Prince Robert of Luxembourg, chief executive officer of a Bordeaux wine empire that includes first-growth château Haut-Brion and neighboring top estate La Mission Haut-Brion, was celebrating good news when he visited New York last week.
He had just released the futures price for his brilliant, powerful 2015 Haut-Brion. Though it costs 83.6 percent more than the 2014, London-based merchant Farr Vintners sold out its initial allocation at more than $6,000 a case (the same price as Château Margaux) in one day.
The prince had also just finalized details for the first-ever auction dedicated to vintages of La Mission Haut-Brion direct from the château cellars, to be held at Sotheby’s auction house in New York on October 19.
The oldest vintage in the sale, he said, showing me a long list retrieved from his rolling tote, is 1916. One of his personal favorites is the 1978. (I agree.)
A Historic Auction
As we talked privately in a Sotheby’s conference room, surrounded by shelves with empty bottles of great Bordeaux, he let me in on his strategy to boost the visibility of La Mission and expand the family company, Domaine Clarence Dillon.
The U.S., he said, is home to the biggest fans of ‘La Mish’ (its nickname).
“The wine doesn’t get the attention it deserves because of its big brother, Haut-Brion,” he said. “Some people still ask me whether it’s a second wine, but I think of it as the 6th first-growth.” ‘La Mish’ has prices to justify this view. The intense, spicy 2009 costs about $800 a bottle, nearly as much as 2009 Haut-Brion.
Auctions help create buzz. Older vintages such as 1982 can bring more than $1,200 a bottle, while a great recent one such as 2005 goes for about $525. (Haut-Brion costs about $250 more.) And every boost in price increases the company’s fat bottom line.
Since he took over running the company in 2008, the prince has largely succeeded in his efforts to ramp up the global reputation of Haut-Brion. For years this wine lagged in price behind other first-growths and was far less well-known in Asia.
The Family Business
Though Prince Robert has become a savvy businessman, he never intended to join the family firm. “I wanted to be a musician, and in my twenties, I was in Hollywood writing screenplays with my wife,” he explained.