Château de Birazel producteur de vins rouge et blanc Bordeaux Sud Gironde Domaine viticole familial à Saint-Hilaire-de-la-Noaille

Interview with Paul Boeckx

Paul Boeckx, you are at the head of the non-trading farming company Château de Birazel, which you created with your family on this Saint-Hilaire-de-la-Noaille estate in 2017. Where do you come from ?

I come from Belgium, more precisely from a small village between the cities of Louvain and Antwerp. I lived in Belgium in the cities of Mechelen and Lier for my studies. I started my professional career in the retail sector in Brussels.

Wine is a product that is admired in Belgium and in the mass market, even though Belgians have a great beer tradition. Often, abroad, we were part of the French-speaking circles and we were invited to various events where good French wines were served.

You travelled extensively. When did you discover France, in what circumstances, and why did you choose to move here ?

We discovered France in 1982 when we came to Paris for the first time, after getting engaged. Then we did a little tour of France and visited the Bordeaux region in particular. One of my nieces has lived near Tarbes for over 30 years now. She used to do the tourist season in Lourdes; one summer she met someone from the region and she never left. We visited her several times, for example when we were going down to Spain, and we were able to discuss the quality of life in France. That was already anchoring us in the country.

We have spent 25 years abroad, changing residence every three years. We also travelled a lot for pleasure. With retirement age approaching, we wanted to live somewhere warmer, in every sense of the word, but not too far from our European family. We went to Italy twice, to Tuscany, near Pisa and Siena. Then we made two or three trips to Spain, around Madrid, then Seville. In France, after the regions of Aix-en-Provence and Mulhouse, we spent a week in the Bordeaux region. When we arrived at the estate with the agents, it was rainy, dark and dreary, and on top of that, the castle had been broken into. The place had been derelict for 15 years, there was brush everywhere, and keys scattered in the high grass. The agents spent an hour taking photos for the owner and the insurance company, so my wife and I were left to our own devices. We liked the place a lot, the building however was not in good condition. There was as much work as there was potential.

As French is an official language in Belgium, it made everything much easier. There were many advantages in investing here, so we created the company. Once we had bought the estate, we started the work, always from a distance, because at that time we were moving to Malaysia, with the idea of staying there until the estate was ready to welcome us. I was shuttling to Bordeaux, we worked by phone and email, and we spent 15 days at the estate two to three times per year to check on the work. By the end of 2019, we realised this was too complicated and we moved here to be on site, and able to monitor everything more efficiently.

Château de Birazel producteur de vins rouge et blanc Bordeaux Sud Gironde Domaine viticole familial à Saint-Hilaire-de-la-Noaille

What is your professional specialty?

Finance. My background is an unusual one, since I started with a degree in mathematics, before entering the retail industry as a salesman. I was good at numbers, so the parent company hired me to monitor the profitability of the branches. I took finance and accounting courses to specialise in this area, and soon understood how it worked. It’s much easier to monitor sales when you’re in the field. That was my world, whereas it was a different world for the head office. What matters is results. You have to know how and when to put pressure or be patient, depending on the circumstances. Knowing the base is very important to find the right solutions to problems. The buyer decides what must be sold but doesn’t know how to sell, for example, and this causes misunderstandings and wasted time. The company I was working for was bought by Carrefour, and I was hired by an international brewery in Belgium that was looking for people to go abroad. I spent six months in the head office and three months in the branches, then I went on crisis management missions in Central Europe as financial director, to reorient practices, then decide if the branches should continue or close: from Romania, we then went to China, Russia, India, then we landed in Malaysia to think about what to do next. You have to know when to turn the corner, when to slow down and when to speed up.

You have had several lives. What ambitions have guided your professional choices?

To seek unique and rewarding experiences for me and my family. We have always wanted to give our children an experience that cannot be bought. They didn’t always like it; it’s not easy to change place every three years. We compensated by inviting the grandparents for two to four weeks each year and also by sending the children to spend the holidays with them in Belgium. When the children turned 25, they appreciated the knowledge they had acquired. The eldest speaks five languages. They are more open to different ideas. They know that just because you don’t understand, it doesn’t mean it’s not good.

What were your priorities when you changed sectors ?

I changed sectors to stay abroad and discover other continents and cultures. I went from retail to beer, but I stayed in finance. The advantage of large companies is that you can grow while staying in the same sub-sector. In my career, I have been involved in sales, but also in production and project management, following the instructions of the parent company.

Did you have a special history with wine ?

Wine is a product that is admired in Belgium and in the mass market, even though Belgians have a great beer tradition. Often, abroad, we were part of the French-speaking circles and we were invited to various events where good French wines were served.

Château de Birazel is a family business… How do you combine private and professional life ?

Our company is a family business and even though the professional part is often dominant, we also dedicate time for family. My wife and I both worked full time. Now we try to find the right balance. My wife would very much like to use the sales room at the entrance to the château’s cellars to open a small café, a tea room, to welcome people. My eldest son, who participated in the start-up of the project, will join us in the future to take charge of marketing and sales, develop our visibility through social media, events, etc.

What is your vision for the future of the Château ?

Our goal is to be recognised in the wine world as a producer of high-quality wines. Our ambition is to create a range of qualitative wines, red and white, which are differentiated by their profile. In the future we would like to offer other products from our own production such as honey, lavender, truffles, olives etc.

Entretien réalisé par Alice Pétillot

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.