Tag Archives: Cerons

Women making Sense in Bordeaux

If you think women in the world of the wine world is something new and/or unusual, where have you been in recent years? You might be forgiven for thinking that in such a traditional bastion of wine as Bordeaux, women in the vineyards and cellars might be more unusual that in other regions  – think again. Historically, there have always been influential women on the Bordeaux wine scene, as well as many others working behind the scenes.

Some of Bordeaux’s leading vineyards are still going strong today thanks to the historical role of women. Jean de Bellon was the first owner of Chateau Haut Brion in the 16th century and it’s not only Champagne that has famous widows. As a young widow, Françoise Josephine de Sauvage d’Yquem was thrown into prison twice during the French revolution but she continued to make Château d’Yquem prosper. The Comtesse de Bournazel successfully took over the reigns of the family Chateau de Malle in Sauternes on the death of her husband, before handing it over to her son. Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is named after another Comtesse responsible for its success.

Properties may be handed down from fathers to daughters who continue to grow the family estates. Famously Baroness Philippine Rothschild continued and expanded her father’s work at Mouton Rothschild, Corinne Mentzelopoulos owns and runs Chateau Margaux with her daughter. More recently, Siaska Rothschild took over running Château Lafite from her father Baron Eric, and Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal is now in charge of Chateau Angelus alongside her cousin Thierry Grenié,with Emmanuelle Fulchi their cellar master. There is nothing new about feminine power in Bordeaux wine.

Not so long ago it was unusual to see a woman working in the cellars – with an older generation of male wine makers talking about women ‘turning’ the wine – and that is still in living memory. Women are now making the wines as well as owning, running and marketing them. A few that come to mind, and not only in the top growths, are Marjolaine de Cornack at Chateau Marquis d’Alesme, Maylis De Laborderie at Chateau La Lagune, (both working with female owners), Paz Espejo at Château Lanessan and Caroline Artaud at Château Forcas Hostens. Some women are carrying on from the parents in a family vineyard, such as Estelle Roumage at Chateau Lestrille, Armelle Falcy Cruse at Château du Taillan, and I could go on.

I organized my first Women in Wine Tour in Bordeaux back in  2007, so again nothing new here, but these women, and many more, came back on my radar thanks to the recent visit here in Bordeaux of the American association Women for Wine sense (WWS). Created in 1990 by two leading Californian women in wine, Michaela Rodeno and Julie Johnson, WWS aims to increase knowledge about wine through education as a counterweight to the anti-alcohol lobby. Their premise is a better understanding of wine leads to more responsible consumption. The success of this organisation has been phenomenal; they now have a network of 10 chapters and growing throughout the US and a charitable arm that sponsors wine education for women in the industry.

I have run several Bordeaux seminars for WWS members in the US over the last year but this was their first trip to Bordeaux. With Decanter Tours it seemed only natural to concentrate on vineyards with a feminine signature, choosing properties for them to visit that were owned by, managed by or where women made the wine. I’m aware it’s sexist – but it was great fun!

We were spoilt for choice with just three days we only scratched the surface. Following their tour, I wanted to use this post to profile some of the leading women in Bordeaux but as I started looking at the long list I realised that it would take a book rather than a blog post to do them justice, so I’ll just concentrate on the women that offered us such a warm welcome and amazing hospitality during our tour.

Margaux has traditionally been considered the most feminine of all the Medoc appellations, thanks to its signature sumptuousness and velvety tannins, so it seemed like the perfect place to start. Chateau Margaux is known as the most feminine of all the 1st growths by its style as well as being owned and run by Corinne and Alexandra Mentzelopoulos. The harvest had just started when we were there, with a man at the helm; Philippe Bascules splits his wine making between Bordeaux and Napa – and was very excited about explaining  the complementarity of making wines both sides of the Atlantic – he is a very busy man!

Bascules a Margaux

With Philippe Bascaules wine maker at Chateau Margaux above the new Pavillon Blanc cellars.

