The Proust Q&A: May-Eliane de Lencquesaing
17th January, 2014 by Lucy Shaw
May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, 88, was the owner and managing director of Pauillac second growth Château Pichon-Lalande for 30 years, where she was responsible for the 1982 vintage. In 2003 she bought the 123-hectare Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch where she makes Cape blends from Bordeaux varieties. She sold Pichon-Lalande to Louis Roederer in 2007. In 2011, she was promoted by the French government from Chevalier to Officer in the Legion of Honour. de Lencquesaing has 10 grandchildren and a growing brood of great grand children.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being in a beautiful garden overlooking a lake with the mountains in the background and my King Charles Piccolo by my side.
What is your greatest fear?
War. I lived through World War 2 as a young girl in Bordeaux and it was a pretty dramatic experience: no heating, no clothes, no shoes, no food, no freedom, bombings every night of the full moon and fear every day.
The Queen. For over 60 years, day in day out, she has devoted her life to her country and her people with courage and love. Her dignity and self-control are exemplary in a world where selfishness is on the rise. Many years ago, my husband, General de Lencquesaing, was chosen to accompany her Majesty and her delegation during a state visit to France. It was a great honour.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Having collected nearly 1,000 rare pieces of glass dating from 50BC to today from the Middle East, Syria, Lebanon, Rome, Prague, Venice, Germany, England, Sweden, France and the US. Glass and wine have lot in common: they both come from poor material and poor soils and through man’s talent and genius, they become works of art.
What is your current state of mind?
When I wake up in the morning, I always say to myself: let’s be positive and creative. What can I improve around me?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Courage and honesty.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
This passage by Douglas MacArthur: “Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope as old as your despair. In the central place of every heart there is a recording chamber. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long are you young. When your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and then only, are you grown old.”
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Art, in all its forms – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, wine! Without art there is no civilisation.
When and where were you happiest?
At Château Pichon-Lalande when I was lucky enough to make both the 1982 and 1983 vintages, two fantastic wines. And today, at Glenelly in Stellenbosch, working with a young team and young vines, both of which have massive potential.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would have loved to have been a great pianist or violinist.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I wish I had a much better memory to remind myself of the many precious moments, small details and lovely people I’ve met through my long life.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
To have been the wife of a soldier, bringing up my children, and later having run my family’s estate, Château Pichon-Lalande, for 30 years.
Where would you most like to live?
In Tuscany, near Florence. As a young woman, I was lucky enough to live and study there. It was just after the end of World War 2, and I discovered art and beauty there – treasures for the rest of my life.
What is your most treasured possession?
My 10 grandchildren, their husbands and wives, and my great grand children.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My drive and creativity.
Who are your favourite writers?
Plato, Molière, La Fontaine, Montesquieu, Paul Claudel and Jules Vernes.
Who is your hero of fiction?
Don Quixote and Cyrano de Bergerac.
What is it that you most dislike?
What is your greatest regret?
The fact that there is so much misery and suffering in the world and I have so little means to help.
Who would be your ideal dinner party guests and what wines would you serve them?
My guests would all be friends – Serena Sutcliffe MW and David Peppercorn MW, Robert Mondavi, John Avery, Egon Muller and my dear father. I’d ask them all to bring a bottle of wine and tell its story.