Twin Peaks In Bordeaux

Pierre Lurton runs two of the world's most prestigious estates, Cheval-Blanc and Yquem
Bruce Schoenfeld
Posted: November 30, 2006

The Russians are coming. Four of them, wearing black suits and serious expressions, crunch over the path of white stones that leads to the tasting room at Bordeaux's Château Cheval-Blanc. Ahead of them is a group of English buyers checking in at the desk. Pierre Lurton stands inside the tasting room, surrounded by an arc of visitors representing American wine shops. He gracefully disengages and glides over the claret-colored tiles toward the door, where he'll intercept the Englishmen and be perfectly positioned to greet the Russians. It looks choreographed, but it is more jazz than ballet, all instinct and rhythm.

It's en primeur week in Bordeaux, and Lurton is in his element. "I know a lot of people," he whispers when the wave of arrivals has passed. "I am a very political man." By the end of that afternoon, several hundred visitors will have tramped through the tasting room door to sample the heralded 2005 vintage from barrel. Lurton has an innate sense of just how much time to spend with each to impart a feeling of intimacy. As in most any circumstance, he knows just what to say and how to listen.

"Pierre is someone you like straight away," says his cousin, Jacques Lurton, who owns and operates wineries in several countries. "He's not one of these winery owners who tries to deal with you from above. He makes you feel like you're on the same level with him."

You aren't, of course. Lurton is a member of what has become the first family of Bordeaux, the two dozen grandchildren of François Lurton who, among them, own or control some 30 châteaus in the area. Even more important, he is the first man to simultaneously operate two top-growth properties, Cheval-Blanc (one of two Premier Grand Cru Classé "A" châteaus in St.-Emilion) and Château d'Yquem (the sole Premier Cru Supérieur in Sauternes).

"I am at the top of my profession," he says, and because this is so blatantly true, so glaringly obvious, you forgive him the immodesty. Fifty years old as of July, he is in the prime of his life. He has an unruly mass of reddish-brown hair, a trim figure, eyes the color of blueberries, a wife of 26 years, six children, his own château (Marjosse, in Entre-Deux-Mers) and a drive to succeed that manifests itself as restless energy. He travels at racewalk speed. "I think you need basketball shoes to keep up with Pierre Lurton," he says, speaking of himself in the third-person, as he often does.

Cheval-Blanc and Yquem are both flourishing under his control. "All our hopes, and all our projections, have not only been achieved, but largely exceeded," says Pierre Gode, president of Louis Vuitton and second-in-command to Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Arnault, one of France's few billionaires, is the majority owner of Yquem through LVMH and equal partner in Cheval-Blanc with his close friend, Belgian businessman Albert Frère. Arnault is thrilled with Lurton. "He is very competent in terms of winemaking," he says. "Also—and this is critical in his métier—he has the personality to laud the qualities of the wine to our clients, to consumers and to commercial partners."

Arnault follows the fortunes of the château closely, getting a telephoned update from Lurton each week on matters such as the state of the vineyards, sales and distribution. Yet Lurton has his complete confidence. Arnault hasn't felt the need to set foot on the grounds since paying a visit to Château d'Yquem with Russian president Vladimir Putin in February 2003. "It's possible for me to phone Mr. Arnault and get an appointment very quickly," Lurton says. "In one minute, they call me back and say yes."

Lurton overflows with self-confidence, and why shouldn't he? He has become one of the most powerful men in Bordeaux, and has done so without offending anyone. He has made a most enticing omelette without smashing a single egg. "It would be very difficult to find somebody in Bordeaux who is an enemy of Pierre Lurton," says Alain Raynaud, who owns several Right Bank properties, including Quinault L'Enclos and La Croix-de-Gay, and serves as president of the Cercle Rive Droite de Grands Vins de Bordeaux.

