Decoster Family- Left to Right, Daughter-in-law Caroline, Son Ludovic, Parents Florence and Dominique Decoster (Photo credit: Chateau Fleur Cardinale)

First Generation Wine Entrepreneur, Florence Decoster, had a wild dream of owning her own vineyard and after the successful sale of her husband’s Porcelain business, the couple decided to turn their dream and passion into a real living. In one of their visits to the beautiful historic city of St Emilliion in Bordeaux in 2000, the Decosters acquired the stunning property, which they have since then, named as “Fleur Cardinale” ie Flowers of Deep vivid colours. Their son and daughter-in-law Ludovic and Caroline, are also now involved in the business full time.  Their daughter Lucie is now working in New York as a Wine Consultant helping to promote the brand in the US.  I recently had the privilege of meeting up with their daughter-in-law Caroline, on more than one occasion in the last few months and its been a pleasure getting to learn about the Decoster family passions and her ambitions for the company.  Here is a brief from our informal chats and discussions:

Sumilier : What has been your previous background and how did you make the entry into Wine?

Caroline : After graduating from a engineering school in 2006, I worked for two years as a consultant in Quality and Reliability Engineering, for companies like EADS and Thales. In 2008, I resigned from my engineering post, to start my studies in Wine & Spirits management in Bordeaux, at KEDGE Business School in Bordeaux and never looked back since then. During my studies, I also worked for wine brokers (courtiers) to learn and understand the unique distribution system of Grands Crus of Bordeaux. In 2012, I joined my parents-in-law at Château Fleur Cardinale, and graduated the following year, gaining my qualifications in Wine Tasting at the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux.

Sumilier : Pls tell us about Decoster family and their estate in St Emilion and your current role and the role of your family members.

Caroline : I would like to say that 15 years ago, none of us were in the wine business, not even living in Bordeaux! Until 2000, my in-laws, Florence and Dominique Decoster, lived in Limoges, in the centre of France. Dominique had been the owner of Haviland, a Porcelain business that he had managed successfully for 27 years. Following sale of the business,  they acquired the property of Château Fleur Cardinale in May 2001, on the idea of Florence who wanted to start a new life. They were (and still are!) both wine lovers who had this wish to make the kind of wine that will never disappoint them. Now there are the four of us, working in family, but all of this was not actually planned. In fact, when my husband and I got married in Saint-Emilion in 2006, at that time I had just begun my career as an engineer. I think that if, on that day, someone had asked me if down the road, I would see myself working in the wine business, I would have laughed then!

Sumilier: Since the time you joined, you have depicted your wines with special human traits, depicted by a particular profile image for each vintage, instead of using words or points? Can you explain to us the background for this? 

Caroline's marketing idea of giving each vintage a visual photographic depiction (Photo credit: Chateau Fleur Cardinale) 

Caroline’s marketing idea of giving each vintage a visual photographic depiction (Photo credit: Chateau Fleur Cardinale)

I have travelled all over the world to promote the wines of the family. First of all, I noticed that there are strong differences amongst people in each country, in terms of cultural references, in terms of taste, and in the way wines are savoured and appreciated in general. So my views and perception of a wine may not always match or relate with what they perceive. Secondly, some of the tastings that wine professionals use, may not be relevant at all, to people who are not in the wine profession. Yet I know they are avid wine lovers and I wish to reach out to my wine loving community! They are able to appreciate and relate to my wines when expressed with a real-life character. So I decided to think out of the box, and to present the different vintages as if they were real people, each with their own qualities and style, so that all of us at different levels can relate to them. That’s why, for each vintage, I chose a visual, and four adjectives to express the whole personality of the wine such as the one above for 2009.

Sumilier:  What do you see as your challenges for the next 10-20 years for St Emillion and your family business?

For me the biggest problem for our generation, and the next ones, is global warming and its consequences for Bordeaux vineyards. Even in our every day work, we know that we never control anything. From one day to another, you can have either a great harvest nor a terrible one, courtesy Mother Nature’s offering. But with increasing change in climate, will our vineyards be able to face the warming temperatures? I am worried for that and even more so, there is a threat that this could eventually wipe our out vines?  We are working towards a better climatic zone by reducing our carbon footprint as a society, but only time will tell. Probably it will be our children and future generations that will face the gruelling consequences of this. I believe Global Warming is currently a huge challenge for every Wine producer!

Sumilier: What aspect of Wine production is most vital for you personally?

Caroline: In terms of wine production, vine growing is 90% of the work. So talking about the vineyard, I would say that the most important thing is to be able to take the good decisions, at the right moment during the viticultural life of the crop. These decisions are based on our knowledge of the terroir, but also on what we have learnt from past campaigns, and also on our future prediction of the weather. In the end, is the ability to adapt to any kind of situation that is most important and to create wines that show the true spirit of where it belongs. But we must always remember that we have to respect Mother Nature and bow to Her work. Luck does play an important role her ; even with the best terroir, the best team, the best equipments, only She can decide the quality of product that comes out of our soils…

Modern winery at the Chateau (Photo credits: Chateau Fleur Cardinale)

Modern winery at the Chateau (Photo credits: Chateau Fleur Cardinale)

Sumilier:  How many women in the Wine Trade do you see in St Emillion today? 

Caroline: I think there are more and more women getting involved in the wine making in Saint-Emilion which is very positive. But let us be honest here : women still prefer taking up marketing, promotion, communication, and public relations in the wine business, and instinctively all wine producing roles are designated to men as it is considered to be physically laborious. It will be a few years before women can make a drastic change in the Wine technicalities and take over equal roles in production and I am sure it will happen!

Sumilier: Any message for Women who wish to enter this field?

Caroline: Bordeaux is quite open to people who are new in this field. St Emillion is awash with young generation of wine makers both men and women and at Château Fleur Cardinale we are all a good example of modern generation mixed with old traditions. Despite my previous answer, I am a strong believer that women can do very well in this field – be it the viticultural side, wine making or the wine trade. If you want to enter this field, I think that at least one Practical Diploma is necessary, either a technical or a sale / marketing one.

But moreover, you will need to be very passionate about the wine – its not enough to say “I like wine very much”, as it is to learn in depth about the history and current issues, get your hands dirty by working in a winery and be prepared to talk every single minute of your day, including in your private and family lunches / dinners.   Wine needs to be part of your work and your every day lifestyle too! If you have the passion and are willing to work hard, there is nothing that can stop you…

Caroline Decoster presenting 2015 vintage at a Trade Event (Photo credit: Sumi_Sumilier

Caroline Decoster presenting 2015 vintage at a Trade Event (Photo credit: Sumi_Sumilier