The queen of wine still making fine vintages at the age of 98
The name May-Eliane de Lencquesaing evokes respect and admiration in the wine world, and the formidable prowess she exudes even at 98 is a testament to her enduring spirit. Her home overlooking the serene blue of Lake Geneva paints a picture of tranquillity, but her past reveals a dynamic journey through the vineyards of France and South Africa.
In 2003, aged 78, de Lencquesaing took the world by surprise when she turned a fruit farm into a wine estate named Glenelly in South Africa. Despite the challenges that starting a vineyard presented, she held firm, echoing her relentless commitment to excellence.
De Lencquesaing’s connection to wine runs deep, having been born into a family that owned two Bordeaux châteaux. But her journey was non-linear. From a life as an army wife, constantly relocating and even residing in Kansas, to a stint studying art and dabbling in local politics, she remained versatile and tenacious.
The turning point came when she inherited Château Pichon Comtesse, a revered wine estate. Despite her initial resistance – after all, she was over 50 and envisaged a peaceful retirement – de Lencquesaing moved back to Bordeaux. She furthered her wine knowledge at the university, managing to turn the fortunes of Pichon Comtesse around through sheer determination.
Her bond with South Africa started in the late 1980s, a connection further strengthened by the accolades South African wines were gaining globally. Choosing to venture into South Africa over other popular destinations signalled her visionary outlook. By 2003, she made her move, buying disease-free land to ensure the highest quality of wines.
Fast forward to 2006, a heart-wrenching decision saw her sell the majority of her interest in Pichon Comtesse. The reason? Her children, settled in Paris, were uninterested in taking over. This pivotal decision saw her pivot full-time to South Africa’s Glenelly, a venture she dedicated to her grandchildren.
So, how does the wine industry perceive her South African endeavour? Noted critic Tim Atkin believes she’s hit the mark, especially with the vintages of her top red, Lady May. Her unwavering attention to detail and ambition is legendary. Glenelly’s success today is a testament to de Lencquesaing’s lifelong passion for wine and her unparalleled vision.
In the captivating realm of May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, one can find tales of resilience, vision, and an enduring love for wine. From Bordeaux’s elegant châteaux to South Africa’s thriving vineyards, her journey remains an inspiration for all.