Two Imaginary Boys: Pichon-Lalande


Insert cassette.

10:15 Saturday morning. Estate director Nicolas Glumineau is in off-duty attire, white shirt and black jeans, stubble that will either grow into a bushy beard à la Jean-Charles Cazes or be shaven off by harvest. He sits upon a stool behind the table where bottles of Pichon-Comtesse de Lalande line up for inspection. My eyes gaze upon a panorama that I have seen countless times and that still entrances: regimented vines trailing down toward the domed tower of Latour, and yonder, the somnolent Gironde estuary as it yawns into the Atlantic. The property is usually tranquil. This being mid-August, most people have decamped to the beach and it feels as if we are the only ones left in Bordeaux.

Pichon-Lalande's Estate director, Nicolas Glumineau 

“Shall we begin?” Glumineau asks in his nigh perfect English.

“Sure,” I reply.

Press PLAY.

Neal Martin: “Every Thursday between 7:00 and 7:30pm, the entire nation sat glued to Top of the Pops. It was the only way we could see what music looked like. Back in 1983, down in deepest Essex, this music-obsessed 12-year-old witnessed a band that looked like nothing else. It sounded so different: a jaunty, jazz-inflected double bass underpinned a leaping melody that masked its lyrical Grimm-like playfulness and the singer’s obvious disdain for being forced to mime. I loved pop music and my antenna was sharp. This was infinitely better than Phil Collins. It sounded as if it had snuck in from the musical underworld inhabited by weird musicians who rarely ventured into the Top Ten, and certainly not wholesome family viewing like this. “What on earth does he look like?” my parents scoffed. Their conservative musical tastes extended no further than Wings or The Carpenters. I can’t blame them for their derision. This band looked like Edwardian undertakers whose hearse had crashed into a Boots cosmetic counter. The lead singer sported a crow’s nest of hair akin to an electric shock victim whose coiffure never recovered. He was Robert Smith. His band was The Cure. The song was “The Love Cats.”

Watch: "The Love Cats"

Nicolas Glumineau: “My family are from south Brittany-Vendée. They were not into wine except opening a bottle for Sunday lunch. My father worked for the French railway and my mother was a nurse. First time I listened to The Cure was after a football match. I was in my dad’s car. It was in 1984 so I was around 10 years old and the radio was playing “The Love Cats.” I was shocked. So was my dad. Before then I was listening to my parents’ music: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Crosby Stills & Nash and The Who – Sixties and early Seventies, really. But The Cure was unique, certainly different. Music is my entire life. Always. The first vinyl that I bought was in 1985 – The Cure’s Concert, which has such a perfect version of “Charlotte Sometimes.” Then I bought my first cassette a few months later, which was Head on the Door. Then I discovered my pivotal album, Pornography, though Faith was always close.”

NM: “I did not pelt upstairs to transform myself into an adolescent goth. Thankfully there are no incriminating photographs of me hanging round street corners in funereal garb with panda eyes and a cobweb tattooed upon my forehead. I was too young, and frankly, the look just did not suit me. But I did fall in head over heels in love with their music. I was too young to have wallowed in their early albums, which sound like a Francis Bacon triptych put to noise. My fandom coincided with their imperial phase, bejeweled with effortless outré pop gems such as “In Between Days” and “Close To Me” that lit up the jejune post–Live Aid musical landscape. And my favorite Cure album? Surely their magnum opus, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me,  closely followed by the first album I bought from Our Price, Head on the Door.

NG: “I’ve never worn makeup and always had short hair. But I was all dressed in black between the ages of 15 and almost 30. But what you might call a very “sober” black, and maybe with a long white shirt under a big black pullover. I’ve never been a goth but more “dark wave” or "crow.”

Robert Smith in 1989

NM: “A year or two later I began a Saturday job in a shoe shop in the center of town. I was the product of a disciplined all-boys grammar school education where the existence of girls was only reluctantly acknowledged. Consequently, I was a dab hand at trigonometry and oxbow lakes, but criminally shy in the presence of the opposite sex. The shoe shop was hell because the entire staff comprised fierce teenage girls breathlessly nattering about raucous house parties. If only they had talked about the formation of oxbow lakes. Resigned to eavesdropping on their enviable lives, I just ate my bag of Wotsits and pondered life as Essex’s answer to Morrissey.”

