Wine: The ‘Kevin Bacon of industries’
“Wine is the Kevin Bacon of industries. It’s related to art, music, food, people. It links everything to everything”, according to Château Coutet’s Aline Baly.
Born in Paris and raised in the US, Aline joined her uncle and father in the wine business after attending a Decanter wine tasting in London with them, when she became hooked.
Aline, 33, had attended Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and left behind a more predictable career path in the pharmaceutical industry. Despite the unpredictability of winemaking, the chance to work with family and think generationally was more compelling to Aline than chasing quarterly profits. And she finds the wine business conducive to a family-run enterprise: “It requires a long-term vision. We are not thinking in terms of three months, we are thinking fifteen years ahead, for the next generation.”
In the father-uncle-daughter trinity, Aline oversees operations, receives guests at the vineyard, and represents and markets Château Coutet wines locally and abroad; all this while keeping the lines of communication open between herself, her father, and her uncle.
The 38.5 hectares of vines surrounding the 13th and 14th century stone structures that make up Château Coutet produce the famous Barsac appellation sweet wine, made by allowing the white grape varietals of Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, and Muscadelle to rot on the vine before harvesting to obtain maximum sugar content and honey-sweet aromas.
This means you need more grapes to make a barrel of sweet white wine. A rule of thumb is that an entire vine of these grapes makes just a single glass of Barsac, while you get a full bottle of Bordeaux red from the equivalent amount of red grapes.
With a particularly strong presence in English-speaking markets, Château Coutet carries three labels, and a fourth created only in exceptional years, and produces an average of 42,000 bottles annually of its first sweet wine, Le Premier Cru, and roughly 3,000 bottles of its “Opalie” label, a relative newcomer to the gamut.
As a new arrival to Bordeaux in 2008 with little experience, Aline certainly felt the weight of responsibility representing the high-caliber and centuries-long traditions of the 1855 Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Coutet, wondering to herself at first, “How can I learn it all?”
Recognizing that winemaking takes both persistence and patience has been a valuable life lesson: “You have to be proactive. It is possible to join the journey along the way if you give yourself time. The tradition of transmitting knowledge from person to person is there, but you must be willing to seek it out and be open to it, to respect it, and you will be rewarded.”
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.