It seems a perfect life. Yet with his 50th birthday arriving this year, Lurton is beginning to wonder if he has extended himself too far. He has arranged his world perfectly, blocked out spaces for each business interest (including the Cheval des Andes winery in Argentina, which he also runs, and a consulting contract with Morgenster Estate in South Africa), but left scant room for himself. "It's a very big reflection for me at this moment," he says, seated in his office during a lull.

Then his sense of timing kicks in and he's off again, striding across the pebbles to catch a group of important tasters before they depart. As usual, reflection will have to wait.

There are distinguished wine families across Europe with histories that reach back for generations. The Lurtons aren't one of them. Their family fortune has existed for less than 100 years. It started with Denise Récapet, whose family owned Château Brane-Cantenac in Margaux, a share of Château Margaux itself, and a successful distillery.

Récapet married François Lurton, Pierre's grandfather. Then she died young. With help from family members, François raised three sons (André, Lucien and Dominique) and a daughter (Simone). Professionally, he parlayed a small fortune into a larger one. He swapped his share of Château Margaux for St.-Emilion's Clos Fourtet, which he divided among his four children, and purchased several minor properties.

His sons André and Lucien were workaholics, occupied with acquiring, amalgamating, succeeding. Dominique, Pierre's father, was different. The youngest brother, he took a more hedonistic approach. "He always tried to make his life the happiest possible," says Jacques Lurton, his nephew. "He enjoyed playing golf, riding horses, sailing. He made his business in a way that let him earn just enough money to enjoy life."

Lucien had 10 children and gave each of them a château to run; he had acquired that many. André ended up with seven châteaus, including La Louvière in Péssac-Leognan. Dominique's sons, Pierre and his brother, Marc, had a comfortable upbringing at Château Reynier, the family estate in Entre-Deux-Mers, but had to make their own way in the world.

Pierre spent much of his childhood with his numerous cousins, including André's sons, Jacques and François, who lived only a mile away at Château Bonnet. Life was idyllic until he was 15, when his parents divorced. That was uncommon in a Bordeaux family, and hardly ever seen in rural, conservative Entre-Deux-Mers.

Dominique Lurton moved to Bordeaux, leaving his wife and two sons behind. In a sense, Pierre became the head of the household, and the envoy between his parents. "He learned diplomacy to find the balance between the parents," says his cousin, Gonzague Lurton, one of Lucien's sons, who owns Château Durfort-Vivens in Margaux. Pierre agrees. "Before that, I was timid," he says. "But after the divorce, I took my responsibility quickly."

At an early age, he looked to separate himself from the family. He turned his back on wine and set out to study medicine. By 22, he was living with his girlfriend, Carole. At 24, he married her, the start of a union that has lasted ever since. It was love, of course, but also the need to attach himself to something beyond the family orbit. "I didn't have good balance in my family, so I decided to try another system," he explains.

They were a typical young couple. In his mind's eye, he still sees himself in their small apartment, doing anatomy homework while Carole rehearses children's songs for her job as a primary-school teacher. It is an idyllic scene, brimming with possibilities. But wine, and the Lurton world, was never far away.

Pierre had remained on good terms with his father and his uncles. "Every week, it was possible for me to taste somewhere," he says. "I'd go see Uncle André at Louvière, Uncle Lucien at Brane-Cantenac." He'd walk into the classroom on Monday mornings enamored with this other life. Medicine didn't stand a chance.

In 1980, he asked his father and uncles if he could work the harvest at Clos Fourtet. He stayed 11 years. Though he was just in his early 20s at the time, his family gave him charge of the estate. He was smart and competent, and perhaps the only person capable of dealing with everyone. "Nobody wanted to work with the three of them," says Gonzague Lurton, referring to his father and uncles. "Especially my father and André, who were strong characters. Being in the middle was a fantastic school for Pierre. After that, working with Arnault and Albert Frère was easy."

