Bruce Anderson

A Dutch treat from Bordeaux

Would-be banker Alexander van Beek took a summer job at a vineyard and never went back

In 1995, a young Dutchman completed an MBA. Banking beckoned. An internship was arranged. But Alexander van Beek thought that he would have a brief gap-summer before surrendering to a life of suited servitude in a counting house. Even though he spoke no French and had little technical knowledge of wine, he went to Bordeaux, rocked up at Château Giscours and asked for a job.

Several points were in his favour. He worked hard and never minded getting his hands muddy. He cheerfully put up with any amount of teasing, which encouraged him to learn enough French to fire back. Finally, Giscours and its neighbour, du Tertre had been bought by a Dutch family, who were not thrown by the idea of a fellow Dutchman becoming a vigneron. So the summer passed. Alexander stayed. And stayed, and stayed. The internship was held open. Perhaps it still is. It seems unlikely that it will be needed.

The early years were difficult. Giscours had been run down. Investment had been lacking and some of the vines had deteriorated. There were accusations that some of Giscours’ second wine, Sirène, had been adulterated. It is also possible that the charges had been inspired by envy. The legal process dragged on for years and was never conclusively resolved. Anyone who doubts the absolute superiority of the English legal system to its French counterpart ought to examine the Sirène case.

Fortunately, the new owners were both rich and undeterred. They regarded their new venture as a labour of love. Alexander did a lot of the labour, and loved it. Long before he took command of the whole enterprise, he had won a formidable reputation in an industry which has never rushed to put foreign talent at its ease. Not that he has ever eschewed cosmopolitanism.

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