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Corinne Mentzelopoulos > the Greek owner of a French winery July 7, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.

So what would you have for lunch at Le Cirque with a bottle of one of the world’s greatest red wines, Chateau Margaux ’99? If you were the chateau’s owner, Corinne Mentzelopoulos, you’d have the wine decanted, then order a cheeseburger with onions and french fries. 

corinne_mentzelopoulos.jpg  Corinne Mentzelopoulos, 54, speaks very fast, in flawless English, as well as in French and Greek. She was born in France to a Greek father and a French mother, and she had a Scottish nanny. At 10 she spent the first of many summers in Canada.

“I literally lived on North American junk food!” she said over lunch in New York. “I’m very, very much into American stuff, because when you are that age and you go for two months every summer, it sticks with you forever.”

Not surprisingly, the burger and fries made perfect sense with the glorious Margaux. The beef and cheese were of superb quality; the onions added a hint of sweetness; the fries were crisp and hot. I was enchanted with the wine’s fullness and depth. Its balance of fruit, acid and tannins; its complex, evolving structure; its wonderful freshness, these things made every sip a revelation.

In 1977, when Andre Mentzelopoulos, the Greek grocery tycoon, bought the Margaux property, it had been in decline for many years and on the market for two.

“Other businessman,” his daughter remembers, “tried to discourage him, but it was too late. My father had the extraordinary foresight to understand what Chateau Margaux stood for at a time when nobody wanted to buy it.”

An offer by the American company National Distillers had been spurned by the French government itself, but Mentzelopoulos, who had made his fortune in France and was married to a Frenchwoman, was granted permission to purchase the estate Thomas Jefferson numbered among the “four vineyards of first quality.”

He poured money into both the vineyards and the chateau, one of the most beautiful in Bordeaux, and brought in the respected consultant Emile Peynaud. “He put in new vat rooms, built a new underground cellar from scratch, made a careful selection of grapes for further ripeness and introduced a second wine called Pavillon du Chateau Margaux,” Mentzelopoulos said. “By 1980, he’d pretty much turned it around.”

Andre Mentzelopoulos died in 1980, at 65. Management of the estate passed to his wife, Laura, and then to Corinne, who was still at the helm when, in 1991, Italy’s Agnelli family bought majority ownership. The Agnellis put the chateau back on the market in 2003, at a time when Bill Gates was shopping around for a Bordeaux wine estate. Corinne Mentzelopoulos marshaled her considerable resources and bought the Agnellis’ 75 percent share for $440 million, making her the sole owner.

By then she had been involved with Margaux for two decades. But since the estate has been making wine since the 16th century, she regards herself as the latest in a long line of caretakers. “Chateau Margaux does not belong to us,” she says. “We belong to Chateau Margaux. Our role is only a little part of a very long history. Whatever we’re doing today is nothing in comparison to the soil, the terroir that has been assembled over the centuries. Funnily enough,” she adds, “we need a poor soil, because we want the vines to struggle. The more they struggle, the more complex they become.”

Asked about the possibility of her going into partnership with a California winery to produce a Bordeaux-style California cabernet, as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild did with Robert Mondavi to produce Opus One, she shook her head and shrugged:

“I don’t want to make a cult wine that sells all its bottles before it’s even released. I’m convinced that, whatever the investments, whatever the energy, we couldn’t produce something as good as Chateau Margaux. And if we produced something less good, what’s the point? I might as well invest in bonds, which I already do. So, OK, I invest in shares, what do I do then? Sit around all day and buy 10 Rolls-Royces and 20 yachts? I would shoot myself because I’d be so bored.”

Original article by John Mariani at > Chateau Margaux is great even with cheeseburger.

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