few years the wine industry has significantly increased its attention to sustainability and I believe that this trend will continue even more in the future. This is especially important for high end consumers and wine lovers who not only look for excellent wines but also ask our companies to maintain an excellent behaviour towards stakeholders and to protecting the environment.

Specifically, the Ferrari winery is located in such a wonderful location that we feel even more duty to protect it and preserve it for future generations. Our strong commitment towards sustainability can be seen (amongst other actions), by the organic certification of all our estate vineyards and by the work carried out on biodiversity. Regarding water, as you mentioned, we utilise an innovative system of precision irrigation in order to reduce water waste. This system, developed together with a start-up called Blue Tentacles, uses a remote control to open and close the valves on the field, and optimise the use of water collecting data of the temperature and humidity through sensors located in vineyards.

Read more: Sophie Neuendorf on building a more sustainable art world

4. What are the biggest challenges that the sparkling wine industry faces today?

Sparkling wines are traditionally associated with conviviality and celebrations, which is the opposite of “social distancing”, and why the pandemic had such a strong impact on our industry. In addition, on trade is the most important channel for the Lunelli Group, and bars, hotels and restaurants being closed for such a long time in many countries has of course had an inevitable impact on our sales. We partially compensated the loss of the “outside of home” by increasing our retail and online sales for domestic consumption, however, we strongly believe that conviviality will soon come back, and we look forward to celebrations where people can spend time together again.

Vineyards

Ferrari Trento’s vineyards

5. Is Italian sparkling wine underrated?

Italian sparkling wine has witnessed an extraordinary growth worldwide in the past years, but I would say that sometimes the quality and excellence of Italian sparkling wine is underrated. Most consumers still do not fully recognise the diversity of our sparkling wine denominations which are made in different regions and with different methods.

It is by now evident between wine opinion leaders that in the sparkling wine space, just like in the still wine space, excellence is not a monopoly of one territory in the world. Italy, with the region of Trentino in particular, is in “pole position”, as shown by the results achieved at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships which saw Ferrari Trento crowned as the “Producer of the Year” for three editions. In 2019, Italy overtook France in terms of awarded medals, while in 2020 the competition saw a draw with 47 gold medals each. We hope to further excel the reputation of Italian fizz as we share our luxury wines on a wider scale than ever before through our partnership with Formula 1.

6. Where and when (apart from a F1 race) is the best place to drink your wine?

During a trip to Italy you can have a glass of Ferrari in some of the best bars and the most iconic travel destinations, however, first of all I would have to say in Trento, visiting our winery and enjoying what we call ‘a tour between beauty and taste’ on a lovely summers day, perhaps during harvest time. Here, we invite guests to have an all-round experience of the world of Ferrari, which begins with a tour of our cellars, where our Trentodoc wines mature gradually under the careful supervision of our winemakers. You can then go up the nearby hills to visit Villa Margon a 16th century mansion which is a treasure of art. The special experience concludes at Locanda Margon, our Michelin starred restaurant in the heart of our vineyards, where you can pair Ferrari with the creations of chef Edoardo Fumagalli.

In general, I think that the best way to enjoy Ferrari is to pair it with high quality food in a great restaurant or during an “aperitivo” with friends. I also love to think about sipping our Trentodoc bubbles whilst watching the sun set onboard a boat in the middle of the sea. However, more than anything, what will make the special moment is always who you will share your wine and emotions with.

Find out more: ferraritrento.com

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Landscape photography
Landscape photography

The view across the Rhine valley from Alsace’s Chateau de Haut-Koenigsbourg to Germany’s Black Forest.

LUX takes a journey from Alsace-Lorraine to Lake Constance, through a historic, beautiful, tranquil and gastronomic part of France and Germany that is curiously overlooked on the international tourist map

Location photography by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

There was a point at which, quite abruptly, the Autoroute A4, the east-west artery arrowing out of Paris towards Germany, became interesting. For hours before this point, we had been driving on a wide motorway flanked by flattish fields. Wind turbines and the occasional tractor were for the most part the only distractions from the monotony, with the exception of a brief section, near the city limits of Reims, where the vineyards of Champagne crept up an unexpected hill to our right. But the Montagne de Reims is better experienced in a glass than through the glass.

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An hour or so east of Reims, as if the gods of scenery had decided on a set change there and then, the highway swept to the left and up through a sudden forest on a long incline. The forest felt ancient, revealing glades and streams between its fronds, even when travelling at a cruise. There had been no warning of this scenery’s arrival, making it all the more compelling. In a few miles, a sign told us we were in the Forest of Argonne, known as the site of some of the worst battles of the first world war, and among oenophiles as the source of wooden barrels for some of the world’s great wines.

As if now trying to free itself from its straight-laced former self, the motorway writhed through a series of hills, along viaducts and across shallow valleys. We were now in Lorraine, technically part of the same, recently created region of Grand Est that we had been driving through for hours, but in reality a different part of Europe, historically, linguistically and, evidently, topographically. Lorraine, by itself or bound to neighbouring Alsace, is arguably as Germanic as it is French. Without crossing a border, we had changed nations.

historic building

Riquewihr, one of the historic villages on the Alsace wine route

We turned off near Verdun and followed a country lane that tracked a little river, turning left at a little junction and heading into the forest. Through a tiny one-horse village aligned along the road, and some wrought-iron gates, and we arrived at our overnight stopover, the Lodge Hôtel du Domaine de Sommedieue.

Read more: Why we’re dreaming of summers at Badrutt’s Palace, St Moritz

The reception area doubled as a restaurant, in an old building with a few tables outside, scattered across a lawn shaded by tall trees and bordered by a series of ponds. Our room, tidy, clean, well prepared and functional, was in a newly refurbished building a few metres away. The Sommedieue advertises itself as a fishing lodge, but we don’t fish, so we ordered a bottle of very good Côtes du Rhône from the receptionist/ waitress, who happily chilled out by the bar with her beau, with no pressure on us late arrivals to drink up and allow her to lock up. We drank the bottle, then another, at an outside table, alone with our thoughts and the plopping of fish, until a deep night-time absorbed us all.

lake with boats

Uberlingersee, the northwestern stretch of Bodensee (Lake Constance), in southern Germany, is an idyllic destination for summertime leisure visitors

The next morning the waitress had been replaced by the busy, jolly owner, who asked me which newspapers we would like. He placed a selection on a long wooden table inside the restaurant which he had festooned with a breakfast spread worthy of a still life: fresh, fat loaves, thickly sliced; home-made raspberry and apricot jam; slabs of butter; a bowl of apples.

