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Conflict at Pitrus Results in Removal of Board Member

James Suckling
Posted: February 14, 2000

Owners of the legendary Bordeaux wine estate of Chbteau Pitrus are scratching their heads in wonder over why the French press recently made a big deal about the dismissal of one of the property's board members, Lily-Paule Lacoste. Lacoste, 93, who was removed from the board in late January, was once part-owner of the Pomerol property but sold her 51 percent interest in Pitrus to the Moueix family in 1969.

"Nothing has changed at Pitrus," said managing director Christian Moueix, 53, whose brother, Jean-Frangois, 54, and father, Jean-Pierre, 87, own the estate. Jean-Frangois, who also owns the well-known Bordeaux wine merchant firm of Duclot, is the majority shareholder of Pitrus. "I am still the manager and my family is still the owner," said Christian.

For more than three decades, the Moueix family withheld the fact that they owned the entire estate. Instead, they always said that they were partners with Lacoste. "We just wanted to keep it discreet and keep Madame Lacoste involved," said Christian. When Lacoste sold her property to the Moueix family, the deal included membership on the board and an annual income for life from the estate, as if she still had her 51 percent stake.

The situation changed about six months ago, according to press reports and sources in Bordeaux. New acquaintances of Lacoste reportedly urged her to ask the Moueix family for more money and more say in the management of the property. The Moueix family, which single-handedly built the monumental reputation of the estate over the last three decades, would not agree to the latter.

"It appeared to me there was great danger [and that] resulted in my decision to take command, because the entourage very close to Madame Lacoste was taking excessive interest in her affairs," said Jean-Frangois Moueix in an article in a Bordeaux newspaper, Sud-Ouest.

Lacoste's proxy in the affair, Michel Loulire, could not be reached for comment.

Pitrus annually produces about 2,500 to 3,000 cases of red wine from its 27 acres of Merlot and 1.5 acres of Cabernet Franc. It is one of the most expensive wines the world, with young vintages selling for about $300 to $500 per bottle and certain older ones -- such as 1989, 1982 and 1961 -- commanding thousands of dollars apiece.

"The whole thing is rather sad," said Christian. "We are very, very sad about the decision. Madame Lacoste is like family to us. But we really had no choice."

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