The rise of a high-end Burgundy wine

by Eve Resnick on November 5, 2008

in International Markets


From time to time, I like to work on a case study and reflect on what went well or wrong. I had this opportunity yesterday when meeting Caroline Lestimé, owner of a vineyard in Chassagne-Montrachet in Burgundy and daughter of Jean-Noël Gagnard. Jean-Noël managed the estate for many years before he stepped down and let his daughter Caroline Lestimé take over. Caroline is one of those young winemakers who took enology classes and worked hard to master not only the wine making but also the marketing of her wines.

Of course, Caroline was lucky to have vineyards in one of the best parts of Burgundy, which allows her to make those fine and delicate Chardonnay wines in various appellations. She could decide to stay in her father’s footsteps and produce those fine wines until she steps down to her sons. After all, she’s producing very small quantities of her best wines: 200 cases of her Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru, 600 cases of her “Les Caillerets” Premier Cru or 200 cases of her Morgeot Premier Cru, among others. But she knew it was not enough, in the very international competitive wine world, to keep an estate ahead and running. She made two major moves:

- she developed her strategy on several international markets: she now has a strong presence in the US and in UK. Then her fame reached Asia: she sold some wines to China and has now a good foot in Japan.

- She created several new brands. The first one was a Pinot Noir from Chassagne-Montrachet, called Cuvée L’Estimée – a play on Caroline’s marital name. “The name of this wine, L’Estimée, is an allusion to the newest branch of the family − and it also means “the respected lady” in French.

This wine also reflects the Domaine’s desire to highlight a red wine from a village appellation that is mostly famous for its whites, although the reds are delicious to drink young and provide excellent value for money”, writes Caroline in her web site. There are 700 cases of this special wine.

To this rather classical village wine, Caroline added two contemporary creations:
Sous Eguisons in Chardonnay and Clos Bortier in Pinot Noir. Both wines are signed “Caroline Lestimé” and have a label different from the other wines.

They are both from Hautes Côtes de Beaune and drink much more easily. There are 300 cases of Sous Eguisons and 580 cases of Clos Bortier. Caroline Lestimé explains how she came to create those two brands: “For the past forty or so years, the Hautes-Côtes have known an increase in interest and have thus been able to reassert their position among the Burgundy appellations after a long period of decline and disinterest. Motivated by this rise in interest and by a desire to rediscover older terroirs, in 2001 I went ahead and bought up and grouped abandoned plots that lay fallow or had been given over to farming (wheat, clover etc.). In doing so, I was also able to offer younger wine lovers Burgundy wines produced in a way that is respectful of their origins, easier to access and at a more affordable price than those which come from the Côte de Beaune appellation. “

For the white Sous Eguisons, Caroline even goes further in the modernity of her wine: “Just as it is for its red counterpart, Clos Bortier, the packaging is different from that of our other wines. Its label is more modern and a more innovative screwtop is used. I chose this over traditional corks because the bottles are easier to open and it should also provide less variation between bottles. Not only that, but it should also help optimise the development and evolution of the flavour of the wine over time. However, only time will tell if this method is viable for ageing over ten years and more. “

Innovative label and closure, re-birth of an appellation, development on several international markets: Caroline Lestimé is certainly one of the leading wine makers in Burgundy. She is also one of the best. That’s why she’s now repositionning her wines as luxury brands under her own name, Caroline Lestimé: a well deserved recognition by wine amateurs.

{ 4 comments }

1 Amy November 11, 2008 at 8:29 pm

I’ve just discovered your blog when tryign to write an MW essay about branding. Marketing is the toughest subject for me! But this is an excellent example of how a small producer needs to expand and be committed to marketing just as much as a large brand especially as the brand matures. Thanks for this post – very informative!!

2 Evelyne Resnick November 12, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Hi Amy,
Thanks for your nice comment. Don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions on marketing or branding. I like your blog – and it reminded me of my years in LA!

3 Amy November 12, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Evelyne – I just bought your book on Amazon – so hopefully that will provide me with much needed insight – I have also bookmarked your blog and sent it out to MW study partners – good stuff! Thanks!!! AMY

4 Evelyne Resnick November 12, 2008 at 6:50 pm

Thanks, Amy. I really appreciate it. Good luck with the MW exam. An American woman just passed it. I hope you’ll be the next one!

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