Mergers and acquisitions isn’t exactly the kind of talk wine consumers want to have. (Nor writers, for that matter.) Boardroom decisions don’t have the panache of what goes on in the vineyard or into the bottle. But they affect the business just the same.
I sat down with Jean-Pierre Durand in my office last week to get caught up on one of the latest business moves in the wine industry—the merger of the Laroche and Jeanjean wineries.
The Jeanjean name might be less popular with consumers, but the family owns the very solid Clos de l'Oratoire des Papes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape as well as the Ogier line of Southern Rhône wines, Michel Cazes in Rivesaltes, Rigal in Cahors, and Château Gassier in Provence (not to be confused with M. Gassier in Costières de Nîmes), among others.
All told, the merger will pull together 1,450 hectares of vines which represent 190 million euros of wine sales annually, creating the fifth-largest wine producer in France. Big groups and big numbers sometimes unnerve people in the wine industry, who think that quality can only come from a small, artisan production model, but Durand sums it up matter-of-factly.
“In today’s world, to make quality wines, it takes a lot of money," he says. "So you’ll probably see more mergers like this in the future.”
The new group, now named AdVini, will set up its own agency in the U.S. and then work with individual importers for its various properties. For his part, Durand will shift from the business side of the company to focus on the vineyards in the Rhône for Ogier and Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes. Durand, who serves as president of the Ogier/Clos de l'Oratoire des Papes end of the group, wants to expand production by working closely with more growers in the Côtes du Rhône, while focusing on Grenache, a grape he thinks still sits in the shadow of Syrah.
“Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a very well-known name now and a safe place, so to speak,” Durand says. “The real opportunity, and the place that needs help too, is the Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages, where there is some excellent terroir for grenache, a grape that needs to be expanded and developed in the market.”
In Châteauneuf, Durand has recently purchased 2 hectares in the sandy soil Pignan lieu-dit and is looking to add more from the clay soils around Bédarrides, which will balance with the limestone-dominant portion that Clos de l’Oratoire already has. In addition, he plans to add to the 60 hectares of vines in the Côtes du Rhône that currently go into the Notre Dame de Cousignac label.
“After 20 years of managing and selling, it’s going to be fun to get back to the land,” Durand says.
And that, ultimately, is where the quality of the wine is determined—whether it be from a large group of wineries, or just a single small property.
[You can now follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1]
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