Benoît & Frédéric LAVAU © Maison LAVAU
The Lavau brothers are no newcomers to the Rasteau appellation; in fact, the story of Maison Lavau, which celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 2015, is closely linked to the history of the terroir. It’s a story shaped by passion, which shines through as Frédéric recounts the family history. The family started out in Saint Emilion, moving to Tunisia and then Sète, before finally settling in the southern Rhône Valley. But it’s also the story of the négociant, and shows how that role is developing.
Over the last 20 years, the work of the négociant has undergone a radical change. From simply selling wine, négociants have become brokers; they might acquire wines for further ageing, or buy in grapes to produce their own wine. In the latest move, they have begun to acquire their own vines, giving them better control over production conditions and the quality of the fruit they use. This is very much how things have worked for the Lavau family, but with one major difference – they have a particular attachment to Rasteau, where they have owned 10 hectares of vineyard since 2010.
Not your run-of-the-mill appellation
“This is a very unusual spot,” Frédéric tells us, “and my brother and I have always loved it. Sun exposure is particularly good, and when we’re checking for ripeness in September it can be mindblowing. Wine typicity here can be linked to the heat, so if you need to teach someone a lesson, bring them into the Rasteau vineyards at midday on a day in mid-July. The heat can be a nightmare! But it’s what gives our wine its quintessential character.”
Frédéric is the older of the two brothers. He loves the vines, and he loves selling. It was he who led the way, by accepting his father’s invitation to join the family firm in 1995 when he finished his studies in Marketing and International Trade. Younger brother Benoit joined them three years later. Benoit prefers the winemaking side; his creativity shines through in the winery, while his management abilities are essential for the office.
“We complement one another – but we’re interchangeable. Think of us as a tandem!”
A taste for adventure
Faced with the fierce competition prevalent in the wine world, the brothers stand their ground. They inherited a sense of adventure from their paternal great grandfather who travelled to Tunisia, acquired some land, and proceeded to grow oranges, grapes and olives. As soon as they arrived on the scene, the brothers recognised that the winds of change were begining to blow. The times when the Mines de Saint- Etienne – an early client back in the 1970s – gifted their employees a dozen or so litres of wine a day were well and truly over. Quality was taking over from quantity. Consumer expectations were changing. The brothers realised that their work – like their wines – had to change to suit the new landscape. Frédéric and Benoit launched into a new activity, starting to make their own wines. They built a new winery with enoughcapacity to produce up to 115, 000 hl per year.
The result has been a range of Lavau wines produced in 2010, sold in France and abroad. The brothers subsequently bought their own vines, joining with Château Maucoil (Châteauneuf-du-Pape) in 2013 to create the Lavau-Maucoil Group which now owns 170 hectares of vineyard and has 17 employees.
“There’s no denying we’ve got a lot bigger,” they admit. “But terroir is still a critical feature – we must never forget that. Strolling through the vineyards, tasting the grapes… Wine is still the result of a relationship between man and the vine. We have to stay close to nature”.
The brothers promise that their first Rasteau 2015 will be a true expression of terroir. The wine is made from their own 12 plots encircling the village. “This will be our very first Rasteau. We harvested late – and it’s going to be fantastic!”