Hubert Burda Media

Vine Therapy

We chat with Chateau Margaux’s Managing Director Paul Pontallier and his son, Thibaut Pontallier, its Asia ambassador.

Is a winemaker more a scientist or an artist?
Paul Pontallier (PP): I think definitely a scientist. In winemaking, the artist is nature. But nature requires the help of dedicated and passionate people to reveal its creation. If I may make an analogy: When a mother gives birth to a baby, she is the creator. But especially in the modern world, you have the help of an obstetrician. Winemakers are a bit like obstetricians. They don’t create the baby but they help Mother Nature to give birth to the wine.
Thibault Pontallier (TP): As a kid, I always thought of my father as an artist or a conductor in an orchestra who is responsible for all the instruments harmonising together. It’s the same when blending wine in different proportions from different plots of land. It’s the genius of the winemaker and his team to make everything work together.
PP: But in order to reveal the creation, you need musicians. Sure, you need a conductor, but the creator is the composer.
It’s thought that in France, fewer young people enjoy wine. Is it true?
TP: It’s true, yet it’s not true. Young people still drink wine, but they are less excited about it because it’s less sexy, less trendy and exciting. When they go out, they prefer Champagne, vodka or whiskey. The media and government have also associated wine with other spirits, which is stupid as they’re different – you may get drunk on a vodka, but at the same volume, you may not get drunk on a wine. And now among those my age, wine is coming up again. Every dinner in Paris there’ll be a bottle of wine for sure.
PP: Some 50 years ago, our wine consumption outstripped other countries. Now, the new generation drinks as much or as little as the rest of the world; but certainly not less than they do in England. The new generation is not as exposed to everyday wine-drinking like I was when I was a kid. We always had wine when we were with family and I’ve been drinking since I was five or six. Everyday consumption has virtually disappeared now, especially for kids. But people in their late 20s to early 30s, they are starting to rediscover this wine culture; and when they invite friends for dinner, they will open a bottle of wine.
With wine being one of France best known exports, do you perhaps see yourselves as ambassadors flying the tricolour flag?
PP: I think so.
TP: And people tell us that as well.
PP: We obviously feel very, very French. We may not always be extremely happy with what the country is doing, but it is with pride that we represent one of the many things that France does very well. We represent a certain passion for excellence, which the French have certainly not invented, but in some fields push to a higher level than anyone else.
TP: I think we have to be very proud of that and promote it abroad. That’s one of the reasons why I felt it was perfect timing to move to Asia five years ago.
Is it fun to work together as father and son?
TP: It’s horrible! (laughs) No, it’s fantastic. Understanding your father personally and understanding the man and his job makes the relationship deeper. We have many years and many projects ahead of us, and I intend to keep him busy even when he’s retired!
PP: We’ve never had any problems communicating. It’s equally important to have professional success as well as a successful family life. And when the two coincide, it’s even better.
Paul, given the fame of Chateau Margaux, there are high expectations that must continually be lived up to. How does it feel to be the one responsible for this product?
PP: It’s a famous name and an expensive bottle, and people expect something special, something different from other wines. Now that’s a strong incentive to do well, and I’m not afraid of the challenge. I don’t feel stressed actually. When you think of all those people who are expecting are certain high level of quality, you just want to deliver it.
TP: I’ve never seen him stressed, which is quite amazing – whether in the job or outside it.
Chateau Margaux is available at Vinum Fine Wines.
For a more in-depth interview with Paul Pontallier, get a copy of our May 2015 issue.