Jean-Charles Cazes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am


Did you plan to go into the family business? 'Yes. We weren't sure about the timing and I thought I'd stay longer in a different industry, but in the end, I joined the family business in 2002, because that was the right time. We were starting new projects, acquiring new properties. My father [winemaker Jean-Michel Cazes] never put pressure on me, but it became clear that it would be better to join at the beginning of these projects rather than later. I was brought up in this environment. Very early on I developed a taste for wine, maybe a little bit too early! I always enjoyed seeing my father working. What he was doing, to me, was not work, more of a lifestyle. It is a very enjoyable lifestyle. People who buy wine are usually not boring people, they're people you'd like to be around. I'm the fourth generation in the family, but the first one who was brought up with the idea that you could make a living out of the wine business, that the wine business was sustainable. My father joined in 1973 - at the time we were broke. He had worked for 10 years as an engineer for IBM, he had a great life and a promising career. He let go of all that, and my mother wasn't so sure of his choice. She had been living the good life in Paris with a nice apartment and suddenly [her husband] was a broke farmer in Pauillac.'

What was it like to grow up in wine country? 'I grew up in Pauillac and went to boarding school in Bordeaux. I had a very enjoyable youth, I only have good memories. Being in Pauillac, in the countryside, there were quiet times and also times that were active, like harvest time, September to October. It has always been a busy time of the year for us and the atmosphere surrounding the harvest is quite special. When I was a kid, we housed the pickers. That meant a lot of joyful dinners with music, and football games at the end of the day. The smell at harvest is special, when you go through the vineyards, there's a different smell. So there were lots of emotions and sensations.'

How have times changed? 'Nowadays, we can't offer housing to the pickers. If we were to house them now [with new housing regulations], we'd have to refurbish dormitories that would only be used two weeks a year, so it doesn't make sense. Pretty much all of the wineries in Bordeaux can no longer afford to host the pickers. That has changed the demographic of the pickers. We used to have workers from all over Europe - it was a cultural melting pot. After the Berlin Wall came down, we started to see some Polish and people from the East [of Europe], who would come all the way across Europe for harvest time. I think it was 1989, the season after the Wall collapsed, we started receiving hundreds of r?m? it was astonishing. Now it's more local people. It's still a very joyful and pleasant time, but it's different.

'Chateaux have invested heavily in the past 15 years, refurbishing the cellars, investing in the vineyards - the way that vineyards are managed nowadays is very different to how they were 20 years ago, with lots of technology. For example, we use satellite imagery and all kinds of techniques to grow better fruit. The chateaux in Bordeaux have become aware of the importance of tourism and are welcoming visitors to their properties. Twenty years ago, not many of them were open to the public, nowadays pretty much any chateau is open to the public.'

Lynch-Bages is called Lan Chi Pat in Chinese, after the opera singer. How did that name come about? 'Frankly, I don't know. Someone translated the name. This person deserves a case of wine every year. If I knew who it was, I would build him a statue. It has really made a strong impact here. I realised the impact when I was at Hong Kong airport, looking at my bottles on the shelf, and [gauging] customers' reactions. I heard, 'Lan Chi Pat! Lan Chi Pat!' I thought, 'So it's true that people use this name.' This association has been very dear to us. A friend of ours came to us one day and told my father about a school in Hong Kong called Lan Chi Pat Memorial Secondary School and asked whether he'd consider sponsoring an auction for their charity. My father thought it was a great idea and not only sponsored it, but went to visit the school. He came up with the idea of sponsoring an exchange programme with students from Lan Chi Pat and L'Ensemble Scolaire Saint-Jean, in Pauillac, and vice versa, and that has gone on for four years now. It's a great experience for the children. The kids from Pauillac had never seen anything like Hong Kong, they come here and they are wide-eyed.'