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Or sell them just as well. That's what Pascal Renaudat, an entrepreneur who aspires to create a French megabrand, is trying to do. He has persuaded several cooperatives in Bordeaux and around France to become shareholders in his firm, which is targeting the U.S. and Britain. Unlike his rivals, he's done exhaustive market research the name of his brand, Chamarré, is itself a focus group–tested marketing creation and some of his sales staff come from consumer-goods companies such as L'Oréal, rather than the wine business. "Winemakers don't know how to sell," he explains. "They'll just stick their nose in the glass and talk about how woody it smells."
Yet as it adjusts, Bordeaux faces an image problem. The top wines in the region command huge prices because of their worldwide prestige, and their makers have no interest in being associated, even remotely, with the down-market plonk some merchants are now cooking up. But producers in the middle aren't happy, either; they worry that the massive price increases pushed through by the likes of Château Pontet-Canet will give Bordeaux a reputation among ordinary consumers for being unaffordable. "What does it do to Bordeaux's image to see people doubling their prices?" asks Marie Courselle at Château Thieuley, who is barely managing to avoid cutting her prices. "They are sabotaging Bordeaux's image. It's crazy that we are all put in the same basket."
Indeed, a central concern in Bordeaux is to avoid a fragmentation of the community. "It's almost like a Latin American economy, some very rich and some very poor. This could cause a revolution," worries Pierre Lurton, who runs two of the most exclusive properties, Château Cheval Blanc in the St. Emilion region and Château d'Yquem, the world-famous sweet white Sauternes. Despite their eye-watering prices, bottles of both are being snapped up by a new breed of very wealthy people in places like China and Russia, as well as by U.S. and other investment funds.
Back at Château Pontet-Canet, Tesseron sits down for dinner with his wife, Isabelle, and a decanter of his house 1996. In the Bordeaux hierarchy, Pontet-Canet isn't one of the very top châteaus, but it's still a name, thanks to an official classification dating back 150 years that listed it as a cinquième grand cru classé. Tesseron is acutely aware that historic status alone isn't enough. "I'm in a privileged situation, but it's not a given," he says. "I must continue to aspire to be the best." That means investment, investment and more investment as well as a lot of savvy marketing. This year for the first time, Tesseron threw open his château doors to visitors (although by appointment only), and hired three guides to receive them. One of them speaks Chinese. "Yes, there are new clients, but the real business still comes from our old ones," he says. "I'm sure in the next 20 to 30 years people will be interested in products that are top. And I'm doing all I can to be top." In Bordeaux these days, that's a recipe for survival.