Lurton's first vintage at Clos Fourtet was a disaster. It would become a recurring theme in his life: Each time he began a new position, the first year would be an almost total loss. Somehow, that relieved the pressure—by the time nature cooperated, he knew just what to do. Working with legendary French enologist Emile Peynaud and uncles Lucien and André, he started as cellarmaster, then became the manager of the estate. "I had no enology degree," he says, "but I'd worked in my father's château. Call it genetic experience." Living at the château, he dedicated himself to his newfound calling and also became father of his first three children—Lucie, Martin and Simon. Along the way, he became the youngest administrator of the Syndicat Viticole of St.-Emilion.

Beginning with the 1981, he presided over all the vintages of the 1980s at Clos Fourtet, raising the quality of the wine in what was perhaps the greatest decade in Bordeaux's history. "I learned enology from Mr. Peynaud and my uncle André," Lurton says. "I learned agriculture from my father. I was very lucky because we had good vintages, so it was possible to grow in quality and grow the reputation."

But the reputation was his, not the Lurtons'. He had become identified with Clos Fourtet—too much so for his uncles' liking, he says now. They asked him to step back from the spotlight, a sign of coming trouble. "I saw that I would have to go," he recalls.

Fortuitously, the longtime director of Cheval-Blanc, Jacques Hébrard, was retiring. Lurton was only 34 at the time, which seemed too young to replace a five-decade fixture, and Cheval-Blanc hadn't hired an outsider to run the estate since 1832. But Lurton's ability to synthesize varying opinions without offending anyone made him a prime candidate.

Cheval-Blanc was run by the representatives of three branches of the Fourcaud-Laussac family, 40 shareholders represented by three members of an executive council. It was an organizational structure that Lurton understood well from his experience at Clos Fourtet. He shaped his appeal to the situation and managed to win the approval of each of the factions during the interview process. In the fall of 1991, he was hired.

Lurton has exactly half an hour to make an appearance at a nearby tasting, then return to Cheval-Blanc, but he can't find his driver. Standing in the driveway, he puts his cell phone to his ear and shakes his head. "Where is Jean-Paul?" he says. "Ah, it's terrible." Still, he isn't flustered. While he waits, he points out the privileged positioning of the château, at the historical heart of Bordeaux's Right Bank. Figeac is here, Pétrus is there, Lafleur just over there. "Not bad, eh?" he says.

Lurton had spent his entire professional life working in the shadow of St.-Emilion's star property; now he was running it. But at his initial meeting with Cheval-Blanc's shareholders, he announced that there would be no first wine produced by the estate that year. The 1991 vintage had been that bad.

And 1992 was barely better. The weather was a challenge, as were the conflicting priorities of the three branches of the family. Lurton had arrived with plans to revamp the marketing and distribution of the wine. "I saw that Cheval-Blanc was very rare, compared to the production of the best Left Bank estates, and that it was unique," he says. "Not exactly a St.-Emilion because of the Cabernet Franc, and not exactly a Pomerol, either. And therefore it should have a different position than even the best châteaus on the Left Bank. Slightly above." But he quickly realized that keeping Cheval-Blanc on course was the best he could accomplish at that time. "Instead of trying to change the system, I waited," he says. "I observed."

Those were stressful years for Lurton. He had his fourth and fifth children, Jeanne and Marie, and he bought his own château, Marjosse. ("The expansionist Lurton gene," he says.) The first vintage at Marjosse, the 1991, was predictably terrible. And it wasn't just the weather. From the vineyards to the winemaking equipment, the estate needed major work. "At that time, my life was very complicated," he says. "I'd work during the day [at Cheval-Blanc], and work at night in my own château. I am Pierre Lurton, so I work a lot."

With Marjosse, Lurton was forced to confront the opposite side of the Bordeaux spectrum from Cheval-Blanc. While top-growths sell themselves at almost any price, wines on the level of Marjosse—basic Bordeaux, with scores averaging in the low 80s (on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale) and retail prices of about $15—typically sell only with the most extreme effort.

