Wine Business Decisions; from Head to Heart
First published in the Gilbert & Gaillard International Magazine
Clément Fayat, best known as president of the multi-billion civil engineering group BTP, bought his first vineyards in 1969, the 23 hectare property of La Dominique which neighbours one of St Emilion’s most famous properties, Cheval Blanc. Bought initially as an investment opportunity, over the years, he has become sentimentally attached to his vines and has added two more properties; Château Clement-Pichon (Haut Médoc) and Château Fayat (Pomerol) to his portfolio. Today he says that he would never part from them. His sons who work with him, Jean-Claude (53 years) and Laurent (44 years), are even more attached to the family vines, having been brought up with the properties and their wines since childhood. He did not have such a background.
Born in the Corrèze in 1932, the oldest son of five children, Clément Fayat’s father worked as a stone mason. It was basic Vin de l’Hérault wine that accompanied his childhood, drawn from a 110 litre barrel in the cellar, consumed quickly and in quantity as a beverage by the older generation.
First contact with Bordeaux wine
Fayat’s links to the Bordeaux region go back a long way. It was in 1957 that he settled in Libourne and worked as a contractor in the construction business. It was not until during his national service in the Gironde at the age of 20 that he first tasted “proper” wine. “In those days I had nothing to compare the wine to, no comparison, so it was difficult to be able to really tell the difference. I sought advice on what to put in my cellar, from my fellow compatriot from the Correze, négociant Jean-Pierre Moueix based in Libourne.” As his business developed he was encouraged to invest in vineyards. Coming from the construction industry and being a self-professed “man of the earth”, a square foot of land meant more to him than a square foot of vines – “on s’attache à la terre” so he resisted for a number of years until his purchase of La Dominique in 1969.
Coup de Coeur for Clement Pichon’s Architecture
For this “homme de batiment” however he had a “coup de coeur” for Château Clémént-Pichon based at Parempuyre in the Haut Médoc, not for its terroir but its architecture. He had never before seen such quality of construction of stone and wood. He purchased the property in 1976 but insisting on buying the château along with its 25 hectares of land, knowing that its vines are would give its life and durability. It became his permanent home.
Future Wine Tourism plans
He admits that with all of his other business interests, his vineyards in the past have not been his priority. Today that has changed and 79 year old Fayat claims he has never been more motivated. Under the direction of Yannick Evenou, his new right hand man for the past two years, he has big plans for each of his properties communicating their true potential and value.
The most ambitious plans are for Château La Dominique where a multi-million euro project is underway to build a new cellar and wine tourism site designed by one of France’s premier architect, Jean Nouvel (originally from the area but today world renowned). The design includes a 400m2 open terrace on the top of the cellar with views of La Dominique’s illustrious neighbours; St Emilion’s Figeac and Cheval Blanc and Pomerol’s La Conseillante and l’Evangile.
Fayat is looking to expand the size of his current properties (particularly the 23 hectare Clément-Pichon in the Haut Médoc). Here he is also developing a wine tourism site to make the most of its location close to Bordeaux. He is also looking to invest in very high level property “at the right price”, finding current prices ridiculous. One of the France’s most successful business men is now turning his focus to his wine properties combining the forces of his head and his heart. We have not heard the last of Vignobles Clément Fayat.