Best Of Wine Women in Bordeaux

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The women of the wine world are often profiled as being something new and unusual but historically there has always been influential women on the Bordeaux wine scene, as well as many others working behind the scenes.

Jean de Bellon was the first owner of Chateau Haut Brion in the 16th century. Françoise Josephine de Sauvage d’Yquem was thrown into prison twice during the French revolution but she continued to make Yquem prosper. More recently, Baroness Philippine Rothschild continued and expanded her father's work at Mouton Rothschild and today Corinne Mentzelopoulos owns and runs Chateau Margaux with her daughter. There is nothing new about feminine power in Bordeaux wine.

Not so long ago it was unusual to see a women working in the cellars - with an older generation of male wine makers talking about women making the wine go off - and that is still in living memory. This is no longer the case with women making the wines as well as owning, running and marketing them. Here are a few of the leading women from some of the Best of Bordeaux winners with a common denominator of change and innovation.

Marie-Laure Lurton, La Tour de Bessan

Marie-Laure (on top picture) is at the head of two vineyards in the Medoc: Château La Tour de Bessan in Margaux and Château de Villegeorge in the Haut-Médoc. She inherited these properties from her father in the 90s but put her own signature clearly on the properties and no more so than at Chateau La Tour de Bessan. Although the property dates from the 13th century, all that remains of the original buildings are the ruins of the tower. Needing a new cellar to produce her wines, Marie -Laure took the audacious step of transforming an industrial building dating from the 30s into a remarkable avant-garde cellar. It is here that she welcomes guests to discover the winery and her wines including a blending workshop for the technically minded and a food and wine workshop for the epicureans.

Armelle Falcy Cruse, Château du Taillan and Martine Cazeneuve, Château Paloumey

Armelle is one of five sisters who own this beautiful property on the outskirts of Bordeaux;they are the sixth generation of the Cruse family at Château du Taillan. As a qualified oenologist from the University of Bordeaux, Armelle is in charge of winemaking as well as director of Château. Passionate about wine tourism, she has opened this 18th century, classified National Heritage site to the public.  With 100 hectares of parkland so close to the city, it is the perfect venue for weddings and she hosts dinners and tastings in the 16th century cellars. The brave can even participate in the harvest.

Also in Haut Medoc, a little further north, you will find Martine Cazeneuve, owner of Château Paloumey. Like du Taillan, Chateau Paloumey is a Cru bourgeois, but this was not always the case. A successful vineyard in the 19th century, Paloumey was badly affected by the Phylloxera crisis at the end of the nineteenth century and by the war years, so much so that the vineyard was abandoned in 1950 and all the vines pulled up. Martine bought the property in 1989 and brought it back to life; planting new vines and building a winery. Now the proud owner of 34 ha of vines around the original chateau, she welcomes guests to the tasting room and its large terrace overlooking the vines for visits and tastings as well as blending and harvest workshops.

Caroline Artaud, Château Fourcas Hostens

Caroline is the cellar master at Chateau Fourcas Hostens and she's not afraid of change. The Medoc is famous for its red wines and Chateau Fourcas Hostens is in Listrac, an appellation that can only be used for red wines. Researching the history of the property, the owners, the Momméja brothers, read about the past excellence of the white wines from the property. Soil analysis showed that a plot of clay and limestone close to the Chateau would be particularly suited to white, so in 2011 they took a leap of faith, planted white vines and started producing dry white Bordeaux from 2014. Having made white wine during her time in the Graves at Château Raoul and Château Lagarde, Caroline was the perfect person for the project, using the opportunity to farm the new plots organically from the very beginning and producing the elegant white Fourcas Hostens alongside the traditional reds.

Paz Espejo, Château Lanessan

Paz, as her name suggests, is Spanish, hailing from Madrid, but she graduated with her oenology degree from Bordeaux University in 1994. She has made wine all over the world and settled back in Bordeaux in 1997, making wine for leading merchant houses Calvet and Cordier. In 2009, she decided to come back to the land and is now Manager of Domaines Bouteiller, including Château Lanessan, in Haut Medoc. She is bringing this traditional property firmly into the 21st century, opening up the beautiful 19th century cellars and introducing visitors to the equestrian history of the property in carriage rides through the vines.

Women wine makers are not concentrated uniquely in the Medoc peninsula.

Marie-Hélène Yung-Theron, Chateau de Portets

Chateau Portets is in a remarkable setting on the banks of the Garonne River in the Graves appellation. After being occupied and then abandoned by the Germans in WWII, the Théron family restored this historical site to its former glory in the 1950s. Marie-Hélène is the 3rd generation and the first woman to produce wine at the château. She is passionate about sharing the unique history of this magnificent renaissance style property that dominates the left bank of the Garonne with its 14thcentury tower overlooking the water. The Chateau welcomes guests to visit, stroll through the park, admire the view and taste the wines alongside local specialities. Families are made especially welcome with a Scavenger Hunt, allowing them to learn about the history as well as the wine making.

Jacquie Franc de Ferrière, Château Carbonneau.

How about a nice cup of tea after all that wine tasting? Chateau Carbonneau will be happy to help. While her husband, Wilfrid, makes the wine at his family property in the East of Bordeaux, Jacquie welcomes visitors to stay in the chateau guest rooms. As well as creating delicious dinners for guests in the château dinning rooms, her culinary talents are put to good use with the seasonal opening of The Glass House, named after the beautiful Napoleon III style glass conservatory at the chateau. You can sample her home-made cakes and scones along with tea or the locally sourced vegetarian, cheese or gourmet duck platters with one of the wines of the property - afternoon tea has never tasted so good.

Caroline Perromat,  Château de Cérons.

Last but not least, the sweet wines of Bordeaux. There is a big influence of women here - carrying on the heritage of Josephine d'Yquem perhaps?

You may be familiar with the famous names of Sauternes and Barsac but it is a woman that is bringing back a less well-known sweet Bordeaux to its former glory: Cerons. Caroline Perromat is no stranger to wine tourism. For many years she worked alongside Veronique Sanders at Chateau Haut Bailly, a pioneer in Bordeaux wine Tourism, before coming to work with her husband Xavier when they decided to buy the family property in 2012. Chateau de Cerons is an exquisite chateau that carries the name of this smallest Bordeaux appellation. Stepping over the 17th century threshold of this historical monument is taking a step back in time. Caroline will even prepare a picnic basket for you to enjoy under the trees in front of the beautiful 12th century village church. If you are visiting in the winter don't worry, you can still enjoy their hospitality in front of a roaring fire in the old Rotisserie of the chateau.

The Best of Bordeaux women offer a warm welcome, a respect for history and taste for innovation.

By Wendy Narby