We headed on, eastwards, through Lorraine, through forests and past rivers and lakes, still in France but with road signs reading as if they were in German: Harskirchen, Hirschland. Lorraine and neighbouring Alsace were at the heart of Europe’s history and wars for centuries, sometimes French, sometimes German, sometimes independent: they have seen peace only since the establishment of the forebear of the European Union after the second world war.

The town of Phalsbourg is bounded on one side by high wooded hills and on the other by meadows dropping down into the lowlands of Alsace. It sits on the border of Alsace and Lorraine, and we were there for its annual festival, the Festival de Théâtre. We arrived in the late afternoon, and walked into the central square, which with its gabled, almost Hanseatic architecture, feels like it belongs more to the Baltic than a country with a Mediterranean coast. We had a pizza on the terrace of one of the square’s handful of restaurants, while the festivities geared up; children and adults wearing the traditional red wandered by, eating candy floss and sipping on local wines respectively. A jazz band launched into a fabulous set as the day turned from gold to light blue to darker blue.

As the band finished, we climbed into the car and headed into the hills enveloped in deep forest and arrived, around midnight, at the Auberge d’Imsthal, a little inn set on a lake in the forest, ringed by hills. I sat on the balcony, listening to fish splashing and animals crashing through the forest, looking for shooting stars.

Church at night

Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church in Phalsbourg, a town in the hills on the border of France’s Alsace and Lorraine regions

The Alsace Wine Route carves its way across slopes lined with vineyards and scattered with Hansel and Gretel villages. The road is slightly elevated from the Rhine floodplain, and as you snake through the vineyards you see views of the deep blue mass of the Black Forest mountains. Halfway along the wine route, we stopped off at the village of Eguisheim, which sits amid its vineyards near the leading edge of a steep hillside leading up to the Vosges mountains.

Read more: Artist Marc Ferrero on his collaboration with Hublot

Eguisheim is tiny – the size of a city square in Paris or Madrid – but seems both eternal and infinite. Its narrow streets, lined by 500-year-old gabled houses, many of them in pastel shades, are arranged in an oval shape, with a breathtakingly bijou square with a fountain at its heart. We sat in a courtyard belonging to a wine producer and drank light, pure local crémant rosé sparkling wine, as the sky and the buildings changed colour and a cool breeze wafted down from the mountains as night fell.

convertible silver car

Mercedes S 560 Cabriolet

For our epic drive across Europe, we had a Mercedes S 560 Cabriolet, a big, handsome, luxurious convertible with seemingly limitless performance and the ability to whizz down any road in a ‘swoosh’ of power and smoothness. The armchairs cradled us like a jealous lover, and, with the roof down, their air-conditioning kept us chill when the sun shone, and warm at night.

The most memorable, and attractive, thing about the Swoosh-mobile was its effortlessness; the way you could fire it up and almost instantly be going at the speed limit, while it made bumps and bits of broken road disappear as if they were not there. So many fast cars these days are tuned as if they are going to be driven on a racetrack, riding down the road so firmly that you fear the movements on your expensive wristwatch will disassemble themselves every time you hit a bump, and making you fear for the integrity of the wheel every time you crash into a pothole. The S 560 is different: it is made to give its driver and passengers the most soothing drive possible, at a level of luxury that would have been inconceivable in a car only 15 years ago.

Read more: Entrepreneur Dr. Li Li on the importance of global relationships

If that makes it sound like the car is boring to drive, it’s not. There is a certain rakish, louche joy in whipping the roof down, cranking the concert-standard Burmester hi-fi up to high, and aiming down the road, elbow on window sill, the car emitting a deep, sonorous but quite muted gurgle. It responds well to changes of direction, not driving nearly as softly as its super-smooth ride would have you fear. Perhaps on a racetrack it would suffer against sportier rivals, but who takes this kind of car on a racetrack anyway?

It certainly didn’t suffer on the autobahn. Parts of German motorways remain free of speed limits, meaning that, once you spot the roadside sign telling you all speed checks are off you can go as fast as you wish without fear of being stopped or photographed by the police. As the autobahn descended from the Black Forest towards Bodensee (Lake Constance) on the final part of our journey, the no-limits sign appeared. The road arrowed straight down a gentle incline bordered on either side by meadows, with no junctions, and no traffic ahead of us. With the accelerator buried, and a rumble of chest-beating from somewhere inside the exhaust system, we surged, roof down, unstoppably, past an indicated 150mph in a matter of seconds. I finally eased off at 155mph when the wind above the open roof was at a severe hurricane level. The S 560 may be easy going, but it can also go.

car dashboard

Convertible sportscar

Such speed hastened our arrival on the shores of Bodensee, which is shared between three countries: Germany on its northern shores; Switzerland on the south shore opposite; and Austria at its eastern edge. Überlingen, on the German shore, is a small and historic resort town. That evening we strolled along the lakefront along a pathway festooned with gardens and small hotels, past the Strandbad (lake beach), where families were sunbathing, playing games and jumping into the lake, and to the centre of Überlingen. A row of cafes, restaurants and ice-cream booths faced the lake, alongside the pedestrian path; a passenger ferry docked, sending a mother duck and her ducklings into a tizzy and causing a passer-by to rescue a duckling which had jumped into a hole for safety. A ten-year-old brother and sister played trumpet and violin, quite competently, attracting a pile of donations for their bicycle fund. A mini beach-volleyball tournament attracted a small crowd, sipping local beer sold from a pop-up stand, on the waterfront. Überlingen is a special find, a tidy, beautifully preserved hark back to another era that feels all the more relaxing now because of it.

For our final overnight, we drove five minutes to the Park Hotel St Leonhard, on a gentle hillside, covered with meadows, orchards and vineyards, above the town. From the wide balcony of our room, the hill sloped down into the town towards the lake; across the two fingers of Bodensee, the lights of the settlements on the Swiss side lit up, the Alps forming a jagged graphic backdrop. The air was wet, herbaceous and grassy. This had been Europe, both new and old, at its very best; and sometimes true luxury cannot be measured by hotel stars.

Four Alsace wines to try

Alsace’s wines remain curiously undiscovered. Whites and sparkling dominate, all are fresh and sophisticated, some are sweet but others are dry, complex and fabulous value; and there are many good producers, keeping prices reasonable.

Domaine Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile
Rich, rounded, but bone-dry riesling with layers of candy and lime. Fabulous wine and value.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris
Sweet but not cloying, packed with a thousand fruit salads and much more. One of the greats.

Bruno Hertz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé
Heart-stoppingly pure sparking pink, simple and delicious, tasting of summer forest.