"It's a good balance for me," he says. "I work in the middle of the sky with Cheval-Blanc and Yquem, but Marjosse is the reality of Bordeaux wine. There are far more wines like Marjosse than like Cheval-Blanc and Yquem. Yet I bring the same elitist policy to Marjosse in terms of making the wine. And I'm fortunate because people do associate the quality of Mr. Lurton at Cheval-Blanc with the quality of Mr. Lurton at Marjosse, so that helps a little bit." Still, the quality at Marjosse hasn't noticeably improved in more than a decade. Only once has a finished wine—the 2000 vintage—received a score above 85.

In 1998, the 40 shareholders of Cheval-Blanc sold their holdings in equal parts to Arnault and Frère, for a reported $156 million. Almost immediately, the new owners summoned Lurton for an interview. He was nervous, but he needn't have been. "They said, 'Mr. Lurton, you have a very great reputation in Bordeaux,'" he relates. "They were hearing good things about me. So they asked me to stay on."

For 18 years, he'd been balancing the needs and wants of various branches of family ownership, 11 at Clos Fourtet and seven at Cheval-Blanc. Now here were two businessmen who'd bought the brand as a status symbol and had no preoccupation except quality. It was liberating. "In that moment," he says, "I became free."

For decades, Cheval-Blanc had served as an unofficial equal of first-growths Haut-Brion, Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Mouton on Bordeaux's Left Bank. Whatever price those wineries chose for each vintage was what Cheval-Blanc also used. Lurton had his own idea, and the 1998 vintage was the perfect time to implement it. Not only did he have the backing of Arnault and Frère, but the vintage was indisputably better in St.-Emilion than in the Médoc.

Accordingly, Lurton chose a price for Cheval-Blanc that was above that of the Médoc first-growths. And he opened up the marketplace, offering the wine through more than 50 négociants instead of the dozen or fewer that had been standard for Cheval-Blanc. After the wine was released, it justified its pricing by quadrupling it in the secondary market. Arnault and Frère, who'd bought the château for the image, discovered they had a good business on their hands. "I changed the system," Lurton says. "I put Cheval-Blanc in the position of the leader. And in doing that, I changed my own system."

For the first time in his life, Lurton wasn't concerned about making enemies. "The first-growths weren't pleased," he says. "But Mr. Arnault and Mr. Frère were very impressed with the result." It didn't hurt that the ratings for the 1998, led by a 98 from Wine Spectator, were as high as any Cheval-Blanc had received. Under Arnault and Frère, Lurton pushed forward more aggressively than before, but always with a smile.

"He asks for a high amount of rigor," says Olivier Berrouet, an agricultural engineer and enologist at the estate, "but he doesn't pressure us. He absorbs all the pressure he receives. He leaves us free to do our work."

Berrouet, the son of longtime Château Pétrus winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet, spent his childhood at Pétrus observing the Moueix family. He worked internships at Margaux, Haut-Brion, Burgundy's Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Napa's Silver Oak, under some of the most important people in the industry, a group that now includes Lurton. But in many ways, Lurton was different in that he remained humble. "He has a very open mind," Berrouet-says. "There is nothing you can't talk about with him. He doesn't care about show-off things, doesn't care how his image comes across. He's even willing to admit when he's wrong. He just cares about the quality of the wine."

Arnault noticed this, too. In 1998, he'd given Lurton control of Cheval des Andes, Cheval-Blanc's Argentinean estate, and Lurton responded by creating a 92-point, $80 wine for the debut 2001 vintage. Also in 1998, Lurton started work as a consulting enologist for South African producer Giulio Bertrand, whose Morgenster wines—rarely seen in North America—are Bordeaux-style blends. Lurton recalls missing the final game of soccer's World Cup that summer, France's grand triumph over Brazil, because he was on a plane returning from Cape Town. It was a harbinger of his future. By the time Lurton's sixth child, Emma, was born in 2000, he was constantly jetting around the globe, from Argentina to South Africa to Bordeaux, handling Cheval-Blanc business and planning new cellars for Morgenster and Château Marjosse. It seemed like more than enough.

