When did you start working at your father, Francois Gros' estate? "I began at the age of 18. He was too young to retire but too ill to work. Before I started working with him I didn't know what I wanted to do except travel. I went to Australia to take a vinification and marketing course. And now my son is in Australia with the same guy who taught me and my partner more than 25 years ago.

[My father] thought [with me] being a girl, I would not keep the estate going for the next generation
Anne Gros

 

"My father was ill when I was 12 years old and he began selling wine in bulk. But when I took over [at the age of 22], I wanted to improve the winery and sell under our own name. At the time, I had three hectares in Burgundy and now we have 6.5 hectares. He thought [with me] being a girl, I would not keep the estate going for the next generation. He asked me to help but he would criticise whatever I did. But now, with time, I understand him, and you must forgive. I learned as much as I could through observation and from school and then trial and error. In the beginning I looked after three hectares myself, and when I had a baby I employed a good assistant. Now I have a team, and some have worked with me for 20 years."

Tell us about your relationship with your partner, Jean-Paul Tollot. "When I was young I never wanted to marry a winemaker - you never know if he married you for you or your vineyard [laughs]. I wanted my own vineyard. Then I met Jean-Paul, whose family estate [Tollot-Beaut] is about 17km away from mine. In fact, I met him because of Australia. He did the same wine training there two years before me. The instructor asked if I knew him and I said no, and it took us three years to meet. We've been engaged for 25 years and have three children. He has 25 hectares to look after with his side of the family, so I look after [a co-owned estate in] Minervois, Languedoc. Our wines are signed Anne Gros and Jean-Paul Tollot. We didn't want to promote the name of the estate, but show it is 50-50. We make decisions together, so it's worse than marriage because we had to sign a mortgage. That's quite a commitment. The vineyard is called Les Cazelles [it is a five-hour drive from Burgundy] and it took two years to get it going. But we are happy and it was a good decision. Two of the three children studied wine and now they will each have something to work on. One of my daughters, Julie, is 24 and works with me in Burgundy, and my son, Paul, is 22 and works with his father and at Minervois and Tollot-Beaut. This way they are not obliged to work together but they can help each other. Their characters are very different."

Was it difficult to establish yourself in Languedoc as an outsider? "In a way it was easy because the vine grower had 30 hectares and only wanted 20. He had been trying to sell the rest for a few years but hadn't found a good buyer. When we arrived he was keen for us to take it because of our reputation. At first we started with eight hectares, then 12, 15 and now we have more than 30. In Languedoc, it is more about volume and price; the wine is not very expensive. But we want to free ourselves from this and show this place can produce quality wines. But you need time to understand the wine. The year 2008 was exceptional with excellent acidity, but it was hard to drink. When people taste it now, they say it's more refined."

Tell us about Femmes et Vins de Bourgogne, an association of female winemakers. "It was started in 2000, and I joined about 10 years ago. When I [got into the wine business] nearly 30 years ago, it was quite exceptional for a woman to run an estate. But now it is common. In the association I am an old woman compared to these young girls! It's like a club where we give advice on the business and meet about five times a year. The youngest members are in their mid-20s, the average age is 30."

Sometimes, it's better to have a male partner. For example, if I need to buy a tractor, I tell Jean-Paul to do it, because the salesmen will talk motorbikes or football
Anne Gros

 

Do women approach wine differently to men? "It's a question of character, regardless if you are a man or woman. Sometimes, it's better to have a male partner. For example, if I need to buy a tractor, I tell Jean-Paul to do it, because the salesmen will talk motorbikes or football. It's like a boy's club. Men will never ask me to watch a match with them! Men may find me annoying because I pay attention to detail, or they are amused because I don't know what I want. They say I keep changing my mind, but I say it's evolution. I have two daughters and a son. Paul is very nice and loves his sisters but he can't stand them - they are tough. Marine is 18, and the only one to have her name on a bottle because I was pregnant with her when I planted the vineyard. But she doesn't drink any wine. She started drinking cocktails only a few months ago. It's not disappointing but it's a reaction to us because her childhood was spoiled by parents who work too much with wine. We drink wine and talk wine all the time, so she's upset with this. When her friends come to our house and we ask if they want a glass of wine, they are happy, but [not] my daughter!"