Thierry Gaudrie takes us into the charming world of Chateau Villars, a historic Bordeaux winery. And what a wonderful tête-à-tête it turns out to be!
Chateau Villars has been in your family for more than a century, right?
The estate of Château Villars has belonged to our family for more than seven generations, as proved by documents from the age of the French Revolution and the First Empire. Apart from those official papers, we have little information about life on the estate in old times. However, we may assume that Château Villars experienced the same fortunes and misfortunes as the rest of the wine world. Mildew, oidium and phylloxera certainly did not spare our ancestors any more than their neighbours.
Still, thanks to his perseverance, our forefather Octave Trocard owned a sizeable estate at the dawn of the 20th century. Already aiming for quality and striving to build a reputation for the wines of Villars, he won a gold medal at the World’s Fair in Antwerp in 1907. Unfortunately, the drama of 1914 destroyed his projects. After losing his wife Marguerite in 1915 at the young age of 27, he was soon a victim himself of the Great War at only 38. He left the estate to his two daughters, now orphaned and much too young to run the domain.
The Chateau Villars winemaking history
It was Monsieur Godin, appointed tutor to Marie-Louise and Thérèse Trocard, who looked after the estate, while a family friend, Jeanne Dehaut, raised the two girls. Without children of her own, she left them her own property at her death.
In 1934 Thérèse married Jean-Jacques Gaudrie, who commited himself to rebuilding the estate and replanting the vineyards, both of which have been neglected in the post-war years. He was a vintner with his heart and soul, hard-working and determined to make Villars shine again. Jean-Claude, the eldest of his two sons, worked with his parents on the estate starting in 1953 and took over the running of the property at the death of his father in 1968. He focused on the vinification process, aided by recent advances in oenology that allowed him to rapidly improve the quality of the wines of Château Villars.
His efforts were soon rewarded with a gold medal at the General Agricultural Contest in Paris in 1973. In 1978 he bought his first new oak barrels and started to age the wine of Château Villars in the same manner as the Classified Growths of Bordeaux. He experienced immediate success, and the recognition of wine lovers as well as the media took Villars to a new level.
After an acute lack of men in the 1920s, the Gaudrie family became a real boys’ club: Jean- Claude and Brigitte had three sons, Philippe, Thierry and Jean-Pascal. As for the youngest generation, only Camille, the eldest of six grandchildren, adds a bit of a girl’s touch beside Arthur, David, Benjamin, Félix and Oscar. Since 1991, Thierry, a trained oenologist, has been in charge of the vinification process and has been running the estate since 1997.
You left an affluent job as an oenologist, to join the family winery business full-time. What motivated you?
Good question…! I was fascinated by my job as a wine consultant and it was a really hard decision to take to come back or not to the familial estate. Finally, I realised I was the only one between my two brothers to love wine and to be involved in the wine business. If I didn’t come back to the estate, it would be necessary to sell the vineyard. Big responsibility on my shoulders after 6 generations of winemakers in the same family, my family… I have chosen to come back to Chateau Villars and I do not regret it.
More than the vine-growing, more than the winemaking, this job gave me the opportunity to travel over the world, to meet people so different from me and to make friends all over the world through my love for wine. No regrets!
What range of wines are grown in Bordeaux, France?
That’s magic, in Bordeaux you can find almost the different types of wines produced in the world: White wines: dry, fruity, semi-dry, sweet and liquor wine
Rosé wines: dry, with more or less colour
Red wines: dry, fruity, aged in a vat or aged in wood, easy drinking or to be aged from 5 to 30
What is special about Bordeaux wines that might surprise people?
The most important of the numerous qualities you can find in Bordeaux wines is the delicacy of the tannins and the general harmony.
What is the best way to enjoy your wine?
To share it with friends around a good meal.
What is the best time of year to visit Bordeaux, France?
All throughout the year, of course, Bordeaux is a very nice city, modern and charming. There is always something to do or to see in Bordeaux. But the vineyard is nicer from April to October. And the weather is better from June to September… So you have many reasons to come!
How does one make the most of a visit to a Bordeaux winery?
Walking in the vineyard (hoping it’s not raining)… listening during the visit to the cellar (hoping it’s not too long) and…. Tasting, of course, that’s the most important. Enjoying your tasting and sharing your sensation with the winemaker.
What aspect of winemaking is most important?
Look, I am an oenologist but what I can do if the grapes coming from the vineyard are not ripe enough? Nothing serious! And the contrary is the same: very good grapes with nasty wine-making give you a boring wine. You have to be very careful during all the steps of your work, from the vineyard to the bottling. Of course, the first step is the grapes; without very good grapes, it is impossible to make very good wine. No place for a wizard in the vineyard!
Since the 1970s, the wine-making process has undergone radical change in production. What are your views on this?
During the ’80s, in the first place, we rediscovered how to harvest matured grapes. We had lost that during the ’60s and ’70s with the fashion of intensive agriculture. We came back to the ageing in wood with the barrels. And since globalisation, we have discovered other productions all over the world and we can learn from the other continent. The exchange of opinion between winemakers and consumers helps us to produce better Chateau Villars wines than in the past.
What are your greatest joys in the wine industry today
To improve the quality of Chateau Villars wines every year (when the weather makes it possible…) and to continue to travel all over the world to introduce my wines to new countries and to be lucky to meet people very different from me but with the same passion for wine.
In your career in the wine industry. What were the personal highs, the unforgettable moments
My first trip to Napa Valley in California was in 1988 when I discovered so many people involved in the same quality process as I did in France. The feeling to belong to the same community. Making the vintage 2000, my first great personal vintage.
Please come and visit Chateau Villars, we would like to share with you our emotions about wines.
OK! French people do not speak good English but with heart, we can explain all!