NG: “Some of my friends shared a passion for The Cure. I must say I feel a bit isolated right now... but I like it! There was a real momentum of popularity for The Cure in the late 1980s in France up until 1992 and the Wish album. I must say that I've always listened to all kinds of music, whether it’s rock, pop, jazz, classical or opera. You have to keep different options. Some girls probably thought I was weird, but it’s way worse today because now I'm old-fashioned and weird. So as I said, it makes you feel isolated.”

NM: “One day, mid-Wotsit, “The Love Cats” randomly played on the radio. I plucked up the courage to tell a girl seated opposite that it was one of the best songs ever. Amazed that this tongue-tied boy was a fan of what was then still a cult band, we blithely chatted away. My fear of the opposite sex evaporated at that very moment. Thank you, Robert Smith. One subgroup of shoe shop girls frequented an infamous nightclub, the Pink Toothbrush. Many an aspiring alternative rock act currently filling stadia played this dingy club back in their formative years, including, in 1979, The Cure. Think Dante’s Inferno soundtracked by Nick Cave, a degenerate La Paulée fueled by cheap beer instead of jeroboams of Richebourg. Saturday night was a cauldron of musical tribes: goths, mods, skinheads and punks. At the end of the night, everyone funneled outside to be shepherded by half of Essex’s constabulary until they were sufficiently far away for the fights not to wake the local residents of Rayleigh. Naturally, my parents banned me from this notorious dive, which only increased its allure. Parents fobbed off with an excuse and with fake ID in pocket, a friend and I finally caught the bus to lose our Toothbrush virginity. I paid the entrance fee to what looked like a Minotaur with a green Mohican, the doors swung open and I was confronted by a Saturnalia of punks and goths going mental to The Pogues’ “The Irish Rover” in a thick fog of dry ice and Marlboro Light. I bore witness to the power of music (plus cheap lager and cheap narcotics.) “The Irish Rover” segued into “The Love Cats.” Girl goths cried. Boy goths applied more lipstick. This was my place. It became my regular haunt until acid house took over*.”

NG: “We had some indie clubs in Bordeaux from the 1980s until the early 2000s. Some were very classic New Wave music and others much more The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Front 242, Einstürzende Neubauten, Christian Death and so forth. I also played music. I started to learn bass guitar after hearing The Cure’s “Siamese Twins.” That was a revelation. The bass sounded so heavy, like a tolling bell in the mist.” 

NM: “Inevitably my first girlfriend was a goth. Her medieval nom de plume was “Jo the Goth,” presumably second cousin twice removed of Joan of Arc with just as much weight of the world on her shoulders. She was my first proper date, one that ended at the dregs of a house party where we practiced French-kissing to The Cure’s appropriately titled “The Kiss” playing at deafening volume. Perhaps Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” would have kindled more romance rather than six-minutes of squalling feedback, but still, tongues exhausted, we danced to “The Love Cats,” during which we fell in love and I mentally planned our wedding. She dumped me after five weeks and three days. I was heartbroken for approximately 23 minutes.”

“A few months later, summer 1989, my friends bought tickets for the final date of “The Prayer Tour” at Wembley Arena. Packed like sardines into my mate’s dad’s white Ford Escort 2.0 Turbo Cabriolet with electric blue go-faster stripes, we refueled at McDonalds and found our seats among the thousands of teenagers trying to be different by all dressing head-to-toe in black. The opening bars of “Plainsong” were almost drowned out by screams. At more than two hours with four encores, Robert Smith could give Springsteen a run for his money. It was epic. Jo the Goth was there, somewhere in the crowd, having moved several boyfriends on from yours truly. **”

NG: “I saw them on stage for the first time in Bordeaux in December 1987. It was a classic concert. There was an intro movie that showed Robert Smith’s lips and eyes. I was so happy. They started with “The Kiss” and the thrumming, raging bass of my hero, Simon Gallup. The best gigs were on The Prayer Tour in Bordeaux in July 1989. That was darker and romantic. I saw the four-hour concert at Paris Bercy in 2008, where there were fewer keyboards and more guitars, and more recently at Hyde Park to celebrate their 40th anniversary. That was emotional.” 

My original tour program for The Prayer Tour. Inside Robert Smith reveals that his favorite drink is, alas, not Pichon-Lalande but “a cool cider.”

