On his visit to India, I chat with Hubert de Boüard de Laforest about his beloved Château Angélus; about India, about the year he got 100 points from Robert Parker, and how Angélus dethroned the vodka martini as James Bond’s favourite sip.
Three years ago on a visit to Saint Émilion, that gorgeous medieval UNESCO World Heritage village on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, I was fortunate to get an appointment for a visit and tasting at the iconic Grand Cru Château Angélus. As we waited outside for our visit to commence, the bells of Angélus came alive, pealing forth the majestic notes of the Indian national anthem. What an unforgettable welcome – thrilling and (I must confess, though they do it for most visitors) quite emotional. More delight was to follow during the Angélus winery tour, ending with a fabulous tasting in the sunny tasting room, overlooking the newly renovated gardens of the château.
For those who want to get a quick refresher about Angélus, here is a brief snapshot: elevated to the topmost levels of the Right Bank pecking order in 2012 – Grand Cru Classé A, Angélus is a family-run estate owned by Hubert de Boüard de Laforest and his cousin Jean-Bernard Grenie, now joined by the youngest (8th generation) cousins, Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal and Thierry Grenié de Boüard.
Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, besides being winemaker of an emblematic estate famous for its Cabernet Franc-dominated wines (most Right Bank wines have a higher percentage of Merlot), is regarded as one of the most knowledgeable winemakers in Bordeaux. Not content to administer to his own many estates, de Boüard consults as a flying winemaker to a mind-boggling 84 wineries in France and around the world, some as far afield as Lebanon. This is what gives him both the knowledge and indeed, a 360 degree vision of the world. Tutored in oenology at the Faculté d’Oenologie in Bordeaux by the legendary Émile Peynaud, de Boüard likes to refer to himself foremost as a man of the vineyards: this is where he is happiest. Nonetheless, what is evident is de Boüard’s ability to combine his expertise in the vineyards with marketing savvy.
Before sitting down to a superlative Chateau Angélus-paired dinner at Le Cirque at The Leela Palace, New Delhi hosted by Delhi oenophile Rajiv Kher, I had a chat with de Boüard .
Why India? Why now?
I last visited India 12 years ago, and there have been big changes. But this is a good question: why India? I was faced with the same question when I visited China years ago – I was the first one to visit there from the Right Bank (of Bordeaux).
I do believe India is the new market for the great wines of Bordeaux. I can feel the interest in wines here. People always ask, “now which is the new market for Bordeaux wines?” Many say South America. I don’t know. I believe the world is changing, changing fast. And France and India have always had good relations and no negative history.
We expect to come back every one or two years until the markets will open more…
With Asia looking to buy more Bordeaux, and Bordeaux looking for new markets, how do you intend to supply any growing demands for Chateau Angélus? With your second wine, Carillon d’Angélus, or perhaps through some other strategy?
For Angélus, there is nothing we can do to increase production, but I’m expecting more Carillon in the next few years to help. I do believe Asia will be a growing market, not only for Bordeaux, but for all other makers of good wines.
I have spent the last 30 years trying to be one step ahead of the others, and I think this will carry us through. It’s about education and awareness-creation, so we are optimistic. We know our own vineyards and our quality is always consistent – our brand creates our confidence!
What has happened with the US politically, with Brexit, and in France and Europe with the rise of the extreme right; it’s all a little scary, and it is not the way we like it. I love Asia, and I know our wines. So far things are okay for Bordeaux, but who knows for the future?
After all, wine is a necessity in life – it’s a pleasure. If something bad is happening in your life, wine isn’t a priority.
Pragmatically spoken. Now I can’t resist asking my favourite, if rather unfair question: which is your own favourite Château Angélus vintage? I ask because there are so many great ones. Could it be the 2005, which was famously awarded 100 points by Robert Parker?
Do I have to pick? Then I’d say the 1989 and the 2009 are my favourites.
Of course, ’05 has got 100 points from Parker, and yes, I’m happy for that. But I didn’t really work for that 100 point rating. It was an amazing vintage; that year I felt there was a direct link with God. Everything happened at the right moment – Nature and God were with me that year.
