It’s hard to resist the lively, engaging personalities of Château Clinet — both the wines and the owners. We’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ronan Laborde and Monique Bailly through a decade of vintages now. Watching the development of their vineyard and the growing regard internationally for their achievements has been gratifying, as we dearly treasure their friendship.
Recently we had a chance to sit down with this globe-trotting couple to chat about recent changes at Clinet, Ronan’s new position as president of the Union of Grands Crus Bordeaux (UGCB) and future plans. Their thoughtful, straightforward responses were a delight and it’s a privilege to share our conversation here.
THE CLINET STORY
But first, for readers who might not be aware, Château Clinet has a long storied past, beginning with the early Roman settlement of Pomerol. Centuries later, during the Middle Ages, Pomerol became a pilgrimage stop enroute to Santiago de Compostela. The Knights of Jerusalem set up hostels in the region and visitors enjoyed the locally-produced wine on their arduous journey. Interestingly, the regional wine at that time was white!
One of the oldest estates in Pomerol, Château Clinet was established in 1785 on the famous Grunz Gravel Terrace. From 1900-1991, the Arnaud family owned both Château Clinet and Pétrus, with several other owners managing the property subsequently.
In 1998, the Laborde family purchased Clinet and a few years later, Ronan stepped in as manager, making extensive changes. He replanted 20% of the vineyard and increased the yields from 25 to 40 hectoliters. Currently the 11.27 hectare vineyard is planted with 88% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon.
More recently, a new winery has been built and plans to extend the barrel rooms and tasting room are in the works as well. In 2009, Ronan’s efforts were rewarded with the property’s first 100-pt rating from Robert Parker. Since then, ratings continue to be in the high 90’s.
In addition to the estate wine, Ronan also produces an excellent negociant wine, with an annual production of 360,000 bottles of Ronan Rouge (100% Merlot) and 30,000 bottles of the Ronan Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon). A large new winery, also in Pomerol, was built to accomodate the production of the table wine. There too, both Ronan and Monique have their offices. For a number of years, Monique has worked to oversee the marketing and sales programs. Currently, with Ronan now heading up the UGCB, she is more involved than ever with the daily operation at both wineries.
OUR CONVERSATION WITH RONAN & MONIQUE
Given your enormously busy schedules, how do you divide responsibilities for Clinet, the UGCB, family and breathing? Ronan, your marathon skills must be more important than ever!
I am trying to be 100% involved with Clinet, the UGCB and my family, which is my “breathing part”. Thanks to a great team in both organizations, and the support of my family, I manage that without too much work and stress. Although I must admit, I do no longer have space for marathons!
Ronan, you obviously had great energy, business acumen and wine knowledge coming into ownership of Clinet. What was the biggest advantage being 20-something provided? And, conversely, what was the downside?
I entered Château Clinet as a young manager, but also as somebody coming from another region, which was not a producing area, and with a short experience. The advantages and the drawbacks could be looked as the same: unrestricted energy, optimism, inexperience. Well, to move forward, you have to listen and learn fast, but this is not a question of age.
Monique, you had been involved in the management of Clinet for a number of years before Ronan accepted his presidency, whereupon your role changed dramatically and very quickly. What was the most daunting part of the experience and the most exhilarating?
Over the years, Ronan has gradually been more and more active with the UGCB and thinking collectively, and that before he became President. Even if the change wasn’t drastic, I must admit that I am pleased that we work together as a couple and that we share the same enthusiasm for what we do. Without that we probably wouldn’t have much time to connect.
There are actually many more positive sides to his presidency than downs. As a wine lover and fervent defender of Bordeaux I am lucky to rub shoulders with the leading figures of the wine world and to get to share very interesting thoughts and discussions.
As for Clinet, I am profoundly invested and I give as much energy as possible to manage day-to-day aspects and future projects. With Ronan having a little less time in the office, I would say that our team work is stronger than ever and that we have gained in efficiency.
Your love story is now part of the wonderful history of Clinet. Ronan what first drew you to Monique? Same question to Monique.
