Ch. Teyssier: another side of Bordeaux
Author: Charlie Geoghegan
Antoine Darquey’s experience as a Bordeaux négociant made him a prime candidate to restore his family estate in Montagne-St Emilion. He tells us his motivations, frustrations and why he’s confident about Bordeaux’s future.
“If I worked for money,” says Antoine Darquey over Zoom, “I’d rather stay at the office here in Bordeaux.” Antoine wears two professional hats. He’s a Bordeaux négociant (wine merchant), his company Les Vins des Crus specialising in the buying and selling of classified growths. He’s also the fourth-generation proprietor-manager of Ch. Teyssier, a non-classified property in the relatively humble satellite appellation of Montagne-St Emilion.
The life of a Bordeaux négociant is a fine one for many. It was this that Antoine chose early on in his career: by the early 1990s, he was a member of the board at CVBG, a major merchant. His involvement with the family winery wasn’t in his plans, until fate – or, rather, his mother – came calling. “She asked me to see if things were as bad as she thought – or worse,” he recalls.
It was 1993, and Antoine found himself unexpectedly tasked with managing a château that had seen better days. “She was right,” he reflects. “In fact, it was much more serious than she could have thought. It was totally in the red, and in a very dangerous position.” Making use of his industry contacts – notably the consultant Michel Rolland – Antoine got to work. “We began to rebuild entirely. Of course, it’s not a factory. It’s not just about investment and rebuilding the facilities; it’s about terroir and the vines.”
A couple of decades on, the estate is on a much stronger footing. There has been investment in the winery and, notably, the vineyard: the estate’s 51 hectares today include 11 hectares of rented vines, in production since 2015. Stéphane Derenoncourt is now the consultant here, which is a particular source of pride for Antoine: “He’s a real specialist of limestone, and he only consults on the nicest terroir.”
Teyssier is not in St Emilion proper, but Antoine is unequivocal about the similar natural environment here. “The terroir itself is just exceptional,” he says. “We’re at one of the highest points in the region, at 140 metres. You can see Troplong Mondot from here, and we have exactly the same kind of terroir: limestone and clay.”
It may operate something of a low profile, but Teyssier faces the same kind of issues as the bigger names. “Take global warming, for example,” Antoine offers. “When we replant the vines, should we replant more Cabernet? Or do we stay with Merlot as long as we still have good results with it? Do we change the blend? These are the kinds of questions we face too.”
In practical terms, Teyssier’s terroir is proving beneficial in the face of increasingly warmer vintages. “For the last three years,” says Antoine, “we’ve seen average alcohol levels for our Merlots of 14.5% or even 15%. This could be considered quite high. But, being on limestone, our pH level is 3.4, meaning that despite the higher alcohol the wines are in balance, thanks to the acidity levels.”
For Antoine, few wine regions are as futureproof as Bordeaux. “There are more and more people on earth,” he posits. “As long as people drink wine, the best terroir becomes rarer and rarer. And I think we have exceptional terroir. Not many vineyards around the world have the kind of balance that we have, allowing you to create great wines despite the changing climate. It’s more complicated to produce a well-balanced wine nowadays, but I’m confident.”
Antoine is a straight talker. He doesn’t hide his frustrations, but nor is he browbeaten about them.
Teyssier is unusual in that its vines straddle two of St Emilion’s satellite appellations, Montagne and Puisseguin. As such, Antoine is obliged to bottle two distinct grands vins, both called Ch. Teyssier. One bears the Montagne appellation, the other Puisseguin. “Don’t ask me the difference between the two wines,” he says. “We are allowed to produce them in the same cellar. It’s exactly the same wine. Why make it complicated when it could be so much simpler?”
Like thousands of other independent properties in Bordeaux, Teyssier operates in the shadows of the classified growths. It’s the big names that attract the attention, which can be both a curse and a blessing for lesser-known estates. “The Grands Crus can give us a bad name,” Antoine says.
He believes that in some markets, notably the US, there is a perception that Bordeaux wine must be expensive in order to be good. “There’s a binary view,” he explains. “People assume that a Bordeaux wine can be great, but that it has to be expensive. And the opposite is that if it’s not expensive, it’s not a good wine.”
THE OTHER SIDE OF BORDEAUX
Teyssier and châteaux like it are testament to the value to be had from Bordeaux. There’s a lot more to the region than classified growths and big business. When it comes down to it, producers like Antoine aren’t much different from their counterparts elsewhere in the wine world.
Antoine’s motivation is admirable and his dedication to the property is clear. “When you put your hands in something, you can’t stop,” he says. “It’s quite disappointing when you take a vintage like 2017: we had frost, and we lost 75% of the average crop. With the price level we sell our wines for,” – he exhales – “you’re not exactly discouraged, but almost. It’s a question of passion.”
Running an under-the-radar estate is one thing. But with his négociant experience, wouldn’t Antoine prefer to run a big-name classified growth?
He laughs. When the owners of classified growths approach him with price increases, he makes them an offer: “I always say, ‘Why don’t you stay home? I’ll run your estate for you. Let me keep one-third of the money I save, and everybody’s going to be happy.”
Nobody has taken Antoine up on his offer so far. His work at Ch. Teyssier continues.
2016 Ch. Teyssier
“The colour is remarkably intense and vivid at five years old,” says our Wine Director, Mark Pardoe MW. “The bouquet is elegant and lifted, with a subtle hint of spice. The first taste is delicate and rather beautiful, held in check by the tannins, which also deliver a freshness and vivacity. There are thyme and liquorice notes. This is a wine of real interest: elegant and complex.”