Before attending the Master Class on Cru Bourgeois du Médoc French wines with Jay Youmans, I had the opportunity to speak with Frédérique de Lamothe, Directrice of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc. During the interview Madame de Lamothe discussed some of the more interesting aspects of representing this unique collection of Bordeaux wines from the Médoc region of France. The superior designation of these wines has undergone changes. Due to new stipulations estates in the region have their wines chosen and designated based on an objective quality selection procedure. From what Madame de Lamothe told me, this is a new way to standardize the wines’ caliber and distinguish them for their excellence.
Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Frédérique de Lamothe. I have been the Director of the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc for the last eight years. Before that I was in the luxury jewelry business [reputedly working with Tom Ford at Gucci], and I worked in Paris. After I married, I moved to the Bordeaux region of France which is wine country where the vintners are numerous. It is there that I joined the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc and have enjoyed being with them for eight years.
What can you tell us about your adventures with the organization? It has gone through some interesting changes.
Adventure is a good word because it is always an exciting adventure to be with them. I am working with the Cru Bourgeois mansion (many wineries noted to be Cru Bourgeois). Now, you must understand that this is an historical mansion…The Cru Bourgeois mansion is centuries old. The challenge was to take this historical mansion toward a new and modern marketing style which would seamlessly bring it into the 21st century. So it was really interesting to reflect on the products of the association and the chateau and to guide them through the dynamic transition from the past into this modern transposition.
What is the association focused on now with the labeling?
The first endeavor of the association is to develop a procedure which maintains superior quality along the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc. The association is guaranteeing a high caliber of wine for the consumer. That is why five years ago we created a set of standards based upon a procedure of selection. The selection encompasses three main principles. We first appointed an independent body to control the quality at each stage. The criteria had been established in advance and the requirements had been set to make sure there was no conflict of interest.
All of this encompassed many pages of documentation. It’s kind of challenging for the wine producers. But it is important that they know exactly where they have to go in terms of clearly recognizing the standards so that they can meet them.
After that there are manual controls for the blind tasting. This is also challenging for them, perhaps even stressful. However, it is very important to achieve a level of quality with each of the chateau wines. The result is a good one. The wine market established is very happy to get a family of products which are guaranteed based upon high standards and controls. This raises the bar for the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc insuring they are superior wines.
Is everyone who applies accepted?
No, for sure, they are not. The critical point is difficult, but that is the only way. If you make a selection, it has to be a real selection. First, as a chateau, each estate can preselect and submit 100 percent of their production for a set vintage, or less if they are not compatible with the whole quality of wines in a particular year, because we check the general quality of the vintage. That is why we see the difference in the official selections of the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc. In certain years you may have around 28 million bottles. However, in the 2009 and 2010 vintages they were able to present 100 percent of the production because the quality was very good and they had 32 million bottles.
What did it take to bring this exhibition of wine here to the states? Also, is this the first time you are here?
Here in the Consulate General of France, yes. But for New York, once we felt we were secure to come back to the U.S. market when the control quality procedure was in place, we started to alert the press people and some sommeliers. This was two and one-half years ago. We also hired a PR agency because we consider the U.S. market to be a main market for the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc. So we organized a trade tasting last year in April. This is the second tasting in New York City. We are also going to organize a trade tasting in Chicago as well as some press interviews.
What is the impact of social media on your production, producers, and this tasting?
I think this is a good opportunity for us. We have around 300 chateaux among the association. It’s like having 300 spokespeople. No? Each time one of them is posting something on Facebook or Twitter, you can resend information and it benefits the entire association. It’s creating the opportunity to be more visible because we are numerous in the family. It’s a good means to increase the visibility of what we are doing now. It’s easier because the U.S. market is a huge market. There are a lot of people and different profiles of individuals. We do not have any financial means to advertise like a big brand name does. So social media is helping a lot.
