Where It All Began – Part 4

Where It All Began – Part 4

Where It All Began is a five part series written by Ian Hanna – a story of the early days of John Hanna & Sons and his first product hunting trip to Europe. You can click here if you’d like to start from the beginning of this series.

Wednesday morning was clear, cool and lovely – a perfect autumn day in Burgundy which would, as it turned out, provide one of the most wonderful and unique wine memories we would share, over the years.

As with our other meetings on this trip, my father had pre-arranged an appointment for 11:00 AM in the town of Nuits-St-George, with the Burgundy wine negociant firm, Lupe Cholet.

In 1903, Alexander Count Mayol de Lupe inherited his father’s small but famous estate – Chateau Gris, located just outside the small town of Nuits Saint Georges. Shortly thereafter he teamed up with his brother-in-law, the Viscount Felix de Cholet, to establish the Burgundy negociant firm of Lupe Cholet. Viscount Cholet was very well known and highly regarded by many of the local growers and the firm became a leader in offering quality Burgundy wine, in a few short years.

Ingesting a monumental melange of butter, cream, wine, wine and more wine – much of it Meursault, over the past 48 hours, had rendered me significantly worse for the wear. A quiet day at the hotel in Beaune was all I could face and Marit gladly took the day off to provide me with much appreciated moral support.

So, following a leisurely breakfast, Pam and Jack departed Beaune at 10:15 AM to drive north through the vineyards of Corton and Ladoix. Passing close to the Chateau Gris, an 18th century house and single estate, surrounded by 1er Cru vineyards just south of town, they arrived in Nuits Saint Georges at 11:00 AM. Their meeting was at the family compound “Clos du Lupe” – a lovely house and winery near the centre of town.

Entering town from the south, on the old N-74 or Rue du Général de Gaulle, one reaches a long stone wall running parallel to the road, on the right-hand side. The family company name, hangs on a sign just before the house and winery compound. It is an impressive estate – one of the most impressive in the historic town of Nuits Saint Georges and the only one with a vineyard located within the town limits. It was, indeed, a visit I have regretted missing, to this very day!

With the car parked nearby, Pam and Jack approached a door in the wall facing the street and rang the bell. After a short pause, an inner door could be heard opening and closing and footsteps came across the courtyard. The door at which they waited, slowly creaked open and a slight, elderly woman (the housemaid, it appeared), wrapped in a cardigan sweater, beckoned them to follow – closing the outer door and leading them across the courtyard to the stately mansion located within.

Once inside, introductions were made. Much to Pam and Jack’s surprise, they had not been greeted by the help, but by the Countess Ines de Lupe, herself. She and her sister Liane were delighted to be hosting these Canadian guests in their home – the story of their family business could never be shared as perfectly, by anyone else – and share they did. In 1978 (shortly before our visit to Burgundy) Lupe Cholet had taken on strategic partners – Albert Bichot, a large negociant firm. It was, however, clear that these Countesses de Lupe had certainly not surrendered control, just yet.

While the quieter and more reserved Liane made sure everyone’s glass remained suitably filled – Ines, regaled her guests with stories of her illustrious family. She related how her brother Jacques, poised to take control of the family firm upon the death of their father, had suddenly and tragically been killed in an automobile accident, leaving these sisters the only heirs … and pressured to assume control.

Ines had been an interpreter at the United Nations while Liane had still been living at home in Nuits Saint Georges. According to Ines, these two ill-prepared daughters, not long out of school found themselves in a “delicate position” as, “the Sisters of Providence taught us a lot of things but unfortunately they did not teach us how to run a wine business!”

She shared (with a telling twinkle in her eye) how so many of her Father’s friends had offered their assistance with every aspect of this difficult generational transition. It was to the sisters, remarkable, how many of these “friends” offered, above all, to assist in disposing of the sizeable store of old Port from the Lupe Cholet cellars – to help make room and provide finances which would assist in this difficult situation. The Countesses were wise enough to kindly decline.

Ines went on to explain that the collection had diminished, somewhat, as they were now down to their last few bottles of “Taylor’s 24” – but not to worry as they had a nice supply of the 1927 to follow!

Business was discussed in the warm, friendly atmosphere of this enchanting home. Ines, who spoke perfect English and who loved to travel and promote her wines around the world, looked directly at my Father and asked, “Now Jack, if we come to an agreement to do business together, will you invite me to come to Toronto? I’ve never been to Toronto and I would love to visit.”

My father, in his “oh-so-typical” way replied, “Of course Ines, we would love to have you visit … on one condition”

A somewhat surprised Countess peered back at him, one eye quizzically raised, “Yes and what would that be?”, she queried

“As long as you bring a bottle of that Taylor’s ’27”!

The smile spread wide across Ines’s face and she re-joined, “What a wonderful idea, Jack….but of course that will mean I must stay for at least a fortnight!” (the appropriate time for the sediment in such a venerable bottle to settle, before opening and decanting).

In the end, we did never do business with Countesses de Lupe. Our final decision was to move ahead with the Maufoux family as our main suppliers of Burgundy wines. However, the visit to their home and the wonderful opportunity to spend a morning with such charming, lovely and legendary women has always been the making of one of our fondest wine trade memories.

Jack has often said, and this certainly informs my outlook on the business and philosophy of life, in general – “We may never make a fortune in this business, but we have met so many wonderful and interesting people – and made so many great friends, how can we be anything but grateful?”

Indeed, we have been blessed with all of this and more.

Ian Hanna – John Hanna & Sons Ltd.

Continue Reading the 5 Part “Where It All Began” story….