Further north, Lilian and Melanie Barton Sartorius, another mother and daughter team, are working together. As Lilian takes on more and more responsibility at the family vineyards, Leoville and Langoa Barton, her daughter Melanie, the eighth generation of the Bartons in Bordeaux and the first qualified oenologist of the family, has taken over the wine making at their new vineyard Mauvesin Barton in Moulis, purchased in 2011.

Lilian and Melanie at Mauvesin

Lilian and Melanie Barton-Sartorius at Chateau Mauvesin

We also met the latest member of the family, Oona, the Parson Russell terrier puppy, who completely stole the limelight!


The newest member of the Barton family

Pascale Peyronie welcomed us to her family property Chateau Fonbadet in Pauillac. After working alongside her father for 20 years, she has stepped into his shoes to run the vineyard. Her vines are on some of the best and priciest gravel terroir in Pauillac, smack in the middle of the famous names of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lynch Bages, Chateau Pichon Baron and Longueville Comtesse. You can imagine that she has received some interesting offers for her vines, but she continues to produce Chateau Fonbadet as an independent Cru Bourgeois rather than succumbing to the temptation of an easier life, although she did exchange three ha of vines with Mouton Rothschild to re-organise the vineyard. When she showed us around, her 92-year-old father was still on hand to meet the ladies and help serve the wine.

Fonbadet barrel

Is it a characteristic for women to work more closely together? We had several examples of collaboration between neighbouring women in wine which make me think that perhaps it is.

Four properties in Margaux owned and/or managed by women have grouped together to welcome visitors into their chateaux. Well aware that chateau visits can be repetitive (vines, cellars, barrels, tasting, repeat), Lise Latrille of Château Prieuré Lichine, Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, Marie Laure Lurton of La Tour Bessanand Anne-Francoise Quié of Chateau Rauzan Gassies have grouped together to create a ‘Une Journée Gourmande à Margaux’. These dynamic women explained this project to us over lunch in the beautiful kitchens of Chateau Prieuré Lichine.

Prieure kitchen

Ladies who lunch at Chateau Prieuré Lichine

Their idea was to create a tour where each visit concentrates on a different part of the wine process.  The tour starts at Château Prieuré-Lichine, with a history of the Medoc while sipping on their white wine (yes there are some rare white wines in the Medoc even though they don’t carry the name). Then at Chateau Rauzan Gassies they explore the importance of terroir, tasting the wines from the three vineyards owned by the Quié family. Lunch at Chateau Kirwanis the opportunity to taste the wines from all four vineyards paired with regional dishes before a visit to Château La Tour Bessan to try your hand at blending, tasting your results alongside local chocolates – there’s a reason this is called a ‘Gourmande’ tour.

Margaux gourmand girls

Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, Lise Latrille of Château Prieure Lichine and Marie-Laure Lurton of Château La Tour Bessan.

Margaux gourmande

Women do seem to be very open to developing wine tourism. I was recently asked to cover leading women winners of best of Wine Tourism awards reinforcing this impression. Chatting with Florence Cathiard at Château Smith Haut Lafite, one of the pioneers of wine tourism in the region, it was interesting to compare the European and the American approach to wine tourism. The chateau with its open door policy, new land art exhibition alongside the more traditional visits, as well as the phenomenal success her daughters have had, both with The Sources de Caudalie resort and the Caudalie cosmetics is a case study for successful wine tourism.


Talking wine tourism with Florence Cathiard at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

We had another experience of collaboration with the women of sweet Bordeaux. A picnic lunch in the park of Chateau de Ceronswith Caroline Peyromat and her neighbour Nicola Alison from Chateau du Seuil, was the ideal way to discover the characteristics of the tiny Cerons appellation but also to share their red and white wines from the Graves appellation.

Then on to Sauternes and Barsac for a progressive dinner, the idea was to show just how food friendly the sweet wines of Bordeaux really are. After a visit and tasting at Chateau Yquem with cellar Master Sandrine Garbay, and a look at the new in-chateau boutique, we headed down the hill to the terrace of Château Sigalas Rabaud. Here, with tapas, we tasted the range of wines made by owner wine maker Laure de Lambert including her 100% dry Sémilion (La Semillante) and a Sweet Bordeaux made with no Sulphur le 5 – quite a technical challenge.