I’m glad you’re saying that. Because there are pockets of individuals, for example in mainstream theater, who don’t yet understand the benefit of social media. The wine industry is getting it. What’s happening is the young people who are social media savvy are entering the markets. They want to find drinkable wines and they love quality. If they see something they like, immediately, they post it to friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
We have created a Twitter account for the U.S. market and have posted information in English. We post a variety of information for those into wine in the U.S. market. That is the reason why we created the account. And we are going to organize some virtual tastings, thanks to the PR agency also. The first one will be organized in September. And then we will follow up organizing more tastings in three or four months afterward.
Great! Please let me know when these virtual tastings will occur. What is important is for those who enjoy wine to be educated about great wines. I have gone to a number of tastings and the thrust has been that the more educated the consumers are, the more interested they will be. Could you talk a little bit about how you educate people about Cru Bourgeois du Médoc?
You bring out an excellent point. First it’s important to bring information to the people who know about wine. It’s important that individuals who have the skills to differentiate great wines from mediocre wines are informed about Cru Bourgeois, which are quality, fine wines. We are getting information out to the ones who teach in culinary and wine schools, in the oenology clubs, in universities etc.
So an important part of our program in the last two years has been to increase our number of ambassadors. We are doing training in Harvard, the law part of Columbia University and elsewhere. And it’s really important that we continue to develop those contacts. And we have individuals who in September will be transmitting information about the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc. It is a step-by-step process that these people share the information with others. It is very important to present interesting facts about our great wines to these individuals, the educators, the sommeliers, the restauranteurs and others in the wine trade, including those who love and buy wine and even have their own wine cellars.
What you are doing is establishing a solid foundation so that exponentially the word gets out. What would you like my readers and followers to know about this tasting and the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc?
We organized this tasting in a special place, the Consulate General of France in New York City. It is a beautiful, historic and important venue. The French Consulate represents and highlights the role of the longstanding relationship between the U.S. and France. Venue is important for a number of reasons. You can’t be in the same hotels where various other wine tastings are held. The Consulate is our identity. We want to share that these wines are French wines. They are unique, they are of high quality. Also, the Cru Bourgeois wines are very traditional. They are part of a historical mansion/chateau. We felt it was vital to symbolize this. There is no better place to convey the history and relationship than at the Consulate General of France.
After that the second important factor is to be in a place where the perfect conditions are respected for the tasting. For this I mean the clarity, the control of the temperature, the perfect storage of the wines in the right conditions. To produce a great tasting, these conditions must be met. That is what we are always looking for. And we were assured they would be met here.
How did you get the estates/mansions to come? You opened it up and they made the decision? How did that occur?
Yes, it was their decision to come. We contacted all our members and some applied and were able to come. We organized the full package if they were coming and if they were interested in marketing their wines. It’s a growing phenomenon because today you have between 180 or 190 Cru Bourgeois du Médoc distributed already in the U.S. market. You can find these wines in the U.S. This is not a new brand name. The market is sure in terms of the distribution. The products are there. But it is a sleepy princess. You have to re-explain who the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc are, though they have been around for many decades. The U.S. has been a key market from the beginning. It’s just a matter of getting the word out to the young people, to the young sommeliers who teach about Californian wines and other wines but maybe not the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc.
So we have to take time to meet people and talk to them and take the time to explain what the Cru Bourgeois are. And I really think that the quality and the guarantee with each vintage together with the idea of their historical value and great prices are a draw. The prices are very stable whatever the vintage is. You can find Cru Bourgeois du Médoc from 20 Euros up to 50 euros, sorry, U.S. dollars, but now the Euro vs. the dollar is practically the same. So it’s interesting. This is a product with a long history with a superior quality check. Additionally, you will find a sticker on each bottle which verifies that the wine meets the set standards, so that it is a good product to buy and to sell and to drink.
You mentioned going to Columbia and other universities. What about, for example, culinary schools like the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America?
I am pretty sure we have done something already, but I’m not sure if we have presented information about the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc there. I know we have been in contact with various schools, but I’m not sure of the dates and the specifics.
Thanks so much. I enjoyed speaking with you and look forward to the master class and learning about the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00N42QDB6][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00HHH069Y][amazon template=iframe image&asin=022601469X][amazon template=iframe image&asin=0764553542][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00MHIKMFQ]