Ronan: Our business and our region give us the opportunity to often meet a lot of people. In one of those parties, we first became friends with Monique, but it was clear that she was very special, the “perfect Ms LABORDE” for me.
Our shared passion for wines, gastronomy, travels, sport, and working together is something that strengthened our relationship.
Monique: Before working together we were friends and when Ronan offered the job to me at Clinet it never occurred to me that we could become a couple. We really enjoyed working together, I was (and still am) very admirative and our professional relationship was built on mutual trust. It turned out that these were also the ingredients for a successful love story and that is where we are today, with an extra little character, Diane, our 5 year old daughter.
We are big fans of the Ronan wines. Any plans to expand those offerings? Any new projects on the horizon in general?
The “Ronan” project started with vintage 2009 and grew in 2015 when we inaugurated the dedicated winery and modern storage facilities in Pomerol, just down the road from Château Clinet.
We have no desire to turn “Ronan” into a giant brand with a production of millions of bottles. We feel comfortable with Pomerol scales and close to those who drink the wine. Quality is the priority and we will always keep that in mind.
We are at the embryonic stage of a new label project to reinforce the identity, but that will be for a new topic.
It seems that here in the States, Bordeaux is still viewed as the wine of stodgy old men. You’ve already begun to change that image with the Ronan wines. Now, under your leadership will the UGCB also reach out to younger, more divergent markets?
The Bordeaux Grands Crus wines are cultural and refined goods. People need education, experience of life, and for some high-end wines, a lot of money, to get this! So everywhere in the world, our wine lovers are usually above 35 years old. This doesn’t worry us too much, as we meet a good mix of people from that age, among our customers, worldwide.
What are some of the options under consideration by the UGCB to deal with global warming?
As wine producers, the solutions to deal with global warming are suggested by government organizations such as INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique), for the long term, and the Châteaux themselves, or vinicultural consultants, for the short terms actions.
The UGCB, as an organization dedicated to the communication of the Bordeaux Grands Crus, who invite its members to travel the world, has recently decided to “cover” the carbon footprints of the trips, in partnership with the airline company Air France.
When we were at the property this past fall we discussed the fact that you would most likely replant with more Cabernet Sauvignon rather than Merlot due to climate warming. Could you comment further about your plans?
The Merlot has been discovered, as a wild grape, in the Pomerol suburb, slightly over two centuries ago. It grows here in its natural environment, so I hope it will remain a strong part of the blend, and our identity.
However, the Cabernet Sauvignon, which is also part of the region patrimony, offers lots of credits to face global warming in the future. So, here in Pomerol, and for Château Clinet, a higher proportion of this latter, currently at 12%, would be beneficial.
We consider ourselves as being extremely privileged having our professional life based on our passion. Yes we drink wine and probably, as an average, every other day, but always in a very respectful way. We love the product, how it was made, who is behind the bottle, how it enlightens our senses.
It is never a question of the effects of alcohol. We always seek experience, never quantity. I think that neither of us ever get tipsy. We have a family and a business to wake up to.
We like comparing, blind tasting, introducing wines to our friends and we are always thankful when they share their wine experience. Wine has opened so many doors and we have met so many wonderful people.
A Selection of Château Clinet & Ronan
Call 850-687-1370 or write [email protected] to order.
2009 Château Clinet. RP-100. $299.99. Only 10 bottles available.
2010 Château Clinet. RP-96+ $149.99
2013 Château Clinet. WE-94. $75.99
2014 Château Clinet. VN-94+ $69.99
2015 Château Clinet. JS-99. $124.99
2015 Ronan Rouge by Clinet. $11.99
2016 Château Clinet. JD-99. $99.99
2016 Fleur de Clinet. JS-92. $39.99
2016 Pomerol by Clinet. $32.99
2018 Ronan Blanc by Clinet. $11.99
Many thanks again to Monique & Ronan for their support and friendship over the years. And, we’d be remiss, if we didn’t add a very sincere note of thanks to Nathalie Bez, who always manages our tours with impeccable style and professionalism. What a team!