A 2020 Decanter Best in Show winner and a superb domain comes to a humble wine shop for its imports. The story of how it happened…
I am a romanticist when happenings, especially of such a magnitude come as a result of personal connections and dare I say friendship. During my tenure at Wiltons as sommelier, a Mayfair institution (home to many politicians and royalty along the years…) I came across an unsuspecting couple whom I recommended a rather delicious Bordeaux. Seemingly, as the night evolved and the service developed, they gave away their game; pharmaceutical industrialists turned Château owners following a Bordeaux marathon where Chris Cardon set eyes on not only the Saint Estèphe estate (Château La Haye), but also the Pauillac secret, Bellevue-Cardon.
As a young and enthusiastic sommelier at the time, this was a wonderful revelation. “Wow, Château owners, I wonder what that must be like day to day” I thought to myself. We got along swimmingly, they told me about the ins and outs, precisely how I’d imagined it. Embarrassingly, at this point in my career, I hadn’t yet step foot in a vineyard before. Not only did the Cardon’s generously offer to send me some samples of their wines, but they invited me over, whenever I liked, to see the vineyards and experience it first-hand.
It was easily 6-7 months later that I took them up on the offer. I travelled to Bordeaux and arranged a few Château visits prior to my stay at La Haye. We had some great visits at Talbot, Pichon-Baron, Senèjac to name a few, but I was certainly most excited for what lay ahead in Saint Estèphe.
We were told to arrive between 3pm-5pm that day, so we took a leisurely lunch in the village of St Julien at local bistro Chez Meme; conventionally French in its menu, whilst modestly providing some of the best food in the area (the waffle burger is like a breakfast version of the steak tartare – cooked to perfection). Afterwards, a jaunt and coffee in the village of Pauillac meant we were nearly at the 3-5pm window. Arriving just after 3, not to give the impression I was too keen, I knocked on the door, had a look around and there was nobody around - the courtyard, vineyard and winery remained very shut. To pass the time, a short walk through the Saint Estèphe vineyards killed about an hour and a half, though, starting to worry, we Googled local placed to stay, just in case.
It wasn’t until 5:30 an extremely apologetic phone-call arrived from the vineyard and sales manager (also a member of the family) Lloyd. He revealed how to open the Château, and by way of an apology that there were a few bottles (back vintages may I add) to choose from and enjoy the evening, alone in an extremely established, Cluedo-esque house.
We arose, greeted by Lloyd with coffee and croissants, who had travelled from Belgium late the night before. What lay ahead was probably thus far, the best vineyard experience of my career. We were given a comprehensive tour, the beautiful Château cellar, the barrel room (where we tasted many cuvées of the estate’s wines). In barrel, the 2016 Bellevue-Cardon felt like a sleeping giant, waiting to turn the world on its head for supreme grand cru classe quality without the classification. Equally, tasting wine out of the tank, every single tank I should clarify, allowed me to taste every single nuanced stage of the fermentation process, a thoroughly insightful and intriguing exercise.
Next, the vineyard, with the Bordeaux legend viticulturist Eric Boissenot leading us through the vineyard to test the quality of the grapes. Even then, the pure power and tannin the grapes possessed I found amazing; we couldn’t keep up with Boissenot through the rows of vines; again, it was a phenomenal experience.
Packed off with a bottle of 2015 Bellevue-Cardon for the journey to Toulouse following a quick tour of the eponymous Château (actually now the family home in the area!) I was continually thinking of a way to import the wines into the London restaurant market. Wine, especially of this pedigree and quality deserves to be shared among as many people as possible, in my opinion. I attempted to set up Château La Haye and Lloyd with a number of importers that I had been using in my new purchasing role at FOLIE, a luxury brasserie in Soho. Cambridge wines I believe import Chateau La Haye, but an importer for Bellevue-Cardon was missing.
That was, until I set up Cépage in September 2020. I sought after a few special domaines to become exclusively ours in the UK, which coincided with some extremely exciting (then embargoed) information – Bellevue-Cardon 2015 had won the top spot at the Decanter Awards, receiving 97 points and achieving Pauillac Best in Show. Lloyd and I had kept in contact, and I attempted to negotiate how I can bring it into the UK. This came about through forging an 18-month professional relationship, keeping in contact and up to date with things happening between Bordeaux and London. Upon the first taste, I truly believed all the wines to be special, without the need for Decanter’s reinforcement of this point.
On a final note, I do find it peculiar how connections can work out. This happened following a relatively good service at Wiltons, being stuck outside of a Château in Bordeaux and remaining passionate and enthusiastic at somebody’s work and hard graft. As it stands in late October 2020, the wines will arrive in the UK within a fortnight, so we can then work at pushing them out across the UK for the value and quality to be seen on a wider scale than just myself and very few others.