Frenchman Thomas Duroux, who has been the winemaker at Tuscany's famed Tenuta dell'Ornellaia since 2001, will become director of Château Palmer next month.
His appointment marks the first time that the Bordeaux third-growth, which is co-owned by 22 members of families that include the Sichels and Mähler-Besses, will be headed by an outsider. Duroux, 34, will replace managing director and co-owner Bertrand Bouteiller on July 1.
During his 42 years at the helm of Palmer, Bouteiller, 65, oversaw important changes at Palmer both in the vineyards and in the winery, which was updated in 1995. Bouteiller also replanted parcels with the most suitable grape varieties.
Douroux's multinational experience and academic credentials convinced the Palmer shareholders who interviewed him that he was the best candidate. "It's not so much the Ornellaia connection that impressed us as Duroux's knowledge about vineyards and his experience in winemaking and marketing," Bouteiller said.
"I was lucky to work around the world with Americans, Hungarians, Bordelais and Italians, so I learned different approaches to the wine business," Duroux said. He will work with Philippe Delfaut, who remains technical director.
Duroux, who holds degrees in agronomy and enology, apprenticed at Château Léoville Las Cases, a second-growth in St.-Julien, in 1994. He worked in Hungary's Tokay region for two years, then returned to France. Starting in 1998, he worked three years for California-based Robert Mondavi Corp. in southern France, first as winemaker of the Vichon Mediterranean brand, and later on a project in the town of Aniane that had to be abandoned because of strong local opposition.
The Mondavi family had purchased a stake in Ornellaia, which they now co-own with the Frescobaldis of Tuscany, and they brought Duroux on as winemaker in 2001; later he was also placed in charge of the vineyards.
Palmer is legendary for the finesse and elegance of its wines. Englishman Charles Palmer founded the estate in the early 1800s, buying land in the communes of Margaux, Issan and Cantenac. After he went bankrupt and sold the estate, two Parisian bankers built the distinctive château, notable for its four handsome turrets. In 1938, the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families bought the château, which has 123 acres of vineyards, mostly planted to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, in production in the Margaux appellation.
A native of Bordeaux, Duroux remembers excursions in the vineyards as a child. His parents weren't involved in the wine trade, but they enjoyed visiting the estates. "And always, as we passed Margaux and Palmer, I could feel the magic," he said. "So returning to Bordeaux and having an opportunity to work at Palmer is a bit like a kid's dream come true."