Domaine Hugel Riesling
Somehow unctuous and dry at the same time, stony with kiwis; older vintages can age beautifully.

For more information visit: mercedes-benz.co.uk

Note: This trip was undertaken pre-lockdown. LUX paid in full for all the hotels in this feature. 

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 Issue.

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Reading time: 10 min
Drawings of bottles
Drawings of bottles

Drawings for Ruinart 2020, by David Shrigley

Glasgow-based artist David Shrigley is best known for his playful and humorous illustrations, which are often accompanied by deadpan captions, commenting on the banality of contemporary life. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2013, and has had major exhibitions at the likes of London’s Hayward Gallery and Manchester’s Cornerhouse. Here, the artist discusses his creative process, the interaction of language and his latest collaboration with Maison Ruinart

Portrait of man

David Shrigley

1. Tell us about your concept for Maison Ruinart?

The concept behind ‘Unconventional Bubbles’ is about taking the viewer on an enlightening yet playful journey of champagne production whilst enhancing awareness about the environmental challenges that motivate and drive Maison Ruinart on a daily basis. The paintings also consider champagne production on a symbolic level. Like the fact that it is a living product and that it is made from a plant that grows in the ground. It is subject to the elements: to the soil, to the sky, to the weather, to the bugs that either destroy it or facilitate pollination. For me, there are may interesting metaphors there.

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There is a certain magic to it too, in which the micro organisms that make the bubbles create the critical element of the champagne. I like the idea that it is something from nothing, that it has to be kept in darkness and all these things have to happen in darkness, that they happen in a cave which is found under the ground. If you described champagne production to someone who didn’t know what champagne was, who didn’t know what wine was, it would seem like some esoteric activity.

Then, there is the idea that champagne occupies a special place within beverages, one synonymous with celebration, synonymous with luxury. This association with celebration connects it to the beginning and ending of things: the beginning of a marriage, or the end of a project. I’m interested in trying to find these metaphors, and the poetic aspect within the story of champagne.

2. What did you learn from the experience?

This collaboration has given me the opportunity to learn something about the complex process of making champagne and to make art that addresses that, to find a way to say something about that process. It is a voyage of discovery: I had no expectations, other than to learn something. The process was to visit Maison Ruinart, to speak to the cellar master, to speak to the people involved in the production so as to understand more about champagne production within the larger operation, which everyone is very passionate about. For me as an outsider—as someone who has drunk quite a bit of champagne over the years, and enjoyed it, including Ruinart – I have never thought that much about its production or how it was made.

Painting of bottle in blue

Ruinart 2020 by David Shrigley

3. Your images are often accompanied by lines of text – how does language interact with your art?

The interesting thing about working with Maison Ruinart is that it is a collaboration. It is a project whose criteria are ideal for a fine art commission. In terms of how I normally create graphic art, I start with a blank sheet of paper and my job is to fill that space with whatever comes into my head. Usually there is nothing in my head when I begin so I often write a list of things to draw: an elephant, a tree stump, a teapot, a nuclear power station etc. I have a motto: “If you put the hours in then the work makes itself”. Maybe what I mean by this is that artwork (or a least, my artwork) occurs as a result of a process. That process for me is usually to draw everything on the list. Once those things have been drawn the story has begun; more words sometimes appear; sometimes just the words on the list; sometimes more pictures; until eventually the page is full and the artwork is finished.

When I tell people about this way of making work they are sometimes impressed (sometimes not) and they say that it seems as if the work “comes from nowhere”. Having thought about this at some length, I have come to the conclusion that this isn’t the case. Art is not the creation of something new but the creation of connections between things that already exist. In this case the connection between the things on the list and the words used to describe them. But as soon as you make a statement about what art is or is not you almost immediately realise an exception to that rule.

Read more: Princess Yachts CEO Antony Sheriff on a new generation of yachting

Anyway, when making art on the subject of champagne production, one must make several visits to the champagne region. One must visit the crayères and the vineyards and the production facilities and one must ask questions of the people who work there and listen very carefully to what they say. And most importantly, you must drink some champagne. It also requires a different list of things to draw: the vines, the grapes, the soil, a bottle, a glass, the cellar master, worms, the weather etc.

One of the problems (sometimes it’s a problem) with my way of working is that when I say things through my work (the text and the image), I often don’t really know what I’m trying to say; I say it and then try to figure out what it means afterwards. Maybe it is like when a child is learning how to speak. I like to think that all artwork is a work in progress; the meaning develops and changes depending on who views the work and the context in which they view it. Meaning ferments like wine. I realise that what I am saying about the production is perhaps not what the people I have met at Ruinart would say about what they do. Maybe they might even have a problem with it. But I think it should be acknowledged that the fermentation process has only just begun and it may be some time before it is finished, if ever.

I made one hundred drawings based on my experiences of being at the House of Ruinart. The message conveyed through champagne and the brand is important. I need to start with those things. I made illustrations based on text and found a way to incorporate them into the work. But with the majority of the drawings, an image came first, and I thought about what the text should be after.

4. What role does humour play in your practice?

I guess years ago I was always keen to stress the work was incidentally funny and that I was trying to be profound and comedy was just a facet. Over the years I’ve come to realise that comedy is very important. The issue is people expect you to be funny all the time. I’m always keen to stress I’m not a comedian and I am an artist, which negates my obligation to be funny all the time. Comedy is really special and sublime. To explain why something is funny sort of pours cold water on it…

Globe

Ruinart 2020 by David Shrigley

5. How has the current global crisis affected your creativity?

I worked alone from home on smaller formats anyway so I’ve been making drawings for the last six weeks or so. I just worry about other people at the moment. Some of the work I’m producing now is influenced by the ongoing situation – or at least when I put it out there the viewer will associate it with that.

6. What do you miss?

I miss seeing friends and going to the football.

View David Shrigley’s portfolio: davidshrigley.com

 

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Reading time: 6 min
Vineyards pictured at night with orange sky
A woman jumping in a vineyard with a basket full of grapes

“I worked in nature as if it was in the studio. The vineyards seemed to me a very poetical, mysterious and playful environment.” – Marie Benattar

Louis Roederer makes what might just be the world’s most famous champagne, Cristal, and a range of others all renowned for their sophistication and complexity. Less known is the family-owned company’s visionary art foundation, and foray into the luxury boutique hotel industry. Darius Sanai speaks to CEO and 7th-generation family scion, Frédéric Rouzaud, about photography,
art, hospitality, and almost everything except champagne
Man in a suit and glasses standing in a hotel

Frédéric Rouzaud

Travelling from the heart of London to the heart of Paris is, in some ways, like stepping from one luxury universe into another. In Mayfair, every conversation is about money – what’s for sale, what’s being sold, who might buy what. A brand is a currency, there to have its value inflated and sold on to the next wheeler-dealer.