Arnault must have thought so too. Through LVMH, Arnault had gained control of Château d'Yquem from the Lur-Saluces family in the mid-1990s. By 2000, he was ready for Count Alexandre de Lur-Saluces, who'd stayed on to guide the estate, to retire. Arnault designated a successor, but it wasn't Lurton.

Aymeric de Montault had worked for LVMH at Champagne Veuve Cliquot as commercial director and in other positions. Now he spent two years at Yquem training for the top position with Lur-Saluces. But in 2003, shortly before he was scheduled to take control, he was reassigned. The winery's employees were shocked. "We had faith in him," says Sandrine Garbay, Yquem's cellarmaster. "And then, one month before [he was supposed to start], LVMH said, 'No! Go away! We are putting Pierre Lurton at the head of Château d'Yquem.' Nobody was happy about it, I can tell you that."

The tiny sign and long driveway leading to Yquem are no accident. The most exalted sweet-wine property in the world, Yquem is as discreet as a private mansion. The estate's 250 acres are gorgeous and immaculate. When the formal dinner celebrating the 150th anniversary of Bordeaux's 1855 classification was held in June 2005, Château d'Yquem was the perfect choice.

During the reign of Lur-Saluces, few journalists were allowed in, the only visitors those with a perfect wine pedigree and a confirmed appointment. Working there was like belonging to a select club. Lurton arrived in May 2004 as an outsider, just as he'd been when he started at Cheval-Blanc. "Four hundred years of the Lur-Saluces family, and I am the first stranger," he says. "Again!"

It had happened quickly. Moments after a meeting of the five-man Cheval-Blanc board in Paris, Arnault called Lurton to his office for a private conference. He came straight to the point. People he'd talked with inside and outside the company had advised him to put Lurton at Yquem. As Lurton himself explains it, "When Lurton arrives in a new position, you have movement. You have synergy."

Accordingly, Arnault was offering him the position of CEO of Château d'Yquem—not instead of running Cheval-Blanc, but in addition. A second top-growth was more than even the ambitious Lurton could have expected. Arnault had to work out the arrangement with Frère, who owns half of Cheval-Blanc but has no direct stake in Yquem, though he sits on the LVMH board of directors. Frère would continue to pay the same salary to Lurton for running Cheval-Blanc, but get him only half-time. Yet Frère understood that the prestige of Yquem would get Lurton to places that could also benefit Cheval-Blanc.

"In addition," Arnault says, "it's professionally stimulating for Pierre Lurton to be in charge of two fine brands. Formidable!"

But with the departure of the Lur-Saluces family after four centuries, Lurton was coming to Yquem in a time of tumult. "We were not prepared at all for Pierre Lurton," Garbay says. Lurton was greeted coldly, and he exacerbated matters with his first speech to the staff. "Yquem is like a sleeping princess," he told the assembled troops. "We want to wake her up." Yquem's employees looked at each other in astonishment. Filled with pride for the wines they had been producing, wines considered the best in their category anywhere in the world, they hardly felt like the property had been sleeping. "For us, such a thing was difficult to hear," Garbay says.

But Lurton is nothing if not charming. Though he'd made a thorough study of Yquem in the brief time he'd been given, he arrived ready to listen. He was amusing, which surprised a staff that had grown accustomed to a sober atmosphere. And he took pains to be perceived as a man who rolled up his sleeves and worked, not someone who issued orders from above. "I'm a funny guy, and I like to talk with people," he says. "I pass along my messages to the staff using this technique. But they hear what I'm saying."

It didn't hurt that what he said made sense. He could see the property clearly, in a way that the Lur-Saluces family couldn't. "If you walk into a room, it's easy to see that a painting is crooked," he says. "If you're accustomed to being in that room, you have no idea."

