Christian Seely, Managing Director of French-owned AXA Millesimes, the wine property arm of insurance giant AXA Assurances.
Christian Seely possesses a very telling quality of the English public school. He is a very skilful raconteur. The fact the word is derived from the French “raconter” – meaning to recount or relate – is very apt since the Englishman is Managing Director of French-owned AXA Millesimes, the wine property arm of insurance giant AXA Assurances, one of the most important fine wine groups in the world.
Christian Seely had gone to Harrow.
The all-boys public school was founded in 1572. Its alumni include Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru, King Hussein of Jordan, Lord Byron, three Nobel Prize winners, and in more recent times Pret a Manger founder Julian Metcalfe, and singer James Blunt
Seely later went up to Cambridge – specifically to Trinity College – where he read English literature. So inclined, it’s no wonder that the Englishman is a member of Garrick, the gentlemen’s club in London whose members have included Charles Dickens, H G Wells, A A Milne, Somerset Maugham, W H Auden, T S Eliot, and P G Woodehouse. The stage is also well represented with the likes of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, David Niven, Richard Burton, Peter Ustinov, and Ian Richardson.
Although based within Chateau Pichon Baron in Pauillac, Christian Seely oversees all the group’s properties.
Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes
Chateau Petit-Village Pomerol
Chateau Pibran Pauillac
Domaine de l’Arlot Nuits Saint Georges
Quinta do Noval Douro Valley
Outpost Napa Valley
Acquired 33 years ago in 1987 by AXA, Chateau Pichon Baron’s 73 hectares of vines are planted to 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 3 % cabernet franc and 2% petit verdot. The average age of the vines is 35 years. Apart from the Grand Vin, two Second Wines are also produced, namely Les Tourelles de Longueville and Les Griffons de Pichon Baron. Rated a Second Growth in the 1855 Classification of the Médoc, Pichon Baron punches above its official rating as it occupies a place between that of the Second Growths and the five First Growths. This is the rather privileged pocket referred to as “Super Seconds”.
The quality in the bottle is as much reflected in the location of the vineyards and the chateau. In front of Pichon Baron, you have both Latour and Pichon Comtesse which was, of course, part of the same estate before the two were divided up in 1850. In that year – before his death – Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville bequeathed to his two sons what we know today as Pichon Baron and his three daughters what would become Pichon Comtesse. One of the sons, Baron Raoul Pichon de Longueville, commissioned the construction of a chateau in 1851, the same that stands today on the left of the D2 road as one drives up to the village of Pauillac which is just 200 metres from the estate.
Pichon Baron, the Grand Vin, is aged about 18 months in French oak barriques of 225 litres, about 80% of which is new. The exact proportion of new oak and precise time spent in them will vary vintage to vintage but those are the perimeters. The wine is rich of fruit and tannins (from skin and oak), intense, persistent, and on the masculine side. This fact is rather remarkable because across the road, Pichon Comtesse tends toward femininity even though it can be just as intense and persistent. The fact that Comtesse was given to the female heirs and Baron to their brothers is uncanny to say the least.
Les Tourelles de Longueville is earlier drinking but can easily age 20 years and beyond. The grapes used in the blend are primarily from the Sainte Anne plot, which is mostly planted to Merlot. The wine has its own personality but also offers something of an introduction to the Grand Vin.
Les Griffons de Pichon Baron is more structured. And compact. The grapes come mainly from gravelly plots near the Gironde estuary which is more suited to cabernet sauvignon. Les Griffons is capable of ageing a bit longer than Les Tourelles.
The Technical Director of Pichon Baron is the affable Jean-Rene Matignon, who had joined in 1985. Christian Seely began with AXA Millesimes in 1993 as Managing Director of Douro’s legendary Quinta do Noval. In 2001, he was promoted to become in charge of all properties under AXA Millesimes and moved to the Médoc to be based at Pichon Baron. His first vintage is the outstanding 2001.