Mout at Sigalas

Tasting the semillon juice at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud before fermentation

Then on to Barsac, to first growth Château Climensfor the main course served with three vintages from the property, after discovering where owner wine maker Berenice Lurton dries and prepares the herbs she uses in her biodynamic preparations.

Climens Tissanerie

La Tisanerie at Château Climens in Barsac

Climens sunset

Climens 3 vintages

And of course dessert served at neighbour Château Coutet by Aline Baily, and we all slept soundly on the coach all the way home!

Coutet Chapel

The chapel at Château Coutet

Coutet with desert

We found this same spirit of cooperation in Pomerol. The neighbours came over to lunch organised by Monique Bailly at the new Ronan by Client winery of Château Client. Hosted by Nathalie Bez, we were joined by Maireille Cazaux Director and wine maker at Chateau La Conseillante and Diana Berrouet Garcia Wine maker at Chateau Petit Village.Tasting their wines side by side, although they are so close, showed just how important the notion of terroir can be even in as small an appellation as Pomerol.

Pomerol bottles

Tasting with the neighbors in Pomerol

Cellar master Emmanuel Fulchi hosted us at Chateau Angelus, taking us into the vineyard to get to grips with the terroir in their two properties, Chateau Angelus and Chateau Bellevue. Walking amongst the almost ripe grapes, we could understand the subtle differences of terroir up and down the south facing foothills of the limestone slopes of Saint Emilion.

Emmanuelle Fulchi

Emmanuelle Fulchi explains the Saint Emilion terroir at Château Angelus

The tasting was a master class in right bank Merlot. Bellevue is 100% Merlot and Angelus a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Recently returned from a Merlot seminar in the US, Emmanuel shared her surprise at the reputation Merlot suffers from in the States. The tasting firmly dispelled any questions hanging over the great potential of Merlot on the right bank.


The Women for Wine Sense visit was both an opportunity to shine a light on the women in Bordeaux but also to dispel a few Bordeaux myths. They are planning to return, so it’s back to the drawing board to see which other Bordeaux Women in Wine we can visit on their next trip – we will be spoilt for choice.


Take a walk on the white side.

The region of Graves, south of the city of Bordeaux, is considered the top terroir for the dry whites of Bordeaux. Here you will find the only classified whites of Bordeaux. The dry whites were classified along with the reds in 1953, revised and completed in 1959. Coming 100 years after the famous 1855 Medoc and Graves classification, it includes 16 properties but for a total of 22 wines (13 red and 9 dry whites – 6 properties do both – do the math!)

Carry on further south to the Sauternes and Barsac appellations and once again you are in classification country. When someone mentions the 1855 classification, we immediately think about the reds but at the time of this classification, the top dog was in a fact a Sauternes; Chateau d’Yquem was classified as the only 1er Cru Classé Supérieur, a step above even the Lafites and Latours of the time – those where the days!

Some of you will know I have a certain bias towards these wines but I feel it’s justified, as there are a total of 27 classified growths in Sauternes and Barsac, of which 10 are first growths.  For an appellation of only 2 200 ha compared to the Medoc (16500 for 60 classified growths), that’s quite an achievement.

Chateau d'Yquem, 1er Cru Supérieur

Chateau d’Yquem, 1er Cru Supérieur

But don’t ignore the dry whites produced in the Southern Graves. Many Sauternes and Barsac properties make delightful dry white wines, either from terroir that is not included in the sweet wine appellation or by choice, enjoying experimenting with the aromatic expression of their sauvignon and semillion before the famous botrytis attacks.

