Although young winemaker Benoit Trocard grew up in wineries steeped with the tradition of Bordeaux, he has forged his own path – and his own style of wines. Here in Cayman for a recent visit, Trocard discussed his fresh approach to one of the most renowned wine regions of the world.
The Trocards have been making wine on Bordeaux’s Right Bank since at least the 1620s says 36-year-old Benoit Trocard, who represents the family’s 15th generation of winemakers.
“It could be even longer, but that’s as far back as we can trace through records,” he says.
Back in the early days, the Right Bank was used as much for other farming and cattle as it was for growing grapes and the wines the Trocard family produced were used for either the family’s personal consumption, or for that of the people in the nearby village.
It wasn’t until 1918, when Andre Trocard married Therese Renard, who was also from a winemaking family in the area, that the Trocards started expanding their vineyards. Today, the Trocards have 14 estate vineyards across six Bordeaux appellations – mostly in St. Emilion and Pomerol – and more than 100 hectares of vineyards.
It would have been easy for Benoit Trocard to carry on his with the successful wine-making traditions that earned his family’s wines such a good reputation, but the young Trocard had other ideas.
When Benoit Trocard went off to university, winemaking was the furthest thing from his mind.
“I thought the wine business was very challenging,” he said. “I decided to study business. I did not think I would join the family [in the winemaking business].”
However, with one year of university left, his grandmother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. It had been his grandmother who was really in charge of the business side of the Trocard family’s winemaking operations and Benoit was asked to help out in her absence, giving him a good taste of the business.
“I fell in love with what we were doing,” he says now.
Although he was happy to help at the Jean-Luis Trocard family winery, Benoit had his own ambitions. When the small Clos Dubreuil vineyard in a choice spot on top of a hill in St. Emilion was offered for sale in 2002, Benoit – then only 26 years old – jumped at the opportunity. He borrowed money from the bank and bought the vineyard, even though, at the time, he didn’t know a lot about winemaking.
It turned out that Benoit’s Trocard pedigree gave him a good start.
“Wine is like cooking or fashion,” he said. “You either know it or you don’t know it. I was around the winery from the age of five. My parents taught us to smell and taste the wine, so I had that backbone of experience.”
Since buying the 1.5 hectare Clos Dubreuil vineyard, Benoit has acquired five more hectares and he now produces three different wines – Clara, an oaked-aged rosé; Clos Dubreuil Anna, a St. Emilion Grand Cru wine; and his flagship wine Clos Dubreuil, which also has a St. Emilion Grand Cru designation.
All three of the wines are made with the same blending proportions – 90 per cent Merlot and 10 per cent Cabernet Franc. But Benoit has recently planted some Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard and he’s hoping that will allow him to change the blend.
“Ten years from now, I hope I can change the blend to 75 per cent Merlot, 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 per cent Cabernet Franc,” he said. “That’s what I would like to have.”
All three wines are sold on Grand Cayman by Vino Veritas.
Clara [$31] is a rich and complex Clairet with a light red colour – but considerably darker than the typical rosés from Provence – because the grape skins spend less time in contact with the grape juice after crushing. It features a good minerality and aromas of red fruits and blackberries and flavours of fresh red fruits like strawberries to go with good acidity and balance. This is a red wine drinker’s rosé and is a good option when a meal calls for red wine but the setting is just too warm.
Clos Dubreuil Anna [$49], which is also served by the glass at the restaurant Blue by Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, is a Grand Cru wine made with grapes from younger vines that were planted on Benoit’s more recently acquired vineyards. Although the vines are young, the wine still expresses the Clos Dubreuil terrior. Like all of Benoit’s wines, it is aged in 100 per cent new oak barrels, but for a slightly less time than his flagship wine.
This deep red wine has aromas of blueberries and spice and on the palate it is plush with blue and black fruits to go with smooth tannins.
The highly acclaimed Clos Dubreuil wine – which ranges in price from $90 to $145 locally, depending on the vintage – has an aroma and flavour profile similar to Anna, but with more complexity and richness.
Benoit markets his wines in select countries, mostly in Western Europe and China. His Cayman connection happened by chance when Vino Veritas owner Ian Boxall attended a wine tasting of Clos Dubreuil in the UK. Vino Veritas has sold his wines since 2005 and Benoit tries to visit Cayman every year.
“It’s a nice little market. There are nice people here; down to earth and easy going,” he says. “Wines are all about sharing. If you have a chance to share it with people you like, it makes the whole difference.”
Wine critics have generally given Clos Dubreuil high scores and Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate gave the 2008 vintage 95 points and both the 2009 and 2010 vintages 94+ points, meaning they could get higher ratings when they are revisited after some aging.
“The 10 for me is perfect,” says Benoit. “It think it could be 98 points.”
Even so, like many winemakers, Benoit says he’s more concerned about what the buyers of his wine think.
“I think you have to make the wine for yourself and your customers and not for a rating,” he says, adding that winemaking is an expression of the winemaker and as such, wine evolves as the winemaker evolves. Although there may be continuity in his wines that come from the terrior and from some of the winemaking processes, each vintage also expresses some of his individuality.
His wines differ from the style of his ancestors and even his father. For instance, Benoit prefers to have his grapes picked a little later than many wine producers in Bordeaux. This ripeness gives a “bigger” wine with a higher alcohol content and more tannin structure.
“The tannins are big, but soft,” he said. “You can drink it today, no problem, if you like big wines.”
Benoit spoke about the growing trend in the wine industry not to age wines so much because of the added expense. It is therefore important for him to create wines that are enjoyable at a younger age.
Whether or not his wines have the ability to age like the great Bordeaux wines is a matter of debate; he hasn’t owned the winery long enough to really tell yet.
“What I’m pretty sure about is the wine is great now,” he says. “I hope it still will be in 10 years or 20 years.”
Although he didn’t imagine at the age of 20 he’d end up in the wine business, Benoit says he has no plans to do anything else.
“Wine is not only a passion, it’s life really,” he said. “It’s something you live for… because sometimes passion ends.”