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An Interview with Lilian Sartorius Barton

Ahead of launching La Belle France I caught up with my great friend Lilian Barton Sartorius of Château Léo ville Barton, unearthing the secrets to what makes French wine so special and what it took to turn a derelict vineyard in Moulis-en-Médoc into Château Mauvesin Barton, carrying on the renowned family legacy of wine making.

As we being pouring into the world of wine, I ask Lilian to paint me a picture of teh vineyard and what her favourite time of year is to spend amongst the vines. Turns out, every month has a special quality.

There's the anticipation of springtime, when Lilian describes the new buds opening up,

"Sometimes fast and sometimes slowly, mixed with moments of worry because of potential frost."

Moving to summer, the flowering finishes and the grapes gradually form, changing colour to red with the warm sun overhead. Meanwhile in the vat-house, wines that have been ageing for over 18 months with the alchemy of blending are finally ready to be bottled.

The reward for autumn and harvest arrives, when the team at Mauvesin Barton are outside amongst the vines when they finally pick the grapes and discover the quantity and quality. After, the leaves change from green to yellow to red and brown and winter creeps around, a season of fallen leaves and pruning.

"It's a romantic time", Lilian tells me fondly, "in the fog, the very clear days, or sometimes even snow."

The Mauvesin Barton dynasty began in 1725 when Thomas Barton launched his first wine merchant company, after leaving Ireland and moving to France. His grandson Hugh then became the first member of the family to own vineyards in Bordeaux, Château Langoa in 1821 and a plot from the Léoville domaine in 1826. Lilian is now the 9th generation, joining her father at his merchant company and dividing responsibilities between the Saint Julien vineyards and the merchant business 'Les Vins Fin Anthony Barton' for over 30 years.

Joined by her husband Michael Sartorius and her two children Mélanie and Damien, Lilian and her family took over Château Mauvesin Barton in Moulis-en-Médoc in 2011. Since, Mélanie has become the family's first Oenologist and has taken on the role of Technical Director in 2011.

If you would prefer to use a piece of string or ribbon, loop a length around the base of your finger snugly, checking it still slides across your knuckle, and mark the string with a pen where the ends come together. Measure the length of string against a ruler in millimetres, taking a photograph to remove any doubt, and we will be able to deduce your ring size from this.

Take extra care, whether you use our printed ring measurer or a piece of string, by measuring your finger at different times of day and on multiple days, as your finger size will vary slightly in different temperatures.

Digging a little deeper, here's a snippet of some more of my conversation with Lilian.

CG: You know how much I love to travel and discover new things, can you tell me about one of your most memorable trips?

L: We are lucky to have had lots of memorable trips, and some of the best were with my father Anthony. If I had to pick out the most memorable it would be from times the six of us spent on safari in South Africa, staying in lovely places and watching those beautiful animals. One time our open car was stuck between a mumm leopard, hanging in a branch above us, and her baby leopard hiding under our car. Now that I'll never forget!

CG: What has been your greatest challenge so far with Mauvesin Barton?

L: Buying a new vineyard that had been neglected for a while was in itself a huge challenge. It took three years to rebuild the cellars and the vineyard will take even longer, all completely worth it but a little costly nonetheless! Every year Mélanie will pull up some vines, and will do the same again a couple of years later, to analyse the soil and replant the correct variety of vines with the right root stock. As you can imagine, with 60 hectares it will take time.

CG: What is an indulgence you would never forego?

L: An indulgence - I have several! I love swimming and enjoy living by the sea ad our pool in the garden. But my biggest indulgence of all is our animals...10 horses, mostly retired grass eaters, 2 dogs, 4 including Mélanie's and Damien's, 7 cats, the chicken, guinea fowl, peacocks and pigeons. And not forgetting the wild ones...hares, wild boar, roe deer, tortoises, various reptiles, owls and birds and of course a big variety of butterflies and insects.

CG: Talking of gardens and the wild, I have a new design called Fleur de Lys and throughout my collections I take inspiration from flora and fauna. Are there any particular flowers you love to find near your home?

L:We have incredible trees in the park as well as lots of flowers...I love the wild rare ground orchirds. The roses are also rather emblematic in the Médoc region, they grow very well in our climate and the soil so we use them as protection in the vines. We have a rose, Thomas Barton, which is dark red and smells very nice, named after the first Barton in Bordeaux and my brother.

CG: A great friend of mine has a 40th wedding anniversary coming up and he had the idea of gifting 40 special bottles of wine to her husband. Do you have a favourite wine you'd suggest?

L: If I was picking from our wines it would have to be my father's first one, the Leoville Barton 1985! But it might be a little difficult to find now... Damien would likely suggest the Langoa 2009, a great vintage for drinking now, while Mélanie might suggest one of hers that's lighter on the pocket like the Mauvesin 2016.

CG: Women have played an important part in the French wine industry for a long time, do you feel you bring a different perspective to wine making?

L: When I was younger there were only two women winemakers in Boudeaux who were not welcome in the cellars, and even then they were not French! Now, there are many women making delicious wines. I do think they make wines with more precision and finesse.

CG. What would be the advise you would give to your 18 year old self?

L: I'd tell myself to learn to be a winemaker! And maybe to have more self confidence. Now I am very grateful to be surrounded by people, including Mélanie, who make good wine and I have no regrets. Damien and I are very busy promoting and selling our wines and I wouldn't have it any other way.

The Barton family's passion for wine is reflected in the elegance and consistency of Château Léoville Barton.This estate was classified as a 2nd Grand Cru Classé in 1855 and lies within the iconic terrior of Saint Julien in the Médoc.

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