The white wines may only represent a small amount of Bordeaux production (8% for dry white and 3% for sweet) but they probably represent the product sector where some of the most dramatic increases in quality have been seen in Bordeaux in the last 20 years or so. Thanks to research at the faculty of oenology in Bordeaux University and the application of this research in the properties, there is marked difference in the style of the whites produced now compared to 60 years ago when white wine production made up over half of the wine production of the Bordeaux region.

The white wine of Chateau Latour Martillac aging on the lees

The white wine of Chateau Latour Martillac aging on the lees

Temperature control, cleanliness, skin contact, controlled use of SO2 and yeast selection as well as the judicious use of oak and aging on the lees have produced a new generation of crisp dry and elegant oak fermented white wines as well as the fabulous sweet wines including those from lesser known  appellation of Cérons as well as Sauternes and Barsac.

Time for an Apér'oCérons at Chateau de Cérons

Time for an Apér’oCérons at Chateau de Cérons

Talking of Cérons, book ahead to experience the ‘Apér’O Cérons’ at Château de Cérons. Following the visit of the château, cellar and vines and a tasting of their 3 wines you can call in at their little grocery store to stock up on local specialities such as foie gras, tapenades, bouchons de Bordeaux, etc. for an ‘apéro-picnic’ under the magnificent magnolias in the park around the château, followed perhaps by a walk along the river or a horse and carriage ride to neighbouring Château Myrat.

The Graves has a big advantage for visitors. As well as the range of wines; red, dry and sweet white, it also offers a range of prices points from Cru Classé to affordable. If you want to learn more about this area and its wines, it has now become much more accessible; the wine producers of the 3 appellations of Graves, Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes and Barsac have joined together to create an interactive web site to help you discover the region. ‘La Route des Vins de Bordeaux en Graves et Sauternes’  is unique as it has a daily update of properties are open to public for visits and tastings. You can also see which properties are happy for you to just drop in, as well as those that require an appointment.

Chateau Olivier, that dates back to the middle ages

Chateau Olivier dates back to the middle ages

Graves is considered the birthplace of the fine wines of Bordeaux, with some properties dating back to the middle ages. This cultural and historical heritage is also detailed on the website along with details of where to eat, from Michelin stars to local bistros, and where to stay from B & B S to 5-star luxury.

It’s a one-stop shop.You can plan your trip and reserve directly on-line. It also keeps you up to date and what’s happening and other attractions in the region.

Samedi Blanc

Samedi Blanc

This Saturday for example is the ‘Samedi Blanc’ an opportunity to visit 12 white-wine producing properties of the Pessac Leognan appellation in the Northern Graves. They are all open for tastings and visits as well as a giant picnic across several of the properties. You  can just turn up for the tastings but  book on line for the picnics on info@pessac-leognan.com or by phone : 05 56 00 21 90











It’s never too late to start a new career. William Grant was already 50 years old when, in 1886, he built the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown. William Grant & Sons is now the largest and one of the few remaining family owned blended Scotch whisky companies. From humble beginnings do such empires grow; Grants now produces 5M bottles a year and is the world’s third largest producer of Scotch whisky, distilling some of the world’s leading brands including Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky (the world’s number one single malt), Grant’s Blended Scotch Whisky (the world’s number four Scotch) and The Balvenie range of single malts as well as other premium spirits including Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and has recently acquired Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey.

The Glenfiddich Distillery at Dufftown

The Glenfiddich Distillery at Dufftown

The site at Dufftown was chosen because of the water from the nearby Robbie Dhu spring, still used today in the production and cutting of the whisky. Like Bordeaux, whisky is all about the blend; whereas Bordeaux blends varietals and plots each vintage to create the best wine possible, Whisky blending is all about consistency.  For example the Grants Family Reserve blend uses 25 different whiskies to maintain this consistency. Brian Kinsman is only the 6th master blender to work at Grants and he was trained with the 5th, again consistency. He has been with the company for 17 years, although you wouldn’t know it to look at him; whisky obviously has similar anti ageing properties to Red Bordeaux!

