For 28 years, FRANÇOIS CHANDOU and his wife, Anne, have called Kessler Park home. The oenologist, whose family has a 200-year-old vineyard near the French Bordeaux region, has spent more than 30 years in Dallas making a name for himself in the wine business — first with La Cave Wine Shop on Henderson, and now with La Cave Warehouse, where customers with distinguished palates seek his expertise.
How did you end up in the United States?
My dad was in the wine business, and he asked me if I wanted to work for him … I like to say that France was not big enough for my dad and myself. I had come as a tourist already a couple of times to the U.S., and I was so enamored with the U.S. I loved the people, the hospitality; I found they were not bound by centuries of history and tradition. That was, for me, very refreshing.
I found a job with a wine distribution company called Bon Vin, and in the mid-’70s, there were some French restaurants that were of interest in Dallas that were new accounts, so they decided this Frenchman can be the link. I started calling on accounts with a label book in one hand and a French-English dictionary in the other. I made some progress until three months later when Bon Vin was sold. By that time, I had called on a number of accounts, including one called Oz — a very upscale restaurant located where the Galleria is today. I worked as a sommelier there, and that’s what really made it possible for me to open my business a year and a half later.
I understand La Cave brought the wine-by-the-glass concept to the Southwest in the late ’70s?
My original concept was to sell wine, but give the people the opportunity to taste before buying a bottle. I imported it from a couple of places I had seen — one in Paris and one in London. I have all along been a big believer in the product speaking for itself, so if you have a chance to try a wine and you happen to like it as much as I do, then it’s called a sale. I can talk your head off on the merit of a wine; until you try it and you like it what good is that going to do? My goal has always been, instead of making a sale, making a loyal customer.
Why wasn’t anyone else selling wine by the glass?
You can ask that same question of any new concept or any new piece of fashion.
You specialize in Bordeaux wines. Why so?
I’m a strong believer that to be a specialist, you cannot specialize in too many things, so why Bordeaux? This is the area and the type of wine where I’m the least ignorant. That’s where I come from, and that’s what I know best. This being said, I’m learning every day about Bordeaux. It’s a small region when you look at it from Texas, but on the geographical map of the key wine regions of the world, Bordeaux would probably stand as the leading region. Think of all the countries and the people around the world who are trying to emulate Bordeaux. When we talk about cabernet sauvignon, Bordeaux is the standard. And if you look at just the wine market today, Bordeaux on a very consistent basis commands the highest prices in its supply and demand.
Do you often return home to France?
I go at least once a year, sometimes twice. I’m very attached to that town, to that village. There is the perspective of establishing roots like the vineyards do. When I step either in the house or in the vineyard, that soil talks to me. It’s a very meaningful place, and that’s something that I have also tried to pass onto my children — and I can assure you that both Claire and Luc love every minute to be in Le Fleix. They have been raised bi-culture; Claire is 28 and Luc is 26, and never has there been communication in English with their father. A couple of times when they were teenagers, they fought it, but now they are so grateful that we stuck to the program. —KERI MITCHELL