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Portrait - Thibault Pontallier

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1. Tesi: Thibault, you are the ambassador of Chateau Margaux in Asia. Can you please tell me a bit more about you and your job?

Thibault: I really love my job, it has been a fantastic experience and adventure. Thanks to my family who has been making wine in France for more than 500 years, and thanks to the Mentzelopoulos family, I have always been immersed in the wine world. Before moving to Asia for Château Margaux, I lived and worked in France, Vietnam, Norway, Italy , Spain and New York to gain a deeper understanding of the luxury market and the wine industry. In 2010, Château Margaux set up its first representative office in Hong Kong and appointed me as their Ambassador in Asia. It is the first time in Château Margaux history that a representative has been sent abroad. My job is to ensure that Château Margaux continues to develop and enhance its position in the area. I also go back to Bordeaux as often as I can.

Tesi: Your father - Paul Pontallier – was MD of Chateau Margaux and worked there since 1983. Do you remember the first moment your father introduced you to wine and what was that moment like?

Thibault: Wine has always been associated with happy memories in my mind. I think I must have tried my first sip when I was three years old in Bordeaux with my little finger dipping into the glass of my father. Apparently I would smile when the wines were good.. Also I rarely remember seeing any water during the meals at our table during childhood, my father used to say that water is only useful to "rince the glasses between the white and the red wine ». The tap water never tasted that great in the village of Margaux anyway; it was healthier to drink wine!

The easiest way for a child to get popular in my region was to invite his friends to come and participate in the harvest. We could spend days trying desperately to cut some grapes with our pupils' scissors. These are some of the very happy memories and snippets of my childhood, and I realize that one would come to understand how nature and the pleasure of running around in a vineyard or hiding in a cellar are important only after getting older and moving to a big city like Hong Kong or New York.

Château Margaux was a magic place for a child: the royal alley, the buildings, the church, the cellars and the château always looked so grand and impressive to me. Most of the people spent their entire lives working at the Château, like the cooper I knew as a child.

When I started to learn more about wine, I asked my father the question that everybody asks me today in Asia: "What is the difference between a good and a great wine?" I still use his answer because I didn't find any better one so far: "A good wine gives you pleasure, a great wine gives you emotion". The more I taste wine, the more I travel, the more I meet people who taste our wines in the world, the more I see how true this is: what fascinates me with this job is how such a wine manages to touch the heart of so many different people all over the world.

Of course Château Margaux is a First Growth and most people know it as a famous luxury brand today. But what is great about it for me is that we can't really define it as a "luxury product". It is made by nature, it is limited and we can't increase the quantity of supply. The quality, depth and style of the wine every year is different ("les millésimes" or vintages), and it creates an emotion no other "product" can generate. As the poet Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Wine is bottled poetry".

Tesi: The wine market has changed over the last 20 years, particularly with increased interest from Chinese buyers influencing the market and prices. Where do you see the wine market in 10 years?

Thibault: "Why is French wine such a success?" is a question I am asked all the time, especially in Asia. For me, the answer is easy: Asians love eating as much as we do in France, we both have a very refined, developed food culture and numerous, diversified dishes. As well, all of us always try to find ways to better accompany the food and make a meal perfect. Most of Asian countries like Japan and China have tea; in France, we have wine.

And while the West has recently discovered the pleasure of drinking refined, luxury teas of great quality, China is now discovering the pleasure of drinking great French wine with their food. Indeed, our wines have always been designed and produced to refresh and seduce your palate while eating, not to show off only by themselves or to overwhelm too much your palates, which would kill the food most of the time. Finally French wines also have the longest history and the oldest know-how in the world, and this is very recognised in Asia.

For me, I would compare a great wine with a beautiful music or an opulent piece of art, which can evoke another, more refined or sophisticated level of pleasure or emotion. In Les Contemplations, Victor Hugo said: "God made only water, but Man made wine", which shows the unique, magic aspect of wine compared to other luxury goods. Wine, like art, is a tool man has invented to go beyond his needs, his own limits and weaknesses.

I guess this is why great wine has become so incredibly successful in Asia especially and recently in China, where people see great wine as an art, and they see the top châteaux in Bordeaux and Burgundy as the most famous "painters". I have visited so many offices in Asia where old, unique bottles of wine are shown in a beautiful window at the entrance like a painting or a statue to the guests. The difference between art and great wine is disappearing in this part of the world.

In ten years, there will be more and more wine lovers all over the world, especially in China where we see a rapid growth. There will always be so many people who want the best, so there will be a great demand for top French wines. There will be more wine « tourists » visiting vineyards every where in the world, wanting to learn more, the wine logistics will have improved a lot, Asia will produce its own wines of quality, and Chateau Margaux will still make the most beautiful wine in the world.

Tesi: Close your eyes and remember the first time you had a truly great wine. How did you feel?

Thibault: It felt amazing, as if it it was alive inside my brain and body, without any end, like a very pleasant dream. Now I will think about my father every time I drink a glass of wine, which I am sure, will happen a lot.

Tesi: What are your favorite three wines that can't be missed in a good wine cellar and why?

Thibault: Of course first a bottle of Chateau Margaux, for so many reasons... Then I love Champagne so I would say a bottle of Krug 1961 which is the best champagne I have ever tasted. Finally a great bottle of Romanee Conti because I am a big fan of Burgundy as well. These 3 wines would make the perfect dinner with the person you love. Paradise is probably not far from that combination.

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