by Guy Collins
June 21, 2015
Chateau Pape Clement, a Bordeaux estate with roots from the 13th century, held its 2014 vintage price stable at 2013 levels as owner Bernard Magrez hailed a “return to normal quality” for the region after two difficult harvests.
While many top Bordeaux producers raised prices relative to the weather-hit 2013 wines, reflecting better conditions, Pape Clement went on sale from Bordeaux merchants at 49.80 euros ($56.50) a bottle, in line with the 2013s and down from 50 euros for the 2012s, according to Liv-ex data.
For Magrez, who owns 41 wine estates, including four Bordeaux grand cru classe vineyards, the positioning of his wine brands is key. While critics have judged the Bordeaux 2014 vintage favorably compared with the previous three, wines in the region still generally fell short of the quality set by the highly priced 2009 and 2010 vintages.
“Luckily it’s a good wine,” Magrez said in an interview at the estate during tastings of the 2014s this year. “2009 and 2010 were exceptional. We don’t need exceptional vintages every year.”
His company, with vineyards spread across southern France, Spain and Portugal as well as Bordeaux, produces 5 million bottles of wine a year, including 1.5 million of grand cru classe or cru bourgeois quality. Unusually for Bordeaux, his wines are strongly branded and advertised on local billboards.
“What is happening in wine is what is happening in fashion,” Magrez said. “In the mass market it’s a global combat, and it’s become a global combat at the top.”
While many Bordeaux wine estates are family owned and have been handed down through the generations, Magrez built up his holdings himself and brings a business rigor to his operations.
He left school at the age of 16 and started off as an apprentice learning how to saw wood. After a stint in a winery, he bought a three-person company importing port in barrels from Portugal, bottling and selling it in Bordeaux restaurants.
Magrez bought Pape Clement in stages, starting in 1975 and spanning four decades, although he has had control since the 1980s. It’s named after Pope Clement V, who installed the papal court in Avignon in the early 14th century and who owned the land before giving it to the Archbishop of Bordeaux.
Pape Clement mostly produces red wine from a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with small quantities of cabernet franc and petit verdot also included, according to its website.
The other grand cru classe vineyards under his ownership are Chateau Fombrauge, an estate in Saint Emilion acquired when a banker proposed it to him, Chateau La Tour Carnet in Haut Medoc and Clos Haut-Peyraguey in Sauternes.
"We’re the only ones to have four grands crus classes,” he said. “It’s very important.”
“What is the strategy? 41 vineyards are 41 different terroirs, 41 different emotions.”
Within his vineyard group, Pape Clement plays a flagship role. Once situated in open countryside, it is now surrounded by Bordeaux’s western suburbs as the city has expanded over the centuries. Its close neighbors are first growth estate Chateau Haut Brion and related property Chateau La Mission Haut Brion.
“There is a history,” Magrez said, seated at a polished wood table in one of the chateau’s high-ceilinged reception rooms, its formal gardens visible through the windows. “The first vintage was in 1252. It wasn’t yesterday.”