Jean-Francois Boras: The Innovation Interview
Jean-Francois Boras, Co Proprietor and Winemaker of Domaine de Bellevue shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and Domaine de Bellevue.
Jean-Francois was not born into a wine family, but he had this dream when he was a teenager of having a wine property in Bordeaux for the ‘magic of wine’ and for the lifestyle. It is also because it is the only product that you can make which is like a piece of art, from the earth of a very particular ‘terroir’ to the table of great people on the other side of the planet. With wine, you give extraordinary moments of shared pleasure.
He first attended a school of business and after ‘Sciences Po’, a political science school in France for his studies. After, he spent two years in the Navy serving as an officer. Then Jean-Francois worked for several companies as advisor to industry (EDF, Total, Framatone, Astrium Herakles) all over the world. After 15 years in this industry, he finally found Domaine de Bellevue after more than 5 years of searching for the right place to make this wine project.
The very ancient Domaine, was had been abandoned for 40 years, so it took a lot of hard work, intuition and imagination for building this dream into a reality.
>How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?
Innovation for me is what takes every human being to a better future and what takes all humanity to a better future. Innovation has to be focussed on human beings and not on profit. Innovations have also to take care of the environment in order to leave the planet in a better condition than the way we found it. The planet doesn’t belong to us, we are only the hosts of the planet as Saint Exupery said.
What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?
I don’t think that ‘more’ is always synonymous with ‘better’. In a lot of ways we are in a civilization based on quantity “more, more, more”. I prefer a lot of ‘quality’, a civilization based on “better, better, better”. We have to progress, we have to make things better for increasing the moral and material situation of humanity, but like Motaigne said (a French philosopher of XVI century, born in Perigord, my country of birth, and mayor of Bordeaux, my country of choice) : “Il faut raison garder”.
What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?
The best piece of advice I have been given and received is “Deviens ce que tu es” (become what you are) That means that every human being has treasures inside of himself that need to come to life.
What is your greatest achievement and why?
To have become I really am, incomplete and not perfect, with a respect of my values. Domaine de Bellevue and Le Grand Société are a part of this achievement, giving special things, exclusivity, authenticity and special moments, to members, people that have got a lot of things in their lives.
Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?
I like the physical contact with books and paper, I spend at least three hours a day reading and have always 8 or 10 books on my bedside table waiting for me. My family on my Mother’s side were a family of printers for 250 years! I spent a lot of time when I was a child in the workshop of my Grandfather with the odour of ink and paper.
The Financial Times recently called the Le Grand Société “an innovative debenture model”. Why did you and Tim Griffiths decide on this business model for Domaine de Bellevue?
We decided to commercialize Domaine de Bellevue wine with this innovative model because we do believe it is a really unique product, similar to a piece of art.
The commercialization system has to fit perfectly with the product. An exclusive product like Domaine de Bellevue wine has to be distributed via an exclusive club like Le Grand Société to ensure traceability, quality and personal service, so that there is a direct link between the members and the property. We also believe in the “civilization of wine” which means that members of Le Grand Société can meet everywhere in the world, across the borders, across civilizations and different cultures.
What were your greatest takeaways from being a French naval officer and a management consultant that you applied to your turnaround effort of Domaine de Bellevue?
From being a management consultant, the fact that I travelled a lot and was in business in many industries, and many countries. The fact that when you are an international businessman, you need to feel a direct link to something that gives you roots, emotions and pleasure and be part of an exclusive club which is like a “secret garden”.
From being a navy officer, the importance of details that makes a journey very pleasant or a nightmare. The character for struggling with difficult elements with ‘self control’. The ability of always knowing where you are and where you want to go, with humility.
These insights are part of the philosophy, vision and strategy of Domaine de Bellevue.
As the popularity of Domaine de Bellevue wines continues to grow among members and wine collectors, how will you ensure that each and every bottle is genuine? Are you currently experimenting with any technologies that would prevent counterfeiting?
It is true that Domaine de Bellevue’s reputation is growing fast and we are very happy and proud of this. You can’t find a bottle of Domaine de Bellevue Le Grand Société in a shop or a restaurant as we only distribute directly from the vineyard to the final customer in several countries where we have members, such as UK, USA, Hong Kong etc. So you have to prove that you are a member if you want to sell a bottle of our wine.
Some technologies exist for preventing counterfeiting and we are looking into these. We are very sensitive of giving the best to our members.
While creating an intimate bespoke experience for Le Grand Société how do you balance the need for innovative technologies all while ensuring the highest level of customer service?
We consider the wine of Domaine de Bellevue as a piece of art. We don’t utilize a lot of technology, but we are very watchful regarding all the research and development projects in the wine industry sector, for example ideas for reducing the use of phyto products in the vineyard or sulfites in the wine making process. It is not because we are in a traditional ancestral activity sector, based on the earth that we refuse all the innovation that could be better for Domaine de Bellevue, but for respecting what I mentioned in question 1, the respect for nature and humanity.
How will the growing interest of foreign buyers in the Bordeaux region have an impact on how you market and manage the growth of Le Grand Société?
A lot of people from foreign countries, would like to have a ‘Chateau in Bordeaux’. It is a very delicate business, not really for everybody – as you need a great investment, not only with money, but a personal investment too. A lot of things can’t be delegated. I know a lot of industry sectors and really winemaking is one of the most complicated jobs you can have in the world. You have to grow vines and ensure high quality grapes, you must be a good winemaker and also a good salesman as you need to be the ambassador for your wine. It is easy to make a good wine, it is very difficult to make a great wine, as firstly you need to have the right “terroir”, but it is the day to day details, and precisions that makes the difference. “A great wine can only flourish in the shadow if its maker” as we say in Bordeaux.
We do not want to grow but we want to offer to our members a unique experience based on exclusivity, emotions and authenticity.