A Wake-up Call for the Petits Châteaux of Bordeaux

You will certainly not have heard of Château Béard La Chapelle, Grand Cru St Emilion despite the fact that it has been in the same family for nine generations passing from father to son over the years and that is located just outside of the world renowned medieval village of St Emilion.

Part of the reason is that many small châteaux such as Béard La Chapelle have been in the past cocooned, selling soley via Bordeaux’s wine merchants, the “négociants”, which isolated them from the market.

Things are changing in the wine estates of Bordeaux. The region of 10,000 chateaux, still many small family-owned particularly the smaller ones, have woken up to the reality of today’s competitive world wine markets.

A new generation is taking over and are having to improve their wine and radically change the way their family wine is sold. Today they have no choice but to try to sell, at least a part of their production, ‘direct’. For some properties it is too late. Securing foreign markets is long term, takes time and requires new skills to vine growing and winemaking; an ease with languages, communication face-to-face and on the net, commercial and marketing expertise.

A big shift is underway but there is a lot of ground to recover. In the case of Béard La Chapelle there are 30 years to catch up on.

Thirty-three year old Franck Moureau is the winemaker and manager at Béard la Chapelle, an 18 hectare property in the small village of St Laurent des Combes. Neighbours include well-known names such as Château Bellefont Belcier, Larcisse Ducasse, Tertre Roteboeuf. Franck joined his father five years ago. It did not take him long to recognize the potential but also the ground he had to recover. The aim was to make a wine worthy of its prestigious “terroir”. “It has been a slow process” he says, “you have to be patient before seeing the results and as it is a family property you have to take time to introduce changes”. Vineyards were in need of replanting, the winery was in need of modernising, new barrels to be bought, additional work in the vineyards such as leaf pulling and green harvesting to put in place.

He is now aided by his sister Laurence, also in her thirties. She started with reworking the basics; a website, brochures and revamped the packaging with a new smart black and silver label and capsule. Her main remit however is to develop the customer base. With little collateral and an empty contact file, the challenge has been a big one for both brother and sister.

In terms of finding customers, they decided to start with emerging markets attending wine fairs organised by Ubifrance and Sopexa in Asia (Shanghai,Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul) and also in Mexico and Russia. Today they are making steps into the more traditional markets in Europe and abroad.

There has been help at hand with substantial grants for travelling costs of selling trips and recently they heard that they were accepted for a 30% EU grant for rebuilding the winery. Things are moving in the right direction although the figures do not yet stack up.

They remain optimistic. It is the start of a new era at the property.  “Every day I walk my vineyards” Franck says” We have 18 hectares and each plot is different. We have very good “terroir” for making a very good wine. The past two vintages 2009 and 2010 of Béard La Chapelle, the wine is beginning to be what it should be, full of the rich purity of fruit of the Merlot grape.” A Grand Cru.


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