Lurton understood that Yquem had a near-mythic position in the world of wine. The bottles had so much value, so much cachet, that the thought of actually opening one and drinking it was unfathomable to most people. "I had to change that," he says.

The 1999 vintage had been a successful one for Yquem. The bottles were in the cellar when Lurton took over in 2003. He told Arnault to send them into the market at a far lower price than anyone expected, though still higher than any other wine in the appellation: about $140 retail for the American consumer, or $60 below the 1998 and less than half of what the remarkable 2001 was fetching in the futures market. This would be the bargain vintage of Yquem, the drinkable vintage. When consumers did drink the wine, they'd discover—perhaps for the first time—how delicious it actually is.

Not only did this move reinvigorate the customer base, it helped gain Lurton a following inside the château. "For us, this was very exciting," Garbay says. "It was sad because nobody was drinking our wine. It was too important to drink. The 1999 changed it."

Following the 2000 vintage, Alexandre de Lur-Saluces had allowed a little Yquem to be sold en primeur for the first time. With the 2003 vintage, Lurton made that the standard procedure. It enabled him to pre-sell 50 percent of the production while the wines were barely beginning their three years of barrel aging. "When Yquem is offered in primeurs, the wine sells out in 10 minutes," Arnault says.

When the 2004 harvest came in, Lurton had strong feelings about the blending process. He didn't want Yquem to make a wine that was technically perfect but devoid of charm. He compared it to a woman's face. "If a face is very nice, very perfect, that's fine," he told Garbay. "But it's not interesting."

He challenged her to make an even stricter selection, looking not just at the quality of the grapes but how they fit the house style. "I don't change the style of Yquem," he says. "The style of Yquem is the terroir, and you can't change that. But you can try to make a very pure, very clean Yquem, [with] a high level of acidity and a good balance between the sugar and the acidity."

Then he allowed journalists in to see the changes underfoot. "It was a medieval fortress," he says. "We changed that." He even hired Denis Dubourdieu, an enology professor who also owns Doisy-Daëne, a rival classified-growth Sauternes, to act as a consultant. That was like bringing in someone from Chevrolet to consult at Rolls-Royce, but Lurton didn't care about the perception. "Mr. Dubourdieu had a modern approach," Lurton says. "Less sugar. No more extraction, but a very good ripening process. These were his contributions."

These days, Château d'Yquem is less of a mystery than when Lurton arrived, but perhaps even more of a wine, and an unquestionably more efficient business. "I opened Yquem to the market, I opened Yquem to the journalists, I opened Yquem to the world," he says. "I didn't change the brand, and I didn't change Yquem. I just gave it a little bit of modernity."

Lurton and his wife are looking to buy another château in Entre-Deux-Mers. With her husband working two of the most important jobs in Bordeaux, traveling to represent both and to South Africa and Argentina, Carole's yearning is to plant roots deeper into their native soil. "I need a big house, a family nest," Lurton says. One that they'd seen recently was big enough, "but it wasn't very beautiful. It has to be beautiful."

As a public man, Lurton has everything he wants. In private, he has his doubts. He has made his career by being able to maintain an equilibrium between other people's conflicting desires, but doing the same with his own life requires a different set of skills.

"To be a diplomat has always been kind of a game to him," says Gonzague Lurton. "But when it comes to finding balance in his own life, it's not a game. Now Pierre is the best known of the family, though he started with nothing. He didn't achieve in the same way that the rest of us did, running our châteaus, and yet he has made fantastic achievements. I think he's very proud of that. But what has been the cost? The last time I saw him, he said, 'Gonzague, I'm very tired. I have no time with my family.'"

"I haven't changed my relationship with people who work with me," Lurton says. "I've stayed very accessible. But that requires a lot of energy. And those around me say, 'Pierre, please rest a little because it's necessary to also have a life.'"