I say 1989 because I started working in the vineyards in 1985, and ’89 was my first vintage. I found what I wanted with Angélus. So this vintage is very special to me.
And 2009, was to me, more elegant and rich a vintage than any other. It was a perfect Angélus vintage.
Tell me a little about Bellevue, your little 100% Merlot 6-hectare estate. It’s such a gorgeous little vineyard making such gorgeous wine. I remember it so clearly from my tasting at Angélus. Yet, not as well-known, being in the shadow of Angélus.
Château Bellevue is surrounded by great growths on every side (Château Beausejour-Duffau and Château Angélus are both next door), but it is the most amazing terroir for Merlot. There’s a story about us de Boüards and Bellevue. In 1937, my grandfather wanted to buy it when it was up for sale, but he could not. France was just recovering from the Great Depression, his sons were very young and he had responsibilities. I was 3 years old when he passed away. Again, in 2007 it came up for sale. This buy was very emotional for me – the price by now was very high, but I had to buy it because my grandfather yearned to. Now I could say I fulfilled his wish after 70 years!
The soil is clay and limestone – the roots of the vines go very deep, and the colder clay keeps the freshness in the grapes. Like Pétrus, which is also on similar clay, and also grows 100% Merlot.
I love Cabernet Franc, and Angélus is known for favouring this grape. We tried growing Cabernet Franc here (at Bellevue) but with no success. Merlot gets a softness here, a velvety style which is so elegant.
It’s my passion to be great in both the vineyards and the cellar. Angélus is in the kingdom of Merlot (the Right Bank), but we grow Cabernet Franc which is so important to the style of Angélus, which I liken to a carpet of cashmere.
Don’t laugh, but I want to talk about Château Angélus and its association with the James Bond film franchise. I think it’s a masterstroke of marketing and so well done, as brand associations are so strong in the Bond movies. Will you tell me how it happened? The famous train dining car scene in Casino Royale where Bond and Vesper are drinking Angélus is quite a significant one.
Of course I don’t mind (smiles). It took some time to happen. In Casino Royale, the bottle of Angélus featured for a whole 7 seconds – that’s a lot in film time. In the latest Bond movie, Spectre, it is there for one second – you have to be quick to catch it!
It’s actually a nice story. I like the movies….
Fifteen years ago, I met this guy who was responsible for placing brands in movies. During a conversation, he mentioned he had placed Bollinger (champagne) in the James Bond movies. “But it’s very difficult to do,” he told me. I didn’t think about it after that, until 7 years later he suddenly called me to say that Barbara Broccoli, the producer for the Bond movies was a lover of red wine, and one night over dinner, the subject came up: why not place a red wine in the movie? On hearing about Angélus’ interest, she went into her cellar and brought out a bottle of Angelus to drink and said, why not?”
On hearing that I flew down to London to meet her for lunch. At the end of the lunch she asked me what price I was willing to pay in order to place Angélus in the next Bond movie. I told her that we are a family brand, we cannot pay big money. So she said okay then I’d like to invite you to Pinewood Studio to watch the filming at least. A limo came for me, and I spent a full day at Pinewood. Over lunch we discussed wine, and shook hands – a friendship was formed that day and it all happened just like that. It’s not a contract, just a special relationship – and wine!
People ask me, “Do you need Bond to make Angélus famous?” No, I don’t but look at it this way – even people who don’t drink wine know about Angélus after Casino Royale. They discuss it, they dream about it. As a name it becomes international and important.
If you do open a bottle of Angélus on an evening, what would you eat it with? Your preferred pairing?
Veal. It’s tasty but not too strong. It’s a refined meat, so perfect to go with Angélus – maybe a veal with mushroom sauce.
The de Boüards also own a restaurant, Logis de la Cadène, in the charming, historic village of Saint Émilion with its winding, steep cobblestoned roads and antique buildings. Here, it was difficult to score a table even before it gained its Michelin star earlier this year. Logis retains a captivating old world charm and its food is outstanding. Bocuse-trained young chef Alexandre Baumard leads the kitchen brigade. Try the foie gras and pâté topped with green apple gelée – unforgettable!
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