THE WOMEN WINEMAKERS OF BORDEAUX

by HELEN GREGORY

BORDEAUX IS ONE OF THE MOST celebrated wine regions in the world. It’s a collector’s delight, known for storied names like Lafite, Margaux, Pétrus, and Haut-Brion that command record-breaking auction prices and a cult following. Bordeaux is also one of the largest regions in France, and with that comes a diversity of wines and opportunity. There is much to discover from the people behind the wines, including a strong-minded culture of women winemakers.

The women of Bordeaux are well-established players in their region. Many châteaux have been run by women for generations and emboldened by the times, they are more assertive than ever. Twenty of the region’s top women winemakers and owners recently joined forces to present their wines together for the first time. Calling themselves the “Strong Women of Bordeaux,” they staged a New York take-over to share wines from rare 3-liter bottles with the support of 70 restaurants that believe in their inclusive message. Undeniably, the wines and the women behind them had a lot to say.

For many in Bordeaux, like sisters Anabelle Cruse Bardinet and Vanessa Cruse Duboscq, winemaking is a family business. Their father was a winemaker in Médoc, and mom came from Saint-Émilion. Duboscq owns and manages Château Laujac, Cru Bourgeois in Médoc (family-owned since 1852), while Bardinet oversees Château Corbin, Grand Cru Classé in Saint-Émilion. It is an amicable split that parallels one of Bordeaux’s most famous divides along the banks of the Gironde river: Saint-Émilion is a heralded village on the Right Bank (known for Merlot), while Médoc lies on the Left Bank (where Cabernet Sauvignon reigns). Bardinet is the fourth generation of women to lead Corbin and has hopes for her daughter to take over someday. Both sisters share a sense of optimism and responsibility for the future of Bordeaux. An architect by training, Duboscq worked in Paris and New York before settling in Médoc to nurture her family vineyards. Challenges such as the hailstorms of 2018 can occur in any harvest, but Duboscq is also taking steps to protect her vines from climate change through sustainable winemaking.

As a whole, the Bordeaux wine community is taking a stand to ad-dress climate change and implement eco-friendly practices. Bérénice Lur-ton has taken this commitment all the way. A member of the prominent Lurton wine family, whose many branches extend worldwide, she is the owner of Château Climens in the Barsac area of Sauternes, the only First Growth in Bordeaux to be classified biodynamic. Sauternes produces deliciously sweet wines through a natural phenomenon known as the “noble rot,” which turns late-harvest grapes into complex, honeyed nectar. Working in hand with nature, the local vignerons are dependent on the morning mists that envelop their area (and the dry, sunny afternoons that follow) to create the unique conditions for Sauternes. Through organic farm-ing practices, Lurton is committed to building healthy soils and better vines to achieve wines of pure, elegant expression. She hopes that more wineries will follow her lead.

Winemaking talent is not defined by gender. However, many of the women winemakers of Bordeaux share a spirit of collaboration and desire to take risks that feel perfectly timed. It’s a common refrain: Every world wine region is under pressure to address changing climate and consumer preferences. Next-generation winery owner Clémence de Pourtalès manages Château Doyac in Haut-Médoc and is confronting the climate head-on with environmentally respectful viticulture. When not in the vineyard she loves to surf the nearby coast with friends, a fearless-ness that she brings to her work. Lucie Secret is also an owner in Haut-Médoc, one of four generations of women at Château du Moulin Rouge, together with her grandmother, mother, and daughter. Secret believes that women shape a distinct vision of wine, one that bridges tradition and today. She supports the cultivation of “forgotten” varieties, such as Petit Verdot, as well as a progressive approach to wine tourism that invites consumers directly into the château experience.

The strong women of Bordeaux are a force to be reckoned with. Ready to address the challenges of the future, they bring their own brand of joie de vivre. They are quick to remind us that wine is made to be shared, and they derive genuine pleasure from their work. For painter Youmna Asseily, co-owner of Château Biac, the journey to wine was an accidental one that has become her life’s passion. She expertly pairs her family’s Lebanese recipes with her wines and welcomes change. “Every year is a new beginning, a new promise, a new hope,” she says. “You never know who will come through the gates, spurred by curiosity or a need to discover new tastes; the encounters create new links, fresh visions, unexpected friendships, all in the space of the vineyard.”

It is refreshing to see the diversity of the region echoed in the many styles and talents of the women who are shaping its future. Bordeaux is in good hands.*

Helen Gregory is the founder and president of Gregory + Vine. She has worked in strategic brand management and communications for beverage industry leaders such as Moët Hennessy USA, Rémy Cointreau and STOLI, and has led award-winning hospitality, beverage and lifestyle campaigns for prestige clients from the European Union to Argentina, Australia, Chile, Israel, South Africa and across the United States.