Finance to fine wine: a winemaker’s journey
The sloping hillside of Château Biac faces the Garonne River, south west of Bordeaux, which protects the vineyard from both frost and heat. Like its storybook setting, Château Biac has a story to tell, writes Tania Teschke.
“I try to convey the passion of our winemaking and our exceptional terroir when I’m across the world,” says Yasmina, 35, daughter of Lebanese owners Tony and Youmna Asseily.
“A good Bordeaux wine is made up of an assemblage (blend) of grapes that reflects the terroir (soil and geographic location), the climate, and the personality of the winemaker.
“Our wine is like an art work. If you take a palette of paint, in this case, the grape varietals, you make a painting. Using the same palette you make a second and a third painting. At Biac, when we blend, we blend to make a style of a wine, not different quality wines.”
Château Biac’s red varietals of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (a rarity in this area of Bordeaux but planted at Biac thanks to its diverse soil) provide the grapes for three red blended Biac labels in the Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux appellation, while Biac’s white blend of Sémillon, originating, it is said, from Château d’Yquem) and Sauvignon blanc vines, produce their Cadillac appellation sweet wine “Secret de Château Biac.”
For Château Biac, the winemaking process is a collaborative one. “Everybody has his universe of passions here, from the soil engineer to the cellarmaster. If you can express the full experience of the vineyard, to show the people behind the wine, then it’s no longer just a bottle.”
According to Yasmina, profits are not the driving force behind their winemaking. Biac’s ethos is one of “quality, at affordable prices, passion and love,” says Yasmina.
Due in part to the war in Lebanon, the Asseilys spent their summers in the Bordeaux area for almost two decades before they say they “unintentionally” became winemakers, after purchasing Château Biac in 2006.
At the time, Yasmina had already received a double degree in English and French Law at King’s College in London, spent several years in banking in Paris and had transitioned to managing a nutrition clinic in London after earning a diploma in nutritional therapy. Yet she found herself spending more time selling wine than running her clinic. Although she could not at first justify working at Biac full-time, she enjoyed the food, wine tastings and the positive environment. “Time went by quickly.” It was a “concurrence of circumstances” that led her to leave the clinic in London and move to Biac to help her parents run the winery.
The Asseilys say they gratefully relied on well-established winemaker friends to help them through the initial steep learning curve they encountered, underscoring the openess of the Bordeaux community.
Yasmina says her own experience also counters the stereotype of the Bordeaux wine world as closed and insular. “The energy in Bordeaux is fantastic, from the Grand Crus to the lesser known châteaux, everyone is helpful and accessible.”
Yasmina’s fast-paced career in finance prepared her well for wine. “It’s a super competitive market. You have to be in front of people.” Yasmina and her parents regularly welcome visitors from all over the world by appointment to the château for tours and tastings, but Yasmina also travels, primarily within Europe, but also to the US, China and Lebanon. “If they can’t come to us, we go to them.”
Since leaving behind other career paths for the wine road, Yasmina hasn’t looked back. “The people I have met are bon vivant, they are warm, they love wine and food, and they love life.”
Tania Teschke resides in Bordeaux and is a candidate for the DUAD (Diplome Universitaire d’Aptitude de la Degustation) (Diploma in Wine Tasting from the University of Bordeaux. She is working on a Bordeaux Kitchen cookbook and photographs the vineyards of Bordeaux. For more from Tania Teschke visit her blog here.