Paris may be the home of the global luxury industry, but despite this, or perhaps because of it, it is – mostly – not considered appropriate to have the same conversations. For every private equity group buying and selling companies like card sharps distributing aces, there is a celebrated company (don’t call them brands) that has been in family hands for centuries.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

This is one of the first thoughts that flows through my head when I meet Frédéric Rouzaud in a hotel lobby in the chi-chi 16th arrondissement. Through the Maison Louis Roederer, Rouzaud may be the family owner and CEO of one of the world’s most celebrated luxury brands – who doesn’t know Cristal, after all – but it’s apparent that this thoughtful, understated and gently smiling gentleman in a dapper suit is a different breed to many modern CEOs. Louis Roederer is a Maison, not a brand.

Photography by Michel Slomka

We settle in quickly to an easy conversation about art, and in particular photography. Recently, Louis Roederer invited young abstract artistic photographers to create images of the champagne house, its cellars and grounds, giving them carte blanche to interpret whatever they wished, however they wanted.

The results, which have never been publicly exhibited, are published on these pages. But Rouzaud, who expresses an enthusiasm for photography and 20th and 21st century art, is doing so much more in the world of art through the Fondation Louis Roederer (a private foundation), and has a plan to develop a collection of luxury boutique hotels. Here is a polymath who is plainly not interested in being pigeonholed. And, of course, the Louis Roederer brand owns several wine estates and makes some of the world’s most celebrated champagnes – not just Cristal, which needs little introduction – including a personal favourite, the complex yet ethereal blanc de blancs.

Abstract photography of women in white dresses

“I found in champagne perfect elements related to dreams… it appears as a perfect opportunity to explore a fairy direction.” – Marie Benattar

LUX: Tell us more about your hotel projects?
Frédéric Rouzaud: We bought our first hotel last November, in the Alps in France. A hotel seems far away from the wine world, but not so far when you look for a long-term strategy that you need to have for hotels. Like for wine, it’s about the French ‘art de vivre’. It’s about gastronomy, the experience and wine. My idea is to create a small boutique hotel collection, and also by having some private houses open to private consumers who would like to live a very nice experience around wine in our different properties. [Outside of Champagne] we have wine properties in Provence, Portugal, two châteaux in Bordeaux, one in California. The idea is to create a small collection either by buying hotels like we did in the Alps or by creating some hotels within our winery sites, which are generally very nice places to stay.

Read more: Wes Anderson & Juman Malouf curate an exhibition at Fondazione Prada

LUX: Will there be a particular aesthetic?
Frédéric Rouzaud: We will try to make people feel comfortable and at home. We will work with some designers that have this sense of conviviality, [to create] a nice experience. We will adapt to each place – the style, the sense of the place. It will be a five-star hotel that is casual and comfortable, family friendly.

Vineyards photographed at night

“I worked at night by the light of the moon. I have aspired to build mirage images in order to reveal what can not be mastered by man, the very power of nature. The artificial lights were developed to unmask ghostly presences, unreal scenes, dreamlike horizons.” – Lucie Jean

LUX: There is a very powerful partnership between your Maison and the art world. The photography for the prize that you do is very abstract. Is that something you initiated yourself and how has it grown?
Frédéric Rouzaud: The story started 20 years ago, when we met the president of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. They have a fantastic collection of more than five million images – old photographs from the beginning of the creation of the photography – but they didn’t know what to do with it because they are more book-orientated. So they asked us if we would be interested in helping them show the fantastic collection to the public. That is how we started our collaboration, and we did a lot of very nice and interesting exhibitions there. We sponsor all of the exhibitions and they are fantastic. It is a very serious, rigorous and interesting collection of photography with plenty of artists.

Aerial image of a woman sitting on curved steps

“Views from above of the symbolic interiors of Roederer were completed with images of starry skies from the vineyards. This face- to-face seemed to us to be a poetic metaphor for what champagne represents, a kind of cosmic union between earth and sky.” – Simon Brodbeck and Lucie de Barbuat.

LUX: What about the young photographers we feature here?
Frédéric Rouzaud: We asked the Bibliothèque Nationale de France to select for us eight or ten young photographers who went to Champagne; there was lots of creativity and they decided to photograph Roederer as their own perception.

LUX: What did you think of what they did?
Frédéric Rouzaud: I think it was great. I think it was so different and their approach was phenomenal.

LUX: You must have a personal passion for photography to give it such support?
Frédéric Rouzaud: I am interested by art and photography – because photography is really a contemporary art form. I think it is approachable for people who sometimes do not understand or find it difficult to approach contemporary art. Photography is always approachable, understandable… and I see a big future, a big potential for photography. It is a very nice, aesthetic art.

Vineyards pictured at night with orange sky

“The intervention of man gives a very graphic aspect to the vines. I sought, through the strength of this vegetation and nature,
visual haikus which would plunge us between the lines from what is immediately visible.” – Lucie Jean

LUX: Do you collect photography yourself ?
Frédéric Rouzaud: I have some, I don’t only collect photography – I collect many things. I buy lots of intuition and inspiration (laughs). I am not a collector in the sense that I buy everything, I am more for going into galleries on the weekends/ auction sales to see what is going on – I can buy photography, a chair, a lamp…

Read more: Geoffrey Kent on travelling beyond the beaten track

LUX: Does your foundation have a physical home that people can visit?
Frédéric Rouzaud: No, not yet. The purpose of the foundation is to help institutions and museums like Palais de Tokyo and Le Grand Palais to show to the public their fantastic collections. I think we are much more for that approach rather than to say, ‘Hey, look at my foundation, look at my collection, come and visit it.’ We are a small company, we are more for helping the French big institutions, like Bibliothèque Nationale, trying to choose the artists that really talk to us in a way – that is the first point. The second point is the different prizes that we have created now; we like to discover new talents. That is really the two things helping the institution with known artists – because there are lots of artists who we have sponsored who were known, but we also like to give prizes to new talents.

Dark image of a woman in the night picking grapes

“For me, photography is a way to discover and observe the world, to embrace its complexity without feeling too much gravity. It is also a way to take time, spend it and even try to stop it.” – Marie Benattar

LUX: Is the private sector becoming more important in supporting art?
Frédéric Rouzaud: Museums don’t always have the means to do these exhibitions for the public so they seem very happy to have that kind of foundation to help. I think it is very important, yes. Even if in France it is less usual to have funds from a private company or foundation like it is in the UK, it is very normal. But I think it is coming and definitely there are never enough funds to help art. If the approach is quiet, organised, long-term and focused on what we like, I think there is no reason that it doesn’t work, because again in our approach we are more behind museums that have the savoir faire, the connection. We prefer to be maybe a little bit behind the scenes.

