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How a Sleepy Village 300km East of Bordeaux Invented the Wine Negociant System!

Updated: May 31



Or how my hometown became the center of France's wine trade


Words by Mimi Giraud



I did not grow up in a vineyard, but wine was always at the forefront of all our big family dinners.

I spent my childhood years in a small town in the center of France, at least two hours from any famous wine regions. This village was known as Meymac, or "Meymac-près-Bordeaux" to some of the locals, which literally translates to "Meymac close to Bordeaux."

The sleepy village lies five hours south of Paris, just past the Plateau de Millevaches (translates to "Shelf of a Thousand Cows"), and counts no less than 2,279 inhabitants. One of them is my mother, Madeleine.


In the 19th century, Meymac became a hub for Bordeaux wine trade thanks to Jean Gaye-Bordas, a wine merchant who is widely considered the creator of the "negociant" system in Bordeaux.


At that time, men migrated part of the year for seasonal work. Gaye-Bordas, though illiterate, was quick-witted. He became a peddler, umbrella seller, and rag-and-bone man before selling kerosene lamps in Bordeaux. Noticing a local clerk sending wine to his brother in Lille on the French north coast, he seized the chance to sell Bordeaux wine under the label "Meymac-près-Bordeaux." He achieved immediate success when presenting himself as the winemaker. Using simple paper order forms, he would return to Corrèze, ship the wine, and collect payment on his next trip, marking the start of the Bordeaux wine trade.


My mother still lives in the village, just down the road from the Gaye-Bordas family, and surrounded by families who own some of the most prestigious vineyards in the Bordeaux region. Therefore wine, and particularly Bordeaux wine, was always important at home, and carefully selected by my mother.


My maman with a jeroboam of 1985 Chateau Giscours at 67 Pall mall in Singapore


When I did my executive MBA at INSEAD in 2018, I knew I wanted to build something around wine. Despite my family's longstanding dedication to wine, I had no experience in the wine industry, no references, and very little knowledge of the F&B sector. But when I spoke to my mother about the idea of setting up a wine business, she reminded me of all the wine merchants of our hometown, who had started from nothing. Despite their lack of knowledge and means, they managed to disrupt the wine industry and build a system that is still running today.


Jean Gaye-Bordas’s story is a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the people of Meymac. His success inspired many other traders in the region, enriching the community and shaping the local architecture with grand houses. Even today, some families from Meymac own prestigious vineyards in the Bordeaux region, continuing this commercial tradition internationally.


Château Ducru-Beaucaillou in the Saint-Julien appellation


For instance, the Pécresse family of Combressol purchased Château-Bellevue in Pauillac in 1894, and the Borie family acquired Château-Caronne in Saint-Julien in 1900, later adding Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. Jean Moueix invested in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, acquiring Château-Taillefer, Château Lafleur-Pétrus, and the legendary Pétrus among many others. These families not only developed the wine trade but also expanded it globally, taking advantage of Bordeaux's maritime connections to the UK and, eventually, the United States. Later, the opening of air routes allowed them to reach other continents, including Singapore where I have been living since 2013.



There have even been books written about the village for example, the fantastic comic book written by Manu Tronche which shares the family stories and anecdotes of the village in Du Rififi à Meymac-près-Bordeaux.


This tradition of wine trade is a point of pride for those of us from Meymac. It shows how a small town, far from the famous vineyards, could become a significant player in the global wine industry through ingenuity and hard work.


It also reminds me that with determination and a bit of creativity, we can achieve great things, no matter where we start.



Five years later, I was delighted to be able to bring her to a beautiful dinner organized by the Commanderie de Bordeaux in Singapore that I was the secretary for at the time. This dinner celebrated the legacy of the Bordeaux wine trade, and it was an honor to share it with someone who had witnessed firsthand the history and impact of the negociant system.




As I continue to build my wine business, I carry with me the lessons from Meymac’s history and the inspiration from those early wine merchants. They proved that success is not about where you begin, but about the vision and effort you put into your journey. And who knows, maybe one day, my own business will become a part of the long and storied legacy of Meymac-près-Bordeaux.



 



About Mimi


After completing an Executive MBA at INSEAD & passing her WSET level 3 (wine certification for professionals) with flying colours, Mimi's strongest motivation is to develop wine appreciation through games & share the amazing potential, complexity & beauty of the world of wines.

 

Her gamification concept for masterclasses brings a refreshing and fun way to learn about wine tasting.


You can join Mimi on her wine adventure by following her on instagram, or by attending one of her masterclasses.

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