More than money from Madame ...

Thursday, 26 February, 2004
Melvyn Minnaar
Pichon-Lalande invests in Stellenbosch
The acquisition by Mme May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, owner of the high-esteemed, second-growth Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac, Bordeaux, of a substantial property in Stellenbosch is more than a remarkable investment of old French money and expertise in Cape wine. It is a red-blooded vote of confidence by a member of the grand Old World’s elite in the future and fortune of what can come from our vineyards and cellars.

There is another subtext to this international-newsworthy purchase – which may have plenty to do with the way wine culture is developing in the new South Africa. It has an ethical dimension in that the owner of Pichon-Lalande has expressed her belief ‘to invest in and encourage developing countries.’

Said Madame de Lencquesaing to Wine Spectator: ‘The evolution of South Africa is positive. If we can help in their economic emergence, then that is a good thing, don't you think? The human aspect is very important to me.’

There is no question that the owner of one of Bordeaux’s most dynamic estates has her eyes on producing a top-notch red wine. This too is a vote of faith in what can come from the slopes of the famed Simonsberg. It is known that she has been looking for an overseas property to develop for some twenty years and has travelled widely in search of the place which would ‘permit us to choose the right spot for each varietal’.

The ideal spot happens to be in prime territory: the 126 hectare Glen Elly fruit farm is right next door to Rustenberg. It comprises a variety of slopes with east-west exposure and different soils – something Mme de Lencquesaing is very keen to explore for site-specific varietal plantings.

Thomas Dô-Chi-Nam, Pichon-Lalande’s technical director and winemaker is to oversee the new plantings of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and shiraz. The latter’s local performance has impressed the French in particular.

If all goes to plan a prestige red blend will be released in some eight years’ time. Announcing the new venture, De Lencquesaing was not sure whether the wine will carry the Pichon-Lalande label.

Whether it does or not, the investment of May-Eliane de Lencquesaing is a propaganda coup for the Cape. An old buddy of Beyers Truter, whose Kanonkop Paul Sauer has twice won the Pichon-Lalande sponsored International Wine & Spirit Competition trophy for the best blended red wine, she is sure to make her presence felt.

May-Eliane de Lencquesaing is the daughter of Edouard Miailhe, who bought the Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in 1925 from the founding families. She has personally overseen the revival the great tradition of the famous second-growth estate - now producing some of the most acclaimed Bordeaux.

She has outspoken about the link between ethics and winemaking: ‘Are the world and its riches being used and developed correctly? In our humble sphere as viticulturists, we can only insist on the importance of everything that reinforces and celebrates friendship and solidarity between men. And wine is the symbol of this.’