[Interview] Jérôme Tourbier
IMAGINING LIFE AFTER… JÉRÔME TOURBIER, CO-CEO OF SOURCES DE CAUDALIE AND SOURCES DE CHEVERNY:
« OUR PHILOSOPHY IS TO HAVE OUR FEET ON THE GROUND, HEAD IN THE STARS »
Jérôme and Alice Tourbier define themselves as lifestyle entrepreneurs. Their evocative moniker captures the spirit of the wine tourism venues combining hotel, restaurant, wine and spa that they have developed hand in hand. In just 20 years, Les Sources de Caudalie, set against the backdrop of Château Smith Haut Lafite in Pessac-Léognan, has become a Bordeaux institution and a mecca for gourmet food and wine enthusiasts. From September 1, 2020, Les Sources de Cheverny, near Château de Chambord, will join its sister venue in Bordeaux and act as a showcase for the wines of the Loire Valley. Jérôme Tourbier also authored the book ‘Tourisme en péril’ (Tourism in Jeopardy) published by JC Lattès, where he provides solutions for restoring the attractiveness of France as a destination.
What are the prospects for wine tourism over the coming months?
Wine tourism has already resumed and the trend will grow over the summer, but with a different clientele, mostly French with offers that are targeted at them. There is one opportunity that should give us hope and that is that the 9 million French people who usually go abroad will mostly stay in France for the summer holidays, and will want to reconnect with nature. There is a very strong desire to rediscover our regions. Our philosophy is to have “our feet on the ground, head in the stars”. For us, “feet on the ground” has always meant staying connected with our French and even local clients.
What are the expectations of French customers?
Wine is part of the nation’s cultural heritage, which means that people who are even more discerning will come to us. We see ourselves as a conduit for passing on the knowledge of local winegrowers and producers. Our aim was to become a gateway for the French to grow their interest in wine. At Les Sources de Caudalie, our mission for the last 20 years has been to make Bordeaux wines less fussy, and we will continue this with Loire wines at Les Sources de Cheverny.
Are French customers more price-sensitive?
Yes, French customers are more price-sensitive than overseas customers. We have to make an effort to rein in our mark-ups and allow our French customers to treat themselves to some fine wines with their meal, so that they can take home an even more memorable experience. The sommelier's selection at our two-star restaurant ‘La Grand' Vigne’ has first growths by the glass at reasonable prices.
Prices of 2019 Bordeaux en primeur have dropped by 20 to 40 %. Will this boost consumption of Bordeaux by the French?
The En Primeur campaign is a reminder that there is pressure on prices. This will allow French buyers who could no longer afford some labels to once again buy wines they have fond memories of – wines from their youth or those that their parents or grandparents used to drink regularly.
Is the Bordeaux wine market very different to that for Loire wines?
Bordeaux’s strength is its particularly efficient distribution network, which means that some chateaux are global in scope. Many winegrowers and appellations do not yet have this power of distribution and would benefit from greater notoriety. In the Loire, we are realising that there are many, excellent quality wines that are still very affordable. It is no accident that the United States are taking a greater interest in the region – market forces are at work.
What opportunities has the crisis brought with it?
Like all crises, it is accelerating change. In the hospitality industry, the English sum it up very well by saying “automate the predictable to humanise the exceptional”. A customer's digital journey (information, reservations, obtaining rates) must now be as efficient as possible. For small family-run companies such as ours, these are developments that we are compelled to understand. However, this is by no means the end of creative intelligence for service. In fact, the digital customer journey allows us to free up time to be with our clients.
Are there other advantages of increased digitisation?
We are heading towards much greater transparency. Customers are browsing pricing websites and looking for trade wine prices. Restaurant mark-ups are becoming less opaque and this benefits consumers. Ultimately, the consumer is always the prime beneficiary of a crisis.