Q: What is Montesquieu?
A: Montesquieu is a full-service wine group that connects American wine lovers with the very best wines in the world – particularly those that come from boutique, family-owned, organically-farmed vineyards. Domestically, we operate in the Burgundian negociant tradition, sourcing high quality juice from top vineyards, hand-crafting it into a finished wine, and bottling it under unique labels – all with the utmost care and discrimination. Internationally, we work with growers and producers all over the world to import artisanal, terroir-driven wines for our clients. The wines we craft and import are offered directly to our clients by way of our staff of brokers, who cultivate a relationship with each of their clients in an effort to source them wine that fits their interests while helping them to optimize their wine experience.
Q: Does Montesquieu make wine?
Yes, we do – most of the domestic wine we sell was crafted by us. We have a winery license and a full-time winemaker who resides in Napa. Like many high-end wineries in California, we do not own our own vineyards. Instead, we leverage our longstanding relationships with top domestic growers to seek out some of the best small-batch juice from the most prestigious regions on the West Coast. We then finish each wine in such a way as to draw out its unique character and complexity, bottle and label it, and offer it to our clients.
Q: How do I know Montesquieu’s domestic wines are made from high-quality juice rather than leftovers?
We encourage you to taste the wine and decide for yourself! Unfortunately, our contracts with producers often preclude us from revealing the producers’ identities – a provision many prestigious producers like to include because they don’t want anyone to know they’re selling some of their juice for fear of diluting their high-end image. But we can tell you that led by our winemaker Hélène Mingot and world-renowned consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, our buying team is highly selective, electing to carry only the most distinctive, delicious juice, crafted from carefully farmed grapes on the highest pedigreed land. Because of our rigorous selection process, our clients can be assured that every wine we offer represents the best of its type and offers a unique expression of its terroir.
Q: Does Montesquieu ever sell domestic wines made by other local wineries?
Yes, but only once in a while. On these rare occasions, the wine we offer is typically sold out at the producer winery and very hard or impossible to locate on the open market – enabling us to provide our clients with unparalleled access to highly-allocated wines. Recent examples include Heidi Barrett’s 2007 Amuse Bouche and her 2006 and 2007 Vin Perdu Jeroboams; the 2007 Coup de Foudre Cabernet, Pinot and 37.2; and the 2007 PharoahMoans.
Q: Where is Montesquieu’s winemaking facility?
In Napa’s eastern mountains. Our winemaker Hélène Mingot is thrilled to be crafting wines at a new, state-of-the-art facility owned by Arkenstone Winery. Located high up on Howell Mountain, the property boasts spectacular views of the valley floor and a stunning cave for aging wines built into the side of the mountain. We share the winemaking equipment and underground cellars with Arkenstone and several other small wineries.
Q: If Montesquieu makes most of the domestic wines it sells, why does each of these wines have a different label?
We want each label to express the uniqueness of each wine we assemble for our clients. We make so many different wines each year that it would be inaccurate and confusing to label them all “Montesquieu.” Each unique label indicates a unique wine that comes from a unique vineyard or set of vineyards. Of course when we work with the same vineyard and/or the same producer in successive years, we typically give each vintage the same label name so as to emphasize the continuity between the wines.
Q: What about the wine Montesquieu imports from other countries? Does it make those wines too?
No, the international wines we source for our clients are made and bottled by independent producers. We do seek to develop relationships with these growers and producers so as better to convey the story of each wine to our clients and to communicate our clients’ experience with the wine back to the producers. As a result of these relationships, in many cases Montesquieu is able to work with the producers from the beginning of a wine’s life, assisting in the selection of ideal vineyards plots to cultivate into wines destined specifically for our clients.
Q: When was the company founded?
A: The company was founded by Fonda Hopkins with Frank Kryger in 1991 in Chicago. In 1992, the company acquired W.G. Best, an importer-distributor located in San Diego. Over the next fifteen years, we grew steadily, increasing our revenues and reach and opening up numerous sales offices. In the course of buying trips to Bordeaux, Fonda developed a relationship with a member of the family of the Baron de Montesquieu. This led in 2006 to us acquiring the rights to the Montesquieu name – a name deeply connected with the history of wine in France and evocative of the values we hold dear.
Q: Where is Montesquieu located?
