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Naples Winter Wine Festival 2011: A Bow to Royalty

Honored Vintner, Prince RobertIf you’ve misplaced your english to Luxembourgish dictionary, don’t panic; we’ve got you covered. “Gromper” means potato, “lesel” means donkey and “metzleschjong” means butcher’s son. If that doesn’t get you past security at this year’s Naples Winter Wine Festival, don’t worry, HRH Prince Robert Louis Francois Marie of Luxembourg also speaks perfect English.

That’s right, the Wine Festival has a decidedly royal air to it this year by naming Prince Robert this year’s Honored Vintner, and all we ask is that when you genuflect, try not to spill your wine.

As managing director of Domaine Clarence Dillon, Prince Robert governs two of Bordeaux’s most prestigious Premier Grand Cru estates: Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion. That means that even though his country is smaller than Lee County, he could conceivably overthrow France from within.

Having literally been surrounded by wine and winemaking his entire life (he recalls his first taste of champagne as coming from the doctor who delivered him—although one assumes they were separate events), Prince Robert has a unique vantage point from which to view an ancient industry fully immersed in the 21st century. So who better to talk to about the over-crowded wine market, where graphic artists tend to be playing as big a role as the winemakers themselves?

“Well, brand remains important,” says HRH, who was recently feted (along with famed chef Jacques Pepin) at the annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival. “The fact is the consumer needs to be comforted by a certain brand, to know it represents a certain quality. And (quality) is more transparent than ever before with social media … People rapidly cut through gimmicks and, if you make a mistake, the consumer might not give you a second chance. At the lower end things are more easily forgiven.

“I do think that over the last number of years the trend has been how to catch the consumer’s eye, how to initiate a first taste of a wine. There are so many wines on the market it seems that you have to have labels that are a little more eye-catching—so we’ve seen trends of animals appearing on labels. We’ve also seen more fruit-forward styles of wines—with consumers tending to go for fruit-tasting wines. But I do believe that today it is all about quality. Today the consumer wants to be able to talk about the wine and (gravitates) more toward wines of balance and elegance.

“Chateaux Brion has never deviated in order to follow fashions. We have classical Bordeaux wines from Bordeaux averaging about five years bottle time versus one season for other wines. The irony is that now we actually stick out with our wines.”

HRH will host a special C’est Magique Honored Vintner wine tasting and lunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. Tickets are $2,500 per person. The event will be moderated by James Moleworth of Wine Spectator magazine. 

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