Lurton keeps a restored 40-foot mahogany boat in nearby Arcachon. "I go to check on it just to make sure it's all right, but I never have time to sail it," he says, adding that his private life is very limited. "Pierre Lurton talks a lot, and he is a public man. I don't have many friends. I have a lot of relations with people, but a friend is much rarer. If I had a different position in life, no Cheval-Blanc, no Yquem, I suppose I would have a lot of friends."

His children are growing up, and he feels the inexorable march toward their own adulthoods. Jeanne, now 14, spent en primeur week checking in tasting room visitors. Lurton watched with pride, but also wonderment, as his daughter handled herself with aplomb. In her maturity, he saw the calendar pages turning.

And it isn't just a question of time. Lurton is beginning to wonder about his legacy. He gets two paychecks now, one from LVMH and one from the partnership that owns Cheval-Blanc. They are for large sums, but they are still just paychecks.

At times, he seems ready to retreat from this life he has created for himself, to stake his claim on his own patch of land at Marjosse or a new château. It sounds enticing until he realizes what he'd be missing. When he flies through several time zones to represent Yquem or Cheval-Blanc at a tasting, and the lights go on and the crowd forms around him, he can't help it: He glows.

In June, the prices for the 2005 Cheval-Blanc and 2005 Yquem were released. Château Latour and Château Margaux had already announced their most expensive wines in history, but Cheval-Blanc topped them—and Mouton and Lafite, too. The per-bottle price of 400 euros in the Place de Bordeaux translated into nearly $750 for American consumers. Lurton offered Chateau d'Yquem 2005 at the same record-setting price.

Sales were sluggish in the United States, dragged down by the weakness of the dollar against the euro. According to prominent U.S. retailers, serious Bordeaux collectors bought Cheval-Blanc, but demand was not widespread. As for Yquem, the 2005 price exceeded the cost for great vintages already available, such as 2001, 1990, 1989 and 1983, so little 2005 was sold. Still, demand was stronger in Europe and Asia, and nobody believed the châteaus would have any trouble disposing of their wine.

For Lurton, the 2005 futures campaigns vindicated his approach to wine and business. "For the people now, such a price is normal," he says. "They understand that Cheval-Blanc is very rare. There is nothing like it. After one hour, we had no wine left to sell. A lot of people were very happy."

Lurton is happy, too. Such moments seem to validate all the sacrifices. Despite conversation to the contrary around Bordeaux, he has vowed to continue running both Cheval-Blanc and Château d'Yquem for the foreseeable future. "It's a crazy life, but a fantastic life," he says. "I'll continue, though it is necessary to change my rhythm. To better organize my life."

As he talks, it is a summer's morning. His boat awaits at Arcachon. France is playing in another World Cup semifinal. The nation has slowed to a desultory rhythm, the weeks sliding toward the August holidays. But Lurton has no time for languor. He finishes a phone conversation and grabs a briefcase. His car is waiting to take him to the airport and a midmorning flight, the start of another whirlwind trip on behalf of two wines, to markets spread across two continents. If it means he will miss another important soccer match, well, such is his life. He has climbed twin peaks in Bordeaux, and while the air is thin, the view is worth it all.

 

The Lurton Effect
Below is a look at the properties run by Pierre Lurton and some of the vintages he managed, accompanied by scores for wines rated by Wine Spectator.

CLOS FOURTET St.-Emilion
1982: 88  1986: 80  1988: 86  1989: 89

CHEVAL-BLANC St.-Emilion
1998: 98  1999: 89  2000: 93  2001: 92  2002: 92  2003: 96  2004: 95-100  2005: 95-100

MARJOSSE Entre-Deux-Mers
1992: 75  1993: 80  1994: 77  1998: 80  2000: 86  2001: 79  2002: 80-84  2003: 85  2005: 85-88

CHEVAL DES ANDES Argentina
2001: 92  2002: 92

MORGENSTER South Africa
2001: 80

YQUEM Sauternes
2003: 95-100  2004: 95-100  2005: 95-100

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