A: Our winemaking facility is in Napa at Arkenstone Winery up on Howell Mountain. Our administrative offices and warehouse are in San Diego. And we have seven sales offices around the country that house our brokers – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, two in San Diego, Orlando, and Washington, DC (and soon in New York City). (The family of the original Baron de Montesquieu owns a chateau in Bordeaux that in the past has produced wine that they’ve labeled with the “Montesquieu” name – but we do not own that chateau, nor have we ever been involved in the production of those wines.)
Q: What are the company’s annual revenues?
A: Our yearly revenues exceed $20 million. In its recently published Inc. 5000 list for 2009, Inc. Magazine recognized Montesquieu as one of America’s fastest growing private companies, as well as the second fastest growing private, independent wine company overall.
Q: How many clients does Montesquieu have?
A: Montesquieu currently has approximately 15,000 active clients throughout the United States.
Q: How many growers and producers does Montesquieu work with?
A: Montesquieu currently works with close to 150 growers and producers around the world, with more sending samples daily.
Q: Who decides what wines Montesquieu will sell?
A: Our buying team consists of world-renowned winemaker-consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, our winemaker Hélène Mingot, and our Co-founder and President Fonda Hopkins. With over 50 years of combined experience in growing, making, tasting and selling wine, this team has the experience, palate and connections necessary to source some of the top wine on the planet. Fonda is the ultimate decision-maker, but in making those decisions she relies heavily on Stéphane and Hélène’s discriminating palates, vineyard and cellar experience, and uncompromising standards. The team is assisted by several of Stéphane’s colleagues in Bordeaux, including Simon Blanchard, Julien Lavenu and Frederic Massie.
Q: How can I buy wine from Montesquieu winery?
A: Through one of our brokers . With very few exceptions, our wine is only available through our brokers – our wine is rarely available in retail shops or restaurants. If you’d like to speak to a broker, please call 800.860.2378.
Q: Montesquieu likens its domestic operations to that of a Burgundian Négociant. What does that mean?
A: A négociant is a wine merchant who sources grapes and/or juice from smaller growers and winemakers, finishes the wine and sells it under its own label or labels. It’s a time-tested model in France that has resulted in some of the world’s most prestigious wines. But not all négociants are equally discriminating. Négociants in Burgundy have developed an approach that focuses on terroir-driven, site-specific, limited run wines, rather than high-volume commercially-driven wines. Montesquieu seeks to emulate this Burgundian negociant approach, sourcing small batches of juice from domestic artisanal growers and fashioning each wine so as to express its unique terroir.
Q: What benefit does Montesquieu offer over local retail stores?
A: Montesquieu seeks to infuse pleasure and excitement into the process of learning to appreciate wine, while enabling each client to acquire wine personally tailored to their tastes and interests. Unlike traditional wine merchants, our brokers work directly with their clients on an individual basis to expand their wine knowledge and to encourage them to trust their own palates. Brokers bridge a personal and meaningful connection between the winemaker and the client with the aim of deepening both parties’ appreciation and understanding of how a wine’s terroir shapes the client’s experience. Through their broker, clients receive a window into the vineyard and cellar, learning about the vintage conditions, plot characteristics and winemaking decisions that give each wine a unique taste and identity. Montesquieu clients also have direct access to rare and hard-to-obtain wines, most of which are not available in retail shops or restaurants.
Q: What is Montesquieu’s customer satisfaction policy?
A: Montesquieu’s customer service is unparalleled in the wine industry – wines are guaranteed to the client’s taste. If a client is unhappy with a purchase anytime within the first six months, we will refund or exchange the wines to ensure customer satisfaction.
Q: How does Montesquieu price its wines?
A: Montesquieu seeks to negotiate the best pricing we can on the wine we source and to pass those savings on to our clients wherever possible. We pride ourselves on finding for our clients the best wine experience at the lowest possible price. That said, we are not a discount house, and we refuse to carry any wine whose provenance is uncertain or unsound (a factor that can drive down the market price of wine – but also shifts the risk onto the consumer, something we will not do). Our commitment to quality is uncompromising and guides every decision we make. Because we seek to source small-production, hand-crafted wines, we are not always able to take advantage of price breaks that would be available for commercial wines. That’s all right by us, and it seems to be all right by our clients. If a client ever feels that a wine we sold them is not worth the price they paid, we will take care of them to ensure their satisfaction.