The Comeback Winemaker | Wine Enthusiast
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The Comeback Winemaker

It wasn’t what I expected, the day after visiting Château Cheval Blanc’s pristine vineyards, to arrive at our next stop via dirt driveway and land in front of an open barn behind an old manor.

A press trip to the Right Bank Bordeaux appellations of Saint-Émilion and its satellites, Fronsac and Pomerol, took my group to mostly luxurious chateaus that had sleek touring programs and materials. So this smaller-scale outfit was surprising and intriguing.

What I expected even less was to fall so hopelessly in love with the story and the scrappiness of the place.

As I listened to the winemaker…I found myself rooting for her, like I would for a Jane Austen heroine.

The winery had been in the family for three generations, the current owner explained. When it came to her cohort, she was the only one out of 45 family members to step up, leave her career behind and move to that old 18th century castle in a tiny subappellation to manage the day-to-day affairs. Her first vintage was 2017, most notable for its devastating frosts. She lost most of her harvest to that, and some to mildew because she had been sick and missed one spraying. She sold what fruit was viable so she’d have cash on hand to prepare for and manage the following vintage.

A lot has been said about how beautiful and romantic it is to drink wine where it’s made—how stirring it is to stand among the vines and the barrels when you taste their product. But this was something different.

As I listened to the winemaker talk about restoring the old concrete tanks, going in on new equipment and trying to form a co-op with her neighbors, how much it meant to be here with her ailing father, I found myself rooting for her, like I would for a Jane Austen heroine trying to save her family’s fortune. There was such purity in her intentions, such care. I desperately wanted the wine to be good.

After we walked through the vineyard and winery, she set out a plate of cookies, crackers and charcuterie, and poured us wine to taste. In between glasses, we each got a turn using an old-fashioned corking machine. She pulled out an old back vintage that had a sharp meaty smell, but drank incredibly delicately, like if you swirled your glass too roughly it would fall to a million pieces. The wines, overall, were very good to excellent.

But the message was that there’s more than technical quality. Though this wasn’t the best wine I had on that trip, I would happily drink it a thousand times over. I keep looking for this wine so I can open a bottle and tell the story of this woman, how she taught me that the tenacity and dedication of a winemaker is as good a reason as any to fall in love with wine.

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