Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Louis Latour 1932-2016: Burgundy's maverick negociant and wine producer

Published:  07 April, 2016

Louis Latour, Burgundy's maverick negociant and wine producer, is remembered as a man with a passion and a history

Remembered as a man with vision and a passion for history, Louis Latour sought continuity through innovation; he pioneered the expansion of Maison Latour outside of Burgundy, ensuring the longevity of the independence of his family's estate and its negociant business and he was also concerned with the origins and reasons for the continuity of quality winemaking in Burgundy, a subject he addressed in the 800-page oenology essay, Vin de Bourgogne, Le Parcours de la Qualité Ier siècle-XIXe siècle.*

Most of the businesses in Beaune in the Cote d'Or, where Louis Latour grew up and indeed much of Burgundy, would be sold off to outside investors, but Louis Latour, the sixth Louis to run Maison Latour, kept the negociant business in the family, reportedly increasing turnover ten fold. Latour maintained the bottling of all his wine under the Louis Latour label; there were no secondary labels under different names and he also resisted the claws of supermarket distribution.

Latour jointly ran the company with his father and brother from 1958, but it was his control of the company from 1973 to 1999 that shaped the destiny of Maison Latour as a leading negociant of Burgundy.

In the 60s, the family sold wine from its own estate in the village of Aloxe-Corton, but it was not until the 1970s that it became a huge buyer of grapes from growers. Today, Maison Latour continues to be largest holder of Grand Crus plots of land; 27 hectares, but it was Latour's vision which led him outside of Burgundy. He pioneered the planting of Chardonnay in the Ardèche, at that time a relatively unknown region, and later he grew Pinot Noir in Var area of Provence, allowing him to develop a wider range of wines with stable prices and to expand exports.

The successful export of Louis Latour wines to the US and Britain triggered a major growth in turnover in the 1990s.

By the time he had passed the running of the estate to his son, Louis-Fabrice in 1999, Louis Latour had vastly increased the company's annual turnover and value of the company.

Paying homage to father, Louis-Fabrice Latour said in a statement, that Latour was one of the 'Grands Messieurs' of wine in Burgundy, who within a generation had made Maison Latour, "one of the leading traditional houses of Burgundy, producing elegant and fine styles of wine, which, with the support of a strong brand, had become known across the world."

Maison Latour first started exporting to Britain in 1815. But it was Latour who established importing company, Louis Latour Ltd in London in 1990, having set-up Louis Latour Inc. in 1986 in the United States, which would become and remains the company's leading export market.

Latour's move to grow wine outside of Burgundy was a first for the family estate since its inception in 1797 and it reflected the Latour's distinct views on the role of terroir, the geology and geography of the vineyard, in the making of quality wine.

 "I have never believed in the gospel of the appellation which can not be disassociated from terroir," Latour famously told French newspaper Le Monde in 2002.

"The quality of a wine is all about its oenology: there are ten or so grape varieties which we've known about since the start of time that produce quality; two of which are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. How can we ever consider trying to stop them from leaving their birthplace? We take our grape varieties wherever they can be grown to make quality wine," he said.

Born in 1932, into the tenth generation of the Maison Latour, Latour was the first son of eight siblings. He studied at the elite Paris Institute of Political Studies, 'Sciences Po', in Paris with Jacques Chirac, before returning to family wine business in Burgundy.

Louis Latour ran the Syndicat des Negociants and he was Chairman of Burgundy's Wine Board, the FIVB (Fédération des Interprofessions des Vins de Bourgogne), the predecessor of today's BIVB, between1977 and 1980, during which time he was remembered for ensuring good relations between growers and buyers. Latour modernised Maison Louis Latour's facilities and winemaking techniques and introduced organic practices to reduce the use of chemicals in the vineyard.

Latour's essay on oenology published in 2012, describes what he said was Burgundy's historical uniqueness: it is the only wine region with 2,000 years of history of which constant wine production of Grands Vins can be documented. In his book, which describes the evolution of winemaking techniques, he questions the notion that his ancestors in Burgundy were unable to make quality wines.

Latour, who liked to challenge prevailing beliefs and stereotypes of his time, once said:"[Quality in wine] is an old family tradition far older than the creation of appellations used to explain quality. I have observed signs of quality throughout my career and they are not uniquely about terroir, which is an elements but not the only one."

Louis Latour died aged 83, of a heart failure on April 5th in Burgundy. Latour leaves his wife, Ghislaine, four children and nine grandchildren.

*Burgundy Wine: The Pathway of Quality from the 1st Century to the 19th Century. Published in 2012, éditions de l'Armançon