ERIC BOISSENOT
Decanter|July 2020
ERIC BOISSENOT
He may be happy to maintain a low profile, yet consultant oenologist Eric Boissenot is as highly regarded as they come, appreciated by his many clients for his precision, skill and ability to bring vitality to a wine. James Lawther MW finds out more
James Lawther MW

He is arguably one of the most influential figures in Bordeaux, particularly the Médoc, but apart from industry insiders, few people know of him. He’s reserved rather than outspoken, sensitive rather than thick-skinned, nonchalant in his dress and manner, doesn’t own a great château – though he frequents many – avoids publicity and doesn’t have a chauffeur-driven car. So, who is Eric Boissenot?

The straight-up answer: he’s a consultant oenologist. It’s the ‘to whom’ that raises eyebrows, for among his 150-odd clients, 40 are 1855 classed growths, including first-growth châteaux Lafite, Latour, Margaux, and Mouton Rothschild, plus super-seconds such as Léoville Las Cases and Ducru-Beaucaillou.

On the books, as well, are a host of ‘lesser’ Médoc châteaux that he values just as highly, and a small percentage of overseas clients – Concha y Toro being one example. But it’s not just the names that are important. The style of wine he embodies carries equal weight, with classicism, finesse, and terroir the watchwords.

Father’s footsteps

Boissenot was patently born into the job. His father Jacques was also a highly respected consultant oenologist, who trained and worked with legendary French oenologist Emile Peynaud, so Eric follows an eminent lineage. His youth was spent knocking around with the sons of local growers in the Médoc village of Lamarque where he was born, the harvest a yearly ritual. When he was 14, his father planned to buy 2ha in APs Haut-Médoc and Margaux, and asked him to oversee them. Hence, by the time he started his studies at the Faculty of Oenology in Bordeaux, he’d already notched up six years’ viticultural and winemaking experience.

In 1991, with a diploma in oenology under his belt, he started consulting independently and alongside his father. A doctorate in oenology-ampelology followed in 1997.

Working with his father was not a problem. ‘Our offices and laboratory were at home so most of the clients already knew me. In those days the staff structure was simpler and it was the manager who brought the samples, whereas today it’s a trainee,’ he recounts.

Much of the time he was in contact with his father’s generation, whose views and experience he came to respect. And above all, there were the guiding lines of Peynaud that Jacques never ceased to recite: ‘Respect the tannins and structure of a wine, don’t over-extract and always place the focus on terroir.’ And this in the 1990s and 2000s, when bodybuilder wines were all the rage.

Which begs the question, is there a Boissenot style and philosophy? ‘My father always said no, as it’s the terroir and cru that come first, but compared with [Stéphane] Derenoncourt and [Michel] Rolland, for instance, there is, because I work in a different way.

‘The philosophy is probably more in the manner in which I see things: understanding and having confidence in the raw material, never leaving an imprint that goes against nature and always to make a wine that evokes the highest possible emotion,’ he explains.

Close relationship

How that works in practice requires the complicity of the owners and managers, he says: ‘It takes about three years to understand the terroir and commitment of the people.’

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July 2020