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Q&A: Caroline Frey, Paul Jaboulet & Ch. La Lagune

Q&A: Caroline Frey, Paul Jaboulet & Ch. La Lagune
© Jaboulet
Caroline Frey has been winemaker at her family's Haut-Médoc third-growth estate Château La Lagune since 2004. The family also owns Domaine Paul Jaboulet in the Rhône Valley, along with a 45 percent stake in Champagne house Billecart-Salmon.

Are you from Bordeaux?

No, I was born in Champagne, where I grew up in the Montagne de Reims, in the heart of the most beautiful vineyard of Champagne. I then arrived in Bordeaux in 2000, at the time when my father bought Château La Lagune, and I started my studies in oenology at Bordeaux University.

In 2006, my family acquired Domain Paul Jaboulet in the Rhône Valley. So today, I commute back and forth between these two vineyards, working about three weeks per month in the Rhône and one week at La Lagune.

Is wine your destiny?

Yes, we can say that certainly there is some destiny involved. But I was born in wine in any case, in the heart of vineyards. My father [Jean-Jacques Frey] was always passionate about wine, particularly with the Médoc, as was my grandfather, who had only Médoc wines in his cellar. And my father bought his first vineyard in Champagne when I was just a little child. So in the end I have always been cradled to the rhythm of harvests, of vines, of wine aging, of blending.

If not wine, what would you be doing?

That is a good question. I had been fascinated for a long time with horses. This was a first passion until I became about 22 or 23 years old. But I turned this page to devote myself to wine, which is another passion, which takes all of my time, my energy and my thoughts. So if I was not in wine, I really do not know what else I would do. 

Is that why there are photos of horses on the walls at Château La Lagune?

Yes, indeed, they are souvenirs, photos of this first life. And we have horses for laboring the soils at Jaboulet, where certain parcels can be worked only by horses, because of the steep, terraced slopes. And at La Lagune, part of the vineyard also is worked with horses. So I no longer mount horses, but I am close to them.

L-R: Ploughing vineyard slopes with horses at Domaine Paul Jaboulet; Château La Lagune; the estate's first and second wines
© Jaboulet/Wine-Searcher | L-R: Ploughing vineyard slopes with horses at Domaine Paul Jaboulet; Château La Lagune; the estate's first and second wines

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

I look less and less in the mirror, as I am beginning to see wrinkles, so I do not want to see myself anymore. Seriously, I am very humble. I look rather at what happens to my bottles, to what happens in the vineyards, as I am but a small element in this chain.

Who has been your greatest influence in the world of wine – and why?

Without any hesitation: Denis Dubourdieu. From almost the very beginning, he has been an influence on my wine learning. He was one of my professors at the university, and I was lucky to have done my internship at Château Reynon. And once I finished my studies, I got practical experience handling the 2003 vintage, which prepared me for La Lagune in 2004 [her first vintage]. We work together very closely and he acts as a consultant for me today, so he is a person who means a lot.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I hope that I have not yet had it, and that it will come later.

What about the lowest point?

The worst memory was a difficult harvest in the Rhône Valley. In 2008, we endured a horrible storm at Tain Hermitage. In one night, an astronomic quantity of rain fell that destroyed the harvest at the beginning of September. So we decided not to make any grands vins, including, of course, La Chapelle. So this is such a bad memory because in one night, the work of an entire year was utterly destroyed.

Are any French vineyards being spared the awful spring weather in 2013?

I do not think that any vineyard has been spared by these bad conditions in 2013. Vouvray was particularly hard hit by hail. We are also facing bad conditions: clear climatic difficulties. We have not seen hail, but rain and cold temperatures are not good and we do not know where we are going with this vintage so far. All I can say is that it can only get better!

La Chapelle
© Jaboulet | La Chapelle

Has the recession posed difficulties for your family's business?

We have not had real difficulties, but, yes, we see changes in markets. New markets are developing [while] some are becoming more prudent. But we are lucky to have great appellations. Bordeaux certainly remains the reference for great wines. And the Rhône Valley, with its celebrated regions like Hermitage, Côte Rotie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

I think that one of the first consequences of this economic difficulty is that it leaves no space for poor wines. You have to be absolutely irreproachable and make absolutely perfect wines if you want to continue in this market. So these economic difficulties push us to make ever better wines.

I hear you have done some work at La Chapelle?

We just redid the ceiling. We are very attentive to maintaining it properly, as it is officially recognized as a historic monument, so we refurbished the roof with specific tiles corresponding to the original style.

How long did it take to complete the work?

It did not take that long, as it is a little roof. About one week. Less than the time needed to re-do the roof of a Bordeaux château!

Last question: what do you think would make the world a better place? 

Generally speaking, everything should be driven by a desire for the highest quality. We have a marvelous heritage here in France – whether we talk about wine, fashion, gastronomy, or arts and crafts. I think that for a 'perfect world,' everything should be driven by an ambition for excellence, for perfection, in order to preserve and safeguard the heritage that we have. 

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