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Nicolas Glumineau: Roederer’s man in Bordeaux

After 18 months at the helm of Roederer’s Bordeaux estates, Nicolas Glumineau discusses key improvements at Pichon Lalande, the secret of success in St Estèphe and the importance of connecting with a new generation of consumers.

Having taken over the reins from Sylvie Cazes in November 2012, Glumineau told the drinks business: “They say as a general manager you need three years before you start to pick what you have planted so I really feel now that I’m in the middle of the river.”

With a role that ranges from viticultural and winemaking elements into more the more commercial areas such as sales and marketing, Glumineau’s responsibilities stretch from Pauillac second growth Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande to St Estèphe cru bourgeois estates Château de Pez and Château Haut Beauséjour.

Turning first to the jewel in Roederer’s Bordeaux crown, Pichon Lalande, Glumineau described a scene of “permanent renewal” in the vineyards and praised the “beautiful job” that Roederer has carried out since taking over the 89-hectare estate – relatively large by Left Bank Bordeaux standards – in late 2006.

This activity has included the creation of a geological map, which has enabled the team to understand which blocks are most suitable for specific grape varieties.

This step provided a natural starting point for Glumineau’s initial focus on joining the estate. “Once you have identified that, you need to do it,” he remarked. “I want to plant just a few more Merlot vines. We have some beautiful clay in some parts so Merlot does very well, but I do also want to increase the amount of Cabernet.”

On the winemaking side, a new vat room was completed just in time for the 2013 harvest. In place of the uniform 240hl tanks available before, the new facility offers a mix of 50, 70, 85, 120 and 150hl options, enabling plots to be vinified individually.

“That’s very important because when you have to fill a huge vat, you have to find 5-9ha in which the berries are very homogenous in terms of quality,” Glumineau explained. “I prefer making the blend after vinification.”

While this ability to be highly selective with small batches would have been beneficial in any year, it proved a particularly valuable asset in 2013. “We could not have figured it would be so useful so quickly,” remarked Glumineau.

With the estate’s yields in 2013 down by around one third to under 20hl/ha, these small vats enabled the Pichon Lalande team to transfer the same level of attention to detail that had been required in the vineyard and sorting table into the winery.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

“We knew there would be just a few cases so we knew it had to be good,” recalled Glumineau. “And that means a very strict selection.” To illustrate just how strict, he reveals that Pichon Lalande produced just one fifth of the quantity of 2012.

What’s more, from an estate whose grand vin is usually composed of 15-30% Merlot, the poor ripening and rot suffered by this variety in 2013 means that for the first time in the château’s history the final wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Despite this dramatic change, Glumineau insisted: “It’s not a different wine – that’s the magic of the terroir.” Indeed, like his neighbour Christian Seely at fellow Pauillac second growth Pichon Baron, he is full of praise for the results from such a challenging year, saying: “There is a tension, a precision – it’s the kind of wine I love to make.”

Even with the very different growing seasons of 2010, 11, 12 and 13, Glumineau highlighted the “certain consistency” that has begun to emerge in the last four years as the Roederer changes have begun to bed in. “There’s a real affiliation between those four vintage, you can taste it,” he insisted.

Given his previous role in charge of Château Montrose, Glumineau is well placed to understand the very different conditions that exist just a few miles up the road at Roederer’s St Estèphe properties, which are currently 10 years into a vineyard restructuring programme.

“The print of terroir on wines made in St Estèphe is the most important of all the prestigious Bordeaux appellations,” he maintained. “When everything is about red fruit in Pauillac, it’s about black fruit in St Estèphe – everything is deeper, darker and the wines are very, very intense.”

While this can mean that “some St Estèphe is very masculine, very strong and austere,” Glumineau suggested that “Pez is very different,” noting: “There can be something very charming in St Estèphe wines, velvet, power-like tannins, which is definitely to do with the amount of Merlot in the blend.”

Château de Pez

Elaborating on this theme, he remarked: “At the northern end of the Left Bank the key is to focus on the quality of tannins and the perception of tannin, first when you taste the grapes at the very beginning of harvest, then during the vinification to know when to stop the maceration. It’s also about how you manage extraction with the pumping over and again in barrel if it’s too tannic then it’s time to stop.”

Drawing a further contrast with the southern end of the Left Bank, Glumineau remarked: “In Pauillac at Comtesse you also have a the aromatic expression during vinification, but in St Estèphe it’s much more about the tannins – we know the aromatic expression will come as the wine ages.”

While emphasising that “there is no recipe” for any of the wines under his control, Glumineau noted: “We use less new oak in St Estèphe than Pauillac so we don’t add too much tannin to wines that are already very rich in tannins. It’s about making fruit juice not tea.”

Turning his focus to the commercial side, Glumineau noted that while Pichon Lalande is sold entirely through the Place de Bordeaux, the St Estèphe properties are handled directly through Roederer’s own distribution network.

While the French restaurant sector accounts for much of Pez’s production, Pichon’s prestige makes it a far more global proposition. “I want to be very very careful with the distribution of our wines for Pichon Lalande,” emphasised Glumineau. “I want to be very careful to respect all our markets, not just the new ones.”

Highlighting the particular value of the estate’s long-term following in the US and Europe, he continued: “I think it’s very important to respect those loyal markets that have been part of the history of Bordeaux.”

Across all these countries, from the US to the Far East, Glumineau picked out one significant shift in the consumer profile. “The age of wine lovers is decreasing, whatever the market,” he reported. “The people who are interested in great wines are younger and younger – that means we have to be educators and very respectful. That’s the pleasure in promoting wine, these discussions and exchanges.”

With this younger generation comes a challenge of working out how best to engage with them. “We have to find a balance between this image of tradition and being young in terms of our communication,” acknowledged Glumineau.

“We are in a transition from no communication to full communication, but we have to find a compromise. We’re very proud of our label, but should we tweet at the same time? Probably, yes.”

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