WHEN YOU TIE YOUR BUSINESS FATE to Mother Nature, you sign up for the uncertainty of frost, hail and seasonal swings, not to mention the volatility of climate change. The 2020 harvest delivered more than its share of challenges. From COVID-19 to wildfires in the West, last year’s vintage was heroic in many ways. Wine families are reflecting on everything that has happened since last spring, including a year like no other.
Bordeaux is one of France’s most celebrated regions. Beyond the iconic grand châteaux, the region’s many small, family-owned wineries are also pillars of quality and tradition. The vines were in full bloom when the pandemic started, forcing everyone to adapt. When harvest celebrations were canceled throughout the region, families opted for at-home gatherings. At Château Pédesclaux in Pauillac, Manon Lorenzetti has followed in her father’s footsteps to run the estate, a passion which she hopes to pass on to her children someday. Pédesclaux was one of the original châteaux listed in the official Bordeaux classification of 1855, and Lorenzetti has always had much to live up to. The château is her home, not just a place of business. In the midst of so much disruption, Lorenzetti has found tranquility and comfort in the family’s Sunday supper, an enduring tradition that often includes her grandfather’s recipe for risotto.
The Despagne family owns Château Mont-Pérat and Château Tour de Mirambeau in Entre-Deux-Mers, the heart of Bordeaux’s white wines. Basaline Granger-Despagne and her brother, Thibault, were in their 20s when their father, Jean-Louis, gave them full control of the family estates. A thrill-seeker who once finished in the top 20 of the Paris-to-Dakar motocross, Jean-Louis taught the whole family to “always surpass and believe in their dreams.” He also passed along a lifelong mantra: “The only thing certain in life is change.” Prudent advice, then and now. Basaline Granger-Despagne has helped expand the family business in more than 25 countries, but like Lorenzetti, she has found contentment by slowing down her routine to cook en famille at Château Mont-Pérat. In her world, cooking has been a salve for the whole family, and it reminds her of how much she has to be thankful for. “Everyone loves to cook!” she says. “We come together to share good bottles of wine. We love mixing generations, having the little ones running around, and the eldest catching this lively atmosphere in their eyes and heart.”
Traditionally, everyone comes together at the harvest table in Bordeaux, from the châteaux owners and winemakers to pickers, suppliers, customers and friends. Around the world, the collective joy of the harvest fête was missed by all, including winery owners like Michael Mondavi, who faced the dual epidemic of COVID-19 and wildfires in Napa Valley. In the West, 2020 was one of the most difficult vintages on record. The grapes made it in, but Mondavi’s celebration with the harvest crew was canceled to respect social distancing norms. For Mondavi, it was one of many losses in a year full of them. “We typically enjoy a great dinner with the team. Classically, steak or lamb is the focus as it pairs perfectly with our Napa Valley Cabernets,” he recalls. “Getting together to break bread and relish the fruit of our efforts brings into perspective the passion we have and why the details matter.”
Harvested against all odds, 2020 is a successful vintage for many producers. In Italy, celebrations and wine festivals were also muted, but quality looks promising countrywide, particularly in cellar-worthy regions like Brunello and Barolo. It is some consolation after so much hard work and heartbreak.
The holidays took on a special meaning—a time to put a weary year to rest and shelter with family. Albiera Antinori, president of Marchesi Antinori and part of the 26th generation of Italy’s powerhouse winery, spends each Christmas with her family at the Guado al Tasso estate in Bolgheri, about 60 miles southwest of Florence. It’s a joyful occasion, marked by camaraderie and tradition, where the wine flows freely. “Everyone brings a wine to share with Christmas dinner, served ‘blind’ so that it has to be guessed,” shares Antinori. Risotto with white truffles is always on the menu, as is the Antinori family’s cherished Tignanello wine, the original Super Tuscan. It’s a pairing for the ages, to be shared as a family, no matter what the year brings.
Great wines are an expression of the places they come from. They also reflect the collective passion and determination of the people behind them. The vines kept going through it all last year, as did the people responsible for their care. It’s more than enough reason to raise a toast to the wine families who make every vintage unforgettable. *
Helen Gregory is the founder and president of Gregory + Vine. She has worked in strategic brand management and communications for beverage industry leaders such as Moët Hennessy USA, Rémy Cointreau and STOLI, and has led award-winning hospitality, beverage and lifestyle campaigns for prestige clients from the European Union to Argentina, Australia, Chile, Israel, South Africa and across the United States.