MagazinesPost Magazine
Food & drink

Q&A: Veronique Sanders

In town for SCMP's Rendezvous with Fine Wine, the general manager of Chateau Haut-Bailly talks to Vanessa Yung about enjoying a tipple as a toddler and receiving a message from beyond the grave

 

 

How did you get to run Chateau Haut-Bailly? "Chateau Haut-Bailly belonged to my family. I'm the fourth generation to take care of it. When we sold the chateau to Robert Wilmers in 1998, I told him it had been my dream to run the estate and he said: 'Why not learn with your grandfather and in two years' time, we'll see.' That was 14 years ago. I spent another two years with my grandfather, Jean Sanders, and took over in 2000."

What is your first memory of wine? "I was a bit older than 18 months. My grandfather was opening a bottle of champagne, which I already loved because in France you're allowed to taste it [as a child]. I stood up, walked across the living room and went to get a glass of champagne."

What was it like growing up in a winemaking family? "I was born in Paris and grew up in the north of France but I spent my holidays in Bordeaux with my grandparents. We had three vineyards. When I was a child, often the vineyards in Bordeaux were run more like a hobby and you needed another job to [support] the property. It's only in the past 20 years that the chateaux have been able to support themselves financially.

"Life at the chateau was fabulous. I loved everything about it … the terroir, the lights and the smells. Every time I left Bordeaux to go back to school I would cry. I knew I had to come back."

What was the most important lesson your grandfather taught you? "It's how to make the right decision in terms of when to harvest. To harvest perfectly ripe grapes, you've got to be able to take a risk. At Haut-Bailly, the harvest takes 12 days, but often we'll spread it out over five weeks. That means we harvest the merlot relatively early to keep the freshness of the fruit. And harvest the cabernet late, which means taking a gamble that the weather won't turn. If you don't harvest perfectly ripe grapes, the wine won't be as good, and you have to live with that - not only for one year or two, but across the whole life of the wine. That means for 20, 50 or 70 years we will be reminded that that vintage wasn't good.

"Another important thing is to keep the style. My grandfather taught me the style of Haut-Bailly. We have to preserve it."

What's been your most memorable experience in running the chateau? "When I started to work full time for the chateau, I found myself in America at a dinner given by a wine collector. They served different wines, all blind, all in magnums. When it came to the last magnum, everyone said it was a superb wine, something exceptional. When I heard it was a Haut-Bailly 64, I felt so emotional I started to cry. It had been my great-grandfather who passed away a long time ago who had made that wine. It was like having him tap me on the shoulder and say: 'You see? I made that wine, and it is still alive.' I realised it was really something special that I had chosen to do."

 

 

 

Share