Aymeric de Gironde had just recently completed his fifth harvest as CEO of Château Troplong Mondot, when we sat down to chat with him. “Yes! It’s been fantastic here,” he confirmed. “And I think I may finally be issued my passport,” he joked, referring to the occasionally contentious relationship between Bordeaux’s Left and Right Banks.
“You know,” he continued, “when I left Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estèphe, I asked my staff if any of them had ever been to Saint-Émilion. I was stunned when not a single one said they had visited. Similarly, when I questioned the group here at Troplong Mondot, no one had ever been to the Médoc. Definitely two different worlds.”
When asked what he enjoys most about the Right Bank, de Gironde is quick to respond: “The properties are much smaller, obviously, so you see your neighbors more often. I can literally walk the entire estate at Troplong Mondot — which I do daily when I’m not traveling.”
“Here, at the top of the Saint-Émilion plateau, 110 meters (360 feet) above sea level, we have limestone, clay and an incredibly diverse array of elements to select from for blending. The complexity of what we have here is quite unique. And, since I’m a Cognac Man, brought up with the idea of blending, it’s the perfect environment. I love it.”
A COGNAC HERITAGE
Aymeric de Gironde is a proud Cognac Man for good reason — his family has worked at the esteemed Hennessy Cognac House for over 200 years. In 1997, de Gironde began his career at Hennessy as part of LVMH (Louis Vuitton – Moët Hennessy) in New York. Later, he oversaw the business and marketing development for Krug Champagne, also part of the LVMH portfolio.
In 2006, de Gironde accepted a position as International Commercial Director of AXA Millésimes, working with Christian Seely to manage Châteaux Pichon Baron, Suduiraut and Petit Village among others. Seven years later, de Gironde became managing director of Cos d’Estournel. Quite a résumé!
Now as President of Château Troplong Mondot, de Gironde says he’s found his home. Standing with him, at the edge of the vineyards, overlooking the village of Saint-Émilion and heart-stopping views beyond, we can understand his devotion.
Château Troplong Mondot, dates back to the 17th century, when it was first built by Abbé Raymond de Sèze. One hundred years later, Raymond Troplong purchased the property and added his name to the title. Troplong consistently bought land to extend the vineyards, creating one of the largest estates in Saint-Émilion at 33 hectares (81 acres).
The Valette family acquired the estate in 1936 and Troplong Mondot became known for its concentrated, extravagant style. Robert Parker awarded the 2005 vintage 100 points, describing the wine as “full-bodied, multi-layered and spectacularly rich.”
In July 2017, Château Troplong Mondot was sold to the French Insurance Company, SCOR, for € 7 million per hectare – a record-setting price at the time. Later, SCOR purchased an additional 10 hectares (24 acres) from neighboring Château Bellisle Mondotte and Clos la Barde, for a total of 43 hectares (106 acres).
When Aymeric de Gironde arrived to manage the estate, one of his first tasks was to construct a new cellar and winery (in addition to revamping the restaurant, hotel and producing a new vintage…)
The changes he made are both visually and technically dramatic. The winemaking facilities are now more than double in size and a spectacular new cellar, with 12 meter (40-feet) high ceilings was designed to represent the depth of the vines on the estate’s famous limestone plateau.
More of our conversation with Aymeric de Gironde here:
In addition to the new winery and barrel rooms, you’ve made significant stylistic changes to the wine. Wine critic Chris Kissack described what you’ve done as “dialing back the extravagance and turning up the elegance.” How would you characterize the changes?
Mostly what we have here is exceptionally unique soil. The clay at Troplong Mondot measures 12 meters (39 feet) at the highest point and then drops down to just a few inches. Interestingly, density tests of our clay are very similar to that of some the world’s greatest wine estates. So here, our biggest job is to allow the wine to express itself and to maintain the purity that exists naturally because of the remarkable terroir.
On the more technical side, malolactic fermentation for us now takes place in vats instead of barrels to preserve the freshness. Aging has been reduced from 100% new oak to 60%, with a small percentage of the wine aged in 900-litre vats and amphorae.
The vines are no longer de-leafed. We maintain a full canopy to protect the grapes from over-ripening as well as putting off any additional sulfur dioxide (S02) until after fermentation when the wine is in barrel.
