The golden girl . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The well known wine maker of Bordeaux's number one château is at home in the southern Gironde A LOVE OF WINE CAME LATE TO SANDRINE GARBAY. DESPITE BEING BORDELAISE, HER DECISION TO STUDY OENOLOGY IN HER HOME TOWN was driven by a keen interest in science and, before she joined famed Château d’yquem in 1994, she was more at home in a laboratory than a winery. During her time as cellar master of this acclaimed Premier Cru estate, she has witnessed a change in ownership, great vintages such as 2001, 2009 and 2011 and the opening of the château to visitors. She lives near Langon in the southern Gironde.
There are a number of female winemakers in Sauternes. Do you think there is an advantage to being a woman when making sweet wine?
It is true that there are a few of us making wine in this area. Sigalas Rabaud, Climens and Suduiraut all have women in this role but I do not believe that it is necessarily easier for me to make Sauternes just because I am female. There was a lot of media attention around my appointment as it seemed at odds with the traditional image of the château but for Alexandre de Lur-saluces it was a natural choice, maybe given the role that his ancestor Françoise-josephine played in the success of the estate.
‘Sigalas Rabaud, Climens and Suduiraut all have women in this role but I do not believe that it is necessarily easier for me to make Sauternes just because I am female.‘
You worked with him for 10 years during which time LVMH purchased the château. How did that change affect your role?
The Lur-saluces family had owned Yquem for almost 300 years so it was normal for the staff to share Alexandre’s regret that the château had been sold. However, it was testament to the
regard with which LVMH held the winemaking team that, following the acquisition, everyone remained. The transition was helped by the fact that Alexandre stayed in his post for another five years before Pierre Lurton arrived. There was a difference in that both had totally opposite management styles, but this did not impact on my work in the cellar.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Although it can be a time of great stress, I really enjoy the autumn period and the creation of a new vintage. Of course there are difficult years such as 2012 when we had to decide to forgo making Yquem due to insufficient quality, but overall the atmosphere and enthusiasm of the harvest is the highlight of the year. Tasting older vintages is also a memorable moment, the most emotional being a small sip of the 1806 with its coffee, dried fruit and spice flavours!
Perhaps less well known than the vineyards of the Médoc and Saint-emilion, the Sauternais are often an afterthought for visitors to the region. What is there to attract them to the area? There are already a number of châteaux in the appellation which have invested in wine tourism and along with our neighbor Château Guiraud, we are open for visits by appointment 7 days a week. It is also possible to wander the grounds of Château d’yquem and visit our boutique without prior arrangement.
The nearby village of Sauternes is a convenient place for lunch and the informal Auberge des Vignes offers great value. There are rumors too of plans in the near future to open a hotel in the village and a restaurant in a classified growth château. Heading towards the river, the town of Langon with its Michelin-starred restaurant Claude Darroze is another attractive option for lunch and I would recommend their 3-course Bistronomique menu sitting on the tree-lined terrace. The landscape around that bend in the river is particularly beautiful and one of my favorite spots from which to admire it is Verdelais on the right bank. Formerly a stopping point for pilgrims en route to northern Spain, it offers stunning views of the Garonne valley. There is a great sense of tranquility too in the old cemetery in the village where the post-impressionist painter Toulouse-lautrec is buried. His old family home where he died, Château Malromé is a few kilometers away and also open to visitors. Closer to the river, the medieval town of St-macaire with its narrow streets and well-preserved houses is also worth a trip.
Further south in the Gironde, Bazas and its 14th-century cathedral is a draw for many visitors, some who travel to the town by bike, along the cycle path joining the region to the Arcachon Bay. Travelling in the direction of the coast, the 80km path crosses a section of the vast Landes pine forest, passing the lakes of Hostens, before arriving at the port of Biganos. Another way of discovering the Landes is via the river Ciron, accessible by canoe or kayak from Bommes but for those who are less sporty, there is the option of a horseback ride through the woods and vineyards, with an all-important sweet wine tasting at the end.
‘The landscape around that bend in the river is particularly beautiful and one of my favorite spots from which to admire it is Verdelais on the right bank.‘
◆ L’auberge des Vignes
23, rue Principale, Sauternes, 05 56 76 60 06
◆ Hôtel Restaurant Claude Darroze
95, cours du Général-leclerc, Langon, 05 56 63 00 48
◆ Château Malromé
Saint-andré-du-bois, 05 56 76 25 42