On a Saturday afternoon in July I met Estelle Borgeat outside Le Sobre wine bar and restaurant in the city of Bordeaux in southeast France.
Estelle—a French woman fluent in English and Mandarin—spent five years living in China where she and her brother Tristan developed a market to sell Bordeaux wines. Three years ago she returned to renovate a château they purchased in the town of Blaye (pronounced BLYE) in Bordeaux in southeast France. This was Château Lagrange—listed in 1872 as producing a wine then classified as a First Growth for the local Bordeaux appellation.
We ordered glasses of Bordeaux white wine. Estelle then told her story—essentially one of helping decipher French culture for others.
‘I went to China in 2015 and joined my brother who had been there for seven years. We work well together and had this idea of working in wine. Our family had been involved with wine for generations in the Médoc region—but that stopped at my grandfather’s generation and skipped my parents. So I never knew those wineries, but I think we have that in the blood.
‘My brother had opportunities in China to start selling wine so I joined him to create our own brand. We work with different Bordeaux wineries that we have known for a long time and we have a range of different wines, from different appellations. We sell a lot in China. I spent five years there to develop the market, and we opened our own shop. We had a 200 square meter wine store in Ningbo in Zhejiang province in China, where I used to do lots of tastings and events. We have distributors all around the country, some of whom have opened franchises. So we have Maison Borgeat stores in China.
‘The wine brand concept works well in China because it’s a new market. Wine is relatively new to their routine, so people identify quite easily with a brand. Our brand has a range of different wines and prices and styles. We have fourteen wines, so people can select really different kinds. They are still buying a Maison Borgeat wine but can have a light and fruity red, or a bold and oaky Médoc.
‘I arrived in Blaye, Bordeaux, after five years in China. That was quite a culture shock. Just going from very city life to the countryside. But I actually love it. I would not be able to go back to city life now. We bought the château and renovated it quite a lot. We also have an old winemaking building we want to renovate. Our idea is to recreate the original vineyard and winery, because it used to be a very well-known in Blaye.
‘When we arrived, part of the château was usable immediately—five rooms that were renovated 20 years ago and were in good shape. But they were furnished with IKEA furniture, so we took everything out and replaced it with old furniture and antiques that really suit the chateau better and gives back its original atmosphere and style. We renovated the original wooden flooring and the walls which had wallpaper dating back to the 1950’s or 1960’s. When I took off the wallpaper I discovered old paintings underneath with a double headed eagle and a lion that correspond to the coat of arms of the original owners. We were not able to keep the original paintings because they were so damaged. Instead we recreated the same pattern.
‘We renovated seven bedrooms. We did work ourselves but also hired a plumber and electrician. We opened for guests in 2020—Château Borgeat de Lagrange. That was Covid time and a very uncertain time. Five rooms we rented individually, like a small hotel, for two seasons. That was very intense because we were very, very popular and crowded and we’re not specialists in hotel management. I had to learn everything from scratch and it was a lot of work. So we decided to change the offer. Now we rent out only to groups. They have access to ten bedrooms with a kitchen and living rooms and pool and park on private land. They are fully independent and book at least a year in advance. We don’t serve food but they can hire a caterer or private chef easily. People are happy about this arrangement and it’s much easier to manage.
‘But in the 1960’s the vineyard was sold separately from the château itself, so it completely lost its winemaking facilities. While we renovated, we also bought part of what used to be the château’s vineyard. That’s twelve hectares [30 acres] that are adjacent, and which extend all the way to the Gironde estuary. It’s a beautiful walk. It’s planted with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. We named our own estate wine ‘1856’ for two reasons. First, the castle was built in 1856. Second, our family’s coat of arms—which represents an M and B and today is our Maison Borgeat logo—was also created in 1856. The year 2022 was the first vintage of 1856 wine, a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. We just bottled it days ago. Most will be exported to China and also to American markets that we’re opening up.’
The 2022 ‘1856’ wine is a bright, light, easy drinking wine with flavors of blackberries and raspberries and some oranges on the finish. Maison Borgeat produces up to 80,000 bottles per year.
‘Another wine we do not produce in house, but have been selling for eight years is Maison Borgeat Les Civilles. An explosion of fruits and some violets. Every year we change the label image—each vintage includes a different painting from my grandmother, who painted a lot as a hobby. Seaside scenes usually. The name Les Cevilles is the name of a house we had on the seafront, but is also the name of an ocean and estuary sea food.
‘I actually just got my winemaking degree a couple days ago. I learned everything about vineyard management and enology. Am very excited. I wasn’t expecting the diploma to be so difficult because I don’t have a scientific background. I studied commerce, economics and languages. So going from that to agriculture was quite a challenge. Enology is a lot of biology and chemistry.
‘I’m learning every day. I learned recently how to drive a tractor. Those little things you don’t think about but are so important on a daily basis. Blaye has so much potential in wine and tourism. Our clients come for the château but end up discovering Blaye. It’s actually really cute with good a good quality/price ratio for wines. I want to make my own wine in the future that is accessible but also a modern Bordeaux—easy to understand. I regularly teach wine tasting to clients and try to deconstruct Bordeaux as this complicated entity with sixty appellations and their own rules and regulations. It’s difficult to understand. So we’ll try to make a younger Bordeaux image.
‘I feel passionate about the whole idea of the project because of the environment/ ecosystem of having the château with vineyards and the estuary and recreating what it used to be like in the 19th century. Trying to bring it back to its former glory. It’s beautiful.’