How Multi-Generational Families Define Médoc Winemaking

While they might not all enjoy global name recognition, the region’s many legacy families nurture fresh talent with a long-term commitment to the vineyard, the wines, and the culture

Compilation photo from Château de La Croix over the generations.
In upholding the identity of the Médoc, winemaking families are grounded in its vibrant landscape and time-honored traditions. Photo courtesy of Château de La Croix and CVM/Hervé Wambre.

For five generations, Château de La Croix in Bordeaux’s Médoc region has been run by the same family. These days, cousins Stéphanie Francisco and Claude Barreyre say they practice the legacy profession with passion, being considerate of nature’s abundance and celebrating the people who enjoy their wines. “We’re delighted to have the chance to contemplate the beautiful, colorful landscapes—to be surprised by a flight of egrets, or by deer frolicking in our fallow fields,” says Stéphanie. This type of appreciation comes from being anchored in the land of Château de La Croix—rather than its leadership being based in a faraway city or corporate building.

Multi-generational winemaking families like the Franciscos play a significant role in retaining the identity of the Médoc. With their layered traditions and expertise, these close-knit teams contribute to a heritage that has been uninterrupted for decades or even centuries. Working together, they contribute strengths and insights, resulting in the continuous development and preservation of authentic winemaking practices.

With the guidance of their parents, grandparents, and ancestors tucked into their back pockets, younger generations are better prepared to face modern challenges such as climate change, land preservation, and connecting with new consumers. Families are the historic foundation of the vineyard, passing on the values and respect for the work of the vigneron. It’s the Médoc persona at its best.

Changing Viticultural Methods

The “trente glorieuses” or “thirty glorious years” of economic growth in France that coincided with the widespread use of chemicals on farms are over, says Sabine Gautreau, the second generation of winemakers at Château Sociando-Mallet in Haut-Médoc. This is a thought that echoes through vineyards across France and around the world as growers aim to manage conditions without damaging the environment. The ecological drawbacks of chemicals are more apparent to today’s generation than they were when post-war farmers thought they were a solution to viticultural problems. 

But it’s not a simple transition. “It takes time to change mentalities, cultivation methods, and equipment to implement more environmentally-friendly production,” says Gautreau. To her, it’s also important to protect the crops and make a lasting living if future generations are going to have an opportunity to participate. She says people of her generation must consider “economically and ecologically sustainable agriculture” by engaging in dialogue rather than simply opposing production systems of the past.

Médoc wines are in high demand for connoisseurs around the world, with more than 50 million bottles exported globally each year, but this isn’t taken for granted by family winemakers. Christelle Sorge is the fourth generation at Château Deyrem Valentin in Margaux. She works with her niece, Amélie Sorge of the fifth generation. She says that for the up-and-coming leaders, there is an emphasis on reaching global customers via social networks to build appreciation for the many manual jobs in the vineyard and cellar. She also says that younger people show respect for the environment with the installation of biodiverse spaces, insect houses, hedges, and nesting boxes. “They’ve also created a new Protected Indication of Origin (IGP) cuvée that’s aged in barrels for 24 months, and new packaging that stands out from the crowd,” she adds, noting that the project is still a work in progress.

Photos from Château Reverdi in Bordeaux
The influence of the Médoc’s multi-generational winemaking families extends well into the future of the region. Photos courtesy of Château Reverdi.

Siblings Audrey and Mathieu Thomas are the third-generation proprietors of Château Reverdi, making wines in Listrac-Médoc. Audrey says they are working in tune with the environment and the tools at their disposal. For them, it’s returning to what she calls authentic values: “Planning our vineyard plantings over ten to 15 years to ensure real soil rest.”

Protecting a Winemaking Legacy

Inheritance laws in France don’t necessarily perpetuate family history, says Sorge. “If we didn’t have such a strong attachment to our family history, and therefore to our land and vines, there could be even fewer family-run estates,” she says, adding that the consumer would suffer from lack of diversity. “But that’s not the case for us because we’re united and we love what we do, and above all, we love pleasing our customers. Our life is at Deyrem Valentin.”

Audrey Thomas calls family winemaking an “endangered” legacy due to climate hazards that can cause immense stress. But she says it’s important to nurture those family ties even during hard times. “You personify the winery,” she says. “It’s a member of the family—so when it doesn’t do well, the family suffers as well.”

Search Médoc Wines on Provi

Stéphanie Francisco makes another point about what generational families bring to the wine industry. “It’s worth mentioning that of our five generations, there have been four generations of women at the head of the estate,” she says. “This is important to note because, in the past, women had to have a strong character to make their mark in the masculine world of wine.”

Christelle Sorge says there are fewer wine-growing families now, and these producers should be treasured. “For me, they represent the French ‘peasantry’ in the best and noble sense of the word,” says Sorge. She says that the value is a visceral attachment to one’s roots. “The strength of multi-generational work is the combining of experience and knowledge of the past, present, and future.”

Photos of Château Sociando-Mallet
Sylvie Gautreau (bottom right, with her late father Jean Gautreau) says people of her generation must consider “economically and ecologically sustainable agriculture” to pave the way for future generations. Photos courtesy of Château Sociando-Mallet.

The Médoc and its appellations account for 15 percent of Bordeaux vineyards, home to 600 châteaux and nearly 1,000 brands with a diverse range of backgrounds. Family-run establishments are directly influenced by the same people who were born with connections to their properties; this means that decision-making is an in-demand skill as much as farming and cellar work. “I’m interested in adapting to what people like while respecting the terroir, the vintage, and the identity of Château Deyrem Valentin and the Margaux appellation with elegance and delicacy,” says Sorge.

Gautreau says that multi-generational châteaux are valuable on a societal level to preserve the cultural ties to wine consumption in the face of competition from spirits and beer. “Younger winegrowers will have to find a way of communicating to make people want to drink our wines and to associate this consumption with heritage and cultural dimensions,” she says. She also adds that working in wine is a great profession, while admittedly difficult, and it has given a great deal of satisfaction to many previous generations. Family wineries often ensure that the youngest of the clan sees the value of the vineyard as more than a commercial undertaking. “Arthur, my 14-year-old son, is still young, but he already loves the land and is interested,” offers Gautreau as proof. “With each new vintage, the story grows richer and richer, year after year.”


Sign up for our award-winning newsletter

Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights—delivered to your inbox every week.

Most Recent