The international standards ISO 9001 and 14000 are most often associated with manufacturing industry, but they have also been implemented in the heart of Bordeaux, in the five estates owned by the Despagne family.
‘They ask us questions lke “How did I do this ?”, “What did I do wrong ?” and “How can I improve?”, Baseline Despagne told www.hospitalityenews during a recent visit to Dublin.
She is no stranger to the city, having worked here with Febvre and Company during her college days. 'I enhjoyed my stay in Dublin very much’, she says.
To-day Despagne runs the family business with brothers Thibault and Gabriel. ‘My father asked us all to decide by the age of 20 if we wanted to become involved. I was studying at business school and travelling in the USA, but when the time came, we all decided that our future lay in the wine business. In 1998 my father handed over the business and he now lives for most of the year in Brazil.’
The three siblings have worked to produce some of the best wines in the Bordeaux region, employing modern technology and industrial systems to guarantee excellence and consistency of quality.
‘The ISO system obliges us to record every detail of the business, to set quality standards for every operation and to keep records of every activity. It can be bureaucratic, with a lot of form filling, but it develops a record which enables us to trace every bottle of wine back to the vine and to see how we can make improvements at every stage of the process’, Basaline says. ‘It is also appreciated by large buyers like airlines, many of whom are also ISO accredited.’ Despagne was the first wine producer in France to become ISO certified and it is now also working towards the EFQM Excellence Model, which is the most widely-used organizational framework model in Europe.
‘We are also certified to ISO 14000, the international Environmental Standard’, says Basaline. ‘This obliges us to set and maintain standards relating to the management of the soil and the vineyards and also the levels of energy we use and the waste we generate. We realize that we hold our land in trust for future generations and that it is vital that we preserve it and the local terroir in an era of climate change.’ As part of this regime the Despagne family is looking at every aspect of its viticulture and is moving closer to organic production. ‘We are recycling all of our water, looking at our packaging , our carbon footprint, and indeed at every aspect of our business that impacts on the environment’ ‘Our staff even have a car pool for traveling to work as this reduces carbon emissions’, she adds.
Despagne hit the headlines a few years ago by introducing a new fermentation technique for its red wine Girolate. ‘As a large producer of white wines we knew that the less the grapes were handled prior to fermentation, the better for the wine. We decided to extend this philosophy to our red wine from Girolate. Thibault made a list of the things we needed to do. We put the barrels on a weighing scale and filled them with berries and vibrated them to gently extract the juice. There was no pumping over. We checked the temperature twice a day and also rolled the barrels over twice daily. When fermentation had begun we broke open the top of each barrel and put the grapes in a press. We then put the juice back in the barrel and closed the top again- leaving the wine there until malolactic fermentation took place.’
The experiment was an enormous success with wine writer Jeffrey Davies decalring in ‘World of Fine Wine’, ‘They have created the single most important development in fermentation technique in the last two decades.’
Despagne is best known in Ireland for its Chateau Bel Air range which is distributed by Febvre and Company and is featured on scores of hotel and restaurant wine lists. The other wines include the exceptional Girolate, Chateau Mont Perat, which the family bought in 1998, Château Tour de Mirambeau, the family’s oldest estate and Château Rauzan Despagne.
Despagne wines are sold in 20 countries worldwi