Winemaker Laurent Delaunay: Spotlighting the House of Edouard Delaunay
Laurent Delaunay revives family wine business, House of Edouard Delaunay, with focus on precise wine-making from exceptional Burgundy terroirs.By Joseph Low
Laurent Delaunay, representing the fifth generation of a family of winemakers and negociants, is reappropriating his family’s history. Though it had progressively declined over the last several years, the House of Edouard Delaunay, an old Maison with a rich and unique history, has always been closely connected to the Burgundy wine trade and was considerably involved in the epic intercontinental expansion the industry experienced throughout the entire 20th century. Bought back in 2017 by Laurent Delaunay, the great-grandson of the founder, it strives to regain its place within the inner circle of the great houses of Burgundy through the meticulous and precise vinification and ageing of exceptional wines from some of Burgundy’s finest terroirs.
Could you tell us about your youth and your early connection to winemaking?
Our family has been in winemaking since the 19th century. Delaunay has been a well-established name in Burgundy across the whole of the 20th century. I grew up with my father and my grandfather in the cellar and the vineyards and I started to work there with my father in 1989 after my studies in the US (Napa Valley). After a few years we were obliged to sell for various reasons. One was that my father was ill with Alzheimer’s disease, so he made some wrong decisions in terms of investments. The other reason was that it was in the early 1990s, and the economic situation became very complicated with the cost of oil going up with the first Gulf War. The business was therefore sold in a friendly transaction to a leading Burgundy negociant.
This then led you to new adventures in winemaking right?
Indeed! I stayed with the new owners for a couple of years, but I decided to branch out in 1995 with my wife Catherine, also a trained oenologist. We wanted to recover our independence, so we left and started our own company in the south of France. This is how we started Badet Clément to make wine in the Languedoc, Rhône Valley and Provence. The company became known for its “Les Jamelles” brand of varietal wines from Pays d’Oc, its high-end label Abbotts & Delaunay, and for selling more than 15 million bottles of wine around the world. It was a boom time in the south of France in the 1990s. Yet I always kept the dream of coming back to Burgundy and creating my own brand, my own range there.
Tell us about your return to Burgundy.
Château de Charmont
It is an amazing twist of life. The first step came in 2003 when our company Badet Clément purchased DVP (Domaines & Vins de Propriété), which distributes Burgundian domains. But the big step actually came in 2017 when we purchased the Edouard Delaunay brand name from the Burgundy negociant we had sold the brand to back in 1993 and some other buildings from relatives. We carried out extensive refurbishment at the château (Château de Charmont), which dates from the 19th century, the vaulted cellars and the buildings next door, which date from the 1950s and 60s and have been renovated in the style of factories from the 1920s and 30s. The metal beams and pillars, for example, are reminiscent of the metalwork used in the Eiffel Tower.
Looks like it is a dream which came true for you.
Indeed, this has been a project very close to my heart and a dream that has come true. My grandfather used to say that the House of Edouard Delaunay was “the smallest of the great Houses’’. My ambition is to return it to its former glory and make Edouard Delaunay a leading Burgundian wine house once more. We are on the right track to achieving such a goal.
What was it like to start from scratch in 2017 again and produce your first cuvee later on?
As mentioned, the first thing needed in January 2017 was to restore the château and winery in time for that year’s harvest. Next, we needed to put together a team, and I was able to hire a young and talented winemaker, Christophe Briotet. But the most complicated was finding grapes as we didn’t have our own vineyards. We were fortunate to have many friends and family members in the trade and obviously our connections with many small producers thanks to Badet-Clément’s DVP marketing arm really helped us. I was highly surprised that so many of them accepted our offer to buy their grapes, but then they all saw it as our “Renaissance” (rebirth), and for them it was also an amazing and rather unique story. A family that had ventured a few regions away and who was then truly back to Burgundy!
You have mentioned several times the importance of packaging and service to clients. Do you feel that you have actually adopted the codes of luxury Houses?
This is correct. From 2018 onwards all ranges of Edouard Delaunay wines have come in “luxury” packaging. We have paid a lot of attention to packaging because in Burgundy the wines are expensive and so it means that — worldwide and especially in Asia — people who can afford Burgundy wines are also people who purchase luxury goods. I feel that in Burgundy, very often, we pay a lot of attention to the quality of the wine but all that is around the wine – the packaging and the service – is not of the same quality. We wish to change that specific perception. We actually take our inspiration from Champagne or Cognac for the packaging as well as for the servicing and marketing to the consumers.
Do you have any expansion plans?
In Burgundy, we see the Hautes Côtes as a prime place for expansion, especially because of its high altitude which makes the grapes less prone to weather problems. The Hautes have actually much-unplanted land that is not classified and we can see the eventual production of single-vineyard wines from the region.
What are the key drivers which you follow daily?
My philosophy is all about listening, reading the terroir and the vines’ condition; trying to understand, and gently accompanying the natural evolution of the wine.
You have been elected president of the BIVB, the Burgundy Wine Board. What has been your key message to the BIVB members?
The need to keep track of trends in the wine trade worldwide. The need to understand the impact of climate change on the Burgundy region. I also keep stressing the need for Burgundy to keep open lines of communication with customers and the duty of the region to practice social responsibility. On a lighter tone, I also wish that people across the globe know how to pronounce Bourgogne and not only Burgundy.
How do you view Burgundy wine lovers in Asia versus European or American regular Burgundy wine drinkers? How do their taste or requests differ?
My grandfather established a presence in Singapore as early as 1932. Asia and Asian consumers have always been highly regarded in our family. I am very impressed by the level of knowledge Asian drinkers have about Burgundy. The US market has been a leading purchaser of Burgundy wines for over a century, yet Asia is catching up fast, and the wine audience is avid to learn and understand our complicated region classification. It is quite refreshing for a winemaker to know that the ultimate consumer knows what he or she is drinking.
Talking about Asia, tell us more about Badet-Clément’s presence in this part of the world?
Badet-Clément has a regional bureau in Hong Kong with a highly active, experienced and mobile team headed by Olivier Hui-Bon-Hoa. We also have a presence in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam and lately in the Philippines.
Have you seen the 2017 movie by Cedric Klapisch “Ce qui nous Lie” (“Back To Burgundy”)? How did you personally react to that movie set in Burgundy and focusing on inheritance issues?
My wife and myself truly enjoyed Cedric Klapisch’s movie “Ce qui nous Lie”. It is a movie that is very touching for the local community because the story it tells is very realistic. Every wine-growing family has had to face the difficulty of arranging the transmission of the estate to the next generation, and it is a challenge we all must live with, especially at a time of rising land prices (inheritance taxes are on the high side in France). Cedric Klapisch shows these difficulties in a very straightforward light.
Your career and overall entrepreneurship story is amazing, have you got anything you wish to work on?
Yes, speaking in public. But I have progressed rather well on that matter by taking courses at the famed Cours Florent in Paris.
If you were to name someone who has influenced you in your career as an entrepreneur, whom would that be?
I learned a lot in terms of entrepreneurship and business from Jean-Claude Boisset, one of the smartest wine entrepreneurs I have met.
I also learned a lot from Aubert de Villaine. What I like is not only his wine philosophy but his life philosophy. I appreciate that he is not only one of the most emblematic producers of Burgundy but he has a vision, his thinking is across several generations, and he is very sensitive of the fact that in a traditional region like Burgundy, we do not inherit, we simply pass the land on. This gives you a vision and a perspective across centuries. You have to think and consider the consequences in the long term.