She has the grace of a First Lady, and a radiant authenticity. President of heart, Director of balance and Lady of constancy, in the beautiful Bordeaux vineyard where each year, with her teams, she creates exceptional wines. Here, on the property of an American billionaire, Véronique Sanders creates excellence: in the work and production of wines of course, in hosting also, with the same attention of every moment that the one brought to the 300,000 feet of vines. The meeting was desired and happened as a pure moment of tasting. A silky, timeless exchange like all the Estate’s vintages, leading to discover the precious heritage she grows up in today’s world. In the end, a sense of accuracy suggests such a beautiful harmony: a great wine as a great lady, and a woman of pure elegance who is nourished as much by encounters with others as the reputation of her great wines.
Her dream fulfilled
Véronique Sanders started a promising career in communication. And everything switched with the sale of the Château Haut-Bailly. “I was ending my training at the Faculty of Oenology. We had three family properties, one in the South of the Graves that made dry white wine, one in Barsac that made a sweet wine and then one of Haut-Bailly, which my great-grandfather Daniel Sanders had bought in 1955.” The new owner is Robert Wilmers, an American from Harvard University and a humanist banker of New York. “I told him that I had a dream, that of managing the property. He replied: why not!” And so the young heiress took the lead of the estate. At that time, there was practically no woman in the trade. She will learn for two years alongside her grandfather, Jean Sanders, who will retire in the year 2000. Véronique set her heart on this choice region because she always liked the city and the region of Bordeaux; its lights, its scents and its landscapes. There is also a part of her family roots here, since “she grew up in her grandfather’s boots”, amazed by the rich and varied work. “We never do the same thing two days in a row, and I find it fascinating to be both in the vineyards, in the cellars or traveling all over the world, meeting frequently so many extraordinary people.”
The Château Haut-Bailly has the particularity of entertaining guests from all over the world. The new Director will focus on enhancing this spirit of welcome that makes the site. “We discover the work of the vine and the one that takes place in the calm and freshness of the cellars”. As a woman, she will also rely on her skills to impose herself in a profession that was still very masculine. “It was not easy to be a woman at the beginning, but I always took that as an asset. It was a nice challenge for me to take on.” For this woman of action, respect comes only with achievements because “one can gain people’s trust with his work and skills.”
A heritage to preserve
In the heart of the Graves, the Haut-Bailly vineyard benefits from an exceptional terroir of 30 hectares. Beyond the natural slope topography, there is an oceanic climate that is ideal for the vine. Besides, the land is a sandy soil mixed with gravel from the tertiary era, “which makes it the field of choice of the different grape varieties.” The basement also consists of faluns and fossil stones which have been structured into a veritable mosaic of micro-terroirs, perfectly drained. In front of the Château, “very old vines that are 120 years old make the heart and identity of the great wine” where 6 different grape varieties are mixed: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Already awarded “exceptional vintage” at the beginning of the century, Véronique Sanders will strive to perpetuate this excellence and raise the Château Haut-Bailly to the first place. For her, “the main thing is to reveal the identity of the terroir and to remain faithful to it, vintage after vintage.”
With this objective, the new owner will invest by focusing on the long term and not the immediacy and one shot actions. A sum of small details will be set up to gain in precision and to renovate and perpetuate the heritage. And this will allow the wines to arrive at their current level. “To resume vine-pruning, to modernize the cellars, to buy barrels to make more breeding and to launch a soil study to check adequately the grape varieties and the soil.” The Director recognizes the fruits of these investments and all the pride of her grandfather. “There was such a wonderful complementarity between us two”, and the concern for innovation has always been a driving force among the Sanders. “The sense of caring, details and precision with which we work today is extraordinary, and my grandfather, who has always been a pioneer, knew how to recognize it.” In this regard, Robert Wilmers follows the line and goes even further.
Creator of a luxury product
Over the past 30 years, the wine business has evolved considerably. Technological advances now enable to achieve unprecedented precision. “As a classified grand cru, we have the potential and the means to make each bottle an exceptional product.”
Also, tailor-made is at all levels of the manufacturing process and up to the vine itself. “You have 10,000 feet per hectare and 30 hectares, so 300,000 trees you care for individually.” It starts at the vine-prune in the winter, because the way one cuts the vine is a founding gesture.” There is not a standard size in the property and each vine foot will be subject to a suitable size. Then there is the sorting of the grapes. “At the ideal time, we will collect the fruit of each parcel by hand and we will vinify each lot separately.” We are no longer on the scale either a vineyard or a plot. “Today, we work on the scale of a vine”. Véronique Sanders “gardens” all the year with her teams, and the very next day of the harvesting times, “because the vine grows as a liana and is the only plant that requires so much care.” The secret lies in the maturity of the grains and the expression of the terroir, and it is the quest for this balance that drives all the management of the vineyard.
At Haut-Bailly, the President is also a hostess who enjoys hospitality and welcoming. The Domaine offers stays in full peace at the Château Le Pape and seminars organized throughout the year in the privatized spaces. Besides, lunches are offered at the Chef’s private table “with astronauts, writers, ministers, ambassadors or simply winegrowers.” Véronique Sanders reveals the secret of these beautiful encounters: “When you gather the same people for an evening around great wines, you will get different conversations then the ones around a cup of beer . This is the magic part of my profession!”
To create this alchemy, the temporal dimension is omnipresent because the great wines are part of a story. “And at the same time, they are made today to be consumed tomorrow.” It must therefore be consistent with its duration and its values in order to become a reference.
Her dream is then to continue to receive people from everywhere and then to conceive the wine of tomorrow, “the one that has not yet been made but has to be imagined.” It is this desire for sharing and precision that will make it possible to go even further and continue to think about the future, “leaving a positive legacy and a magnificent property for generations to come.”
Here on the Léognan lands, you cannot stoop to compromises when looking for excellence with the goal of maintaining the timeless soul and constancy of a great wine. Véronique Sanders, with her great skills and large experience in the family lands, is above all a woman of action. She listens to the needs of her time and stands as guarantor of ancestral know-how that she perpetuates in innovative projects for her Living Heritage Company. Her natural authority and pure elegant charm make the vines grow and improve the quality of her wines, with the unremitting desire to offer everyone the experience of happiness.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on July 6, 2017, at Château Haut-Bailly (Bordeaux)