LUX: Are wine and art similar?
Frédéric Rouzaud: Of course, there is a link. But I always say to my team, ‘Don’t consider yourselves artists. We are not artists. We are artisans, dedicated to nature, trying to interpret each year what nature likes to give us: climate, size of grapes, concentration…’ And we try to make, modestly, with that, a wine that we sell. Artists have total freedom. We don’t. We have to ferment the wine, we have to press the wine, it has to be vigorous. It’s close to the artists’ work – but we don’t have the freedom. The only thing you have to do as an artist is express what you have in your head. So there is a very natural link between the world of wine and the world of art, but we are not artists.

Portrait of a woman standing in front of a pink wall

“The need and the desire to create cannot be explained. It’s like a breath, a small voice and sometimes even a cry that animates you and takes you to creation.” – Laura Bonnefous

LUX: Is it true to say the world of wine is more objective than art?
Frédéric Rouzaud: Yes, in the world of wine we have to follow rules, some tools, some gestures. In art, you do what you want – you are much more free. We are free in the way that we are free to search the best soils to plant the vineyards, we are free to search the best way for pruning the vineyards, the way of fine-tuning our grapes, our methods, our pressing process, our fermentation, our storage – we are free for that. But at the end of the day, the focus has to be a bottle of wine that is appreciated by the consumers. An artist, if he makes something and it pleases collectors, it is good. If it doesn’t please them, it is fine also!

Read more: Spring Studios’ Founder Francesco Costa on building a creative network

LUX: With wine, is the product the most important thing? Or the brand?
Frédéric Rouzaud: (Laughs) The brand comes after the product, in our approach. We do small quantities, small production in our own vineyards. We don’t buy grapes, we don’t buy wine, so it is a small production and we produce a small quantity of wine – not enough for the world and we are fine with that, because we don’t know how to do more at that level of quality. For us the brand is more a Maison; it is a family-owned company and we make a product the best way we can and if it becomes a brand, fine! But we are not trying to make a brand and then make the product. We were founded in 1776 and my brothers and sisters have done a great job to make a brand today – called Roederer – but still the team is really not in that approach of branding. We are really behind our product, behind our vineyards.

Men throwing buckets in vineyards

“A Cristal bottle is transparent; I tried to make the production process transparent by highlighting the talented people working in the vineyard, the cellars, the factory, the office…” – Sandra Reinflet

LUX: Tell us why you chose Val-d’Isère for your first hotel?
Frédéric Rouzaud: Why Val-d’Isère? This resort in terms of value, authenticity, purity of skiing… it really is the resort in France, if you like to ski. I like to ski and I have been to lots of resorts in France. After testing Val-d’Isère you will be disappointed if you go elsewhere – if you like to ski. Plus the fact that it is a historic hotel, one of the first of the resort, and it belonged to a family – the same family who built the hotel.

LUX: How important is China for you?
Frédéric Rouzaud: It is small yet. We are very strong in Hong Kong, but China is quite small at the moment. First, we do not have the volume. Second, the market is very young. Sometimes champagne is considered as goods which should be offered for parties. I don’t know why – champagne as a commodity. In an emerging market like that you have to sponsor a lot if you want to be in some places and we are not in this game, because we do not have the volume. We have such a respect for the wine itself that we don’t like to give it for free. We only do it sometimes, as a special prize.

LUX: We were talking about biodynamics…
Frédéric Rouzaud: We are running the Cristal estate in Champagne, 100% biodynamically, it has been ten years now so we are very happy with it. I am not a technician, but I have tastes; the grapes and maturities, the balance of the grapes concentration, acidity, level of alcohol – and it is working very well.

LUX: What difference does it make to the products when you make it biodynamically?
Frédéric Rouzaud: It is difficult to express but I think it gives it more vibrancy, more life in the wine.

Find out more: louis-roederer.com

This article was originally published in the Autumn 19 Issue

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Reading time: 12 min
Ballet dancers in performance with a male lead
Portrait of Philippe Sereys de Rothschild sitting in front of a stone mosaic

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild photographed at the Grand Mouton residence

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, head of the Mouton Rothschild family wine empire, recently inaugurated a new prize for the arts. Darius Sanai celebrates with him and his family members on the night of the awards, and speaks to him about patronage, the wine world and running one of the world’s most celebrated family businesses

Photographs by David Eustace

It’s a cool, clear evening in the vineyards of the Médoc, the triangular strip of land that stretches from Bordeaux to the Atlantic Ocean, along the estuary of the Gironde river, and which contains the world’s most celebrated wine estates. From the terrace of Château Clerc Milon, rows of perfectly groomed vines stretch out to the left and right; immediately below the terrace, a lawn drops down along a path lined by exotic bushes, to a steel-and-glass marquee. Beyond this temporary structure, which was erected the previous day and will be gone by morning, are more vineyards, undulating up towards Château Mouton Rothschild, over the brow of a small hill.

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Bordeaux vineyard close up shot of green vines

The Mouton Rothschild vignoble in Pauillac

As the sun goes down, guests sip Rothschild non-vintage Champagne or glasses of deep red Château Clerc Milon 2009, chatting about the show they have just seen. Suddenly, there is a musical introduction and all heads turn towards the stairs leading up from the lawn, from which 20 or so beautiful young people emerge, with a mixture of shyness and performance, and walk two by two through the crowds before dispersing into smaller groups and chatting to guests over glasses of Champagne.

The new arrivals were dancers from the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux; earlier, they had given the performance everyone had come for, in the marquee by the vineyard, in front of 100 seated guests. The show marked the second edition of the biannual Prix Clerc Milon de la Danse (Clerc Milon dance prize), awarded by the Philippine de Rothschild Foundation to two outstanding dancers from the Bordeaux ballet. The two winning dancers, Alice Leloup and Marc-Emmanuel Zanoli, had been awarded their prizes at the end of the show; now, after a brief interval, they and their colleagues were emerging, perfectly attired for the evening, to join the soirée. It was a magical moment during a spectacular evening.

