In Article: Homeward Bound

by Heidi Chan

Source: Prestige HK, November 2016 

Clemence Fabre, a Languedoc-Roussillon heiress-in-waiting talks to Gerrie Lim of Prestige magazine about her overseas experiences only return her to her roots.

A mere seven years ago, young Clémence Fabre was headed for a career in the fashion industry in Paris, completing her Master’s in marketing and nance with an internship at L’Oréal, as a project manager for Yves Saint Laurent. Then the École du Vin de Bordeaux came a-calling, with wine studies that eventually took her to Asia – Vietnam, China and Hong Kong – before she eventually heard the call of home and two years ago moved back to Corbières in Languedoc-Roussillon, where her ancestors had cultivated grape vines since 1605. 

The story of her Famille Fabre estate, however, hails from the vision of vigneron Auguste Fabre when he acquired Château de Luc in 1876 in Luc-sur-Orbieu. There, his grandson Louis – Clémence’s father – lives after taking over the helm in 1982. The family estate now makes – from four vineyards of 60 to 80 hectares each – some 500,000 bottles in total production. Its key wines, in ascending order of importance, are Domaine de Luc, Châteaude Luc, and Château Fabre Gasparets, the latter classified Cru AOC Corbières-Boutenac. At this year’s Vinexpo in Hong Kong, the company showcased its Château Fabre Gasparets La Serre 2012, newly scored at 92 points from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, usually an anomaly for a wine not from Bordeaux or Burgundy.

I'd first discovered their wines a year earlier when I tasted (and immediately loved) one of that wine’s predecessors, the Famille Fabre Chimère 2007, a lovely blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache from the limestone soils of little-known Boutenac within Corbières, and so was mildly miffed to learn at Vinexpo that the wine’s name had since been changed to La Serre – I liked the wordplay of Chimère alluding to “chimera” – but found the 2012 no less enticing with its spicy garrigue aromas and peppery, dark-berry palate (thanks to the additional infusion of 30 percent Mourvèdre). Equally intriguing was Clémence’s move home; now her father’s export manager, she does double duty as his assistant winemaker – in hopes, surely, of someday inheriting the keys to his kingdom.

"When I travel I bring herbs... so you can experience the terroir of Corbières"

I recently drank your 2007 chimère with wine-industry friends and They all loved it, but admitted they didn’t know boutenac and only vaguely corbières. does that surprise you? 

No. For people who don’t know, it’s my job as export manager to tell them where we are, since I also have a role as an ambassador for my region. Corbières is better known outside France than Boutenac. When I travel I bring herbs to show, with strong smells like juniper, sage, thyme, and rosemary, so you can experience the terroir of Corbières in the wine through these aromatics. For education, I use these herbs as a first step, then see how people respond from there.

The region of Languedoc-Roussillon, where you now live, got a bad rap because for many years it was known for producing wines of the cheap-and-cheerful variety. Does that bother you? 

Well, it’s true. Some people even joke about the “Languedoc revolution” – you have a lot of wine producers for whom the last 30 years have been very competitive because the reputation was really average, with a lot of people making cheap wine, and the quality was just not there. But today, more and more people who are more serious have settled down there and we have a good image in these last few years. I think people are ready for Languedoc now, as opposed to just drinking Bordeaux or Burgundy. At the very least, they now see that the wines from Languedoc are good value for money. I mean, we just got 92 points from Parker for our 2012 La Serre and it was very exciting – although I will say that for my dad it will not change anything – and for me it just helps with the exports. It’s just one more argument we can make for the fact that we can produce good wine.

Now you’re not just your father’s export manager but also his assistant winemaker.

Yes, this past year I did an internship and worked in the cellars last September to learn how to make the rosés and the whites. Then I learned how to prune and sat for the Baccalaureate exam for professional qualification in winemaking, where I met many schoolmates with whom I could share ideas. So yes, I am planning on being a full-time winemaker one day. Lately, I’ve been getting up early to work the 6am harvest.

Will you eventually take over from your father? Is there a succession plan? 

We will see. I am happy where I am for now. My grandfather stopped working when he was 92 and my father is only 63, so he’s not ready to retire for another 30 years. I have a twin sister and also a younger brother, who loves driving tractors, so maybe he will one day work on our farm. We are five kids and I’m the eldest, but I also have 14 cousins, so we have a lot of options!

You moved back to France in September 2014 after working in Hong Kong at Altaya and Sopexa. what are your thoughts thinking back on this time?

I think of how fortunate I was, to have had fantastic experiences in new places – I was in Hong Kong for two years, after a year in Ho Chi Minh followed by a year in Shanghai. It all happened when I was looking at doing a Master’s in wine marketing in Bordeaux, and what began as a six-month internship in Vietnam ended up as four years abroad. Sopexa and Altaya helped me get to where I am today, in terms of experience, especially since I have to travel a lot now. I learned a lot about creating “wine region awareness”, and that’s my new challenge as my family’s export manager. 

Back when we tasted your 2007 Chimère, you said something quite profound to me: I found, far away from my land, the treasure in my own homeland.” was that an epiphany, experienced in Hong Kong?

Yes, I realised that when I was with Altaya, where we were lucky to have had many French producers visiting us often. We had many occasions to discuss their wines with them and that led me to think, “Wow, this is so great, I am French and I have the same treasures too!"  I realised how beautiful my own region is and how important it would be for me to go back one day. When you’re living in France, it’s just your regular life, you know. I had to learn this by being far away from home, in Hong Kong. That’s when I knew I had to go back to live the dream.