Sunday February 3, 2013
Prince of wines
Story and photo by ALICE CHING
Malaysia’s multi-cultural heritage and spicy food top the Crown Prince of Luxembourg’s agenda on his maiden visit.
I CAN’T wait to try pairing our wines with your local food,” said Prince Robert Louis Francois Marie of Luxembourg when we met during his brief stopover in Kuala Lumpur recently.
As the president and chief executive officer of Domaine Clarence Dillon and Clarence Dillon Wines, Prince Robert was in town to promote Clarendelle – the first super premium Bordeaux wine brand by Clarence Dillion Wines. It was his maiden visit to Malaysia and he loved every minute of it.
The Crown Prince of Luxembourg explained that Clarence Dillion Wines is a négociant (fine wine merchant) firm under his family-owned company, Domaine Clarence Dillon that also produces the premier grand cru wines of Château Haut-Brion and Château la Mission Haut-Brion.
“I was told that Malaysia is famous for its food and I’m looking forward to sampling local specialities, especially the spicy fare. I’d like to know how well our wines complement the dishes,” he enthused.
“When I visited Thailand in 1989 during one of my summer breaks, it was love at first bite the minute I had my first taste of spicy Thai food.”
Born and raised in Luxembourg, Prince Robert is the great-grandson of Clarence Dillon, an American investment banker who bought Château Haut-Brion in 1935. Educated in England, the prince spent many summers at Château Haut-Brion while his mother, the Duchess of Mouchy was renovating the castle.
An avid lover of art, Prince Robert studied sculpture in the United States. He has also lived several years in Central and South America, India and South Africa before he returned to take the helm of the family’s business at the age of 25.
His earliest involvement in the family’s wine business was at the age of 18 as a board member. After taking over the company reins in 1992, Prince Robert joined the management team full-time in June 1997 and was made managing director in 2002.
According to Prince Robert, “The oldest first growths in Bordeaux have existed for close to 2,000 years (since 1460 AD). Château Haut-Brion was responsible for pioneering the style of red wine that is known in the world today and Haut-Brion is the world’s first luxury brand. The earliest mention of Haut-Brion wine was in a citation by Samuel Pepys who noted that King Charles II had 160 bottles in his cellar.”
He opined that wines became culturally important to Europeans when thinkers and philosophers such as John Locke, Daniel Dafoe and John Dryden met to discuss philosophy and politics in wine taverns in France and England.
“As wine taverns became popular gathering places for the intellectual set, they heralded the revolution of changing tastes just like what’s happening currently with coffee and tea. Before wine taverns, coffee houses were deemed as subversive hot spots to the government of the day.”
Banking on Château Haut-Brion’s hallowed status and Domaine Clarence Dillon’s expertise, Prince Robert expanded his wine business in 2005 by establishing Clarence Dillon Wines.
“Clarendelle is Clarence Dillon Wines’ first super premium Bordeaux wine label. The elegant, complex wines are produced from harvests derived from Bordeaux’s top 15 to 20 old-world vineyards using the same experienced oenology team behind Château Haut Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion. We have also acquired a Saint Emilion estate, Château Quintus, recently.
“Our house style is to let the terroir shine through the wines. Although production is only a thousand cases annually, interest in the wines is strong as more people seek better quality wines in this age of globalisation. We anticipate the biggest growth will be for our super premium wines with sales expected to double from year to year.”
The prince, who speaks fluent Luxembourgish, French, English and German, emphasised that he only oversees the management part of the business. “I try not to micro-manage too much and leave the winemaking and blending processes completely to our experts.”
Although Prince Robert has dabbled in scriptwriting, he finds the creative aspects involved in the producing and marketing of wines equally satisfying.
“In order to grow the business, I know I need to have a vision to drive the company forward. It takes a fair amount of creativity to get people to buy into that vision and work with me to achieve it. Then you connect all the dots on how to make that a reality.
“Our name is only as good as our last vintage but we’ve a reputable track record that has stood the test of time. The golden age for Bordeaux wines is far from over and we are ready to add our shine to it.” said Prince Robert.
Haut-Brion, La Mission and Clarendelle wines are imported by Mui Hua Sdn Bhd (tel: 03-6257 9608) and available from selected five-star international hotels, fine-dining restaurants and boutique wine retailers.