NM: “That chapter of life is closed. In a few weeks I was off to university. I was an independent adult. My love for The Cure never waned but my omnivorous musical tastes splintered. Save for the peerless “Friday I’m In Love,” The Cure’s new songs no longer chimed as they once had. They belonged to the previous decade. Overnight it became a bit passé to like The Cure. When I hear their later work now, I realize that the songs were just as good. I had changed, not them. But fashion eventually turned full circle and The Cure became hip again, nowadays frequently cited as an influence by countless artists. Adele has covered them and they have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Few groups sustained a career spanning many years and remained both critically acclaimed and commercially successful around the world, not least in France, where they have long enjoyed an enormous following. There is nobody like Robert Smith. He never sold out. He never changed. His music resonates now as much as it ever did.”

NG: “There is no more beautiful song than “Friday I’m In Love.” Well, maybe that is not true, but that is what I told to a girl that I was trying to date. Pop is only one part of The Cure and Robert Smith. I think introspection and the darker side of music is definitely more his thing. After Wish, Wild Mood Swings was boring except for a couple of songs, though Bloodflowers and 4:13 Dream are really good. But nobody knows any of them because now there are no pop songs on the radio. The good thing is that The Cure has lasted and they are still creative, if not in a bubbly pop style.”

NM: “My collection of precious Cure vinyl is alphabetically ordered behind my desk and I still hunt down rarities. My wife detests The Cure. She says they sound like a wailing cat, which would probably please Robert Smith. I watched them headline Glastonbury. Smith is approaching 60 now but he still looks the same and his voice is better than ever. I marveled at their rich and seemingly endless back catalog of classic and that live, they sound better than ever.”

NG: “I still listen to The Cure very often but not every day and mostly on CD. My wife Marie, who was born in the Médoc, has convinced herself that she too likes The Cure, but I think she doesn't want to disappoint me. She has no choice. She joined me to see them in Paris and at Hyde Park and we both have festival tickets to see them in August this year.”

Press PAUSE.

August 2018

Since his days at Château Montrose, I have known that Nicolas Glumineau is a lifelong fan of The Cure. As a trained baritone, he could be expected to love, say, Verdi, but maybe not Robert Smith. We would not expect that he regularly gigs around Bordeaux, playing bass guitar in a band. Three or four years ago, he told me that Pichon-Lalande would undergo extensive redevelopment: the entire winery, the original château and its surrounding gardens. Off the cuff, I suggested that when the work is completed, we should mark the occasion with a few vintages while listening to our favorite band. So it came to pass, and we spent a couple of hours examining vintages selected by Glumineau, soundtracked by “A Forest,” “Just Like Heaven” and of course, “The Love Cats.”

This one-off tasting appealed to me in many ways. There is the collision between two presumably unrelated worlds, fine wine and alternative rock, essentially the ethos that first motivated me to write. Aesthetically, Glumineau is not your quintessential Cure fan; quite the opposite. I like the idea that an estate manager and ambassador par excellence for a historic Grand Cru Classé has, or at least used to have, a secret history. There is this other side to his personality that I believe informs his approach to his work and his uncompromising pursuit of excellence. Then there are the parallels between our lives, from discovering The Cure as teenagers and ultimately leading to this one-off tasting and article. How did we get from there to here?

As for the technical details of Pichon-Lalande, well, I’ve written about them before, and you’ll find much of what you need to know in Antonio Galloni’s article on Vinous a couple of years ago. Just as a musician strives to compose something different and original, a wine writer can, I think, be forgiven for offering an alternative take on the subject and presenting, as I hope is the case here, a unique perspective upon a winemaker that you will not find anywhere else. Just in case, tasting notes can be read on the link just as with any other Vinous piece.  

A final thought: Can you imagine if one day Robert Smith turned up at Pichon-Lalande? How would his number one fan react?

“I will pour Pichon Comtesse 1982, which is dense, powerful, complete, emotional and has an endless finish...”

Ah, service back to normal – a proper answer without any obtuse references to an indie band.

“... just like Pornography, which was released the same year.”

* Against the odds, the Pink Toothbrush is still going strong today in the exact same location in Rayleigh.

** Even more unbelievably, while writing this article I returned to my hometown to convalesce. I met an old school friend for coffee one morning and, unbeknownst to me, Jo the Goth was sitting at the next table. It had been over 25 years since we last met, so I failed to recognize her. I have since learned that she is now married to a member of the excellent Teenage Fanclub... but I still cannot forgive her for dumping me in 1988.

Press EJECT and give me the tape.

(My thanks to Nicolas Glumineau for answering questions that I doubt he will ever be asked again. Thank you to Robert Smith for his music and for being Robert Smith.)

See the Wines from Youngest to Oldest

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