Facade of a classical wine cellar with a huge arched wooden door

Wooden arched door to a wine cellar

The private wine cellar at
Château Mouton Rothschild

The prize is the brainchild of Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, Chairman and CEO of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, and his siblings, Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild and Camille Sereys de Rothschild. When their mother, the legendary Philippine de Rothschild, passed away in 2014, they inherited one of the most famous empires in wine. Their company, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, owns Château Mouton Rothschild, one of the five ‘first growths’ of Bordeaux and among the most celebrated and expensive red wines in the world; Château Clerc Milon and Château d’Armailhac, also classed-growth Bordeaux châteaux; the Bordeaux brand Mouton Cadet, and much else.

Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, was famously fond of Brane-Mouton, as Mouton Rothschild was then known, and shipped some over to the nascent United States in the 1780s. But it was Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the grandfather of Sereys de Rothschild, who elevated the wine to worldwide fame, first modernising the estate in the 1920s and insisting on ensuring quality by bottling all wines at the Château, and then asking a different celebrated contemporary artist to create a new label for Mouton Rothschild every year. The labels read like a who’s who of 20th and 21st-century art: among them are Jean Cocteau (1947), Georges Braque (1955), Salvador Dalí (1958), Joan Miró (1969), Marc Chagall (1970), Wassily Kandinsky (1971), Andy Warhol (1975), Keith Haring (1988), Lucian Freud (2006) and Gerhard Richter (2015).

Portrait of Philippe Sereys de Rothschild with his daughter, Mathilde on their vineyard in Bordeaux

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild with his daughter, Mathilde

Grand garden with stone statue of a person leaning one hand on his head in front of a hedge

The gardens of the Rothschild estate

The Baron’s daughter, Philippine, strengthened the link with the arts – she herself had been a celebrated actress, and married one of France’s most famous actors, Jacques Sereys – while growing the business; and so, on this evening surrounded by vines under a sky washed by the nearby Atlantic, with stars emerging from the fading blue, it seems entirely appropriate that her children are both honouring their mother and supporting the arts with this new prize.

Read more: 6 reasons to buy a Hublot Classic Fusion Bucherer Blue Edition

Certainly, the winners seemed delighted: “I am amazed,” Alice told me, with a big, dimpled grin, her perfect, wavy hair and immaculate outfit belying the fact that she had been dancing on stage minutes previously. She was sipping at a glass of Champagne shyly, as if it were a rare treat to indulge. “It’s a great thing for them to do, although I never thought I would win. It just helps make all the hard work worthwhile.”

Ballet dancers in motion with one dancer stretching on the ground

Ballet dancers in performance with a male lead

Dancers from the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux perform at Château Clerc Milon

A statue of an elf sitting on top of a column in a smart stately gardenThe next morning, I meet Philippe Sereys de Rothschild in a drawing room at Grand Mouton, the family’s traditional residence, a few hundred metres away in the heart of Château Mouton Rothschild. The room is square and traditionally decorated; four chairs have been placed facing inwards towards each other. Between two of them is an occasional table, on top of which has been placed a tray containing still and sparkling water, small bottles of tonic water, and two halves of a lemon on a saucer. Sereys de Rothschild walks in, erect, greets us and offers us drinks, before settling down in a chair, squeezing one of the lemon halves into his glass of tonic water.

He was up, he says, until past 2am the previous night after the party ended, doing a debrief with his nephew Benjamin, who had helped organise everything. “Yes, last night Benjamin said, ‘We’ve got to do a debrief to know if it went well or not,’ and I said ‘OK, OK.’ So, we went through all the stuff that went well and didn’t go well, and it was the best time to do it because we had everything freshly in our minds. When people visit Château Clerc Milon they know it’s the family, they know it’s the Rothschilds. So, the standard is up there and you can’t disappoint them. Nothing is worse than disappointing people who have come to have a great evening and don’t have a great evening.”

All three of Philippine’s children were at the event; while Philippe oversees, Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild, his younger half-brother, is responsible for the collaboration between art and wine at Mouton, and gave a casual and touching tribute speech on the terrace the previous evening, after the formal speeches in the marquee led by Philippe.

Ballet dancers in motion, performing against a backdrop in pastel clothing

It seemed to be quite a grand success for an event that is so young, I observe. “It is a young event and it actually happened much more quickly than I thought it would,” Philippe says. “The Foundation was created in 2015 and we did the first Clerc Milon prize in 2016. We wanted to start the foundation with something local. That was very important for us. Something local, something artistic and something linked to live performance. And all that was linked to my mother, because my mother was very close to the theatre, the Opéra de Bordeaux. Brigitte Lefèvre (president of the jury of the prize and a former administrator of the Opéra Garnier in Paris) really came in very quickly. I gave her a call one day; it was very interesting, she was outside on the street coming out of a documentary on ballet and I said, ‘I’ll call you back’ and she said ‘No, no, no, don’t call me back – what do you want?’

“I talked to her about the prize and everything and I said, ‘I’m looking for someone who could chair the jury.’ She said yes immediately, and it was in November 2015, so it was very, very quick. She was able to put the jury together quickly because after 20 years at the Opéra de Paris, she knows absolutely the whole planet in her world. So, the first prize was awarded in July 2016 and we were very happy.”

It was Lefèvre, he says, who had the idea of the prize specifically supporting young dancers and those who “cement the group together”. “And don’t forget,” he says, “the Foundation only has been going for three years. When we created it in memory of my mother, everyone knew she was very linked to the arts. As you know Mouton is also very linked to art: wine and art, art and wine. We knew we wanted a foundation carrying the name of my mother, and with an artistic purpose. That was very clear. So, we started there.”

Read more: Grand Luxury founders Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien on curating travel

A Harvard MBA, Sereys de Rothschild worked in the finance sector on graduating; in the late 1990s he was chief financial officer (CFO) of an Italian subsidiary of what is now the Vivendi conglomerate. He then ran a successful private-equity fund and created a high-tech investment fund. Was he always fated to take over the family company, I ask?

“No, not at all,” he says, very definitely. “I don’t feel that family businesses have to be run by families. Family business have to have family values, family principles, family ethics, family identities, yes. But that does not mean they have to be managed by the family, which is a completely different thing. We could have said, ‘Managers manage and the family is just there to define the values, principles, identity and culture.’ It was a choice, because it’s true that the family is very much linked to this company, and it was a choice that I made, to say that I was ready to spend much more time with the company, to make sure that we develop it the right way. There is a lot of development going on now, and I thought that the best way to ensure the development was done the right way was to implant myself more in the company. But it could have been different. I did many other things in my life before – some environmental projects, I managed a software company, I developed schools, I did a high-tech fund.

“But I’m not doing it alone, even if I’m managing this company with the objective of developing it, I’m doing it with the family. They are all on the board and we all decide together, and we all take decisions together and we all decide on the investments and whatever we want to do, together. I’m there to manage it and for the leadership, but they are there with me.”

