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Interview, Part 2: Domaines Barons de Rothschild

February 26, 2014

In the second part of our interview with Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), DBR president and CEO Christophe Salin and Pasternak Imports president and CEO Stephen Brauer discuss prospects for the Los Vascos and Caro labels, as well as the state of play in Bordeaux.

SND: Attempts are being made to move Chilean wine upscale and to innovate. Is Los Vascos taking a leadership role?

Brauer: Our approach is that Los Vascos is not simply a Chilean wine—it’s a world-class Cabernet made by the Lafite winemaking family, from a single vineyard in Chile. 2014 will be a big year for Los Vascos. The portfolio’s higher-end wines, such as Le Dix de Los Vascos ($65) and Los Vascos Grande Reserve ($20), haven’t had much oxygen in the U.S. market until now. Today’s wines are a marked departure from previous vintages, thanks to some key viticultural changes. We’re also launching a single-plot Cabernet. So we’re really introducing people to the higher end of the Los Vascos portfolio, because it hasn’t been a focus.

SND: Regarding Argentina, what are some of the key elements driving Caro’s growth?

Brauer: Caro’s winemaking pedigree is impeccable—the kings of Malbec (Catena) and the kings of Cabernet (Lafite) joining forces. There are three tiers within the Caro portfolio—Caro (Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, $63), Amancaya (Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon ($21) and Aruma (Malbec, $18). We’re not fighting at the $9.99 price point. The wines have scored well, but you don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to enjoy them. And the Millennial generation has completely fallen in love with Malbec. We haven’t been in national account distribution yet, because Pasternak previously was geared more to the East Coast’s retail structure. You need to be in both.

SND: In 2011, Chateau Latour announced it would forego Bordeaux’s en primeur system. Is that something that DBR would consider?

Salin: We will not take that path. The negoçiant channel is old and traditional, but it works, in good years and bad. We will continue to use the negoçiants for our chateau wines, and our own organization for the other estates like Chateau D’Aussieres, Los Vascos, Caro and our (DBR) Collection wines. I’m happy with both channels.

SND: What’s your message to U.S. retailers who opted out of the Bordeaux futures game because of high pricing?

Salin: With (classified growth) Bordeaux, there are limitations on quantity. A good example is the 2013 vintage, when we faced some of the worst weather conditions in years. The quantity won’t be there, but the quality will be, because we’re so committed to making great wines. The big retailers should be on board, provided they can reach an understanding on financing. If you buy the top wines, particularly in a vintage like 2013, there’s no reason why you’d lose money, because it won’t be a highly speculative market. I still buy en primeur every year for my own cellar, because I believe in it. Sometimes the prices are high and sometimes they’re low—but when you drink the wine 15 years later, the price you paid is always a good one.

Brauer: You also need to have a multiple-vintage perspective. In some years, you might reap a big windfall, while other years might not be so advantageous. That’s certainly the way we approach it. Pasternak could say no to DBR, but we wouldn’t dream of doing that. And we wouldn’t do that with our other Bordeaux partners either.

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