Meet Five Women Who Are Changing the World of Winemaking in Bordeaux
Though it's been long considered the most traditional, expensive, and male-dominated French wine region, these rising female wine stars Bordeaux explain how things are changing.
Bordeaux: It's one of the most historic, beautiful, and traditional wine regions in the world. There, châteaux dot the countryside surrounding the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, and the famed vintage wines from the area can command staggering prices at auction around the world. But there's another side to Bordeaux that is just beginning to come into the spotlight—it's a world of small family farms (some châteaux, too!) and easy-drinking, affordable, and approachable wines. While the vintage wine market focuses on reds from Bordeaux, more white wine is actually produced in the region. There's also a growing focus on sustainability, and it's a group of young French women who are leading the way.
Here, we profile some of the rising female wine stars of Bordeaux, learning about their work, challenges, and inspirations.
Bérangère Tesseron, Château Larrivaux
From working in the vines to promoting and selling the wines, Bérangère Tesseron wears many hats at Château Larrivaux. The estate is unique: Since it was founded in 1580, it has only been run by women. Tesseron dodged the decision whether to work in wine or chose another career path by studying law and specializing in wine law. Then, her aunt who was running Larrivaux had an accident and Tesseron took over the winery in 2005. Being a mother of four boys has intensified her desire to protect the estate against the effects of climate change: "We are still working on answers," she says. And reflecting on being a woman in the male-dominated world of the Bordeaux wine community has been an exercise in perseverance: "It was challenging at first—not only was I a woman, but I was young as well, so some of the men I was working with did not take me seriously. Fifteen years later, most of them are retired and I am still here."
Clémence de Pourtalès, Château Doyac
Twenty seven year-old Clémence de Pourtalès is involved in both the cellar and the vines as the technical manager of Château Doyac. She grew up at the château, assisting her father in the vineyard, and obtained the National Diploma of Oenology from the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (ISVV in Bordeaux) in 2015, after getting her bachelor's degree in biology. Her family has been aggressively adapting their grape growing to account for climate change: "Summers are much warmer and drier now, therefore we intensified the ground work. By doing this we help the roots to go deeper in the ground to find water." They are also converting to organic and biodynamic principles. And their approach to innovation takes a cue from the past. She says, "it is true that we are rooted in tradition, but that does not mean that there is no room for reconsideration and improvement."
Lucie Secret, Château du Moulin Rouge
Lucie Secret grew up on her family's property, Château du Moulin Rouge, and her parents tell the story that from the moment she learned to walk, she was picking grapes by hand and filling her tiny toy basket. She has is an agricultural engineer, has an advanced vocational diploma in viticulture and oenology, and a degree in wine law and wine sales. And she is passionate about the environment: "Our winery is eco-friendly. In 2018, we obtained an environmental certification called HVE 3 (High Environmental Value). We have adapted the work on the farm in order to minimize its impact on the environment. We do not use herbicides, we work our soils with suitable equipment. Seventy one percent of the products used in the vineyard are organic. Our goal is to increase this figure."
Secret is quick to dispel the idea that Bordeaux is a man's world: "My mother is a winegrower, a grandmother was a winegrower, and my great grandmother was a winegrower. I grew up on a farm where women were very present and worked with their husbands. I never knew this feeling of limit." And the future is bright; she says more women are applying for internships and entry-level roles than ever before.
Emilie Gervoson, Château Larrivet Haut-Brion
Choosing business school in Paris rather than a formal enology education makes Emilie Gervoson an outlier in this group. She worked in the glamorous world of event planning in Paris before deciding to return to her family's estate and work with her parents in 2009. She currently heads the winery's communication, promotion, and marketing, and she jokes that that her main qualification for the wine business is her love for great wines. She has learned everything on the job at the Château but communicating her passion for wine came naturally.
Women have long played an important role at Château Larrivet Haut-Brion: the first owner was a woman, the Marquise de Canolle. Today, women work in all departments: in the cellars, the vineyard, the shipping service, and in wine tourism. Gervoson explains her family's approach is more innovative than people expect of Bordeaux: "The weight of tradition is not as heavy as in other estates. We don't hesitate to innovate with cultivation methods, vinification methods, and in the aging of wine (in terra-cotta jars, in large wooden vats, in concrete eggs)." She believes Bordeaux wines have always evolved to meet consumer demand "and to adapt to agro-ecological changes."
Marine Dubard, Château Dubard Bel-Air
Another outlier is Marine Dubard. She is one of the few women in the Bordeaux wine community who is neither from Bordeaux, nor has family connections to the area. "As a teenager I discovered the Loire Valley. I fell in love with the wine world, its culture, its atmosphere. I knew I wanted to be a winemaker and enjoy this lifestyle." Now winemaker and sales manager of Château Dubard Bel-Air, Dubard says one of her greatest challenges is trying to manage the impact on the wines of the extreme climate swings that have been hitting the region. With her outsider's perspective, Dubard is very optimistic about Bordeaux's future. "As a woman not from Bordeaux who made wine in other regions (New Zealand, Loire Valley, and Bergerac), I am proof Bordeaux is open to new things," she says. She believes Bordeaux needs to let people know about its wines beyond the famed Grand Crus, to spread the word that there are amazing values in Bordeaux wines, too.