While the name Chateau Margaux might require little or no introduction to wine enthusiasts given its heritage spanning over four centuries, the people behind it are determined to get a piece of emerging markets, wherever they are in the world.
This is basically the job description of Thibault Pontallier, the representative of Chateau Margaux in Asia, who flew in from Hong Kong this week to host a wine dinner at Red at the Makati Shangri-La.
Together with Alexander T. Lichaytoo, president of Bacchus International Inc., Pontallier pressed palms and rubbed elbows with some of the country’s oenophiles who didn’t mind paying P15,000 for the invitational five-course dinner held on Tuesday.
Given how a bottle of wine from Chateau Margaux can cost anywhere from P45,000 and up, guests that included doctors, lawyers, bankers and even one senator may have gotten the better deal.
“The important thing to do now really is to build a relationship with our customers,” Pontallier said. “At this level of luxury, it is imperative.”
To do this, the company is focusing its attention on the Asian market because, said Pontallier, there are a lot of customers who have shown a real interest in the brand in the region.
“We need to be here because there are other winemakers from other countries that also want to grow their market. We can’t miss the train, so to speak.”
Sense of hospitality
To this end, Pontallier has taken after his father’s sense of hospitality. In the 2009 Oxford Film & Television production “The Faith,” broadcast on BBC, head winemaker Paul Pontallier hosted lunch for a Hong Kong businessman and his wife who reportedly had over 600 bottles of Chateau Margaux stashed away in their home. By the end of the lunch held in the stately mansion in Bordeaux, Mr. and Mrs. Tong were “sated” and gushing about their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Aside from hosting wine dinners, including one on a portion of the Great Wall of China, and another to raise funds for the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, the younger Pontallier continues to think up ways to get more people to know the brand.
His father put it best when he said toward the end of “The Faith”: “The quest for us is to hold up the image of Chateau Margaux as one of the best wines in the world.”
“It’s very easy to sell Chateau Margaux but we want to make sure that we partner with the best distributors who reach clients who make it a point to really enjoy our wines,” said the younger Pontallier. “We want to avoid those who buy with the intention to speculate and resell the wines later at a higher price.”
Every year for the past several years, Lichaytoo has ordered 10 cases of wine (120 bottles) from Chateau Margaux. The well-known wine distributor said there is virtually no risk involved as the wines are always excellent.
The three wines produced at Chateau Margaux yearly and in limited quantities are the top-of-the-line Premier Grand Cru Classe, followed by the Pavillon Rouge and the Pavillon Blanc. The vineyards are planted on only a third of the 262-hectare estate, as the soil is strewn with pebbles and gravel. While stony soil can be coaxed to produce grapes, there is one important element wineries cannot control: the weather. Too much rain can rot the grapes, while too much sun isn’t any better.
In the BBC film, Chateau Margaux owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos said matter-of-factly: “We deal with nature. We don’t create scarcity; we have real scarcity. You have great, great vintages and [then] you have lesser vintages. You’re not in control.”
Despite this, she and her small team, including Thibault’s father, remain cautiously hopeful that the grapes harvested annually will continue to yield quality wine well into the next century.