From left to right, Jérôme Leroux, Jean Cordeau, Nicolas Labenne and Franck Debrais
On a morning in October, a man walked among the vats. The last harvests had been received and the wines had begun fermenting. He shook the hand of most he met, his eyes sharp, his smile warm. Some called him Mr. Cordeau out of respect, but he'd rather you call him Jean. That October morning, he had come to talk of his past, of his history with Lynch-Bages and the Bordeaux vineyard, of the sixty vintages he has worked on. Read on to find out more about this man of passion.
His career began when barely 22, a young agricultural engineering graduate of the National School of Agriculture in Montpellier. He started his first job on 2 August 1958 as an agricultural consultant near Blaye, France. A new technical post created and tested by the Gironde Chamber of Agriculture. In 1970 he was appointed head of the Chamber’s vine department, and ten years later founded the laboratory for analysis and agronomic advice in Blanquefort which he managed for fifteen years.
With time, he became an expert in the vine and its behaviour. He even wrote a book on the subject.
Then came retirement, and Jean decided to bring his thirty-eight years at the Chamber of Agriculture to a close. But his passion lived on, a fact reflected in his activities, and he chose to launch his own business. Contacted by various different chateaux, he became a self-employed consultant.
In the space of ten years, and without even realising it, he gradually left his imprint throughout the Bordeaux vineyard.
Since 2006, he has been happy to share his lifetime of knowledge and know-how at no cost, on just two conditions: that he finds the mission interesting and that he likes the people he meets! Fortunately for us, Nicolas Labenne, Technical Director for Lynch-Bages, satisfies both criteria hands down. The two men share the same passions, for rugby and the vine, so when they work together their try is generally converted.
According to Jean Cordeau, Lynch-Bages enjoys particularly harmonious soils with different gravels, which create a great strength and finesse. He helped choose the strains used for the Petit Verdot plot. And readily admits that this grape variety is one of his favourites, because it produces tannic wines, both round and harmonious, never rough.
He is glad to lend a helping hand at Nicolas Labenne's request, in order help the vine along. You simply have to wander through the rows with him to realise that, at the age of eighty, he is familiar with every detail, a knowledge he is pleased to share with contagious enthusiasm. When asked what his favourite time of year is, he’ll say it’s when “I tremble at the same time as the vine”, in reference to bud break and flowering, crucial periods over which the risk of frost and coulure hang heavy. “And the harvest too”, which brings first predictions, “and when the vine is dormant”, for the pruning... like any enthusiast, he finds it hard to choose.
Although he began in the 1950s, when most of the vineyard was worked on horseback, he is not one to regret the past. According to him, Bordeaux wines have never been as good as they have in the past twenty years. “Before then, great vintages were almost an exception.” Although he would probably never say that, if they are better today it is also thanks to men like him.