Bordeaux is a curious mix of the old and the new. On the one hand you have modern cutting edge wine making techniques and on the other you have deep rooted customs that are centuries old. Occasionally you come across an inspired wine maker who successfully marries the two together. Patrick Meynard of Chateau Lalaudey is such a man.
Patrick took over the helm of his family’s bottle packaging business, Meynard & Fils, in 2005. Situated on the Quai de Chartrons in Bordeaux the company dates back to 1880 and it specialises in the practice of encasing wine bottles in wire sleeving. The small firm was starting to suffer from increased competition abroad and things needed to change rapidly. Patrick had to find a dynamic solution to breathe new life into the company so he set about inventing new machinery. His latest inventions are highly secret but Meynard & Fils now own the fastest wire sleeve producing machines available. Patrick also revived the old practice of encasing wine bottles in wire sleeving in Bordeaux, having shrewdly spotted the potential in designer packaging for premium wines and spirits.
A century ago the wire sleeving around the bottle protected against counterfeiters. At that point in time wine makers had discovered that unscrupulous merchants were pasting labels from the more prestigious wines onto cheaper bottles of inferior wines. Empty bottles were also refilled with cheaper wine and passed off as the real thing. To prevent this, wine makers began the practice of putting wire sleeving around their bottles. The wire sleeving was held together at the bottom of the bottle by a lead seal stamped with the Chateau owners coat of arms. This could then guarantee that the wine in the bottle was not tampered with as you could only remove the cork if you broke the wire.
Wine bottles encased in wire sleeving gradually acquired a certain status. The wire sleeving meant that they were worth protecting and that they were something a little bit special. Bordeaux used the technique in the late 1880s and occasionally old bottles are discovered with their wire sleeving still intact. The practice fell out of favour once Baron Philippe de Rothschild began estate bottling. By that time the practice had caught on in Spain and most people think that wire sleeving is an Spanish invention – but most of the wire sleeves on Spanish bottles were produced by Meynard & Fils in Bordeaux.
Today Meynard & Fils not only invent new machinery but they have a modern twist on the theme, introducing gold and silver coloured wire as well as raffia sleeves that can fit any bottle, no matter what shape. This upmarket packaging helps the wines to stand out as a brand and has become part of their marketing. Patrick’s innovations have been successful and his long list of customers include Francis Ford Coppola, Yves Saint Laurent perfume, Marqués de Riscal Rioja and Diageo.
Patrick didn’t stop there. In 2007 he bought Chateau Lalaudey on the highest gravel ridge in Moulis (on the Bouqueyran plateau) and built a brand new chai. He also bought Lalaudey’s neighbour Chateau Pomeys and his vineyards now cover 61 acres (25 hectares).
Both wines are Cru Bourgeois and Patrick has enlisted the famous wine maker Eric Boissenot as consultant oenologist (who also works with Chateaux Margaux, Palmer, Chasse Spleen and Nenin). Patrick has outlawed herbicides to revive the ancient practice of tillage. Pesticides are also banned. The chai is equipped with facilities combining tradition and modernity and particular attention is paid to the selection of barrels from eight different coopers. Grapes are hand picked at harvest from selected plots and double sorted. In fact Patrick does everything he can to meet the highest standards of quality possible. It’s working – his wines have a long list of awards and a growing reputation.
Needless to say, Chateau Lalaudey comes dressed in a wire sleeve and is a really good example of an up and coming Bordeaux wine.