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Q&A: Jonathan Maltus, Château Teyssier

The Lagos-born owner of Château Teyssier in St Emilion bought Le Dôme in 1996 and became a ‘garagiste’ like Jacques Thienpont at Le Pin. Maltus went on to became the first Englishman to score 100 Parker points for Le Dôme 2010.

Jonathan Maltus

What’s the mood in Bordeaux as we approach the 2014 en primeur?

The general sensation is upbeat. We have a very good vintage –the best since 2010. So that’s a good thing. In addition there’s a bit of it. Again, good!

Is there an acceptance the system hasn’t really worked for the last few years?

It really depends what level we’re talking about. The top 30 Châteaux have little difficulty selling in any year, certainly to the Place. They possibly need to heed the call for pricing to be based on 2008 but, at our level, we’ve been on that pricing level for the last couple of years. The UK, for the upper strata of the estates, has reduced in importance, I’m given to understand, as Asia now heads directly to Bordeaux for its purchasing. Below the level of the top 30 Châteaux I believe that people need to be given a reason for buying wine before it’s in a bottle. We have for the past 18 years given a discount of 20% on anybody who gives us money in advance and the day we go into bottle we put our prices up by that amount. I don’t think it’s an accepted practise here, though.

With no Parker this year – will Neal Martin mean ‘lower scores – lower prices’?

Obviously it’s a big loss to Bordeaux, but Neal has been ‘doing’ primeurs for 18 years now, so I would think that he’s the best guy for the job. There is a precedence to this. As you know Stephen Tanzer has, for a number of years handed over to Ian d’Agatha to do en-primeur but has retained the in-bottle gig. The impact on us personally, as you know, was when Robert Parker gave us 100 Points – but that was in bottle. We’ve been asked to get the 2012’s and 2005’s together for him.

What of Parker’s comment: ‘The Bordelais this year have more pressure than ever, with three unsold vintages in their cellars’?

Sales of any wine, anywhere, can go through difficult times. However the USA, the UK and Asian economies appear to be on an upward trend and that should affect all luxury brands. Wine from Bordeaux should be no different – indeed it has a major advantage in that respect.

How was 2014 for Cabernet France thinking of Le Dôme?

This is a seriously good Cabernet Franc year. The balance between fruit and structure should see a rich, balanced, Le Dôme.

As a once leading ‘garagiste’ – has the movement completely died?

I think it’s generally accepted that the Right Bank ‘garagiste’ period lasted until around 2001. The trade (particularly the UK) then went back to the Left Bank and the Cru Classe estates. I’m pleased that le Dome was one of the three ‘garage’ wines that have gone on to be ‘proper’ wines! For the 1990’s we concentrated on winemaking, and from 2004 we started our Single Vineyard orientation with the emphasis of ‘terroir’ – but in a kind of Burgundy definition of the word.

Are you in line for a Parker upgrade on any past vintage?

When I met Robert Parker after he gave us 100 Points for the 2010 Le Dôme, I thanked him. He replied “don’t worry Jonathan, it’s downhill from now on’. So my expectations are, as you will understand, low (!), but I’m hopeful for our 2005, even Château Teyssier tasted good last Friday.

What are the most exciting export markets for you right now? 

The USA and Asia. In neither area does the fact that we’re not classified and make modern-style wines (because that is the style of Bordeaux that I like) handicap us.

And … have you ever sold wine to Nigeria, having been born in Lagos?

I nearly did to the son of the ex-leader of Biafra, but at the end the price was too expensive for his market (they have large taxes and buy a lot of their wines from South Africa). If you know anyone, let me know!

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No