10 thought-provoking questions & answers from Pauillac, Bordeaux. Meet Christian Seely of Château Pichon Baron.
Christian Seely is also responsible for looking after Châteaux Pibran in Pauillac, Petit-Village in Pomerol, Suduiraut in Sauternes as well as Domaine de l’Arlot in Nuits-St-Georges, Disznókő in Hungary and Quinta do Noval in Portugal.
1. What is your most important wine experience?
There have of course been many. But one experience that left a lasting impression on me was drinking a bottle of Palmer 1961 with my father James Seely when we were working together on his first book, Great Bordeaux Wines. The chateau had given us the bottle to try at our leisure and so we did that. We were travelling on an author’s budget so we drank it in a very basic tiny restaurant in Lesparre one evening. The preposterous contrast between the magnificent generosity of the wine in the glass and our rather straightened circumstances only enhanced the moment and I remember thinking that the people responsible for making that wine had done a wonderful thing. I was very moved to taste the Palmer 2018 a couple of weeks ago with Thomas Duroux which reminded me of the greatness of the 1961. That’s the kind of potential the best 2018s have.
2. Have you made a ‘wine pilgrimage’ and if so, where and why?
Yes. It took me a long time to get round to it but I finally visited DRC a few years ago. The first great wine I ever bought and shared with someone in a restaurant was a La Tache 1971 a long time ago and I remember the moment well. It was wonderful to be able to taste a young La Tache in barrel and feel I had returned to the source of that extraordinary experience. That afternoon the person with whom I had shared the original bottle of La Tache 1971, and to whom I had not spoken for years, called me by the purest coincidence and I was able to tell her about it. Mysterious things can happen when great wine is involved!
3. Who do you prefer to drink wine with?
I like to share wine with anyone who enjoys it. The degree of knowledge does not matter in the least: what matters is enthusiasm and enjoyment.
4. What would your best recommendations be if someone came to visit your area?
If you come to visit Bordeaux come with a reverence for the great vineyards that have produced such wines over the years; do not allow that reverence to overshadow the pleasure and enjoyment which are the primary purpose of a great bottle of wine; come with someone, or with people who will share these feelings with you.
5. Who do you dream to work with and why?
I would love to have my late father present in the blending sessions anywhere in Bordeaux, the Douro, or indeed anywhere else. He taught me everything about wine appreciation, was a wonderfully precise taster, but however seriously he was applying himself to the job in hand always brought an effortless gaiety to the moment and never forgot that it was all about enhanced enjoyment.
6. Who is or was your mentor and why did you choose them?
I think I have just answered that question, in that my father started me off. However in recent years I have had the pleasure of working with Antonio Agrellos, the brilliant blender and technical director of Quinta do Noval, who retired last year in favour of his equally talented nephew Carlos, but with whom I worked for nearly 25 years in the tasting room of Quinta do Noval, where we would taste together almost every day during the nineties when I was living at Noval. I learned enormously from him.
7. What motivates you?
The responsibility and the pleasure of looking after some of the great vineyard terroirs of the world, and the dream of trying every year, working together with a team of great professionals who share the same aim, to produce the greatest wine possible that those terroirs can give in the climatic circumstances of the year.
8. What is the biggest challenge you face today?
When managing vineyards and making wine at the very highest level, the challenge is constant: every day to make sure that everything possible has been done to enable the vineyard to produce the best wine possible at the end of the year. It is a challenge I share with the teams of highly professional people who work with me in each vineyard. This sounds as if it were very stressful, but it is not: it is part of the huge pleasure involved in managing great vineyards such as Pichon Baron. Every day counts.
9. What is your greatest achievement?
My four sons.
10. And now?
I am on the aeroplane from Bordeaux to Porto where we are launching the wonderful 2017 Vintage Ports to the Portuguese press. With the great and historic year of 2018 from Bordeaux to show en primeurs and the 2017 Vintage Ports to show in bottle, 2019 is proving so far to be a hugely enjoyable year!