The Bordeaux region is dissected by two rivers: La Garonne and La Dordogne. The rivers generally flow east to west, merging into the Gironde Estuary as they approach the Atlantic. La Garonne is the more southerly of the two rivers, La Dordogne lies to the north. The area between them is called l’Entre-Deux-Mers. The regions above, between and below the rivers are the three distinct wine growing regions of greater Bordeaux.
To the north is Saint-Émilion, fairly well-known. To the south are Médoc and Graves, better known. In the middle is l’Entre-Deux-Mers, lesser known – but our focus here.
L’Entre-Deux-Mers is a place of pastoral landscapes and picturesque villages, churches and abbeys, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. Residents and visitors alike paint a compelling picture. As the resident French writer, François Mauriac said « Tant pis ! J’oserai dire ce que je pense : paysage le plus beau du monde, à mes yeux… »* Mauriac was spiritually joined by the former computer mogul, Gavin Quiney, who, having just sold his business, visited the region and decided to buy a chateau and stay: Château Bauduc, which is open to this day, attracting the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein.
L’Entre-Deux-Mers has both beauty and wine, more white (dry, produced from sauvignon blanc) than red and, therefore different from the more famous regions to the north and south.
One other fact about l’Entre-Deux-Mers is an oddity … the story of Valérie Labrousse.
Valérie’s story is only odd because of her gender. Until recently, French society and custom designated some careers for boys and others for girls. Boys were meant to be the real wage-earners, chiefs and owners. Girls were meant to be house-wives and mothers. Valérie’s upbringing was a little different, though, and she was apparently unaware of the rules.
When Valérie was 23 she saw an advertisement for a course on the commercialization of liquor and wine. Without hesitation, she enrolled. The course helped Valerie discover new possibilities and, coincidentally, led to an eye-opening conversation with her mother. They talked about the family property, Château du Payre (Castle of the Father) and its history. A great-great uncle had purchased the property back in 1881, and since then it had passed from one generation to the next, five times. Each generation, oddly, had been headed by a woman.
Valérie eventually replaced her mother at the helm and has continued the family tradition and business. Under her leadership, the business has grown from six to 15 wines. Beyond farming and wine production, though, Valerie offers courses – helping children discover farming and the bridge between land and taste. For older people, there are four chambres d’hôtes and an app through which you can learn about the chateau, history and the land.
For all, there is grape juice.
*I’ll dare say what I think: the best scenery in the world before my eyes.