This week I learnt of the death of the proprietor of Château Olivier, Jean-Jacques de Bethmann, reported first by – as is often the case with news out of Bordeaux – Sud-Ouest.
Château Olivier has been in the hands of the de Bethmann family since it was acquired by Alexandre de Bethmann in the late-19th century. The de Bethmann family are descended from German nobility, and grew into a successful banking dynasty, and so probably didn’t have any great shortage of funds; the acquisition of an attractive and ancient property such as Olivier was probably not much of a fiscal challenge, especially if we consider the family also owned Gruaud-Larose at one point, and their bank made a significant contribution towards the financing of the construction of the Eiffel Tower. Today the bank they created lives on as the Bethmann Bank.
From Alexandre Château Olivier was passed down through the generations, eventually coming to Jean-Jacques. Despite being an absentee landlord, entrusting the winemaking to director Laurent Lebrun (who I have met many times at tastings in London and Bordeaux), Jean-Jacques was a huge figure in Bordeaux. The region has not just lost a respected proprietor; he was also président of the Union des Crus Classés de Graves (the local union, which is distinct from the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux) and was a member of the Technical Commission of the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux.
In recent months the estate has been run by his son Alexandre de Bethmann, along with Laurent Lebrun of course, and this will continue in the future. I am hopeful that the handover of control will perhaps see the full potential of Château Olivier realised. There is no denying de Bethmann’s fine work in and for Bordeaux, but the wines of the cru classé Olivier are – despite some breathless reports describing the estate as “the most important property in Léognan” – clearly outshone by those of Olivier’s nextdoor neighbour, the unclassified Château Brown.
I will update my profile of Château Olivier as soon as I have the opportunity.