The beautiful copper stills at Glenfiddich

The beautiful copper stills at Glenfiddich

This notion of consistency is important to the family. The 5th generation are now running this, the largest family owned spirits company in Scotland. They are justly proud of this heritage and it is central to their philosophy, reflected in their commitment to quality, their attention to detail, and a policy of reinvestment not just in their products and in the place but in their staff. It gives them a long-term view and a respect for sustainability.


Kirsten Grant Meikle - one of the 5th generation of Grants to work for the company

Kirsten Grant Meikle – one of the members of the 5th generation of Grants to work for the company                                    Photo Georgia Sichel


But nobody is taking anything for granted here, respect for tradition hasn’t stopped innovation, or perhaps it’s the spirit of William Grant that encourages it.
 Until 1963, everything produced in Scotland was blended and even now, 90% of Scotch Whisky is blended. Glenfiddich was the first ever single malt, it was also the first whisky to offer cask finishes in 2001 and they were the first distillery to open their doors to the public in 1969.

They now welcome over 100k visitors every year to discover the distillery and Malt Barn bar and restaurant that serves local specialties (that includes locally made Haggis).

 They are constantly re investing.

We were lucky enough to be hosted at Torrin, a beautifully renovated old workers’ cottage overlooking their smaller neighbouring Balvenie Distillery. Local workers using local products have created a home here that perfectly reflects their notions of hospitality and sustainability; particularly the talents of master carpenter Paul Hodgkiss.

Torrin through the black trees

Torrin through the black trees

The Auld Alliance is a theme I’ve touched on before, unsurprisingly, as France is one of the largest Scotch markets in the world, and also as we were there to taste the first batch of a cask aged whisky finished in Cerons (sweet white Bordeaux) casks from Chateau du Seuil. 
As you will know, the use of new oak for ageing in Bordeaux, is an expensive choice, many properties age red wine in up to 30% new oak with some of the top growths using up to 100%. With whisky, things are different. They use casks (they seem to change from barrels to casks when they cross the channel) from all over the world, the thousands of barrels in the ageing warehouses are all shapes, sizes and colours reflecting their origins, be it Spain, Portugal, USA or France, making for a very different impression to the neat and tidy lines of barrels we are used to seeing in Bordeaux cellars.

Artwork made from the variety of casks used at Glenfiddich by one of the artists in residence they welcome each year

Artwork made from the variety of casks used at Glenfiddich by one of the artists in residence they welcome each year

Here, when they talk of new casks, they mean wood that has been previously used for ageing something other than Whisky: wine, sherry, bourbon, etc. whereas for us new oak is, well, new! Some of the casks are aged to order in Xeres for the distillery.

The tasting line up at Glenfiddich

The tasting line up at Glenfiddich

They are one of the rare distilleries to have their own on-site cooperage that allows them to recondition and re-toast barrels. Again, their definition of toast is not the same as ours; they flame their barrels, charring them rather that the mild toasting we are used to. So much so that some of the black char can be seen when they decant the whisky from the barrels during ageing. No photos of that I’m afraid; they were too concerned that a flash of a camera might ignite the strong concentration of alcohol in the air. This angels share, the part of the alcohol that evaporates through the wood during ageing, makes us look like amateurs in Bordeaux when we talk about 5 -10 percent lost to evaporation and racking. After ageing for 40 years there might only be the equivalent of 100 – 120 bottles in a whisky cask. They don’t top up here either, unlike wine, the Whisky will not be adversely affected by oxidation. There is so much Whisky in the air around the distillery it encourages the growth of a specific fungus on the trees that turns them a rather sinister black!

Cerons Sweet Wine Finish Gelnfiddich

Cerons Sweet Wine Finish Gelnfiddich

The parallels and contrasts in wine and whisky production, be it blending, the use of wood or ageing, is fascinating, the choices made reflect a passion for quality, an attention to detail and a respect for heritage that I see in both in Bordeaux and Scotland. It’s a successful blend and the proof is in the tasting, as with the blend of Scotch Whisky and French oak in the Cerons cask finished 20-year-old Glenfiddich; another successful example of the auld alliance.