Posted on | April 24, 2014
Written by | Cara McIlwaine
Castel is the largest wine producer in all of France (actually in all of Europe), yet in the U.S. its portfolio has flown under the radar. Back around the year 2000, the family-owned Castel Group gained some momentum with their Nicolas brand of wines, but a subsequent backlash against French products was a major setback. With a renewed focus on quality offerings from its Châteaux & Estates properties, Castel Group is poised to make its mark.
Michel Haury, President of Luneau USA, which imports Castel wines into the U.S., says, “The Castel Group is the compilation of many small to medium properties, each managed as if it was independently owned, but taking advantage of the strength of a strong organization.” While there has been success in the value sector with brands like Nicolas and Ed Hardy in the U.S. market, the Castel Group is working to showcase the quality of its French estate vineyards in Bordeaux and Provence. Haury says, “The idea is to promote and present the châteaux as their quality is increasing. We have all these properties with great terroir, and by putting in the right talent and management, these wines are better than ever.”
All in the Family
Castel was founded in 1949 by nine brothers and sisters, and family members continue to have an outsize role. Haury notes how the second, third and fourth generations of the Castel family have assumed leadership positions. Philippe Castel (second generation) is in charge of monitoring oenological and technical aspects of the vineyards, and he lives at Cru de la Maqueline, which makes a lively red Bordeaux that Haury says is “the quintessence of what a Bordeaux wine should be.” Since it’s located in the Margaux lowlands, it cannot be classified as AOC Margaux, but that means the wine can be offered at a great value. At Château Cavalier in the heart of Provence, the younger generation decided to hire a former director from Domaines Ott for its rosé production. Sophie Palatsi-Castel (third generation) is Director of Quality for Castel Group, and she has done similar work at Domaine de la Clapière in Languedoc.
Alexis Raoux (third generation) is in charge of The Castel Group’s sustainable development and is leading the charge with some other young members of the clan to make some of the properties more sustainable, even organic.
At the same time, the family knows when to defer to outside expertise. They have utilized consultants including Alain Raynaud, known for consulting on Chateau Pavie and Clos l’Eglise; and Eric Boissenot, sought widely in the Médoc for his expert palate, to assist the winemaking teams already in place at the estates.
Haury acknowledges that “the U.S. is perceived as a mature market where quality has to make the difference.” Castel is dedicating time and resources to that end. “We could be taking all the wines to make blends to compete with large California estates, but we have a core belief in the importance of terroir and typicity in our wines,” Haury says.
Prices for the French estate wines vary, but are generally in the $20-$60 range. For instance, suggested retail price for Château Barreyres is $24, but “Château Beychevelle is sold en primeur, therefore the price can vary a lot depending on the fame of the vintage,” says Haury. Overwhelmingly, feedback Haury and the Luneau USA team receive is that the wines offer consistent quality for amazing prices.
The timing couldn’t be better. Americans are ready to re-embrace Bordeaux wines, and well-priced offerings from appellation-adjacent châteaux like many of The Castel Group’s properties drive sales. Haury notes, “American consumers want artisanal, they want classic Bordeaux, and they want value. Our wines have true French character and terroir, and that’s how we are carving our niche in the U.S. market.”