Facade of Château Clerc Milon in Bordeaux

Architectural photograph of stairway leading up to a landing with a hanging light

Château Clerc Milon is a different kind of château with a modern vat house designed by architect Bernard Mazières

Is it different, I ask, managing a family business to running other businesses? “Well, although I’m completely conscious of the fact that it’s a family business, I really try to manage this business by asking myself, whenever I take a decision, is it good or bad for the company? Period. Because otherwise, you mix everything up. Don’t forget that we have 370 people working in this company, so what is important is to make sure that the company lives on and that I pass it on to the next generations. If I start thinking to myself I should do things differently because it’s a family business, then you make the wrong decisions. You have to make a decision, as a business decision, as a company decision.”

A bottle of Château Clerc Milon wine with two full wine glasses in the background

The Château Clerc Milon label features a pair of dancing clowns made of precious stones

Has his experience in the broader business and financial sector helped? “I think what has helped me is working with people with very different profiles. That’s been the most valuable thing. When you go from an environmental project to working with software engineers, working with more high-tech people, working with people in schools, you get used to going from one profile to another and to working with very, very diverse profiles. So, I can talk with people in the vineyards and I can talk with people on the market and I can talk to the people with the Ryder Cup [Mouton Cadet is the official wine of the Ryder Cup] or I can talk with the manager of the Festival de Cannes. They’re completely different types of people and the fact that I have had my own professional experience before has helped me to really make the difference between managing people with very different profiles. That’s probably one of the characteristics of the wine business, is that you really go from the vineyard up to the end of the line, who can be art collectors.”

A large wine cellar with rows of barrels and a crested back wall

The wine empire’s crest on the walls of the cellar

Over the past 20 years, wine has made a transition from being a drink enjoyed by those with the taste and means to acquire good bottles, to a trophy with, at the highest level, an ever-spiralling price. A case of Mouton Rothschild from a good vintage can cost as much as a new compact car, or a haute-horlogerie watch. Is Sereys de Rothschild in the luxury goods business, I wonder?

“No. I don’t really know which business I’m in,” he says. “In other words, in some ways we are in the luxury business, in some ways we are in the collecting business, in some ways we are in the limited series business, in some ways we are an agricultural product, in some ways we are in the tasting and drinking business. Where are we? I haven’t got the faintest clue. But that’s what makes it exciting and very difficult because we are not a luxury product, but we are in some ways a bit of a luxury product.”

Has China, which has been at the heart of the soaring demand for fine wines, affected the way the company does business?

“I would say it has affected it in the right way. What I like about the Chinese market is that it’s really a market of people who like wine, who drink wine, where wine has become part of their life. When they need to celebrate something they think about wine, which is very important, and it’s become a market of people who know wine well and who talk about wine in a very intelligent way. And don’t forget that Chinese people are very sensitive to education, and you cannot understand wine without having some sort of an education process. There is an initiation approach to wine and the Chinese people have understood that. And when you listen to Chinese people talking about wine, some are astonishingly knowledgeable. It’s real wine market in the long term, and a market of real, high-quality wine consumers.”

The wine world has evolved in recent decades. Mouton Rothschild and its fellow ‘first growths’ remain at the top of the ladder, but competitors have arrived from Napa, Italy and elsewhere, and the mid-market, where Mouton Cadet sits, has never been so crowded. What are the challenges facing the business?

“Staying at the top, which is sometimes more complicated than one thinks. The exposure that we have in the media has been multiplied [by the rise of digital media], which puts more pressure on us. It makes us more well-known, but at the same time if you make a mistake or if something goes wrong everyone will know it, so it exposes you much more. But at the same time, it’s very exciting because you’re much closer to the consumer. If they open the bottle and they don’t like it, you know. And 20 years ago, we could guess, but we didn’t know. So, you’re much more in contact with the end of the line, than we were before. Which actually makes things much more rewarding because you know what you’re there for. You know that you’re there to satisfy customers, much more than 20 years ago. So, it’s actually a very rewarding thing and the digital revolution is for me, very positive. The more I hear about the consumer and the more I know the consumer is happy, the happier I am.

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“That’s the first thing. The second thing is that the market has become much more competitive, at all levels. In other words, it has become very competitive for Mouton Cadet because there are all the Italian wines, all the Australian wines, all the Chilean wines. So we have to fight for our space. But at the same time, it’s also true for cult wines and iconic wines. In other words, the first growths of 20 or 30 years ago were not quite alone, but the market was not too crowded. Today it’s getting more and more crowded. At the same time, it’s exciting because it’s a challenge and it puts pressure and you’re there to make things even better all the time.”

Château Mouton Rothschild has also been working to support the arts, in the form of the collections at Versailles, the legendary palace outside Paris. How do the two châteaux work in tandem, I wonder? “Mouton is linked to paintings, Clerc Milon is linked to dance. So that’s why we really have two very different things. Back at Mouton, because we’ve always been exposed to contemporary art, and it so happened that a certain number of artists that exhibited at Versailles – Anish Kapoor, Lee Ufan and Bernar Venet – also did the label for Mouton. We got in contact with Versailles and said, ‘Can we help you in any way with your contemporary art exhibitions?’ They were very enthusiastic and that’s what we decided to do. Without being immodest, Versailles is an institution, but so is Mouton in a way, although that’s not due to me, it’s been an institution since before I was born. Getting two institutions together that both represent in their own way the ‘art de vivre à la française’, I thought was… rather a great mix.”

There are sounds of activity coming from outside the room; Grand Mouton is gearing up for a celebratory meal with the jury. Sereys de Rothschild smiles as he shakes hands goodbye, and disappears through one of the doors for Sunday lunch with some leading lights in the arts, whom he is supporting. As I walk out along the perfectly raked gravel, and look at the immaculate lines of vine leaves alongside me, I reflect that the faces of the young dancers, the jury members and the patrons may be different, but everything they are doing is comfortably, commendably, consistent through the centuries.

Portrait of Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, head of the Rothschild wine estates

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild on his favourite vintage of Mouton Rothschild:

“It’s difficult! I could mention the greatest vintages: 1945, 1959, 1961. The trouble is, I drank bottles of 1961 when I was much younger – 18 to 20. I drank a bottle of 1961 for my sister’s wedding, and another on her 10th wedding anniversary. Some guests came from England and one person was born in 1961 so we opened a bottle. Each time was different, so how can I say which was the best 1961? The magic about these wines is that they are never the same. They are always fascinating, they are always fabulous. So, if you ask me whether I prefer the 1945 or the 1961, I’d give you one answer today, and a different answer in five years.”

