Roz Crowley meets Pierre Lawton, a globally acclaimed wine merchant, whose long line of Cork ancestors includes a mayor
Pierre Patrick Lawton was born in 1958 with a sip of Mouton 1945 on his lips. “As I understand it Dad finished the bottle. Hence, my taste for this wine,” said P Lawton on a recent visit to Cork.
It’s the county of his forefathers, going back eight generations, starting with Abraham Lawton whose family owned a substantial package of land near Skibbereen and another near Buttevant in County Cork. He went to Bordeaux in 1739 to establish the wine-broking house of Tastet et Lawton. It wasn’t easy for a Protestant family to settle in the predominantly Catholic Bordeaux. They were kept outside the walls of the city in a type of ghetto which is now the prestigious Quai de Chartrons. Abraham, a Protestant, had six children with Charlotte Selves, a Catholic who had to convert to Protestantism before eventually being granted permission to marry.
Back in Cork, Abraham’s cousin Hugh Lawton founded the Cork bank of Lawton, Carleton and Feray in 1750 and became mayor in 1776. His portrait hangs on the main staircase wall of Cork’s Crawford Gallery ( see picture). Lawton’s Quay, part of Cork’s former extensive waterways, was once where the GPO is located, and is named after him. Tastet et Lawton continues in the hands of Pierre’s cousin, Daniel who was Deputy Mayor of Bordeaux for 30 years.
Pierre’s father Hugue re-ignited the Irish connection after brainstorming with Cork wine historian Ted Murphy. He mapped the Irish connections to wine worldwide, resulting in his book ‘A Kingdom of Wine – A Celebration of Ireland’s Winegeese’.
“It’s wonderful to appreciate the connections with Ireland and the wine trade”, says Pierre, “including Peter Mitchell who in 1723 started the first glass bottle factory in Bordeaux, designing what we take for granted – glass bottles that could be stored sideways.” When next in Bordeaux watch out for Rue de la Verrerie.
Pierre’s passion for great claret started young, passed from grandfather to son and grandson. “In our family and I can safely say that few families in the Bordeaux trade have such a wonderful memory of wine and trade.”
In the heart of the prestigious wine producing area of Bordeaux, Pierre’s family had connections with legendary families. The oldest Bordeaux wine he ever tasted was at Rothschild, an 1811 Lafite.
“Not too old at all. Wonderful!” He often played backgammon with Philippe de Rothschild, a friend of his grandfather, who paid him his winnings with books from his library. When a bachelor he met Greta Garbo. “I was often the 14th person at the table in the chateau. There could never be 13. I didn’t always know who these famous people were!”
In 1997 Decanter magazine named him as one of the most influential wine people in the world and today his companies Alias Bordeaux and Gambit Wines are leading traders in top level Grands Crus Bordeaux wines.
But wine is not his only passion. At law school Pierre followed the family’s interest in many sports. The Lawton family created the first lawn tennis court in France and with friends established the Golf Bordelais club in 1900. Pierre was a professional skateboarder and had a career in sailing. A number of titles in the 90s includes the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Spain in 1995, the all-Japan international championship in Nishinomiya, and twice he won the Prince Henrik’s Silver cup.
These days skateboarding and sailing have been replaced by golf.
This enthusiasm is shared by his wife Kristel Mourgue d’Algue, a golf pro since winning the1995 NCAA championship. She and her family will soon open a golf course development designed by Tom Doak in Saint Emilion where Pierre and she live at the weekend.
“I love golf and my wife Kristel is still a below scratch player. She gives me points when we play. We always compete!” Members of Portmarnock golf club, they enthuse about playing there and around links courses throughout Ireland. Kristel’s father was a friend of Joe Carr, “another great golf champion”.
Golf gives Pierre an added dimension to world business travel. “I have played on over 500 courses, but choosing a favourite is like choosing a favourite wine. No matter how wonderful one is I prefer to drink different wines, even risking a poor one, and to visit different golf courses. I enjoyed my round yesterday in Waterville.”
Worldwide he sees wine often served too warm. “Room temperature for red wines was originally based on cold, draughty rooms. I often have to drop a cube of ice in the glass to bring out the best flavours. Remove the cube when it has chilled a little.” An hour in the ‘fridge is usually enough to reach a suitable temperature for whites. From a man whose first taste ever was a sip of wine, a tip worth savouring.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved