Robb Reader: Oenophile Financier Arnaud Christiaens

He founded SGC - Le Secret de Grands Crus – to rewrite the rule book on Bordeaux’s venerable vintages. How exactly?

How did you become aware of the fascinating oenological potential around the Gironde River?
I have always had a passion for wine, and long believed the best in world came from Bordeaux. The more I learned about the area and the science of soil, I was certain there had to be many exceptional vineyards with parcels of soil that had not been sufficiently analysed or celebrated because the wine industry is quite conservative.

How did the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 come to overlook these things?
In 1855, just 61 red wines were ranked. Today, there are some 10,000 labels in Bordeaux of various quality, but there is a good portion of quality estates that were not around during the formal classification and many of are using modern equipment and sophisticated wine making techniques which did not exist 150 years ago. We’re returning to the roots of wine making and focussing our attention back to the terroir, where we have placed a modern and analytical approach to the fundamental ingredient in creating superior wine: exceptional soil.

What are the criteria for becoming a chosen patron of SGC/“Le Cercle”?
To keep our limited production amongst the truly passionate oenophile, we carefully hand select members to join SGC’s Le Cercle based on the individual sharing a love of exquisite wine with us, having a major influence within their respective industry and, most importantly, being good natured people who would enjoy expanding their sphere of influence within the circle. The existing member network includes royal families, numerous industrialist, political leaders, wealth creators and exceptional individuals from the media and entertainment industries.

Arnaud Christiaens 

Can you explain why different parcels of land yield such different offerings, when it comes to the final product?
We examine the four main pillars required in top soil: irrigation, nitrogen levels, strength of the vine and different layers of ground quality. The full process takes an entire year. Once this is complete, we give our parcels a score out of 20, and only the best are utilised by SGC.

We test after the harvest, in September or October, digging every 25 metres with specialised screws in order not to damage the vine. If a parcel is identified as having high potential, we will dig larger holes to ensure we can provide accurate soil analysis results, taking into account soil quality, nutrients, pH and organic matter. During the Summer, we use airborne footage to evaluate the vine vigour and finally we analyse the grapes in order to map their nitrogen levels. We only select grapes from parcels with a rating of 17 or higher, to enable SGC to produce some of the best wines in all of Bordeaux.

How important to the whole project is sustaining livelihoods in the region?
SGC’s goal is not just to locate these undiscovered parcels for our oenophiles, but to also make an impact on the livelihoods of Bordeaux’s wine producers. Currently Bordeaux wines tend to be valued more by the reputation of its Chateau then by the quality of its wine – as a result, it’s more difficult for smaller and newer vineyards to make their mark, despite some having achieved gold medal status for their wines. We’ve created a mutually beneficial relationship where we can help identify a wine producer’s best land and provide a revenue stream they wouldn’t otherwise receive.

Is there untapped terroir the world over, for similar initiatives to take place elsewhere?
What makes our soil ranking especially ground-breaking in Bordeaux is the region’s conservative view on new wine producers. SGC is challenging this status quo with our modern soil selection process and innovative soil ranking system, which can be applied to other regions across the globe. We’ve already started looking into countries such as Italy and Spain so watch this space!