Discover Château Mouton Rothschild: chateau-mouton-rothschild.com

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2018 issue. Click here to read more content: The Beauty Issue

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picturesque setting for dinner by the poolside at a luxury villa
picturesque setting for dinner by the poolside at a luxury villa

Friday night’s dinner is typically hosted at various wineries across the Napa Valley. Image by Briana Marie Photography

This month sees the latest edition of the annual Auction Napa Valley, one of the most lavish and interesting events on the world’s charity and wine calendars. LUX editor Kitty Harris, who attended last year’s event as a guest of honour, recalls about her time spent drinking some of the world’s finest wines, dancing the tango at sunset on a hillside vineyard and witnessing the enormous generosity of connoisseurs and winemakers alike over the four-day event

Setting my bags down in the quaint Sutter Home lodge is like stepping back in time to the 1970s – when Sutter created the first White Zinfandel, a style of cheap and cheerful wine which I suspect is not going to be on any of the menus for my next five days. I’m told that every evening I will get a bottle of fine wine to take to my room or to enjoy on the wooden white porch. I opt for a glass of the house’s Californian Riesling while I prepare for my evening of festivities; I am told to wear white for Argentinian tango and dinner.

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My host for the evening, Argentine Delia Viader, earned her title as the ‘Wine Mother’ after founding Viader in 1986 when she created her eponymous estate on the slopes of Howell Mountain, on the east side of Napa Valley, and soon gained worldwide renown for her highly-structured, Bordeaux-style reds.

wild party with gold streamers inside a luxury marquee

Guests dancing post live auction on Saturday night. Image by Briana Marie Photography

We are served Viader’s estate blend, made of 40 percent Cabernet Franc and 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, that evening; now ranking among Napa’s most esteemed wines, it is powerful yet restrained, a wine that combines California’s sunny fruit with a certain French hauteur. There is a mix of guests from around the world, and I (the only Londoner) sit around five tables with white table cloths below the shadows of trees for the evening meal. Argentinian style steaks and are served before we try our luck following the steps of the tango teachers. If there were any hesitations to begin with, all fears were lost as we happily swapped dance partners whilst the sun set behind the hills.

Auction Napa Valley is a phenomenon. The four-day fete raises money for 25 local Napa Valley nonprofits and strategic initiatives for the benefit of children and community health. Since 1981 they have invested $180 million into the area. The first evening, usually a Thursday, sees Napa’s vintners invite guests to dine with them at their estates. During Friday afternoon the live barrel auction is held at a different location each year depending on which estate hosts the events – this years is Charles Krug and last years was Francis Ford Coppola. Early Saturday evening the auction begins, prizes included a private dinner at The Restaurant at Meadowood’s Christopher Kostow, one of the youngest chefs to ever earn three Michelin stars’ and the chance to travel on the Coppola family’s private jet and a four-night stay at their hotel Palazzo Margherita in Italy. The event is attended by residents of Napa who range from Oscar winning director, Mr. Coppola, to venture capitalists Steven and Claire Stull and celebrities such as Oprah and Michelle Pfeiffer.

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Napa Valley Vintners, the nonprofit trade association who organise the auction, are my hosts for the weekend. Brian, my driver, picks me up the following morning for an adventure. We drive we pass a gigantic (35-foot tall!) stainless steel Bunny called ‘Foo Foo’, which I later learn was created by the English artist Lawrence Argent. This is one of the 35 pieces of contemporary art on show at the HALL winery. The 150-year-old site is owned by Craig and Kathryn Hall who compered a treasure hunt for us that morning. The 30 odd guests divided into groups and were given an iPhone with a pre-programmed game to follow. Tasks at different levels of the game included recreating your favourite music album cover – my team opted for the famous Beatles scene walking over the Abbey Road zebra crossing – and blending your own wine which was judged by the in-house wine maker. Sadly, I didn’t win, though I thoroughly enjoyed the vineyard’s classic Bordeaux varietals.

Francis Ford Coppola (director of ‘The Godfather’) and his wife, Eleanor and two children Roman and Sofia were the honorary chairs of the four-day fete. 2,000 guests frequented their historic Inglenook estate for the Napa Valley Barrel Auction which took place in the winery’s caves. The cool – in every sense of the word – atmosphere of the caves saw bidders vie for the 108 lots of 10 single cases of current Napa Valley wines. There was a buzz in the air, an energy and excitement that wasn’t just from the wines.

Man stands behind big silver bowls of tomato sauce

Saturday’s live auction with various festivities and food stalls

Outside in the mid-day heat, canopies kept the crowds covered and wines were flowing in areas according to their blends. Food stalls with grilled scallops, bursting with flavour, were served alongside freshly rolled sushi and tempura.

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For a little respite, I headed to Health Spa Napa Valley to revitalise before the weekend’s pièce de résistance: the live auction. Held at five-star hotel Meadowood Napa Valley, the host venue since 1981, the auction began under an enormous white tent in the theme of a 1930s nightclub, complete with a live jazz band. The top single lot was donated by Dalla Valle Vineyards: a week-long trip with the co-proprietor Naoko Dalla Valle to some of her favourite spots in her native Japan. Dalla Valle is a modern Napa legend, an estate situated on the Rutherford Bench, an area just above the river and below the steep valley sides on the east side of the valley, which some connoisseurs think of as the ‘first growth’ stretch of the valley, infusing its greatest wines with an almost imperceptible hint of ethereal ‘Rutherford dust’.

The highest-bidding lot was from Colgin Cellars, another Napa legend created by the redoubtable Anne Colgin, and included Colgin wines and trips to both Champagne and Napa. The bidding was vigorous with an astounding $15.7 million raised in one evening.

vineyard landscape with luxury canopy on a hilltop

The region’s stunning landscape provides the perfect backdrop for sunset dancing and wine tasting. Image by Briana Marie Photography

Following the live auction we moved to the garden for a candle lit al-fresco dinner of Italian family favourites prepared by Francis Coppola himself. The evening ended on the dance floor with a private performance by soul singer-songwriter Leon Bridges of Texas. The weekend went by in a flurry of excitement with a gentle buzz from the wines. And the fun wasn’t over: sampling cult wines from the Screaming Eagle winery, possibly Napa’s most famous (and most expensive) and the rounded hillside merlots from Shafer with the proprietors themselves was a privilege, inside the dreamscape that is Auction Napa Valley.

The 38th annual Auction Napa Valley runs from 27th May to 3rd June. For more information visit: auctionnapavalley.org

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