Champagne Louis Roederer, producer of the prestige cuvée Cristal, has added a Bordeaux négociant to its line of businesses.
This week, Roederer announced it had bought a controlling interest in Maison Jean Descaves, a small but prestigious merchant house in Bordeaux. The négociant's network of contacts, plus its stock of old and rare Bordeaux, particularly interested Roederer, according to spokesman Michel Janneau.
Maison Jean Descaves built a reputation around the world by buying and selling rare and fine château-bottled Bordeaux. The firm is famous for its A-list of classified-growth châteaus that allocated wines to the late Jean Descaves and later to his wife, Jeanne. Jeanne Descaves, who headed the firm following the death of her husband, in 1968, died last December at age 97.
Champagne Roederer has acquired 55 percent of Maison Descaves, while Bordeaux négociant Jean-François Moueix's Groupe Duclot bought 45 percent. The Moueix connection appealed to Jean-Claude Rouzaud, president of the family-owned Roederer.
"Jean-Claude considers Jean-François as a kind of symphony conductor in Bordeaux, and he has a lot of respect and admiration for him," said Janneau. The Moueix family owns several top estates, including Château Pétrus, which is managed by Jean-François' brother, Christian.
Maison Descaves also attracted Rouzaud because, like Roederer, it was family-owned, with a long history. Madame Descaves, remembered by some Bordelais as "La Grande Dame," became a négociant in 1921, when she and her husband bought the former Maison Fernand Richon, which was founded in 1790. She helped change the emphasis of her husband's company from cheap bulk wine to top château bottlings.
Louis Roederer, founded in 1776, is one of the few Champagne houses to remain independent. Last year, Roederer, which owns 500 acres of vineyards, sold 250,000 cases of Champagne for about $66 million.
Roederer already has investments in Bordeaux. The house purchased two estates in St.-Esthphe, Château Haut-Beausijour and Château de Pez, in 1992 and 1995, respectively. Roederer also owns Champagne Deutz, Port maker Ramos-Pinto, Rhtne producer Delas and Roederer Estate, a sparkling wine producer in California's Anderson Valley.
With his latest investment, Rouzaud shows his continued commitment to an eclectic growth strategy that goes well beyond the borders of Champagne. "Descaves is a little jewel on the Bordeaux marketplace," said Janneau. "The idea is not for Roederer to become a big player in Bordeaux, but just to be an actor."
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