A fine legacy: Domaine Clarence Dillon

We talk to Prince Robert of Luxembourg about the past, present and future of his internationally esteemed family wine business, Domaine Clarence Dillon

Food and Drink 11 Sep 2019

The Château Quintus wine estate in Saint-Émilion

When Prince Robert of Luxembourg set aside his career as a screenwriter in LA to join the family business, fine wine company Domaine Clarence Dillon, in 1997, he told his grandfather: ‘I am not interested in joining the business solely as a caretaker – I have to approach it as an entrepreneur and grow the company for future generations of the family’. He also took heed of the doctrine his grandfather advocated: ‘Just make the best wine you possibly can’. ‘That’s a wonderful job description to have,’ says Prince Robert. ‘There was never anything said about making it profitable, it was always a matter of passion and making the best wine ever. That’s the advice I inherited.’

Passion has been at the heart of Domaine Clarence Dillon’s winemaking since day one. Known around the world for producing some of the world’s finest Bordeaux wines, the company was founded by Prince Robert’s great-grandfather – the American financier Clarence Dillon – whose French ancestry, and love of French food and wine, led him to buy the premier cru Bordeaux wine estate Château Haut-Brion in 1935. Today, Haut-Brion’s wines continue to enjoy pre-eminence around the world, and Domaine Clarence Dillon continues as a fourth-generation family company, with Prince Robert at the helm.

Prince Robert’s mother – Princess Joan of Luxembourg, Duchess of Mouchy – expanded the company’s portfolio in 1983 by acquiring Haut-Brion’s neighbouring wine estate, Château La Mission Haut-Brion – classified as the region’s sixth premier cru in 2009 by Liv-Ex, the leading marketplace for fine wines. And, more recently, Prince Robert has overseen the acquisition of two premier cru Saint-Émilion estates, Château Tertre Daugay and Château L’Arrosée, merging them to form Château Quintus. The name, which is Latin for ‘fifth’, reflects Quintus’s position as the fifth member of the Domaine Clarence Dillon family of wines – its red wines joining the red and white wines of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion.

‘I always liked Saint-Émilion, and I saw there was an amazing opportunity there,’ Prince Robert explains. ‘The wines are quite different to the wines we produce at Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. Château Quintus is a much softer, very different style of wine. It was the perfect addition to our portfolio. By applying our winemaking practices – which include an awful lot of work in the vines, but also by bringing our perspective on selection and blending – I thought we could add a lot of value, which we have.’ Currently in only its seventh vintage, Château Quintus is already featuring on the wine lists of London’s finest dining establishments, including The Clove Club and Mayfair’s Hide restaurant.

Prince Robert of Luxembourg tastes the wine at Château Haut-Brion

The experience of combining Domaine Clarence Dillon wines with gastronomy is something Prince Robert is keen to develop. In 2015, the company opened Le Clarence in Paris – an exquisite two Michelin-starred restaurant set within a grand 19th-century townhouse close to the Champs-Élysées. Its majestic and cosy interior has been lovingly designed by Prince Robert to emulate the ambience his mother created when she renovated Château Haut-Brion in the 1970s, bringing a taste of Bordeaux hospitality to the capital.

Overseen by executive chef Christophe Pelé, the restaurant’s continuously evolving menus reimagine classic French dishes in modern and inventive ways, accompanied by an exceptional wine list, naturally.

Beneath Le Clarence, the ground and lower-ground floors of the building are home to another of Prince Robert’s initiatives, La Cave du Château – a boutique of fine wines and spirits from the greatest French terroirs, where a whole host of famous French labels and special vintages can be discovered.

Continuing this celebration of great French wine producers – and completing Domaine Clarence Dillon’s current portfolio of six businesses – Prince Robert launched the premium wine brand Clarendelle in 2005, which creates blended Bordeaux wines in a more modern style than the group’s single estate wines. ‘When I was living in London as a young man – and I didn’t have space to store wine at home, but I wanted wine with a certain amount of age – I had a difficult time finding wines from Bordeaux that were dependable and at the price point I was buying at,’ says the Prince. ‘I felt there was a market for a super premium Bordeaux brand that went beyond the small châteaux. I anticipated we could produce such a brand, with a model where we age the wines and make them available to the market later. That’s how Clarendelle was born.’ The brand’s range of red, white, rosé and Amberwine wines are available in 85 countries, with prices starting from a very reasonable £15 per bottle.

Following on from the success of Le Clarence, projects are currently underway to develop the visitor and private dining experiences at Domaine Clarence Dillon’s Bordeaux estates. It’s clear Prince Robert’s creative vision will ensure the company continues to surprise and delight with the very best fine wines, food and experiences until he is ready to pass the baton on to the next generation of his illustrious family.