Returning French wineries to form

Equestrian, pianist and runner of mountain marathons, Ms Caroline Frey, 36, does not shy away from a challenge.

On her slender shoulders is a big responsibility - overseeing her family's wine business. This spans Chateau La Lagune in Bordeaux, which produces three wines and has a revenue of €10 million(S$15.5 million) a year and Paul Jaboulet Aine in the Rhone Valley, with 50 labels and a revenue of€20 million a year.

Last year, her family acquired Chateau de Corton Andre in Burgundy and it is part of her portfolio now. The Freys are also shareholders in champagne house Billecart-Salmon.

She criss-crosses the three French wine regions, but says she is based mostly in Tain L'Hermitage in Rhone.


The mother of a four-year-old daughter, Elise, graduated at the top of Bordeaux University's Oenology Class of 2003. Since taking over the reins at Chateau La Lagune, and Paul Jaboulet Aine, which her family acquired in 2006, wine writers and critics have credited her with their return to form.

She oversaw the rebuilding of the winery at Chateau La Lagune and ensures the long-term sustainability of the vineyards by adopting organic farming and viticulture methods, with some biodynamic practices.

Known to be a hands-on boss,she goes to the various vineyards to decide when to harvest the grapes and involves herself in every aspect of winemaking.

At Chateau de Corton Andre, her first order of business was to attend to the soil.

"We plough the soil to have the roots grow deeper and are moving into organic viticulture," she says.

Asked how the wines might turn out, she thinks it is too soon to say. The first vintage will be out next year.

Ms Frey was born in Reims in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France and wine has been in her life since she was aged five or six, when her father Jean Jacques invested in a champagne house.

"We went each year for the harvest and, step by step, I learnt about wine," she says. "I was always interested in nature, plants and geology."

Her aim is to make balanced wines and she has introduced two that speak to younger drinkers and those who might want to try something different.

Mademoiselle L, introduced in 2004, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that is meant to be drunk young.

She also revived a practice common in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, when wine from Bordeaux was blended with those from Rhone. Appellation regulations, which specify where the grapes are grown and where the wine is made, put a stop to the practice.

Evidence, whose first vintage was in 2010, is made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in Chateau La Lagune as well as Syrah, which gives colour and structure, from the Paul Jaboulet Aine vineyards in the Hermitage appellation of the Northern Rhone Valley.

The grapes are vinified and barrelaged for 12 months in their respective regions, then blended in Northern Rhone and aged a further 18 months.

She got the idea from travelling between Haut-Medoc and Tain L'Hermitage every week.

Ms Frey has also made efforts to reach out to wine lovers.

In 2011, she opened Vineum, a wine bar in Tain L'Hermitage which offers more than 30 Paul Jaboulet Aine wines in different vintages. Customers can browse the selection, speak to the sommeliers and have a meal there too.

She says: "At first, it was a wine boutique and bar. I thought it was important for people to try the wine with good local produce so, step by step, we expanded the bar into a restaurant.

"For wine, it's about food and people, the lifestyle around wine."

That seems to be true as the restaurant is packed every day.

For about five years, she has also opened Chateau La Lagune to paying guests.

"We try to be more open," she says. "We believe it's important to have vineyard visits for people to discover the soil and the terroir. If they know that, they will better understand the wine."

She says the first very good bottle of wine that she drank was a 1988 Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, which her father opened on her 18th birthday. Ms Frey has two younger sisters, Celine, 35, who works in their father's real estate business; and Delphine, 30, a fashion designer.

Asked if her daughter Elise might one day take over the family's wine business, she does not give a direct answer, but perhaps the signs are there.

Her daughter loves wine, she says.

"She asked me one day in a restaurant if she could smell a Cote Rotie and if she could try it," she says. "I told her that if it's a very good bottle, she can smell it."

A version of this article appeared in the December 2015 issue of The Life e-magazine in The Straits Times Star E-books app, with the headline 'Hands-on winemaker'.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 31, 2016, with the headline 'Returning French wineries to form'. Print Edition | Subscribe