October 13, 2009 / 11:07 AM / 9 years ago

Bordeaux is set for shake-up - wine magnate Magrez

PARIS, Oct 13 (Reuters Life) - Bernard Magrez was 19 when he started working in Bordeaux wine and built up an emporium which now, at 73, counts 35 vineyards in several countries.

Wine merchants visit Vinexpo, the world's biggest wine fair, in Bordeaux, southwestern France, June 22, 2009. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

These days the self-made man and “new money” in the close-knit world of Bordeaux winemakers, says that many of the region’s “old money” families have lost the spirit to innovate and adapt to market changes.

As wine consumers become more adventurous, drinking wines from across the world, Bordeaux needs to focus on the top wines and invest in its high class image using wine tourism, aerial rides over the vineyards and posh picnics among the vines.

Magrez advises loss-making producers of lesser wines to get out of the business and pull up their vines before it’s too late.

“We have gone through several crises already, cyclical crises. But this time I believe the crisis is structural,” he said in an interview. “Sooner or later we will see some drastic changes.”

For Magrez, many people in the industry have missed some fundamental changes in consumer behavior.

“In the past, a wine drinker was faithful to a small number of wines. But nowadays the modern consumer wants to try out different wines from different countries,” he said.

“A host wants to present a new wine to friends, share a discovery.”

Magrez made it easier for the consumer to find new wines as he put his name on the wines made in Spain, Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Morocco, Japan and California. But he has abandoned interests in Algeria and China.

“I am not a collector of vineyards,” he said. But said he could add another two or three.

Magrez worked for wine company Jean Cordier in Bordeaux for three years when, at 22, he bought a spirits firm.

“The sellers were two octogenarians and my bank manager was close to retirement. He had confidence in me.”


Magrez was among the first in France to see the potential of huge out of town supermarkets and he went on a course in the United States with marketing guru Bernard Trujillo in Ohio.

“It was organized by NCR, the cash register company, and we travelled from supermarket to supermarket.” The heads of Carrefour, Ralley and Auchan were also on the trip and Magrez used the contacts to sell his products to the retailers.

He learned the importance of marketing and turned his firm into a leader on the French market for whisky and port. He created the Malesan wine especially for supermarkets.

Decades later he sold the business, and started buying vineyards such as Chateau Pape Clement, Chateau La Tour Carnet or Chateau Fombrage.

He makes his wines with oenologist Michel Rolland and while most of his vineyards are in the Bordeaux area, he also has several in Languedoc-Roussilon of which some have unusual names such as Si Mon Pere Savait (if my father knew) or Passion d’une Vie (a life’s passion).

Challenges magazine has estimated the Magrez fortune at 380 million euros ($555.6 million) and ranks him at the 82nd place of the richest people in France.

He wants to boost the reputation of Bordeaux and polish the brand image by promoting high-class wine tourism.

He recently hosted Steve Case, the former head of America Online, at Pape Clement.

“There is a lot of interest but we do not really have the structures in place,” he said.

He argues that Bordeaux needs cooking schools, top-class suites in castles, helicopter rides over the vineyards and picnics among the vines with a gloved butler and a Rolls Royce to boost its image in the minds of wealthy consumers.

In the meantime, he keeps busy with his business, with his son and with partners such as actor Gerard Depardieu.

His latest venture is a partnership deal with Joel Robuchon, the French chef with the largest number of Michelin stars, who will serve Magrez wines in all his restaurants.

Robuchon has won a total of 18 stars for his restaurants in Paris, Monaco, Tokyo, Macao, Las Vegas, London and Hong Kong.

“Wine and gastronomy is a great combination,” Magrez said.

Reporting by Marcel Michelson, editing by Paul Casciato

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