Of course, our most important work is in the vineyards. We use horses now to help aerate the soil. Herbs and cereals are planted between rows to create more microorganisms and to facilitate root growth.
Many wine critics thought that the exceptional changes made here at Troplong Mondot merited a new status in the recent Saint-Émilion Classification — from Premier Grand Cru Classé to Premier Grand Cru Classé A. But it didn’t happen. Your reaction?
Let me just say that overall, I think the classification is an excellent tool to ensure that the châteaux keep working. We have to earn our spot every 10 years. That said, I do think the 2022 classification suffered because of legal issues resulting from the previous classification. But regardless, we’re focused on our goals, sharing our story and consistently making great wine.
Could we talk about climate change? This past summer of 2022 was extremely warm, so much so that the AOC allowed producers to water. Your thoughts?
I believe it was a very unfortunate decision on the part of the AOC to allow irrigation. First, grape vines are originally Mediterranean plants very much able to survive heat and drought. Secondly, to divert water from crops that are essential for people to eat in order to irrigate a luxury product like our grapes is incomprehensible.
In fact, extreme conditions are helpful for the vines. It’s good to push them. Here at Troplong Mondot, we’re very well positioned to deal with drought. Our clay and limestone soils retain moisture. There’s always a velour sense to our wines. Even those produced in extreme heat will be generous with silky tannins.
Currently, Troplong-Mondot is divided into plots consisting of 85% Merlot, 13% Cabernet and 2% Cabernet Franc. Some estates are pulling out Merlot and replanting with more heat-tolerant varietals. Are there plans to change out the vineyard here?
Not at all. The vineyards and the varietals are superb as they are. We already have more Cabernet Sauvignon than most estates here in Saint-Émilion. At some point we might change out a parcel for more Cabernet Franc — to add a little brightness. But that’s it.
Troplong Mondot became the first French winery to sign with IWCA (International Wineries for Climate Action). How are your green initiatives progressing?
We’re very pleased to be a part of IWCA and committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. One of our most innovative programs has been to convert all the cuttings from our vines into pellets that provide heat for everything on the property — from our restaurant, hotel, winery — everything. We are completely self-sustaining in that regard. And a Michelin Green and Culinary star were awarded to our restaurant, Les Belles Perdrix. We’re equally proud of both.
All herbicides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers have been banned on the estate since 2002. And we utilize green manure and compost made from all the waste collected on the property.
Also, let me add that I don’t like dogma and I don’t like extreme people. Nor am I the owner here, so I can’t afford to lose a crop. If we have to use copper from time to time to fight mildew, we will. But, we make every effort to respect the environment and we’ve made great strides towards achieving zero waste and to becoming energy independent.
In addition to the vineyards and winemaking, you oversee the restaurant and lodging — quite a responsibility.
True, but we have a fantastic staff here. Rémy Monribot, Technical Manager, is our secret weapon in the vineyards. David Charrier took time off while we were closed to visit top kitchens and reinvent himself, then came back and received a Michelin Star once again for his cuisine. Ferréol du Fou, CommerciaI Director, promotes our brand and wines all over the world. Claire Paven orchestrates everything from a marketing and communications standpoint. These are just a few of our staff. Obviously, I could go on and on…
Listening to Aymeric de Gironde and enjoying the extraordinary hospitality, beautifully appointed rooms and exceptional cuisine at Troplong Mondot, we get the sense that his talent for blending includes not only elements within wine, but all the choices, options, talents and innovations that he manages and continues to develop at the Château — an impressive assemblage!
Below, our selection of wines Château Troplong Mondot and Château Cos d’Estournel. Linked products can be ordered directly online. For additional information, write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 850-687-1370.
Château Cos d’Estournel
2008. JD-95. $179.99
2009. JD-100 RP-100. $338.99
2009 Les Pagodes. JD-94. $84.99
2011. JS-95. $174.99
2012. AG-94. $174.99
2014. JS-98. $174.99
2015. JS-98. $179.99
2016. JS-100 RP-100. $249.99
2016 Les Pagodes. JD-94. $84.99
2017. 98+ $169.99
2018. JD-98+ $199.99
2018 in half-bottles. JD-98+ $124.99
2018 in Magnum. JD-98+ $399.99
2018 Les Pagodes. JS-95. $59.99
2019. JS-99. $192.99